Systematically assaulting the e-bike until it is banned.

My last post got under the skin of some pedelec owners, because they know I am right. They picture that gap between their seat tube and their rear tire and hear my critique going around in their heads. Their chain and seat stays have been stretched to make way for a battery that is going to stop working as sure as any electric can opener, at which point their $3000 bike will be about as covetable as a Vladimir Gottwald designed fifty cent piece.

636clear

Another argument has some thing or another to do with hills. A century of whistling as you push your bike up a hill, forgotten, like that.

For the sake of a peaceful life I advise you never to say e-bikes are stupid. I was also tweeted at by the famous* British transport consultant @Phil_PJA who wrote:

@BehoovingMoving Without my OH having bought a pedelec I wouldn’t have just had a lovely week’s biking holiday in Cornwall. So there.

How charmingly British to leap to the technological fix as though mismatched cycling had never occurred before electric assist was invented. No husband has ever ridden with his wife on a tandem, carried her luggage, let her hold onto his wrist, or just slowed the hell down so she could keep up. The earth was formless and empty and then god said, let there be e-bikes.

I’m not being Luddite. Sat nav is awesome. It chagrins me, that’s all, when novel technologies that are hardly amazing cause everyone to forget elegant ways of being in the world (and I do mean that as a vague reference to Heidegger). We did it to mortars and pestles, that were so much easier to clean than food processors. We did it to wool that has always been warmer than nylon. We did it to cast-iron frying pans that last a hundred times longer than frying pans with teflon coatings. We did it to cycling when we found cars, and we’re about to do it to cycling again with these stupido e-bike contraptions.

maxresdefault

The whole reason we’re having this cycling Renaissance is not so we can keep up with the cars. It is so we can go a lot faster than cars. Cars can go incredibly fast, out there in the middle of nowhere. Bring them all to the one place though, some place like a city, and they grind to a halt.

The real speed of the bike, is the speed at which it negotiates tight situations. Add the weight of a motor and the unpredictability of a power source other than that of the body, and you are making the bike more like a car. In the tight situations that are at the heart of the urban mobility problem, electric motors just slow cycling down, making it clumsy, twitchy, heavy, with greater inertia, and dangerous. We’re already seeing accident rates soaring among elderly Dutch riders of pedelecs.

The age of the e-bike that its apologists are witlessly summoning, will also see a major opportunity going to waste. One of the beneficial things to have come from the machine-age, and the age of big finance, is our ability to build really big buildings quite cheaply. Airports and shopping centres are just the beginning. The streets of the future will be undercover, in new cities and districts without any history, and thus far no names. If we play our cards right at the moment, and emphasise the agility and civility of cycling among pedestrians, rather than emphasising the speed of the bike as something that can be used in environments designed for the car, we will be winning a place for the bike in the future, indoor, agora.

tropical1

*I don’t know for sure that he’s famous.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore. My favourite bikes are a titanium racing bike I use for racing, a Velorbis retro commuter for riding to cafes and work, a single speed ultra light Brompton that I take with me when I travel on planes, a 29er hard tail mountain bike that I get lost on in remote places, an old track bike that scares me, a 1984 Colnago Super with all original campagnolo components that is plugged into a virtual realm that I train in, and a Dutch-made Bakfiets, that could easily replace half of the bikes I just mentioned.
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45 Responses to Systematically assaulting the e-bike until it is banned.

  1. kratchett@gmail.com says:

    Oh fuck off. Your muddy mountain trike is about as covetable as a Joe Hockey promise of no children delivered to offshore hell-holes.
    Ever ridden a boneshaker with indicators? Rear vision camera? GPS anti-theft device as standard? Didn’t think so. All these are coming to e-bikes as standard while you weep for pointless mud-in-cog nostalgia. And others think, hmm, I might like this.
    If you can’t understand now, Steven, at least get the hell out of the way.

    • Steven says:

      Exactly, you’re adding bandaid solutions to problems of your/our creation. Being hit from behind and bike theft would be better addressed through environmental design. (I’m not sure where you’re head is at with the muddy cog tangent.) Thanks though for chiming in!

  2. rdrf says:

    ” at least get the hell out of the way”. Charmingly put. The last time someone said that to me when I was cycling, it was from someone using one of those – what do they call them? – yes, I have it now..

    …a car.

