Are We Seeing the Beginnings of an 'E-Bikelash'?

A crash on the Queensboro Bridge brings out the haters.

Queensboro two-way bike and pedestrian lane

Clarence Eckerson III / Screen Capture

"Bikelash" occurs whenever a new bike lane opens. Many drivers of cars complain it is a war on cars: People on bikes are going too fast, scaring pedestrians, or preventing grandma from getting to the doctor's office.

A recent tweet told the story of a woman on a bike who was injured in a hit-and-run by the rider of an e-bike. After reading all the responses, I am convinced we are going to see a major "e-bikelash" of people who hate e-bikes and want to get them off the roads.

The crash happened on New York City's Queensboro Bridge, where there is a two-way shared path for bikes and pedestrians. The woman who was hit ended up with a broken bike and possibly broken ribs. Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms told Treehugger the bridge is notorious for being dangerously overcrowded; he even made a video of a protest demanding that it be fixed back in 2020.

I asked Eckerson if there was an e-bikelash happening in New York, and he told Treehugger: "Oh there is some. On our open street it is probably the number one complaint of “speeding e-bikes” ... though it is a combination of mopeds, e-bikes, scooters, and motorcycles, etc … they just love calling them e-bikes since they hate e-bikes in general."

This is a problem everywhere. The scooters and electric motorcycles that everyone—even Simon Cowell—thinks are e-bikes when they are much faster and more powerful than the regulated e-bikes.

"And lots of speeding because many are hard-working delivery folks who are trying to maximize their money. The Queensboro Bridge is horribly dangerous and would be with or without ebikes but having bikes fly past you within inches with that congestion is nuts," said Eckerson. "Of course, if NYC DOT would open up the other side for non-motorized users most of this would go away—at least on the Queensboro Bridge."

But if you go back to the comments on that tweet, they confirm that people don't know what e-bikes are and that they don't like them. Here are a few comments:

  • The only solution is to ban e-bikes, e-scooters, uniwheels, and most of all Unlicensed motorcycles.
  • License and insurance is the only way to capture ebike use and statistics. They are a different type given speed and displacement. I’d welcome and affordable insurance program for bikes.
  • Bike on e bike or e scooter collisions happen on all the so-called “protected” bike lanes. They go too fast and you can’t hear them behind you. These are powered vehicles. They should be licensed and there should be speed cameras on the major paths.
  • There is no accountability for these 2 wheeled vehicles. No ID. No licenses. They are quickly becoming a dangerous form of transportation. I see it every day!
  • These should all be banned. Put ebike riders in jail at this point.

And my favorite, a time warp from 1995: "E-bikes are a danger to human-powered bikes. As scary as skiing on a slope with snowboarders."

A few of the comments raise a point that I have often made: The European regulations limiting speed to 15.5 mph and the power to 250 watts made sense because the e-bikes can play nicely in the bike lanes. They are supposed to be a bike with a boost, not a completely different kind of vehicle. I had given up on this argument because just about everyone disagreed with me, except the e-bike haters.

  • Dammit, this type of stuff is going to ruin e-bikes. Need to slow down! It's okay to go 15mph, or even 10mph, instead of 20mph. You won't catch every light or run every red (which you really should NOT do!)
  • That’s not going to solve the fundamental problem of speed variance which is what leads to crashes. Bicyclists pedal up the bridge at 10mph. E-bikes, scooters etc go at 25mph. They will want to pass and switch lanes.
  • IMO, e-bikes are the new SUVs. Everyone wants to go fast. If they're bikes, they should be restricted to a max of 15. Who rides a normal bike at an average speed of 15 mph? Acoustic cyclists going to have to carry devices to prevent guys from running off after accidents.

But Eckerson isn't convinced. He says it is all about infrastructure, noting that the number of bikes and e-bikes have exploded, well beyond the capacity of the existing bike lanes. He notes that New York has a lot of e-bikes: "I mean I’ve been to Paris, Montreal, Minneapolis, and DC all in the last few months - no one has as many e-bikes as we do."

In one of his recent videos from Paris, he marvels at how wide the bike lanes are, how they accommodate different speeds, cargo bikes, delivery bikes, and riders of all ages and abilities. He concludes by comparing Paris bike lanes to the Queensboro Bridge and New York bike lanes, which I used to rave about but now look scary and crowded.

So, in the end, what we have is a toxic recipe of insufficient bike infrastructure to handle the numbers, underpaid delivery people going as fast as they can to make a living, a lot of fast electric two-wheelers that everyone thinks are e-bikes but are really mopeds or scooters, and, no doubt, a few jerks on e-bikes. Stir it all up and cook on social media, and you have an e-bikelash.

But after watching Eckerson's Paris video, it seems pretty obvious they need a lot more space for bikes and less for cars, which will bring out a whole other group of war-on-car types. Cities are hard.