History of the Bike: A National Bike to Work Day Salute

Photo by Ian Wilkes

It’s National Bike to Work Day, which means you’re likely to see more bikes than usual on the road today. But for many, cycling to work is just part of the daily routine. In fact, an estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. bike to work at least once a week.

Cycling has gone through many highs and lows over the years, so in honor of National Bike to Work Day, we thought we’d take a look at the history of the bike — from its early inception through today. (History buffs take note: though we did our best to verify these dates, early records conflict somewhat.)

History of the bike

3500 B.C. (or so)
The wheel is invented in Mesopotamia. People line up for days to be one of the first to own one but then feel duped when the sleeker second-generation model comes out a year later. (Or so we suspect.)

1790 (ish)
Comte de Sivrac puts 2 wheels together to form the célérifère, a wooden, bike-like contraption with no pedals or steering ability. To change direction, the rider would have to lift, drag, or jump the front wheel to one side. And fixed-gear riders thought they were hard-core!

Baron von Drais invents the Draisine. Though not the first 2-wheeler on the market, the Draisine — also referred to as the “swiftwalker” or “hobby horse” — includes a handlebar, which gives the operator the ability to steer (brilliant!). However, its lack of pedals means riders have to use their feet to propel themselves Flintstone-style.

Mid 1800s
Pedals are added to the front axle of what is now referred to as the vélocipède (French for “fast feet”). The uncomfortable friction created by the wood and metal wheels rolling over cobblestone streets, however, leads to the not-so-endearing nickname “boneshaker.”

The vélocipède makes its way to the U.S. where it takes off in a big way — and then quickly loses steam once people realize how cumbersome it is.

Early 1870s
The high-front-wheeled Ordinary bike (also known as the “penny farthing”) makes its debut, as does the word “bicycle.” The large front wheel improves comfort and speed, but, with its awkward center of gravity, does little for safety.

After one too many “headers” (incidences of people flying over their handlebars of their Ordinaries when they braked), the Safety bike — a bike with same-sized wheels and hollow tubing — is created.

Pneumatic (inflatable) rubber tires are invented and added to the Safety bike. Woohoo! No more bone shaking! Brakes are also improved (since stopping’s kinda cool). Bicycling regains popularity in the U.S and has a surprising effect on women’s liberation. Susan B. Anthony says, “I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

Early 1900s
It was too good to last. Bicycling’s popularity once again wanes as cars bust onto the scene and other forms of recreation carry the day.

The League of American Bicyclists deems May National Bike to Work Month.

Due to an increasing concern over pollution and thanks to its affordability, the bike once again makes a comeback.

Partially due to astronomical gas prices (sound familiar?) bicycles outsell cars in the United States.

Mountain bikes, road bikes, fixed-gear bikes, and foldable bikes … we’re a society that’s just gotta ride (the latest U.S. Census reports that 38 million people enjoy riding their bikes). And why not? Whether for recreation or transportation, biking has a lot to offer (like saving on gas and getting exercise).

So for all you 2-wheeled road warriors who biked to work today (or any day), we salute you.

Related links

5.5 steps for participating in Bike to Work Day
Tips for sharing the roads with bikes
Finding the perfect bike rack

Esurance Poems of the Road Finalists

reading 1,300 poems

Our Esurance Poems of the Road winners have been announced. Read their poems.

During the month of April — known by word nerds everywhere as National Poetry Month — we held the Esurance Poems of the Road Contest. We expected to get several hundred submissions from die-hards poets and travelers alike. And we expected it to be a whole lot of fun.

What we didn’t expect was the veritable onslaught of vast and varied poems we received over the course of the month. There were sonnets, haikus, free verse poems, prose poems, limericks, and lyrics. There were sad poems, funny poems, beautifully narrative poems, abstract poems, experimental poems, and poems that weren’t really poems at all.

The submissions extolled the many wonders, cruelties, and mysteries of the road and some even lauded the virtues of Esurance (thanks!). All told we received more than 1,300 submissions and were happily impressed by the amount of enthusiasm and spirit that went into each.

Poems of the Road finalists

Narrowing the field to 3 was no easy task, but after much reading, discussing, scoring, debating, and tallying, we have our finalists. And here they are (in no particular order):

“Favorite Roads” by Khristian Kay
“Western Equinox” by Lara Wilber
“The Road Home” by Joe Carvalko

These 3 poems are now with Tom and Ray Magliozzi of NPR’s Car Talk. Click and Clack, as they’re more commonly known, will rank them in order of first, second, and third, and winners will be announced next week. Stay tuned!

Honorable mention

Though his poem didn’t make our final selection, honorable mention goes to Rich Follett for “Rhythm of the Road,” which garnered an impressive 1,825 votes. Many poems received a significant number of votes, but “Rhythm of the Road” led the way and more than earned its unofficial place as People’s Choice winner. (Thanks, Rich!)

We also want to thank everyone who voted for their favorite poems and give a very special shout out to all the poets who shared a poem (you guys rock!). We enjoyed reading so many astonishing poems and traveling down so many different roads.

