Posted on 06/09/2013

Photo taken on June  9, 2013

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Eric Roston
Carbon Age

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Power of Mitrochondria

Power of Mitrochondria

In terms of efficiently converting fuel energy into motion, the most efficient form of transportation o the planet is not naked running through city streets. In fact, there’s really no analogue in nature for this transport, and it doesn’t come from nature. It’s not the wheel, but two of them: the bicycle.

Scientists have casually wondered why natural wheels are rare. Bacterial flagella whip in circles to propel the cell forward. Trumbleweeds roll, dispersing their seeds across arid plains. Roundness is built into the scientific name of one tumbleweed species, ‘Cycloloma atriplicifolium’. Nuts and fruit tend to drop and roll. Wheeliness in the sense helps trees disperse their seeds. Hops and arms roll around in their sockets. Eyeballs roll. The coccoliths of Calcidicus quadriperforatus are round shields, but that roundness has more to do with ease of manufacture than efficient movement. That’s about it. The quick answer to why nature has reinvented the eye between forty and sixty-five times, but never the wheel, is simple enough. Eyes are useful everywhere sunlight hits. Wheels are efficient only on hard, flat surfaces. Four legs move through sand or mire with less aesthetic appeal, but greater reliability.

Horse and buggy roads threaded through developed societies by the nineteenth century, but the familiar bicycle – the first revolution in mechanized transport – was introduced in 1885. in that year the Rover safety bicycle, with its standard real-wheel chain and sprocket drive, was first mass-produced in England. Within fifteen years, 312 factories put out a million bicycles a year. Henry Ford built a steam-powered “quadricycle” in 1896. The Wright brothers made bicycles, and did the Dodges.

The bicycle harnesses the power of mitochondria to make the most efficient known form of transport. Human walking costs about 0.75 cal per gram, per kilometer. Horses and camels are more efficient. But on top of a bicycle, a person cuts energy use by 80 percent, and increases speed three or four times. The energy savings come from two features of cycling. First riding a bike eliminates the need to spend energy on standing up. Whether walking or running, legs, hips, and waist perform double duty, both propelling the person forward and keeping the spine more or less perpendicular to the ground. On a bike, the seat supports the torso weight, so the rider doesn’t have to. Nor is energy expended raising the feet for the next push. Pedals help each other out; when one turns downward, it pushes the other upward. Second, the bicycle directs the powerful thigh muscles into the direction of the rotary.

The abrupt growth in bike technology and popularity may pale in comparison to the mass-psychological effect of biking. A writer for ‘Horseless Carriage Days’ wrote in 1937, “The reason we did not build mechanical road vehicles before this (1890) in my opinion was because the bicycle had not yet come in numbers and not directed men’s mind to the possibilities of independent long-distance travel on the ordinary highway. We thought the railway was good enough. The bicycle created a new demand, which was beyond the capacity of the railroad to supply. Then it came about that the bicycle could not satisfy the demand it had created. A mechanically propelled vehicle was wanted instead of a foot-propelled one, and we now know that the automobile was the answer. ~ Page 112 & 113
4 years ago.