In Praise of the Slow Bike

bikes in copenhagen

On his website Shifter, Tom Babin explains How to ride a bike slowly (and why you would want to), starting with:

This sounds stupid, I know, but one of the keys to happy urban cycling is learning how to slow down. Riding more slowly in a city is safer, calmer, more relaxing and is conducive to being in the moment and enjoying the surroundings.

Actually, it doesn't sound stupid at all. If you ride in the city and are sharing the road or the bike lane with other people on bikes, it's safer and easier to be slow. It is also more comfortable when you ride a slow bike, an urban cruiser. Tom concurs:

The frame of an urban cruiser will put you in a comfortable and slow upright position, and minimal gears will keep your speed below the limit. A basket or carrier will give you plenty of hauling space, with just enough risk of losing your load to keep your ride in check. All of these forces conspire to do one thing: Make your ride pleasant.
upright bikes

Upright bikes, street clothes, Copenhagen style/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is not news to TreeHugger readers; years ago, when we were writing about slow food, slow design and slow travel (I even called for a slow car movement) I also called for a slow bike movement where we all ride in comfortable street clothes on upright step-through bikes. Like then-Reuters writer Felix Salmon, I thought that it would help attract more people to cycling. Felix wrote:

As a general rule, the propensity of non-bicyclists to give biking a try is inversely proportional to the average velocity of the bikers they see on the street. If you live in a city where women in wedge heels are steering their old steel bikes around their daily errand route, there's really nothing intimidating or scary about the prospect of getting on a bike yourself. If it's all hipsters on fixies, by contrast, that just makes biking feel all the more alien and stupid. So, next time you get on a bike, give yourself an extra five or ten minutes, and take your time. You'll be much happier for doing so. And your happiness is likely to prove contagious.

If everyone slow bikes, they also play more nicely with older riders like me who are naturally slower. It is critical to the future of our cities and to our health that we get more people on bikes, and people won't do it if they don't feel safe. Slow biking gives you extra time to see doors open in your path, or pedestrians stepping off the curb without looking in the bike lane. It lets you engage with pedestrians instead of having them scream at you. It is safer, and happier, for everyone.

lloyd riding

Selfie of me riding in 3°F /CC BY 2.0

In the depths of winter, slow biking prevents you from overheating if you put on too many layers as I did last week, and it is easier to watch for ice patches and giant potholes.

scooter in the bike lane

Scooter in the bike lane. He also had a really loud radio./CC BY 2.0

Then there are the e-bikes and electric scooters. Their numbers are likely to explode, and it becomes really important that they slow down if they are going to share bike lanes. In the US, the laws on e-bikes are all over the map, state by state, but the Federal regulations allow throttles, 750 watt motors and a top speed of 20 MPH. You cannot share a bike lane with something going that fast. That's why I like the EU standard: 15.5 MPH, 250 watts, and pedal assist rather than throttle. It is naturally slower.

In the e-bike era, slow biking will be more important than ever so that we can all play together nicely; young and old, e-bike and regular. So get with the slow bike movement.