Apr 12, 2011

E-Bikes - The Fourth Sign of the Apocalypse

We are all worked up over the prospect of electric assist bikes (e-bikes) being allowed on the trail system here in Hennepin County. The Minnesota Bicycle Alliance is in favor of e-bikes, and the Three-Rivers Park District will be allowing them on the trail system this year. Other than BikeMN and 3 Rivers, there is no consensus on whether or not e-bikes are a good thing or a bad thing. The position one takes on e-bikes seems to be tied not to e-bikes themselves, but to demographics, politics and, um... politics.

Many of my friends are horrified by the prospect of e-bikes being allowed on to the bike trail system. To be perfectly clear, I am, too. Every time I think of the prospect of e-bikes on trails, I immediately go to images of the Flomax chowderheads hammering down Minnehaha Creek Trail at 20 miles an hour, trying to remember what testosterone and fitness feels like as they toast each other with water bottles and crash into trees and buses in the process.

The industry people will tell you that the buyers of e-bikes are "cautious riders", and that they only use these things to help get up hills. I have never even seen one of these "in the wild" so I can't agree or disagree with them. I do know human behavior, however. If there is an easier way, people will take it. Especially when gasoline is $4.00/gallon. E-bikes don't require a driver's license, they don't require physical strength or stamina, and there's certainly no pre-qualification test for bike-handling skills. If you can swipe a credit card, you can own an e-bike. Easy-peasy. No background check and no waiting period.

Yes, cost is a barrier with e-bikes - I saw an e-bike for sale on CL tonight for $1,200 - more than most people would spend on a bike. Still, that's less than the price of shit-car or a scooter, and with gas approaching $4.00/gallon, that's got to get some attention.

Making biking accessible for people with physical limitations is a good thing - I am on-board 100%. For that matter, putting more people on bikes and getting them on the trails is a good thing, too - sign me up. But - are e-bikes really the best way to do this? Are the people that will be drawn to e-bikes the kind of folks we would like to share the trails with?

Politically powerful groups like AARP will undoubtedly stake out the position that e-bikes are "pro-bike" and "pro-senior citizen". Pressure will be applied to politicians and bike advocacy groups to support them. The industry heavy-weights, Trek, Specialized, Giant and Bikes Belong will nod along, dreaming of more customers, members and sponsors.

With The Industry and politicians behind e-bikes, I think this is going to be virtually impossible to stop. Add the baby-boomer demographics into the equation and it's a foregone conclusion that we'll be "sharing the road" with e-bikes. At this point, I think it's best that we move on and focus on rider education and brushing up on our evasive action maneuvers.

Let me know your thoughts - comment below.


  1. Ever since my ankle injury, I've thought about ebikes and I'm open to them as long as they can only go 15mph or so. That's how they are in the UK, but here in the US, we always have a tendency to over do a good thing and make it a nuisance. If it means getting more people out of cars, it's a good thing, but I'm not really enthusiastic about it.

    An ebike passed one mornin while going up the Sabo bridge. It flew past me like a racer, but it was piloted by an overweight person. I saw her pass a racer type up ahead and I imagined the chase was on. Those cat6 guys won't allow passing.

  2. I think you should have to take a bike handling class as part of your e-bike purchase.

  3. "Making biking accessible for people with physical limitations is a good thing"

    But ...it's not biking. It's just riding a moped.

  4. Great, fuckin' great. People that are unable to to control their gigantic Buicks and their bowels are now set loose on the bike trails here. The next thing will be that a bunch of them will get hurt and a whole new slew of laws concerning "bike safety" will be forced upon us because Betty Jean Stretchpants lost control of her new e-bike and ended up flattened by a semi.

    This will at least cull out a bunch of old people...

  5. Some ebikes just provide an assist for hills and headwinds. I read "A to B", a UK-based magazine that has lots ebike reviews and this seems to be what most of these bikes are - assistive rather than moped like.

    Mr. Yam: Are saying that people who drive Buicks poop in their pants? I've never owned one, but that might a good selling point, at least in my twisted little world.