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E-Bikes: The Motor Scooter Masquerade

Riding along the bike path to the heart of the city, several electric bikes pass me, giving me a slight startle each time as their silence allows for no warning before I see them. I pass others that are moving slowly; their riders are often slouched in the saddles with their feet resting on pedals that get little or no use. An e-rider’s position most often appears as if they’re lounging as opposed to riding.

In the last two years, electric scooters and bicycles have become increasingly common on city streets and bike paths. Most of these machines aren’t designed to be pedaled over any distance: their weight is limiting and the frame geometry ill-suited for dynamic pedaling. They look more like scooters than bicycles, with dodgy pedals added so that they can be considered legally as bicycles instead of either mopeds or motor scooters. This is basically just to skirt parking, licensing, and insurance laws. But since most e-bikes are simply electric versions of mopeds, they should really fall into the same category and be subject to the same laws.

E-bikes and Pedelecs are not an improvement on the bicycle, but instead, are simply an alternative to other forms of transport that create a greater carbon footprint. They do little to combat obesity, heart disease, diabetes, or any of the other health issues that our society is dealing with because of our increasing inactivity.

In a society that’s become increasingly sedentary, government needs to embrace and encourage forms of transport that will improve the health of the population. Improving cycling and pedestrian infrastructure makes far more sense than promoting policies that increase e-bike traffic.

Any form of transport that’s truly sustainable should take priority over one that relies on batteries or gasoline. Pedestrians and bicycles should always have priority in cities over electric bicycles. And unless their motors are governed to limit speed, e-bikes should not be allowed to use either bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure. The weight of the e-bike should be regulated as well — a heavier machine cannot be easily maneuvered. It’s more difficult to bring to a stop, and it will cause more damage and harm in an accident. In some areas, where e-bike use has increased exponentially, these issues are being addressed and legislation is being written.

The desire to move effortlessly and silently on a bicycle is nothing new. It was being discussed more than 120 years ago, with cyclists making similar arguments against them. In 1890, an article in Cassell’s Book Of the Household said:

“About the year 1876 cycling made a new start, and at the present day, machines may be said to have reached almost the goal of perfection.

“‘Not quite perfection,’ some will reply; ‘we want machines that will have electricity as the motive power.’ No, we do not. There might, we confess, be some advantages derivable from an electric cycle, and it would be pre-eminently the lazy man’s vehicle. But, three parts at least of the pleasures of cycling would be thereby lost, while all its health-giving advantages would be confined to those arising from fresh air and change of scene. These last electric cycling might be credited with, but debited at the same time with the dangers arising from ‘catching cold.’ The difference in pleasurable emotion between sitting motionless while travelling and exerting oneself, or being one’s own motive power, is never better felt or appreciated than when one mounts his machine to ride home after being cramped up for an hour or two in a railway carriage or in an omnibus. Time almost invariably seems long in a railway carriage: it is brevity itself while one is spinning along the road on his own iron steed.”

The technology of the electric bicycle might have changed in the last 120 years, but the arguments against them haven’t changed at all.

Photo Credit: Walter Lai