  3. crank says:

    The bicycle is almost perfect engineering – it is as simple as it needs to be. There is little you can take from it to make it better. The car is obscenely over-engineered for it’s typical applications. Most of the car serves to transport the car around. Wasteful of on so many levels, and not to mention your bank balance. While I think there is a small place for e-bikes, I do think they are oversold, and exploiting how Anglo societies project car fetishes upon the humble bicycle. No doubt, more profits here.

    There is bliss in simplicity. (And slowing down for, and towing your wife).

  4. timot1 says:

    With respect Stephen, this is sheer arse-hattery.

    I live in a city of hills where if I’m honest it’s not easy to get to a business meeting in reasonable time without breaking into a sweat – at least in summer anyway.

    I don’t have an e-bike, I mostly ride an aluminium framed dutch bike with a lot of gears. As a designer, I abhor the fact that they are mostly butt-ugly, but if I hadn’t moved to a slightly less hilly part of Auckland I would be riding one by now.

    For flat places, I agree that ebikes are superfluous and, if used beyond assist for hills have the potential to compromise cycle lanes (for those so lucky as to have them – I haven’t ridden on anything more substantial than green paint yet).

    Perhaps you might want to talk to Mike Rubbo – who post heart attack found his ebike to be a game-changer on the hills surrounding his home.

    I don’t own a car, my ‘other bike’ is a scooter (so shoot me). I try to use the bike as much as possible but sometimes time and the requirement to not ‘blow away’ my cafe date force me to use the scooter when I would rather not. An e-bike would however, would mean I could bicycle much more.

    You may not need an ebike where you live, but plenty of others do, and if it get’s them out of a car, I say all power to them.

    • Steven says:

      Nice reply, thanks Tim. Consider this, before cars, hill tops were rarely built on, and most streets followed contours. Steep streets and hill top suburbs of the post-WW2 era are technologically induced mutations of a natural order that we need to be rediscovering, not masking over with e-bikes.

    • Bryce P says:

      Reply to Steven. Um, majority of Auckland on the steepest hills (ie CBD) was built well before the motor vehicle arrived. Context is important.

    • Steven says:

      It’s been at least 10 years since I was there. I recall old streets following contours, and flatlands ripe for redevelopment. In San Francisco they concentrate bike infrastructure in low/flat areas, like the mission district.

    • Colin says:

      The inner part of Sydney is another hilly pre-car area. You can talk about concentrating bike development in flat areas, but so what – ebikes will be an option for everybody else cycling in the rest of the city.

      And your admission that ebikes can make sense if carrying loads is bigger than you think. Carrying loads is an everyday thing for people – not some minor exception to be grudgingly admitted. You could say the fact that current cyclists tend not to carry loads is an artifact of our car-based society.

    • Steven says:

      Sorry Colin, but you’re going to have to move down to the flatlands from from your leafy hilltop location and help rebuild your city for the sake of the kiddies. Once you get away from those hills, you will be able to pedal a bakfiets loaded with shopping at about 15kph with not much more power output than you put into walking.

    • Colin says:

      This isn’t some provincial town where you can walk your bike up the sole hill in town where you live and still ride the remaining flatlands with ease. The CBD here is hilly. The inner-city is hilly. There are small pockets of flat ground here and there, but each is too small to contain everything you need in life, and so venturing into hills will always be necessary.

      So I actually am considering moving to a flatter city. But what makes sense for me individually doesn’t necessarily scale to the entire society.

    • Steven says:

      there’s a lot of flat land around sydney airport.

  5. Mike Stead says:

    kratchett@gmail.com, what an utter load of tosh. These things are NOT coming ‘as standard’ and never, ever will. You have no proof points of this, it’s just your speculation. The most common bicycle used in Europe, by far, is indistinguishable from that riden 100 years ago. The design was perfected then, and no noticeable change has made headway. Your claim that bikes need to or will get more complicated is utter nonsense.

    So please do take your own succinct advice in the first sentence.

  6. Steven,

    You said in a comment: “Consider this, before cars, hill tops were rarely built on, and most streets followed contours. Steep streets and hill top suburbs of the post-WW2 era are technologically induced mutations of a natural order that we need to be rediscovering, not masking over with e-bikes.”

    At least in the case of Auckland, New Zealand, to follow contours has always meant to sometimes situate up steep grades. Topographically, a dominating series of narrow ridges parallel the harbour’s edge. For centuries this formation provided a relatively flat but elevated web of natural highways for the indigenous population. Then it presented slivers of tempting real estate for settlers to build upon from the early half of 19th century onwards.

