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Carbon Cycle

Chemist on a bike.

A.M. Petrosyants, Chairman of the State Committee for Atomic Energy, riding a bicycle around the National Accelerator Laboratory, 1971. Seaborg Collection, CHF.

National Bike to Work Week has been a difficult one this year: rain all over the northeast has stopped all but the most addicted riders from a two-wheeled commute. But even if you spend today groaning over the weather, the sun will be out next week. In the meantime, you might consider how bicycling is the most chemistry (and chemical) friendly ride in the world.

Any serious cycler knows what their frame, fork, seat, handlebars and even drink bottle cages is made from. If you think it doesn’t make a difference, pop into a bike shop and witness the array of parts of sale. The staff will be happy to educate you – if you have an hour to spare. Because weight is so critical on bikes, even small components are made of different materials. Over the years I’ve ridden bikes made from steel, titanium, aluminum, titanium and carbon, and just carbon. When different grades of steel were common, I – like many riders – knew which type I had; in the 80s and early 90s top racers rode frames of Reynolds 531, a manganese-molybdenum alloy steel, while riders with less cash settled for a 4130 ChroMoly.

In 2004 Cannondale introduced a carbon-aluminum bike called Six13. What could be cooler for the chemist on wheels than a bike with atomic numbers for a name? There’s also the Trek Carbon and LeMond Titanium, for anyone who wants their favorite elements front and center.

So ride a bike and join a very big fraternity of chemistry geeks. Carbon frames or no, biking reduces your own carbon footprint. It also improves your health, saves your wallet, and – as long as it’s not raining – makes even Monday morning something to look forward to.  

Posted In: Technology

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