“e” stands for “Euro” in e-Bike.

EuroBike is funny:

And the girls there thought I was quite funny!

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And I understood what I was there for:

But most of the exhibitors were totally lost. Ask them and it’s e-Bike, e-Bike, e-Bike. It’s as though they’re in a competition to build the best spork.

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They all need reminding of what happened the last time small motors were added to bicycles.

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The motors got bigger, the pedals became pegs and a machine was born more fitting in the countryside than the city.

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The city has lots of people all crossing paths. It’s their maneuverability, not their maximum speeds, that is key to them all having short trip times. Putting them on or in fast machines means adding traffic lights to limit catastrophic collisions.

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Expecting them to walk means funnelling them into busses and trains introducing a whole new set of delays.

Deterring people from using machines while letting them cycle gives everyone the best of both worlds: free movement at crossroads and enough speed to cross town. And this is why the bicycle remained the tool of choice for city dwellers even after the motorbike was invented.

Cyclists at Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen (1940-45)

Try thinking it through. Battery packs are going to get smaller and stronger until the e-Bike cannot resist turning into a motorbike. New sports disciplines will be invented around it. Some e-bikes will be made with the rear wheels meters behind the rest of the bike so riders aren’t flipped by the torque. All of this is very interesting to the history of motorbikes.

But to the history of pushbikes? I suspect the battery will be remembered as something the industry inadvertently swallowed, like an anaconda that thought it was food.

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I no more want my life cluttered with e-bikes than electric umbrellas or raincoats I have to reproof. If the jolly thing isn’t ready to go when I want it, irrespective of the extent to which it has been neglected, then I’ll leave my bike and take a skateboard.

The idea that I will get home and plug in my bike before I go to the toilet or open a beer? Of course I won’t do that! Sure, a few geeks will convince a few newbie consumers that recharging is as easy as [insert simple instructions], but anyone who has made bikes a part of their lives will tell you that’s nonsense.

We want bikes with tires that never go flat, lights that always come on, drive trains we don’t have to oil and locks we don’t have to look for. The last thing we want are new burdens.

Every argument for the e-Bike is bleak:

  1. it suckers non-cyclists into giving cycling a try only to be bitterly disappointed and never go back,
  2.  it lets cyclists keep up with cars so that bike infrastrucutre never needs to be built
  3. it covers greater distances so we can go on defacing the world with urban sprawl
  4. it increases the cost of the bike so the industry can profit from a handful of buyers without cycling ever becoming mainstream.

The only “problem” an e-Bike addresses is one with simpler solutions. If the person you’re riding with can’t keep up and you’re both in a hurry, put your hand on their back or let them hold onto your wrist.

The e-Bike though is a creator of problems, not least for the bicycling industry. The money they’re investing in R&D now will be wasted without a decade or two of strong sales for these products, in which time e-bikes may be barred from bike infrastructure or the market taken over by motorbike makers who understand that kind of buyer.

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In the meantime the market for actual pushbikes, that are ready any time to just roll out the door, can only get bigger. 3 billion people in the 3rd world are being lifted from poverty, not so much that they will be able to afford motors, but enough that they will want basic bike parts.

Meanwhile in our part if the world 1 billion people are embarking on a huge demographic shift from sprawling car suburbs to dense city living, where they will find that slow cycling is their best option. That’s a billion new buyers of no-maintenance push bikes that don’t even have to be cheap.

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