    Witness: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aucklandcity.govt.nz%2Fdbtw-wpd%2FHeritageImages%2Findex.htm&AC=QBE_QUERY&TN=heritageimages&QF0=ID&NP=2&MR=5&RF=HIORecordSearch&QI0=%3D%224-8489%22

    The incentive to exploit these raised creases of the land was only matched by the need to keep one collective foot wet in the harbour. As can be seen in the illustration above, both areas got built up, and then the gaps were substantially filled even before 1900.

    Between ~1900 and 1956, streetcar-based sprawl spread beyond the vicinity of the water’s edge, while trams grew more popular even within the central part of town that was inevitably subject to steep grades.

    The point is: this all happened before the car took over.

    Were we to confine ourselves today to re-discovering only these heritage Auckland neighbourhoods, most plausible cycling routes (except for one) would still suffer inconvenient or prohibitive grades along the way (for meaningful segments of the population).

    How true this is for other countries and their cities, I don’t know. But it is a similar story for perhaps the majority of New Zealand’s urbanised areas that predate 1940.

    • Steven says:

      Aukland sounds just like Sydney. But I want to say 2 things. 1/ Post-WW2 sprawl to hilltops and the countryside created impossible cycling environments. Ridge roads and streetcar routes were at least manageable for hardy riders. 2/ poorly utilised industrial sites (docklands, warehouses, etc) and the empty rail corridors, concrete-cased streams and other easements that link them all up, occupy flatlands. You could develop a masterplan to fill that space with enough high density flats to absorb Aukland’s growth for the next century and gradually turn it into a flat city for most people who live there. Or you could let e-bikes blinker you to smart planning.

    • On point #1:

      Yes, post-WW2 sprawl is a defining feature of present-day Auckland, like other cities, and has made cycling generally much more difficult if not impossible. However, pre-WW2 urban form was the interesting case in my comment, and it is in the gap between hardy riders and the rest of us that perhaps electric-assist bicycles have a role there.

      On point #2:

      The one Auckland cycling route that is already flat and useful happens to be on reclaimed waterfront land, including a re-purposed docklands and industrial site with an ex-rail line (Wynyard Quarter). So I won’t pretend to disagree — I can see how that type of development can be improved and spread across the city via corridors, easements, etc.

      But I just can’t see this growing into a comprehensive package, which I expect to have some fine-grained gridded networking (a city not being a tree) with optimal exposure of bicycle paths to both frontage and street intersections. I can’t see why using e-bikes as a tactic to enable this for the remainder of the pre-existing city (which I presume might otherwise be left to atrophy into motordom) would blinker any smart planning at the same time — really, why should it?

    • Steven says:

      Darn, we’re almost in agreement. If someone lives on a hill and wants an e-bike, it’s no skin off my nose. The only danger is that planners and politicians will next start saying that everyone can now buy an e-bike, as they once said everyone can now buy a car. It would better if all the cyclists showed solidarity and relocated to the flat lands, which they might do if the book I am writing right now becomes a #1 best seller. It will help you imagine how that former rail corridor in Aukland really could be a paradise for those of us who don’t want every kind of machine invading our lives. BTW, thanks for some very considered responses!

    • It is a real danger for a society to over-commit to any subset of a total strategy. That could be e-bikes, or it could be targeting a hardy minority (status quo), or it could be developing infrastructure in flat lands or greenfields primarily. A city engineer recently told me that installing bike paths could only be realistic in the controlled circumstances of greenfields developments at the edge of the city, so we ought to expect nothing in the vicinity of the existing built environment. That sort of exclusion is not right, whichever way it’s cut.

      Still, if hypothetically constrained resources made me choose just one aspect of a good cycling strategy to promote above all else, it would be the formation of a minimally-viable, dense grid of human-friendly paths upon the existing street network. If the geometry ain’t right, nothing else matters — there has to be sufficient transverse connectivity, rubbing right up to buildings’ front doors, or else a worthlessly sparse or dendritic form emerges. Both e-bikes and expanding services via disused/misused flat spaces, as objectives in themselves, would be lower priorities, as they will multiply in usefulness when they can properly hook up to a rich tapestry of streets, blocks and corners across the city.

