The Electric Kool-Aid Bicycle Test

January 17, 2014 § 62 Comments

So there I was, minding someone else’s business, the someone being a pudgy hausfrau who had just buzzed me in her double-wide cage, and the business being “How am I gonna call you an unappealing and inconsiderate and rather dangerous person while shrieking four-letter words  with this jersey on that says SPY Cycling Team without you making the connection between a murderously angry bicyclist and the brand of eyewear for which I’m trying to be a good ambassador?”

Good sense and better PR took over at exactly the right time, which was the moment that this dude whizzed by me on a bike. If you’re like me you hate it when someone passes you as if you’d been tied to a stump, had two flat wheels, were pedaling backwards, etc. To make it worse, the dude was wearing sneakers. To make it worsey-worse, he had hairy legs. And to completely let the air out of my gasbag he was sporting a floppy t-shirt, baggy shorts, and no helmet.

Before he disappeared from view I was able to get a good look at his bike and — cue wooden stake being driven through the heart of the vampire — I was able to see that he was hardly breathing. Smiling, actually.

When “going green” means “green with envy.”

At the very last second my ego got its reprieve, because the abnormal surrealism of the whole thing switched to “No wonder he passed me” when I saw his giant rear hub. The dude was riding an electric bicycle. Those things have done in one fell swoop to self-absorbed, Lycra-clad, oh-so-serious-roadies what Colonel Colt did to the plainsman. They didn’t equal the playing field, they almost tipped the dang thing over.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that we have $4,000 electric bikes that can get you around town at 30 mph and you don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to. But hasn’t that vehicle already been invented a long time ago, and wasn’t it called a “motorcycle”? Nor was the dude some handicapped granny who, thanks to this wonderful device, was able to avoid being a shut-in, get a tad of exercise, and avoid being stuck in a nursing home.

No, this dude was young, healthy, grinning, and — as with every other one of these things I’ve ever seen — hardly pedaling at all. It probably sounds heretical, but, like, isn’t the whole point of having a bicycle to actually pedal it? And what, exactly, is “green” about taking a device that runs exclusively on your legs and turning it into a vehicle that you have to plug into the wall?

The real problem with electric bikes

… is their dork factor. Studies show that it is impossible to look cool while seated on a two-wheeled vehicle with one leg hanging lower than the other. This is why the moped failed to catch on, whereas the pink Vespa motor scooter is used by some of the coolest people ever. That one dangling leg makes you look utterly deformed, like having one testicle droop, say, three feet lower than the other. The overly-dangling-testicle-look is made worse when the electric cyclist, who’s no cyclist at all BECAUSE HE’S NOT FUCKING PEDALING, realizes that maximum head protection in the form of a motorcycle helmet is really the smart ticket, and since HE’S NOT FUCKING PEDALING and doesn’t have to worry about the weight, he combines the dangling-testicle look with the ginormous-bulbous-head on a skinny neck and tiny bike frame look.

I know, I know. Motorcycle helmets provide much better protection and he’ll outlive us all. I know. But he’ll still look like a raging idiot.

The other real problem, the “real, real” problem if you will, is the bike path. It takes years and years of practice and strength and fitness and good choice in cycling outfits to pedal your bike at 19 mph down the crowded bike path, maneuvering it so that you can terrify parents, walkers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, razor-ers, runners, pram-pushers, Segways, and wheelchair occupants as you buzz them in exactly the same way that motorists buzz you. Once you get into the 20 mph range, it goes from “I got this” to “human video game” with no respawns.

You know where I’m going with this. Yep, the guy on his new electric bike whizzing down the bike path at 25 or 30 is gonna kill somebody. Of course, since it’s on the bike path it’s also possible that the victim needs killing, especially that asshole who intentionally kicked a skateboard in front of Douggie and knocked him off his bike. Still, the etiquette issue of hurting innocent people because you don’t know how to drive your bike is a thorny one, made messier by minor rules and regulations and ordinances like vehicular homicide and manslaughter. The barely in control electric bike is showing up more and more on the bike path, and it’s just a matter of time before some unhelmeted clod takes a header and I get to pick through his wallet for spare change while EMS looks to see whether he’s checked the “organ donor” box.