So thanks again, poets, travelers, wordsmiths, and wanderers. And wherever the road takes you next, remember Baudelaire’s advice to “always be a poet, even in prose.”

Esurance Finds a New Way to Save a Tree

At Esurance, we believe in doing our part for the environment. So if we have a chance to save a tree, we’re on it. From the thousands and thousands of trees we save by conducting much of our business online to the 100,000+ trees we’ve helped plant, we’re constantly working to make the world a little greener.

But like Kermit famously said, “It’s not that easy being green.” Read on to find out how several TV producers learned this the hard way while filming one of our Esurance commercials.

The dilemma

Picture this: you’re halfway through filming Esurance’s latest TV commercial. A tight deadline looms. The script calls for a tree to crash down on a car. Your extensive search for a fallen-down tree in L.A. has proven fruitless. As a producer, you’re presented with 2 options.

Option 1: take the easy road and chop down a tree.

Option 2: take the not-so-easy road and scour the West Coast for a tree that’s fallen naturally (and looks really cool).

The decision is complicated by the fact that you’re in danger of falling behind schedule (and going over budget). Yet you know the right tree could make or break the commercial. Sounds like a tough decision, right?

Nah, not for Esurance. After years and years of tree-loving initiatives, we couldn’t, in good conscience, chop down a perfectly good tree just to sell a few car insurance policies. Obviously, we’d have to find another solution.

The challenge

When the TV production team’s L.A. search for that elusive tree failed, Timothy Thomas, prop master for the shoot, looked homeward to Oakhurst, California (near the entrance to Yosemite National Park). And as it just so happened … a big storm had recently blown through and left the perfect fallen tree in its wake.

Forced down by nature with no hope of salvation, it was an ideal fit for the set — a suburban L.A. street. Better yet, the tree’s destiny suddenly shifted from “firewood” to “Hollywood.”

After some artful persuasion and logistical wrangling, a local crane operator loaded the tree onto a truck for the 6-hour journey to Los Angeles, where filming began right on time (with seconds to spare)! Once there, the tree was ready to help make the magic happen in its supporting role.

After the shoot, the tree was donated to a greenery prop house in Los Angeles, so its legacy (and Hollywood story) can live on. We think it’s pretty awesome that our production crew could find a way to save a tree. And we’re pretty sure the tree thinks so too.

Share your stories with us

Have any good tree-saving stories? Share them with us on Facebook.

Related links

Watch all of our commercials
Planting trees in Rocklin, California
Planting trees in Springfield, Ohio
The tree-huggers guide to auto insurance

Summertime Travel: Motorcycle Safety Tips

After some wild winter storms, it’s safe to say we’re all rejoicing that spring has finally arrived. The warmer weather means lighter moods, lighter jackets, and best of all … perfect riding weather!

In honor of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month — May, if you didn’t know — and because we’re all about safety, here are a few motorcycle safety tips before you head out on the highways and dusty backroads.

(If you prefer 4 wheels to 2, check out our tips for sharing the road with motorcycles.)

Motorcycle helmet safety

Motorcycle helmets are vital to safety — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that they reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent. But what exactly should you look for in a helmet?

  • Thick inner liner. To meet federal safety standards, your helmet should have an inner polystyrene foam liner that’s at least one inch thick.
  • Sturdy chin strap and rivets. After all, it won’t do you much good if it falls off.
  • Weight. As a general rule of thumb, safe helmets should weigh about 3 pounds.
  • DOT sticker. Helmets that meet the federal safety regulations must have a DOT (Department of Transportation) sticker certifying this fact on the back. (Note: Some novelty helmet dealers put DOT stickers on helmets that don’t meet the DOT standards. So be sure to do your homework and confirm that a helmet meets the government safety requirements before you buy it.)

Other motorcycle gear to consider

Here are a few must-haves for every motorcycle rider (vegetarians beware).

  • Eye protection. Whether you choose goggles or large sunglasses, protective eyewear helps block sun and wind (oh, the watery eyes) and protects your eyes from debris and bugs. A helmet with a face shield will also do the trick. But make sure it’s shatter proof, scratch free, and well ventilated (to avoid fogging up).
  • Durable clothing. There’s a reason bikers wear leather jackets. They’re durable and can provide protection from abrasions in case of a spill. Long sleeves and pants are best. But make sure the pants are tight at the bottom to prevent getting caught on the machine.
  • Gloves. Sure, winter’s gone and our wooly gloves have been put away, but if you’re riding a motorcycle, a pair of non-slip gloves (leather works well, but other specialty materials exist) should remain part of your spring and summer attire.
  • Footwear. Just like other motorcycle gear, your shoes should protect against debris and abrasion. Boots that cover your ankle and lower leg offer the best protection. Once again, leather reigns supreme. Avoid sandals and slip-ons as they’re not secure and will offer little protection if you wipe out. Also, beware of dangling laces that can get caught in the machinery.

