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?

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