The brown icing on the poopcake

Shortly after being ignominiously dropped by the electric biker, I got to the next intersection I turned right. There was a string of cars in the cross-traffic’s left-hand turn lane. A few cars back were two young boys, maybe thirteen or fourteen, sitting side by side in the turn lane. Their presence and comfort in the lane and their casual attitude on their bikes, combined with their skateboard helmets, was wholly unnatural. I glanced at their hubs, and sure enough, they were riding brand new electric bicycles. The light changed and they glided along with the traffic, barely pedaling.

I’m sure this is a huge improvement over putting kids on regular bikes and making them pedal the dogdamned things and get all sweaty and icky and making their poor lungs and heart and muscles get all tiredy-tired. Those kids are probably also saving the polar bears from the global heating that’s a massive left-wing conspiracy hoax.

But if you don’t mind, please don’t pass me on the danged thing, okay?

Tagged: ,

§ 62 Responses to The Electric Kool-Aid Bicycle Test

  • Jon says:

    Similar instance, last year, I got off in time to do a longer ride. As I was getting on the path heading out to Lake Chatfield to do the outer loop. In the normal riding pattern, I was catching up to an old bag o bones on a comfort bike. As I was Getting ready to pass, he began to put a gap between us… I thought, huh… So, keep riding, and I caught back up a little closer this time, and he gapped me again, with out any (perceived) effort… I’m thinking, dude, I’m doing 20-25 and this is gapping me… The third time it happened, I could see a devise on his front hub, as he proceeded to leave me in his bag o bones dust!

    • fsethd says:

      1. They know how much it irritates you.
      2. They love passing us in all our finery.
      3. They really think they’re riding faster.

    • FatguyonEbike says:

      I am a fat ebiker. I usually have a grin when I ride past the local club riders. I happen to live in the most challenging spot in my area for roadies. I get evil looks. One guy decided to follow us in his car calling my wife and I cheaters. Please consider some people ride them for fun. They are fun. They are also some exercise for those of us that literally can’t ride a real bike. I understand that for many cycling is about effort conditioning and ego. When I smile as I go by it is because I am having fun and not some ego trip. In fact it is a little embarrassing since I know what its like being the guy who is working hard when somebody else has it easy. Ebikes can be a huge asset to a person like me. I have 3 kids who have cheap roadbikes that can drop half of the local club riders because we ride constantly. There is no way I could have done that without the ebike. BTW most ebikes can only do 20mph. There are only a couple that can go faster that are sold in the US and they are not intended for road use. There are riders that can drop me on my ebike and I admire them…

      • fsethd says:

        “I understand that for many cycling is about effort conditioning and ego.”

        Who said anything about effort or conditioning?

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    I’ve almost been T-boned twice now by some idiot in PDR that likes to cut corners while riding on the wrong side of the street. But the absolute worst is the morons who bolt the shitty Chinese 2-stroke blower motors on a bike, and leave a blue smoke trail in their wake.

    • fsethd says:

      There was a guy like that yesterday morning going down Hawthorne, full facemask, drop bars. 30 whole mph. No pedaling, of course.

  • dan martin says:

    They are the perfect bike transportation for stoners. They dont have to worry about coughing up a lung at -10LT or sweating or having a drivers license. Just lots of HTFU and watch me smoke the roady before I go smoke the bong.

    • fsethd says:

      I have to admit I’m envious of anyone who can humiliate an entire population of cyclists just by perching on an electric bike.

  • Jon Trimble says:

    Just wait until one of these dorks takes your KOM in front of your residence. That’s when the shit will hit the proverbial fan. I can’t wait for the aftermath to be posted in a world famous diatribe.