      Yet, under that rubric, e-bikes might be adopted to lift some pre-WW2 topographic barriers and smooth out the grid — which is the main role I’d argue for. Likewise, re-purposing some tracts of land to correct post-WW2 severance would also be implied. All is not lost even with strict policy prioritisation.

      I look forward to the book.

      PS: the rail system in Auckland has generally been expanding, so there won’t be much abandoned land around. With a recent upgrade to electric lines and soon-to-be frequent services, intensified re-development along the corridor has become more attractive. But joining the train station dots with bike paths is surely less worthwhile than perhaps fanning out from train stations to front doors across their catchments.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks again. I’m hearing echoes of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl and the gang in your fondness of fine-grain permeable grids. Planners tried to carve up redevelopment districts this way in the 80s and 90s, but in the end had to amalgamate lots and sell them to developers who wanted to build hundreds of apartments at once, not a few dozen. I’m changing the topic from e-bikes, so understand if you don’t want to play ball, but aren’t you being obstinate? If big finance and economies of scale on the building site are pushing us toward mega-scale projects, shouldn’t we be theorising in that space? If those of us who care about cycling muddle that interest with a 1960s romantic vision of the city, then the new mega-scale districts that are going ahead whether we like it or not, risk having no bikes, when bikes in fact could be their major appeal?

    • That’s an interesting argument which I have loosely entertained in my head once or twice, but never heard anyone express directly. Not the first time this has happened with your writing — it’s why I started reading your blog.

      So I don’t have a solid answer to your question; this is approaching the edge of my knowledge of planning. It’s true that my general position on cities stems from a Jacobs-Gehl-Alexander axis, but I know their guidance does not usually apply straightforwardly to today’s world, at least in the city I pay closest attention to. That said, there are other uncertainties I have with some of your premises:

      - That big finance will inevitably continue to push toward mega-scale, projects. I wonder it’s too soon yet to discount New Urbanism, Lean Urbanism, neo-traditionalism or even some future school. I also wonder if a post-automobile market might inherently shrink the sweet spot for economies of scale in development. Then there are structural questions of finance and capitalism that at least give cause for doubt that larger and riskier projects will proceed. Were some to proceed, I’d wonder how much of a difference it would make to the median size of all projects.

      - That a different kind of design would be needed for cycling at these larger scales. Although size is variable, geometry itself doesn’t change with it. So long as human bodies function in roughly the same way as today (or the 1960s), our relationship with geometry should also remain. Thus at least some of the design principles suggested by Jacobs, Gehl, Alexander etc. should stand. Then it may sometimes follow that a developer of a very large project could have no better option but to dissolve, subdivide or regress their problem space into familiar, distilled patterns. I wonder if this will be true often enough to remain a recommended approach without straitjacketing the evolution of planning.*

      - That normative choices for developing smaller, backward-looking urban form today would preclude theorising or indeed practicing in a newer, bigger space. I just think we can do both and more at the same time — particularly if one accepts there can be different approaches to, say, recovering from automobile affliction in places that predate it, or correcting structural faults in places that don’t, or developing contemporary greenfield sites and districts, etc.

      * Evidence from the 80s and 90s where this approach failed is troubling, and I don’t yet know enough about them to try to mount a defence. But at least there appear to be cases where some projects worked (partially and messily, but that’s reality; or in later years) so I’m not yet persuaded that the basic programme should be rejected.

    • Steven says:

      Darn this is good. I just have to leave it for a day or two to attend to some other stuff, but promise to come back. Many thanks!

  7. kfg says:

    ” . . .these stupido e-bike contraptions.”

    On this one I’m with you, but then all of my cookware is made of cast iron, so what do I know?

    They almost make hybrids look like a good idea.

  8. I see Kevin arriving at Cycling Embassy functions, cycling his Brompton with one leg, and I think ‘what would I do in a similar situation?’ I have a Bakfiets and two small children to carry in it, and I use it for shopping, etc. If I lost the use of a leg, got too old, got too infirm, whatever, I’d be blessing the person who put an electric assist on a bike.

    Honestly, I find the whole ‘e-bikes are Satan’ a ridiculous argument. I might never use one, but I don’t object if someone else chooses to do so. Getting about on a bike is a convenience, not a religion.

