There was a time when no one would think of bicycles and phones as having any relationship. A bicycle was something ridden outdoors. And a phone was something used indoors.
When someone went out for a bike ride, they were out of touch with anyone who didn’t cross their path. This arrangement was good and bad.
On the positive side, cyclists could ride their bikes in peace, away from ringing phones and interruptions. On the negative side, if they had an accident or breakdown, they were at the mercy of passing strangers to help them get to safety. They couldn’t call for help.
This all seems like a very long time ago. Mobile phones have been part of our daily lives for many years.
Almost everyone owns a mobile phone. And many people have become completely dependent upon or even addicted to their phones.
Everywhere you go, you see people sliding their thumbs and fingers up and down the screens of their phones. Supposedly, if a phone responds to such stimuli, it is a “smart” phone. If it has only buttons for entering commands, it is deemed a “dumb” phone, which is sometimes referred to as a “feature” phone if it does anything more than make phone calls.
So, this leaves us with three types of phone: smart phones, feature phones and dumb phones.
In the early days of cycling with a cell phone, cyclists carried a phone for emergencies. Most phones couldn’t do much more than make voice calls, which is what cyclists hoped to do should they find themselves stranded farther than walking distance from their homes.
Cell phones allowed many cyclists to venture farther away from their starting point than they had done in the past. The days of riding in circles within a five mile radius of one’s home became less common.
Gradually, cell phones acquired more features. Text messaging became commonplace. This allowed a friend or family member to send a message to a cyclist who was out on a ride without having to speak to him directly. In this way, a cyclist could ride while remaining in touch with the outside world. Riding during lunch breaks and when on-call for one’s job also became a lot easier.
Soon after, the cell phone camera was introduced. A camera feature was great for taking photographs of an accident scene. Having this ability made it more difficult for negligent drivers to conspire with witness drivers to blame a cyclist for an accident.
A cell phone camera also allowed a cyclist to take pictures of interesting things along his route. Many cycling experiences could easily be captured by people who were not photographers. These photos opened up the cycling world to non-cyclists who could, for the first time, see what cyclists saw on their rides.
Features grew by leaps and bounds. Video became possible. Internet access became possible. And, ultimately, GPS enabled devices opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
With a GPS enabled device, cyclists could get their exact bearings without the use of a bicycle map. They could measure the distance of their ride and their speed. A wealth of data about their rides was at their fingertips, and due to the ability to connect to the Internet, this data could be uploaded and shared with fellow cyclists in real time.
For some cyclists this might be fun. For other cyclists it might improve their training methods. But, for some cyclists, the growing technological uses of cell phones might not have been a great thing.
Every technological advance has its drawbacks in that it robs us of some thing which is more basic to our humanity. All the bells and whistles of a smart phone are great for training or competing against other cyclists. They are also useful when a cyclist gets lost. Yet, on the downside, advanced smart phone features remove the serenity, the solitude and the relaxing nature of being one with a bicycle without external distractions.
For this reason, I have made a habit of not taking a smart phone with me on bike rides. My bike is a place where I can get back to basics and take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
No modern inventions like engines or propellers move my bicycle. Only my legs propel it. And it is relatively silent, so much so that I can sometimes hear my own rhythmic breathing in the quiet.
However, due to the frequency of violence in modern societies, it might not be a good idea to be completely out of touch when riding alone. A compromise might be in order.
To strike a balance between serenity and safety, I have taken to carrying a dumb phone with me on rides. Such a phone can be obtained for a few dollars. It uses a prepaid card which allows a surprising number of voice calls and text messages for a nominal amount of money.
Many dumb phones are incredibly small and light weight (like the one pictured above). These diminutive phones can be slipped into a pocket or a seat pack where they feel like a feather and barely take up any space.
Cycling with a dumb phone may not be for everyone. It won’t provide a location to help a cyclist find his way home. And, it may be too uncool for those who feel that they must be seen with the latest technology at all times. But, it does provide an amazing sense of freedom and temporary isolation from technology overload.
Every cyclist will have to make a decision for him or herself about whether to ride with a smart phone, with an intermediary feature phone, or with a dumb phone. It comes down to how much a cyclist wants his ride to revolve around technical things and how much he wants it to revolve around relaxation. Maybe for some cyclists the two things can coexist. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ll stick with a dumb phone and the temporary reprieve it gives me from being tethered to high technology.