  • EA says:

    Call me “John Henry.” I will race against every electric bike and I will give it my all to win, however, I know this is a losing battle. The Copenhagen Wheel could very well be the game changer that tilts the field forever in the direction of electric cycling. The question will be whether this wheel or electric bikes in general will make real riders obsolete? Who knows? I prefer to look for a silver lining and hope the growth of electocycling, especially by cagers who may have been intimidated by the hard work required to pedal a real bike, may lead to better awareness of cyclists among cagers as they may then consider themselves to be part of the bike tribe because they’re cruising along and passing us all at 20 mph on their electric bikes while riding 20% grades. We may kill ourselves keeping up with the electrocyclists, but maybe, just maybe, they may begin to give us a bit more respect when they are driving around in their cages.

  • Dan P says:

    With a real world range of only 20-30 miles for the big S Turbo, I say invite them for a ride of 40-50 miles. I believe an educational experience and appreciation of spandex wearing roadies that can pedal pretty little circles at high cadence will ensue. If you are a particularly rigorous teacher, include some “minor bumps” of 5-7% towards the end of the 50 mile ride. This may only work once per participant and they may not be your friend or willing to engage in group rides afterwards.

  • jorgensen says:

    If you want to see an indignant look come your way, jump on one of these guys’ wheel as he passes by, (preferably when they have an ipod buried in both ears) you will eventually get to a red light and when you pull along side they realize that you are not long gone. Oh, are they ticked.
    (don’t try this, as many of these electric bike pilots are not aware drivers)

  • Good ol Jon! says:

    WOW

  • The e-bike proliferation is likely thanks to an unusual collaboration between an Eagle Scout and the LACBC: http://www.boyleheightsbeat.com/boy-scout-donates-bikes-to-help-homeless-youth-in-boyle-heights-3471

  • Ryan Jeambey says:

    As both an avid cyclist, AND an e-bike commuter, i get peeved at this popular misconception about e-bike riders. I am very skilled, and can PEDAL my heavy ebike faster than most can pedal their regular bikes. I always wear a helmet, and i dislike the notion that “i am being lazy” when too many avid cyclists choose to drive to work, while i’m pedaling to work every day. E-bikes are PERFECT for commuting and grocery getting, and if i pass people on my e-bike, i am often times not even using the motor, so don’t get mad at me until you build your legs up to my level.

    • fsethd says:

      Can I get mad at you because you look silly?

      • russ e says:

        do you wear lycra? now who looks silly?
        and whoever said 50 miler range yep righto lets go, i have that covered on my trike, hills yep no worries want to make them a bit steeper?
        why do i ride electric, cause i cant pedal and im trying to leave as small a carbon footprint behind me as possible. if that annoys you lycra dudes so much, stiff cheddar. its the way of the future, fight us or join us in enjoying cycling.

      • fsethd says:

        I look silly, but you look sillier. I think the technical description of my response is “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.”

        I’m unconcerned with carbon footprints of things that have to be plugged into a wall. What I’m really concerned about is being smugly passed by e-bikers, when passing slow people smugly is a historic domain of road cyclists, and enshrined in the Constitution.

        I’m not going to fight anyone, because I’m a lover. Just a bitter one.

      • russ e says:

        nyuck nyuck nycuk, 12cents of power to cover 60+km and thats only half a charge at that, once a week it tows home the groceries which saves $9 in taxi fares, thats why im grinnin when im ebikin. and the only reason i dont pedal is due to health reasons, so without it i would be house bound 99% of the time, but dont hate on us cause we cant/dont or wont pedal, just hate on us when we leave ya in our dust ;)

      • fsethd says:

        Like I said, I hate on every two-wheeled pedaler who passes me. Nothing personal, except for the personal part.

        I’d rather see a road filled with e-bikes toting groceries and ferrying people across town than the way they currently look — choked with cars, angry drivers, etc.

        Keep on pedaling, er, not pedaling much but enjoying it!

  • Jim says:

    I really don’t get the attitudes. For us, we use the bikes as a SUBSTITUTE FOR A FOSSIL FUEL BURNING VEHICLE, alternative transportation. I ride a variety of our promo bikes and trikes nearly 20 miles ONE WAY almost every day.. Even now, in the winter (Michigan) when it is dry enough. Unless you are Lance Armstrong, you just aren’t going to pedal that far and average 24-25 mph and arrive ready to work an 8-12 hr day. So a normal bike is out of the question for most extended commutes. Also – for that guy that wrote the blog and all of his responders … The electric motors are MORE efficient than the human body is at putting power to the ground. They need to just get over themselves, stop whining, just pedal and stop worrying about what other people do.

