In a recent post on an electric-assisted bike a commenter asked:
Why do we keep insisting on taking the exercise out of everything? What's wrong with sweating? Skateboards, rollerblades, scooters and bikes are gone electric. Do you recall the movie "Wally" where the people on the ship are moving around on floating recliners and they are fat because they don't move? Is this where we are headed?
And indeed, it seems that as Katy Steinmetz notes in Time, Tech companies want to make walking obsolete. There are even electric backpacks and unicycles. Some of them are nuts and others dangerous, and even illegal. And while I am a bit obsessed with this MovPak, I do not think it is going to be the Next Big Thing in transportation. This standup Cycleboard doesn't make much sense either. What's wrong with a bike?
In the Wall Street Journal, Dan Neil does a great overview of why battery powered rides are
exploding sorry, bad choice of words, becoming so popular.
The global demand for power-dense consumer electronics—products from remote-control aircraft to cordless drills—and the subsequent increase in production has contributed to the availability of cheap, compact power and helped spawn a menagerie of speedy, lightweight, often foldable and portable wheeled vehicles. Latter-day Segways, if you like. Many of them are on the market already (legality in many locales pending) while others dwell in Kickstarter Kingdom.
In the end, I do not think any of these are going to beat the Ebike or Pedelec (a Pedelec is an e-bike without a throttle, where the motor gives a boost while you pedal. One less thing to control). They also work like something we are used to- the traditional bicycle. Dan Neil notes that there is something wrong with sweating (he didn’t get a job after showing up for an interview after a ride) and that e-bikes can make a difference here.
E-bikers can pedal a little or a lot; either way they will get there faster and with less effort. A Portland State University Transportation Research and Education Center online survey found that while 67% of respondents felt they needed a shower after a conventional bike trip, 74% felt no shower was necessary after an e-bike trip. See? No sweat.
As April noted in a post on e-bikes, they are getting better, lighter, cheaper, and getting more people out on bikes. Even Mikael Colville Andersen, a real skeptic about them, writes:
E-bikes serve a purpose. Absolutely. They are a great niche addition to the existing armada of bicycles that have served citizens for 125 years. They have the potential of increasing the mobility radius of cycling citizens - especially the elderly. All good.
Or as Boris Mordkovich of EVELO Electric told Mike in an earlier post:
The electric bikes makes riding accessible for the 99% of the population who are not regular cyclists already. For some people, it’s the fear of hills or going away far and not being able to come back easily that keeps them from cycling. For others, it’s the health limitations, age or athletic ability. For many people who are thinking about commuting, it’s the inconvenience of arriving to their destination sweaty.
I tried a big electric fat bike last year and enjoyed the experience but concluded:
I am going to miss this bike. It was a serious amount of fun, got me to the doctor on time, and attracted a lot of attention. But Toronto is relatively flat, my trips are relatively short, and I am relatively fit; I can see that for other people in other places it could be a very different story. Tomorrow I will be back on a regular bike that is a third the weight and a fifth the cost. My heart will beat a little faster and I will travel a little slower, but I’m not ready for that e-bike yet. Let’s talk again in a few years.
It is hard to be doctrinaire about this. Brad, who works in the Bullitt Center in Seattle, uses an e-bike; he told me that with all the hills and the distance he has to cover, a regular bike would just be too hard. So for him, the e-bike keeps him out of a car or a bus.
In Japan, it is accepted that e-bikes are useful transportation, particularly for older people. The Panasonic ViVi was designed from scratch for comfort, with a motor that’s in the middle for low center of gravity; an easy to use step through design, a rear carrier that can hold fifty pounds for shopping or carrying kids, and a big basket in front. There’s no need for all the fancy stuff you see on the Kickstarter bikes. (And no crazy overloaded front wheel either). It doesn’t have the longest range or the fastest speed, or the highest price (US$1100) but it is simple and solid.
This is what we need more of, to make the e-bike part of the cycling world. Simplicity, affordability, accessibility and safety.