E for Effort
I’ve followed the growing debate over electric bikes with great interest. It doesn’t take a scientific survey to see that many of the people who operate them often do so in an illegal fashion, riding against traffic or the wrong way in bike lanes and cruising onto sidewalks. I don’t think this happens at a higher rate than with other vehicles, such as cars and foot-powered bikes, but as with anything new it’s sometimes more noticeable.
My take on e-bikes is that they are not bikes. They’re not exactly motorcycles or mopeds either, but on a spectrum that runs from a Hummer on one end to a tricycle on the other, they’re closer to the Hummer.
For starters, e-bikes have top speeds of around 20 miles per hour. Sure, there are plenty of bike messengers and racers who travel faster than that, but it’s unlikely that the average bike commuter could sustain that pace for very long or that a delivery person would have much left in him after an hour or two of biking around the city at that speed. There’s also the issue of acceleration; even Lance probably can’t speed up to 20 mph as fast as a delivery guy on an e-bike.
Additionally, e-bikes allow riders to be less connected to riding, since all they have to do, even after a quick pedal-assist, is steer. That gives them more in common with cars than with bicycles, since one of the biggest problems with cars is that they make it too easy for drivers to not think about and work on the task of driving — it’s as easy to tap the accelerator to go fifteen mph as it is to go sixty. If you are pedaling, you are working, and if you are working, you are thinking. So if an e-bike rider doesn’t have to think about the energy he’s expending or how he, on his own, will stop or turn, it’s all too easy for him to stop thinking about other people on the road. That’s how accidents happen.
I think of it another way. Is our problem with cars merely that they are powered by gas or do other factors come into play, such as their size and weight and their ability to accelerate quickly? Or still another: would you rather be hit by a small gas-powered car going 20 mph or a small electric-powered car going 20 mph? Which is heavier, a pound of gold or a pound of feathers?
I’m certainly for a New York City in which more e-bikes replace cars and gas-powered scooters and motorcycles. The city would be quieter and cleaner and you can park at least five of them in the space it takes to store one car. Just keep them out of the bike lanes.