    • fsethd says:

      Look, Jim. Road riders are whiny and self-absorbed and hate to get passed. That’s what we do.

      Also, although I know it’s really subtle and hidden deep within the words, but 94% of what’s written on this blog isn’t necessarily intended to be taken at face value, or any value at all.

      So, happy you like your electro bike, and I’ll still look daggers at you when you pass me, you wanker.

      • Jim says:

        OOOOh … Reduced to name calling – That always happens when someone is arguing a point from an emotional standpoint instead of using logic. For me, it’s just common sense peeps. The e-bikes use WAY less energy than anything available for commuting. Don’t know why (all of you) are so emotional… Just think of it as any other vehicle passing you. Except its using WAY LESS energy than you are pedaling… And you can’t do it as well or efficiently with your body. If you doubt it, just look at the breakdown below…

      • fsethd says:

        I’m not calling names. I’m rather proud of being whiny and self-absorbed. I agree that e-bikes are great way to commute for lots of people. However, they look stupid when you’re buzzing along not pedaling, with one droopy foot. They also aggravate the shit out of me when they blow by and the operator isn’t even breathing hard. I’m thinking of creating a new wanker category for them, but can’t come up with a good word. Any suggestions?

      • Jim says:

        No Suggestions. I’d just recommend that you feel good about yourself for getting the exercise, and let the E-biker feel good that they are using just about the most efficient form of transportation available anywhere (and getting exercise when they feel like it). It’s kind of silly for bikers to attempt to compete and line their egos up against a machine. You just won’t win unless the machine fails. So just think of it as any other form of vehicle that just has more power available to it than you do, and passes you like any other vehicle. Except e-bikers aren’t taking 3000-5000 lbs of useless plastic and metal with them wherever they go. And they aren’t spooging you with exhaust fumes as they go by. Seriously, I don’t give bikers a second thought. Just like you are a slow car driving down the road, I just wait until the opportunity arises, pass you safely, and don’t bother to think that I have hurt your feelings. Why would I have hurt your feelings? Seriously?

      • fsethd says:

        Because I am sensitive like a delicate flower.

    • EA says:

      I’m not an e-bike hater as I think a good heavy e-bike has lots of uses. It’s great for holding down a tarp in a heavy wind, useful as an anchor in a rough sea, and they work great as a lightning rod of scorn for road riders.

      Seriously, they do serve a purpose and I commend those that ride them as an alternative to driving a car. However I believe your claim that an electric motor is more efficient than the human body to be spurious. How do you charge your electric bike? What is the source of power on your local electrical grid? The overall efficiency of your motor is the product of the efficiency of transporting fuel to the generating plant, the efficiency of the plant, the efficiency of grid moving power to your home, the efficiency of the charging unit, the efficiency of the battery, and then the efficiency of the motor. That’s a better carbon footprint than a car, but I doubt it’s better than a human.

      • Jim says:

        Currently … I use about about 1.4 KWhr to go 40 MILES … Last time I checked, my grid was delivering at 11.9 cents per KWhr… That is $0.166 for 40 miles! Sorry, but you WILL NOT pedal your bike 40 miles on $0.166 worth of food. 40 miles ends up being around 2800 Kilo Calories at 25 mph average (equiv for human body’s work) and you won’t get that into your body for anywhere near 16 cents. The power is Nuclear, not that it makes a difference. Your EXTRA FOOD needs to be shipped to you, stocked on a shelf – Or grown by you and processed to an edible point – You DONT GET A FREE RIDE FOR THE Extra FUEL YOU CONSUME WITH YOUR BODY through pedaling… The supply chain for FOOD is MUCH MORE expensive! Think I’ve proved my point.

      • fsethd says:

        Even if you haven’t, your use of capital letters has CONVINCED ME.