Lane splitting tips

A lane split is when a motorcycle travels between 2 lanes (and often between 2 cars).

In most states, lane splitting is illegal (California is the rare exception), but that doesn’t stop many bikers from making a motorcycle sandwich anyway. This can make drivers both nervous and angry — a California Office of Traffic Safety survey found that 7 percent of drivers admit trying to block lane splitting — and can lead to dangerous conditions for riders.

So, if you’re a lane-splitting motorcyclist (we’ll just assume you live in California), stick to these rules of thumb.

  • Be as visible as possible. Wear brightly colored or reflective clothing and keep your headlight on at all times.
  • Don’t assume other drivers can see you. Not all drivers check their blind spots before switching lanes (tsk, tsk). Be alert and ready to act if a car is heading your way.
  • Avoid tight squeezes. If the space between 2 cars is tight, don’t try to jam yourself in between. One of the cars might swerve, leaving you without enough room to get out of the way.
  • Don’t cut off other drivers. After riding between 2 cars, make sure you allow plenty of room before cutting back into one of the lanes. The faster a car is going, the longer it takes to stop (duh). And always use your signal so they can anticipate your move.

Oh, and one more thing! Remember to make sure you have a good motorcycle insurance policy to add that extra layer of protection you need to avoid financial pain. Happy trails.

Related links

Summer’s the time to insure your boats, ATVs, RVs, and other toys of summer.
Why do bikers head to Sturgis, South Dakota, every year?
What are the most motorcycle-friendly states?

5 (Last-Minute) Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Mother’s Day (also known as mothers day by the grammatically challenged) is just around the corner. And by just around the corner, we mean the day after tomorrow!

If you’re like 17.2 million other Americans (just a guess), you probably haven’t purchased a Mother’s Day gift yet. In fact, if you’re like most of us, you’ll be at your local grocery store Sunday morning, arm-wrestling 5 other forgetful sons and daughters for the last (wimpy) bouquet of yellow carnations and a box of glazed pastries.

But it shouldn’t be this way. This is Mom we’re talking about. She gave birth to you and then spent the next several decades trying to keep you alive and happy (and in good standing with the law). Doesn’t she deserve more than a $7.99 bouquet of leftover flowers and a day-old donut?

Yes she does. And we can help you give it to her. Here’s a quick list of last-minute Mother’s Day gift ideas from your friends at Esurance.

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas for Mom’s of All Kinds

Car insurance + pashmina

Here’s one of our favorite Mother’s Day gift ideas. Show mom how grown up and practical you’ve become by offering to pay her car insurance for a month. (Or just give her the moolah.) Not only will she appreciate the gesture, it’ll also free up a little bill-paying money for something much more fun (like a day at the spa). Wrap your car insurance coupon in a colorful pashmina or scarf, tie a ribbon around it, and voilá  … mom will be astonished by your practicality and your creativity.

Brunch + car wash

Listen, mom doesn’t want to make breakfast (or do dishes) on Mother’s Day. Give her a break from pancake making and syrup scrubbing and make Mother’s Day fancy. Have crepes, strawberries, and mimosas. (Just remember it’s your job to be the designated driver and stick with straight OJ.)

After brunch, show her how much you’ve learned about the importance of cleanliness by taking her out to have her car detailed. Or if money’s tight — hey, we get it — take a spin through the drive-through carwash (it’s surprisingly green and fun too). The car will be shiny and mom will be happy (especially if you heeded our advice on the mimosas).

Time + you

More than likely, what mom really wants is to spend time with you. This Mother’s Day, instead of just “dropping by” for an hour or 2, why not make a whole day of it? Take her to play miniature golf, plan a picnic on the beach, or go for a long, sunny walk in the park. You get the idea. Whether it’s a champagne brunch, an afternoon at the salon, or a day at the roller rink, spend a little extra time making mom’s day this year.

Mother’s day poems + flowers

If you want something a little more personal for mom … write a poem. Ok, maybe you’re not a poet. Maybe you’re not even a writer. But when you made her that turkey/hand/outline/thingy in second grade, she liked that, didn’t she? So chances are, if you write her a poem (from the heart), she’ll love that too. Besides, it never hurts to tell dear ol’ mom you love her. Here are a few famous mom poems to get you started.

The flowers, of course, need no explanation.

Giraffe cookie cutters + seashell soap holder

Don’t take these suggestions literally. The idea here is to personalize. Your friends at Esurance can suggest dozens of great gifts for Mother’s Day that all might fall short of the mark. She’s your mom … and you know her better than any car insurance blogger out there.

So think about what moves and inspires her, what she likes and what makes her happy. If you just apply yourself (thanks for that one, mom!), you’ll probably discover that you’re way better at coming up with Mother’s Day gift ideas for your mom than we are.

Happy Mother’s Day 2012

Wishing all you moms out there a very happy, relaxing, and dishes-free day. (And if you happen to get the giraffe cookie cutters, we apologize in advance.)