Friday, September 26, 2008

[Cyclelicious] New comment on Electric bicycles at Interbike?.

Ron has left a new comment on your post "Electric bicycles at Interbike?":


I agree that they are useful if they get more cars off the road--but only if the trade is putting ebikes on the road in their place. Unfortunately, ebike promoters don't seem comfortable on the road.

A couple of years ago at Interbike I got into a, um, discussion with an ebike rep when, as part of his sales pitch, he boasted how his industry has slipped through legislation to get these things recognized as human-powered, not motorized. That means they are allowed (not welcome) bike paths.

Our own, local bike path specifically says 'no motor vehicles,' but in the convoluted world of transportation policy, these are apparently not motorized--much like those idiotic Segway scooters, which also slipped legislation through to allow them on sidewalks and bike paths.

During our discussion, the rep suggested I was one of those elitist cyclists who doesn't want to share the joy with the less fit members of society. It didn't go well after that.

His argument was that I can go 20 mph on my bicycle, which is about all the average ebike can muster under motor power. I pointed out that I can't do that uphill, and that I don't maintain those sorts of speeds when I'm riding about for practical purposes, since I don't want to arrive sweaty and out of breath. In short, it's rare for a cyclist under his own power to maintain 20 mph.

By contrast, some sloth with no bike handling experience (in the course of learning to power a bike up to ebike speeds, I've learned to handle it as well) can hop on and go. Forget reading Forester, ignore any conventional etiquette, just go--very fast, for bike path standards.

Personally, I'm not even much of a bike path fan. I lean toward vehicular cycling, and I believe we should be more vigilant in defending our right to the road than insisting on separate facilities (segregation doesn't do much for marginalized populations). However, as long as we have these facilities, they should be specifically limited to truly human-powered users.

If we could limit their use to roadways, I'd be a huge supporter. As I pointed out to the rep, I'm already out there on the road, barely able to maintain ebike speeds, and I would welcome the company of hordes of slower users. I would love to see a broader cross-section of the population understand the injustice of having our public rights-of-way (roads) co-opted by the fastest, most aggressive users (drivers). If there were hundreds of ebikes out on the roads every morning, people would have to learn to accomodate slower users.

Instead, because the lazy-assed promoters of these vehicles don't want to step up and insist on their right to the road, as well as helping users understand how a slow-moving vehicle can share the road safely, ebike users are going to feel entitled to behave like pedestrians.

We've ignored bicycle safety education (while offering driver's ed at every high shcool in the country) for so long that most people don't even know which side of the road a bicycle belongs on, or understand that a sidewalk is much more dangerous than a road. Imagine the problems these uneducated riders will create, magnified by sticking motors under people with no cycling experience.

Ebikes could become a great solution to transportation problems, or they could become a social nuisance. Unfortunately, ebike boosters seem to be pushing the latter.
Happy Trails,
Ron Georg

Posted by Ron to Cyclelicious at 9/26/2008 08:11:00 AM