      • fsethd says:

        I’m not an e-bike hater. I’m a hater of smug people who are faster than I am even thought they’re barely pedaling. Plus, I’m envious of their ability to use a bong and not get paranoid.

      • Ryan Jeambey says:

        The heavy nature of an e-bike is not just good for holding down tarps during wind storms: it makes me a better, faster cyclist overall, for the same reason you see weights on baseball bats while players warm up.

      • fsethd says:

        I often ride with baseball bats.

  • Hadrien says:

    A lot of feelings there ^^
    I’m a trail runner, Mtber, Lycra AND E-biker. Is it even possible? IT IS :)
    There is strong misunderstanding when it comes to E-bikes.
    -They are no bicycle for lazy hog but definitively more mopped for active people.
    – One does not necessarily pedal like a chicken on an E-bike. There is different power assist and NOTHING is restraining you to get things done.
    – (In Europe) there is a legislation; E-bikes only give assistance if the rider is pedaling. And that’s a minimum considering they ARE bicycles :)
    -Most of people who are shitting on E-bikes are people who never used them. Know (at least) your enemy ;)
    -They make A LOT OF SENSE as commuters or short-range car replacement. I carry 45Kg grocery on 25Km with a totally normal pedaling.
    An E-bike will give you the CERTAINTY to reach your goal. Even if you are tired, fat, sick, injured, old, on a fucking legs day….etc. It will give you the flexibility a pure human powered bicycle will never give you. And that IS the best way to have absolutely no excuse, never!

    Of course that has a price. Your range is definitively limited, your bike will be heavier, you won’t have the same feelings you may have on a strict human powered bicycle, getting the range, the reach at the cost of your sweat.

    But does it really matter? I mean, are you riding a bike because you want to be seen as a sports rider or simply because you like to ride? I ride because I simply love to seat on a bicycle, it can be on my 7Kg TVT carbon or my 27Kg cruiser packed with beers, I LOVE IT :)
    Now considering speed and danger. Again, there is a legislation :)
    In Germany at least, 25Km/h is the maximum speed on a bicycle path. 25Km/h is not “fast” and therefore represent more or less no more danger than a non electrical powered bicycle.
    I fully agree on your point considering the no-pedaling. E-bikes are bicycles and therefore have to be pedaled. Now any judgment on the power, the amount of sweat an average e-biker is delivering is totally bullshit because of a simple thing, It’s not you business :)
    The real reward of biking is personal. Everybody at his level.
    Anybody making an effort, makes more than his human equivalent sitting in his car waiting that the thousand of other lazy hog in front of him makes a few meters to reach his daily goals eating a pancake.
    Life has it’s priority, and we have to live with it. That’s why there is a place for E-bikes on our bike lane!
    Please be more tolerant and why not, try one! If you are near Regensburg in Germany, I would be glad to let you try one of mines and share some beers :)
    Gruß from Germany,
    Hadrien
    http://www.bavarian-ebikes.com

    • fsethd says:

      I was going to dash off a snotty answer until I saw the last sentence. Thanks, and deal! The thought of German beers in Germany is enough to erase all of my prejudices against e-bikes!

      • Hadrien says:

        You’re most welcomed, and after reading your last comments you seems to be a pretty funny lad ^^
        A few point, about efficiency though. E-bikes *can*, indeed,be more “efficient” than a human body. This as nothing to do with, their price but more about the ratio Power-in/Power-out. Doesn’t mean that a human body is useless! just.. less efficient, and this are “numbers”, not “feelings” :)
        About the last Jim’s calculation, please add battery price related to life cycles expectancy and recycling costs ;) Not that it makes it completely unattractive then, but to avoid people who have more knowledge about energy footprints and energy cycle to start to complain about the density of your calculations ;)
        Ride safe!
        Hadrien.

      • fsethd says:

        I’m going to put all the verbs on the end and see I can figure that last part out.

        See you in Regensburg!

