Have you ever met a person who, if everybody likes a particular thing, dislikes it on principle? Sort of a mix of curmudgeon and contrarian. Like a contramudgeon. There. I made a new word.
Anyway, that’s me, and here’s a great example. I think e-bikes are dumb (he said being intentionally controversial).
Oh, ho ho, just wait a minute before you begin cataloging all the great things about the industry’s latest solution for all your problems, because you’re right on every count. It is great that you can get where you’re going without being all sweaty. It is great that your significant other can now ride along with you on an equal footing. It is a great solution for local errands, a fantastic car replacement, and a heck of a lot of fun, too.
I’m sure I’m missing ten other perfect applications for e-bike technology, and if they make me look like the contramudgeon I am, I’m very comfortable with that.
Here’s why I think they’re dumb (I don’t really):
- I’ve seen e-bikes before. They were gas powered and called mopeds, and they are a running joke in our culture now. Why does the electric component of the e-bike make it somehow paradigm shiftingly better than the moped? It feels to me like a simple repackaging of a very old idea, a good idea, but one we’ve rejected before.
- Why are they bikes? I’ve heard that motorcycle dealerships are now selling them with great success. Does that make any more/less sense than bike shops selling them? Does an e-bike have more in common with an electric scooter than a pedaled bike?
- Isn’t e-biking exactly not cycling? It’s like saying that driving a car is gas-running, like saying that commercial air travel is like rock climbing.
Now. All the kidding aside.
I’m in favor of e-bikes, but I’m afraid of what they mean. First, I’m afraid that, when we give people the option of pedaling or not pedaling, most of the time they’ll choose not pedaling, and that will lead to the demise of or further niche-ing of the bike industry. Second, it’s great that e-bikes are so much more efficient and “green” than mopeds and motorcycles, but do they, in fact, perpetuate the illusion that consuming energy, even more efficiently, has no consequences? Third, we don’t have infrastructure for this. People on e-bikes, sometimes moving at 28 mph, but always accelerating in unpredictable ways for other riders, endanger other cyclists and themselves, because they’re meant to share the space to the right of the cars. I’m all in favor of eliminating the lane with the cars in it, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as usual, without having a cogent plan.
This week’s TCI Friday asks these questions: Why will e-bikes succeed where mopeds and motorcycles have not? What is the right infrastructure plan for these new vehicles? And how soon after I get my first e-bike do you expect me to completely get over all of my misgivings?