Saturday, May 8, 2010

Coconut oil

Yes, this is a cycling blog, not cooking or health, though both are relevant to cycling. Here I relate an interesting bit of information gathered through casual conversation. I have a neighbor I chat with on most mornings. His child rides the same school bus as mine do. He teaches me a few words in Bengali, which I get to practice with him as well. I've actually found it quite useful. More and more of the folks I meet from the Asian sub-continent are from Bangladesh. We speak of various things--in English (I only know a few words of Bengali.)--mostly mundane. Coupon cutting, work, weather and the like. Occasionally, he tells me stories of his home. He reminisces, I learn.

After the bike tour my bike developed a bad squeak that I figured was best treated before further riding (bottom bracket overhaul), so I took the train and met my neighbor along the way. As we walked I mentioned my need to get to bicycle maintenance. My neighbor commented on the ubiquity of bicycles in Bangladesh, and then he said something very interesting. He said that back home they used coconut oil to grease the ball bearings on their bicycles. I thought it was a cool Third World improvisation (Yes, I thought it just like that--didn't say I was perfect.). Naturally, I thought it was acceptable not optimal--a quick thinking poor man's substitute. I wondered whether it was really a good idea and decided to do a little research.

What I learned was that coconut oil was being tested as an industrial lubricant to replace mineral based lubricants, and testing favorably. Check out this article in "The Hindu,", and "The Sun Star" of the Philippines: I could not help but wonder at the fact that the South Asians were taking the lead in green industries. I was compelled to wonder at the prospects of a future economy that may be neither dollar nor petroleum based. It is suggestive of a future economy with a regional basis and multiple solutions, not one. A global economy that tends towards polyculture, not monoculture. After all, there must be many sustainable, renewable substances with a similar make up that are regionally appropriate elsewhere. The argument against greener methods has been that there isn't one solution large enough to meet our current massive needs. We've already begun to address the massiveness of our needs, but who says we need one solution.

Meanwhile, I will be exploring the matter further, including trying coconut oil next time I overhaul a wheel hub or bottom bracket--especially during the Summer since coconut oil congeals and hardens in cooler temperatures.


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