  9. geoffR says:

    Bearing in mind that The Netherlands is one of the fastest growing markets for e-bikes and that the people buying them are the 55 – 70 year olds who were becoming disenfranchised from ordinary cycling, I can’t see e-bikes going away soon. Fine, if you are a young fit guy, ride as hard as you like, be my guest and boast about how strong you are and how much your all singing all dancing multi geared pile of alloy and steel cost, but as somebody in the e-bike age range, when I have a 25 MPH head wind against me and 70 pounds of shopping with 5 miles to ride home, I start dreaming about a bit of power assist!

    • Steven says:

      I’ll have to see about hiding the comments box in the middle of the text. I might get fewer comments from folk who just read the title.

    • geoffR says:

      Sorry Steven you’ll have to do a little better than that, neither your article nor comments convince me that ebikes are not part of a cycling solution and resorting to “oh so clever” responses doesn’t convince me either. In fifty or a hundred years time there may be architectural solutions and paradigm shifts in the built environment that we can only dream of but I will be long dead and frankly they will be of little use to me getting my shopping home. I notice that you have a variety of bikes – I presume for different functions, I live in a part of the world where most people don’t even own one bike but many retired people who are returning to cycling are choosing ebikes both for leisure and utility riding. Most of the bikes ridden are the pedal assist type where the rider still has to put in some effort are you suggesting that they shouldn’t bother?

    • Steven says:

      Comprehension lesson: I used a polemical and ironic headline “ban e-bikes” to attract thousands of hits, fully aware that only 1 in 10 readers would dismiss the headline as a tongue-in-cheek grab and focus on the substantive point, ie, my call for land-use and urban design thinking that truly believes in human-power. I really don’t mean to insult you, but you tried to insult me, so here I go: you’re not the gold in the pan.

    • kfg says:

      My mom is over 80. Even the Dutch only claim to 80, on the level, yet she rides her one speed coaster brake city bike to do her shopping, miles up a 4% grade with peaks over 10%. To be fair she rides her shopping load down the same hill.

      The bike cost 75 USD new and she doesn’t have an athletic bone in her body. To be fair it helps that she has a son who knows how to set it up properly.

      I myself am in that 55 – 70 year old group. My own pile of steel and alloy (in that order) can’t even coast. I ride it up the same hill, just rather faster than she does, because instead of buying a heavy ass battery pack which will serve to make me weaker, I bought some heavy ass hunks of steel that make me stronger. Stronger, in fact, than I have ever been. It only takes me about 10 minutes, once a week.

      If, however, you are exercise averse and don’t mind deteriorating by choice, why not just buy something sensible like a proper lightweight motorbike or scooter?

    • Steven says:

      I fully agree. Exercise is medicine. If I’m hearing you right, and you do have to guess your own age by your reflection (maybe your mum got you mixed up with some other offspring—things like these happen), then how do you know you’re not even older? I mean, you could be 80 and mum 100+. This exercise would be making you both look a lot younger.

  10. kfg says:

    ” . . . how do you know you’re not even older?”

    It’s on the Internet, so it must be true.

  11. Anton says:

    Your objections are aesthetic and philosophical, but the problem is they’re at odds with people’s real needs, that are being met by ebikes. Some of those needs are summarized in this recent infographic:

    https://twitter.com/CalBike/status/496728971921203200

    I’ve been a rider of ordinary (and extraordinary) bicycles for many decades, and I’m about to buy an ebike to commute with, mainly to get around the whole issue of arriving at work sweaty and tired. You can rail all you want at my lack of moral fiber or whatever, but the realistic alternative for me would be to buy another car and drive 15km to work every day.

    Don’t let your romantic and, frankly, unrealistic vision of cycling perfection become the enemy of having good transportation options other than cars.

    • Steven says:

      I don’t rile against your decision. Your environment is leading you to choose an e-bike. If your environment meant you needed a Hummer, I would say you should buy a Hummer. What I’m trying to do with this line of thinking is stir imaginations to consider alternative approaches to the production of NEW urban environments. They’re still building new cities in China, for instance, with roads and building stock to suit driving, where the only kind of bike that might cope is an e-bike.

  12. Oregon Gumby says:

    I appreciate your outside the box thinking. It’s not enough to build bike infastructure. To really create a sea change, we need to change the fundamental structure of our cities. It seems, though, that you are puting the cart before the horse. When the built environment makes electric bikes unnecesary, they will become extict. I don’t see that happening in the next 20 years though, so in the mean time, we need to find intermediate steps that get people out of their vehicles. If you can make cycling easier and more convenient than driving, people will do it – that’s where the electric bike comes in. I love the excercise my bike gives me, but many people find no pleasure in it. Banning electric bikes will just push people back into cars and will do nothing to promote better infastructure or lifestyle.

