My one surviving association with the university to which I have devoted 25 years too many of my strictly rationed non-cycling time, is to ride straight through to better places with peaceful lakes and the like. Blissfully knowing that the time of my ride is my own time, and my direction is one dictated by tail winds rather than via the wind of some managerial academic dressed for death in a black polyester suit. But there’s a bit of a buzz going on around the leafy tracks, roads and ruts of that academic mini-town. Just like a bunch of flies, or a trail of ants, the highways, bi-ways and one-time walking tracks are now perpetually plastered with twenty-somethings riding e-bikes.
I am one of those who once declared that these things would never, ever, take off. An obesity of sub-contemptable chain store e-motorised two-wheeled bloatware with all the aesthetics and performance of a trolly-wheeled farm gate. Who would ever want to insult cycling with one of those! But taking off they are; just like a fly-by-wire Airbus full of people sipping gin rather than contributing to the dynamics of their ride. Cycling without aesthetics. Cycling with the chain broken between physical prowess and performance. Cycling without cycling. eCycling is cycling for those who don’t understand cycling. eCycling is a foot propelled toy car to daddy’s Ferrari parked alongside.
There’s a deep perversion at work here.
I am reminded of scientists dissecting brains in search of the mechanics and chemistry of pleasure. If we extract this bit of the brain, and short circuit that bit over there, we might isolate out the bits that make us appreciate art and the irrationalities of sport. If we unhitch a few neurones and kill a few synapses here and there, perhaps we can construct a kind of cycling that a zombie, or an economic rationalist, might appreciate! Let’s take the utilitarian essence of cycling and remove it from all the I-Love-Campagnolo, I-Love-Shinano Tour de France hysteria bits. Let’s reduce cycling to the level of what the Tax Office might appreciate!
There they go. Every e-cyclist seems to wear exactly the same benign, disassociated frown. I know that look. I have seen it plenty of times before. It’s the look car drivers have.
e-bikes are the bikes a car driver might ride! When they loose their licence after being caught with drink on their breath.
Which is not to deny that there is a kind of a pleasure to be derived here. If only the pleasure an economic rationalist might derive through knowing how many cents are saved from not having to drive their car. But how much insight could an e-bike rider get into the pleasures of riding a real bike? As much as you could get from only ever watching cycling on TV? Which is not to deny that there are pleasures to cyclists watching e-bikers riding the hills. Have you seen the way they always parody pedal while their motors work hard against gravity? It’s a kind of faux pedalling; pretend pedalling just like the grown ups do when they ride a real bike up a hill… You have to do something with your legs when the gradient heads north. Else you’ll get deep vein thrombosis from lack of use. But it’s the look on their faces that gets me every time. Determined detachment; austere un-pleasure. Robot faces. Faces of people neither here nor there; unknowing the pleasures of muscle powered pedalling or the thrill of riding a real motorbike.
And how must they feel when real cyclists dump them on hills? Or away from the lights, or on a flat in-the-drops stretch. How must they feel? Why, with no feelings at all. Someone who would ride an e-bike would not feel any of these important cycle-snob, psycho-social compulsions at all. They’d not even understand the critical nuances of mountain bike-road bike competitive mutual disdain, let alone the intricacies of masterful race facing et al. Hell, e-bikers probably don’t even know about fixed gear/hipsters let alone the perversions of Shimano on an Italian master-built bike!. They are the kind of riders who, if they were ever to ride in such a thing, would think nothing of wearing their cycling nicks with the chamois on the outside…
OK, so e-bikes are not for me; and probably not for you. But should I be so smugly dismissive of a device that takes patronage away from cars? Isn’t it better that we have e-bikes on the road when otherwise these folk would be driving cars? Could e-biking be some kind of front door into the world of cycling? Possibly, but there is a big problem here. And it’s all to do with the disconnected dementias of the car driver’s brain. Can the simian sensibilities that combine to condemn an individual to a car possibly be sufficient to distinguish an e-biker from a muscle-powered cyclist? Probably not. In the two-way switch of the car driver’s brain the world reduces to the simple polarity of bikes bad: cars good. Anything more complex than that and their brains would fuse…
So with all these e-bikes wobble riding the roads just like motorcyclists who aren’t and cyclists they perhaps might vaguely resemble, the poor old car driver is getting seriously confused. This is worse than the hybrid/chain store no-mountain bike commuter plague. Motorists are used to hybrid commuters treacle pacing up hills. They are tuned to overtaking when ever and where ever they encounter a bike on the road; no matter what. But these e-bikers, while riding with even less than the prowess of their hybrid rider kin, are riding the hills with speeds approaching that of the lycra-carbon clique that at least some car drivers had hitherto come to realise were cyclists otherwise to avoid. Perhaps. At the advanced level of the car driver brain domain.
What will be the consequences of e-bikes should they really take off? While a real cyclist learns handling and road skills through the progress of hard won muscle-tuning time, an e-biker flicks a switch and joins straight in. An e-bike, remember, is still a bike. It was not conceived or designed as some kind of de-powered motorbike. It’s a bicycle with electric motor assist. To ride a bicycle, you need to develop a certain set of physical skills. A cyclist wears into the riding game. Our bodies adapt to the design realities of the bike. Bikes are designed to be pedalled. pedalling requires muscles and muscles provide the balance. Bicycle dynamics are a synergy of mechanics and biology. That’s why a first-time rider usually pains-out after a few miles or so. We need to break our selves into the cycling game. If we were born to ride we would have been born with wheels attached. e-biking takes all this evolutionary adaptation away. It’s like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of a pool. e-bikers are now mixing it with car drivers without the armour of physical-skill adaptation. How can you direct a pedal power dynamic-derived machine out of the danger zone when you have yet to master the dynamics of simple control?
We are all going to wear the consequences of heightened car driver rage. We are all going to be relegated to the cycle paths. Get ready for the re-regulation of cycling on our roads. It’s not going to be nice.