  • rich00 says:

    Where’s the love? It’s just a different transportation option. Way better then driving to the gym. It’s far from a motorcycle which uses 3-6 times the energy at the same speed. That’s a big deal when you start mouthing off about how plugging into the wall when we are talking 0.4kwh per 20 miles. How much energy goes into your extra hot showers, laundry, extra cooking and growing the extra calories to pedal? Lots more than an ebike in most cases.
    Basically, who the f cares if an ebike passes you? Seriously, grow up and be glad someone is getting around without blowing exhaust in your face, and not anywhere as dangerous as the typical driver in a car. I’m a roadie in spandex at times too. You couldn’t dream of pedaling to replace what my ebike can do.

    • fsethd says:

      I refuse to grow up.

      And I hate getting passed by smug e-bikers. On the other hand, it’s pretty awesome that they can humiliate the entirety of roadiedom in between bong hits, while semi-pedaling with flip-flops and hairy legs.

  • JoePah says:

    E-Biking is Fun! If we don’t mind when a pack of spandex Sandies runs a red light or stop sign, why should you care if we are out of our cars going places and having a great time doing so?

    Most of us could care less if you like us or not.. We’re free!

    • fsethd says:

      This is not about you. It’s about me. There’s a difference.

      • I really admire your work, Seth. Who knew you could start a flame war over eBikes? You shoulda mixed in helmets and amateur doping. What I don’t get is how these guys found their way to your site. Some kind of eBike Global Alert System…

      • fsethd says:

        Ha, ha, ha! One or two strategic comments about guns, abortions, and Benghazi and I would probably have broken the Internet.

        The best part about blogging isn’t writing, it’s seeing what turns up in the net. Apparently the Fukushima catastrophe killed several million tons of irony-receptors all the way over here in California.

        Thanks for the laugh!

  • John T says:

    Great article! I’m surprised some people seem to be missing the tongue-in-cheekiness of your writing. It’s absolutely your prerogative to be irked when people pass you. Whine away!

    I’m a relatively new e-biker, and my wife is a longtime, lycra-wearing roadie. I never got into the whole pedaling thing, and she didn’t get the appeal of an e-bike, but when I built mine, she was totally hooked at her first ride! So much so that now she wants to keep my e-bike for herself, and I have to build another one! Sometimes, she prefers arriving somewhere not sweaty, without padded pants, and not in shoes that click like my old baseball cleats when she walks. The same goes for not having the full face helmet, armored jackets, and clunky boots we wear on the motorcycles.

    Oh, and you’re right about some e-bikers lacking experience. I’m all wobbly compared to my wife. I’m extra careful around pedestrians, and I try not to blow past pedalers. Until the e-bike, I hadn’t ridden much since I was a kid (except the motorcycles). I’m getting better quickly though! One thing I noticed is that I feel a lot safer on on the e-bike. I can focus more on my surroundings and less on pedaling and shifting. I can turn my head to look back, and my pedaling doesn’t throw off my balance. When I approach a stop, I can focus on the cars and pedestrians and not worry about braking while downshifting and pedaling. Experienced cyclists do this all without thinking, but there’s a lot going on for a noob.

    E-bikes rock!

    • fsethd says:

      Best post yet. You got it!

      Arriving at your destination without being drenched from head to toe in sweat makes a difference.

      E-bikes are cool, better than motos or cars, and it’s nice that you’re improving your riding skills. Thanks for posting this.

  • Erik says:

    Wow, the kooks really came outta the woodwork for this. And SURPRISE! – they’re e-bikers.

  • dropdead says:

    It is a good thing I ride mine to make me happy and not you.

  • One less car? Is that not the point? Look at it l this way…A driver replaces a car that gets 25mpg with a tesla type vehicle, lets say that driver averages 100 miles per day of driving, after 100 days that is 10,000 miles at 25 mpg =400 gallons of gas not burned, not bad.. Now take those same batteries from that one vehicle, divide them up 150 ways to power ebikes/scooters. If those 150 people rode just ten miles per day each, after 100 days that would be 150,000 miles driven not using gas. If we assume all those people also offset their 25mpg cars this works out to 6000 gallons of gas not used.

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