  13. Branden says:

    It’s true, e-bikes are about as ridiculous as folding bikes

    • Steven says:

      that’s below the belt! I love my little green Brompton!

    • crank says:

      Oh no! Not only have I a folding bike, but a minivelo too! Your remark is interesting though, because the reason for me getting a folding bike was environmental. The reason for me getting the minivelo is because I like funny bikes :-)

  14. Anton van Straaten says:

    > “What I’m trying to do with this line of thinking is stir imaginations to consider alternative approaches to the production of NEW urban environments.”

    That may be part of what you’re trying to do, but the dislike of e-bikes reflected in your prose (e.g., “stupido e-bike contraptions”) and in the nature of your complaints about the bikes and even their proponents, make it abundantly clear that something else is going on here, too. This undermines and distracts from any more serious case you might be trying to make about urban design.

    One issue is that you appear to be conflating e-bikes as a symptom of problematic urban situations with the problematic situations themselves, which leads you to the erroneous conclusion that e-bikes wouldn’t have a place in a better urban context.

    In order to try to make this argument make sense, you’ve had to manufacture a number of rather silly criticisms which are easily dispensed with. Let’s examine some of those:

    > “Their chain and seat stays have been stretched to make way for a battery”

    This is a minor point, but there are an enormous variety of e-bikes, and on many if not most of them, neither the chain nor the seat stay has been stretched. I don’t know which bike your picture is of, but this argument is like complaining that cars are useless because the Model T Ford only comes in black.

    > “…battery that is going to stop working as sure as any electric can opener, at which point their $3000 bike will be about as covetable as a Vladimir Gottwald designed fifty cent piece.”

    …At which point you buy another battery, since on all modern e-bikes, the batteries are replaceable and recycleable. Problem solved!

    > Another argument has some thing or another to do with hills. A century of whistling as you push your bike up a hill, forgotten, like that.

    The infographic I linked to, which reflects a study by Portland State Transportation Research, says that 60% of respondents work in a hilly area, and use an e-bike for the assist on hills. If your response to this is “push and whistle,” you shouldn’t be surprised if not many people take you seriously. Your urban plan involving people pushing and whistling up hills will simply fail, and you won’t have achieved anything.

    In general, you seem to be a big fan of arguments of the form that because workarounds existed to various problems before e-bikes, that e-bikes therefore aren’t needed. But this argument could be made about literally any piece of technology, including buildings. After all, caves give you a roof over your head and you can work around their various drawbacks in various ways. They even fit the “undercover, indoor” criteria that you apparently favor!

    You claim that you’re “not being Luddite,” but in this case, in fact, you are.

    > “The whole reason we’re having this cycling Renaissance is not so we can keep up with the cars. It is so we can go a lot faster than cars. Cars can go incredibly fast, out there in the middle of nowhere. Bring them all to the one place though, some place like a city, and they grind to a halt.”

    That’s a very narrow view. People who prefer bikes have all sorts of reasons for preferring them, and with e-bikes in particular, keeping up with cars or going faster than cars is only one reason for some of those people, not the only reason for all of them. The infographic I linked mentions some of the other, much more real reasons.

    > The real speed of the bike, is the speed at which it negotiates tight situations. Add the weight of a motor and the unpredictability of a power source other than that of the body, and you are making the bike more like a car.

    Typical e-bikes weigh around 25 kg, and still have the form factor of a bicycle. You can negotiate tight situations in the same way – you can still put your feet down, your weight is still far less than that of a moped or even something like a Segway.

    The argument that this is “more like a car” is hard to take seriously. It’s more like a car in the same sense that an electric scooter is more like car – i.e. it has a motor – but it lacks the enormous weight, size, noise, pollution, degree of energy consumption, disconnection from the environment, etc.

    > In the tight situations that are at the heart of the urban mobility problem, electric motors just slow cycling down, making it clumsy, twitchy, heavy, with greater inertia, and dangerous.

    First, if you’re talking about truly tight situations, bikes in general are a poor alternative to walking, and you should expand your jihad to include all bikes. But in situations where ordinary bikes are viable, the combined weights of bike and rider varies significantly, depending on factors like the cost of the bike, the size of the rider, and what they’re carrying. Your point here simply doesn’t translate into a meaningful difference in the real world.

    > We’re already seeing accident rates soaring among elderly Dutch riders of pedelecs.

    This is the only factual item you’ve raised, but unfortunately you don’t provide a reference. I found an article which discusses the issue, but it doesn’t support your “accident rates soaring” claim:

    http://www.gopedelec.eu/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=18&Itemid=61

    It says, in part, “Surveys have shown that there is a slight difference in accident rates between conventional cyclists and pedelec riders. [...] Relatively more younger people on pedelecs are involved in accidents.”

    If e-bike usage rises significantly, it’ll certainly be necessary to ensure that people understand how to use them safely. But that’s a separate issue, that arises with many technological changes.

    > “The age of the e-bike that its apologists are witlessly summoning, will also see a major opportunity going to waste. One of the beneficial things to have come from the machine-age, and the age of big finance, is our ability to build really big buildings quite cheaply. Airports and shopping centres are just the beginning. The streets of the future will be undercover, in new cities and districts without any history, and thus far no names. If we play our cards right at the moment, and emphasise the agility and civility of cycling among pedestrians, rather than emphasising the speed of the bike as something that can be used in environments designed for the car, we will be winning a place for the bike in the future, indoor, agora.

    We apparently have diametrically opposite personalities, since to me, having everything be indoors and undercover is a nightmare scenario. The reasons for that are closely related to the reasons I like cycling.

    Luckily for people like me, you’re just as incorrect about the economics of such situations as you are about the advantages of e-bikes. The reason that roads aren’t typically covered is simply that it’s far more expensive to do that. Malls and large skyscrapers are one thing, but expanding enclosed spaces like that horizontally in any significant way is not likely to be economically feasible any time soon. “Big finance” doesn’t magically change anything, unless you like the aftermaths of financial bubbles. Look to Dubai and China recently for the effects of such thinking. Boston’s “Big Dig” is also an entertaining example of some of the issues, as long as you weren’t an affected taxpayer.

    If you’re genuinely “on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics,” you should consider the potential of e-bikes to expand the usefulness of bikes to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t consider them. Again, the Portland University survey lays out some of the their potential to make a difference:

    * “55% of people rode bikes at least weekly before getting an e-bike …93% did after”
    * “73% rode an e-bike to a different destination than a standard bike”
    * “65% said replacing car trips was a main reason to get an e-bike.”
    * “People with disabilities rode e-bikes even though 95% of had reduced ability to ride a standard bike.”
    * “74% didn’t need a shower after an e-bike trip.”

    If they do catch on to any significant degree, it could be a big boon for cycling in general. You may not like them personally, but in that respect you’re just talking about your own opinion, you’re not thinking like a planner or designer. To do that, you have to consider everyone’s needs and preferences, not just your own.

    • Steven says:

      I can’t read that, it’s too serious. I don’t get my work published, or my blog read, without an understanding of the importance of irony.

    • crank says:

      Some interesting points. Some play to environmental problems though. “74% didn’t need a shower after an e-bike trip” – Personally, I notice I am sweatier after a trip in or along busy traffic. I don’t relax and less likely to cycle with ‘walking effort’.

      So the interesting study would be the rate of e-bike adoption in a country like Australia (a) as is, and (b) with Dutch-quality bike infra! Not possible of course… I understand Rotterdam is considered less bike friendly than other parts of NL, I wonder if the rate of e-bike adoption is different?

  15. Anton van Straaten says:

    That sounds suspiciously close to saying that people only read you because you’re gratuitously controversial. But am I mistaken in assuming that you did have, somewhere beneath the alleged “irony” cleverly disguised as schoolyard insults, some serious points? If so, it’s lucky that you have that protective coating of irony to prevent you having to defend any of those ultimately indefensible points.

    • Steven says:

      Nicely said! e-bikes are good the way armoured cars are good. They compensate for poorly planned environments. The catch is, they excuse further poor planning. I would suggest that if ones poor environment can’t be overcome by design—and that could entail influencing government, or just moving house—and an e-bike is looking like the answer, that a detachable e-bike kit would be better than an e-bike that is permanently deformed by a battery that will one day be thrown on the scrap heap.

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