In my last post, I discussed Toronto e-bike users riding helmet-first into a wall of opposition from city officials who are empowered by the complaints of other road users. E-bikes aren’t fitting seamlessly into the existing infrastructure of road design, nor can that infrastructure be adapted to accommodate this radically distinct vehicle type – “OMG a bike with batteries!?!”
As a result, laws have been piled high to put the squeeze on e-bikes in an attempt to resolve this disharmony. No riding in bike lanes… pedals must not be removed… electric assist cannot exceed 32 km/h… blah blah blah. These may help, but I have a much neater solution; make e-bikers pedal. They’re supposed to be bikes for crying out loud! Do this by taking away hand-operated throttles and making their speed dependant on pedal movement. Full speed could be obtained at a very race-like cadence of 120 pedals per minute. Halving the cadence to a sedate 60 would halve the speed to a nice relaxing 16 km/h. Note that the pedals wouldn’t have to actually drive the wheels, they’d only need to trigger the electric motor.
Yes, this would be a restriction on e-bikes but guess what; all those other restrictions could be thrown out the window. Like sharing bike lanes. Since a pedaling requirement would clearly bring their behaviour closer in line to that of bicycles, they would be less confusing for motorists and no more dangerous to cyclists than… cyclists. No need to worry if they remove their pedals or upgrade their motors either; they would have nothing to gain as long as the level of electric assist is fixed to pedal cadence. Yet, all the existing benefits would remain, with the added benefit of forcing the user to move! Those who don’t want to pedal can go and earn their license and insurance and get the lazymobile of their choice, just like the rest of us.
The elegance of the solution is that it requires no changes to infrastructure, nor does it impose any new driving rules. It only marginally limits the technology of e-bikes but does so in a cohesive manner with respect to other transportation modes. Additionally, making e-bikers pedal distinguishes them from motorcyclists, for the sake of easing both traffic enforcement and collaboration between different road users.
As things stand right now e-bikers are getting the best of both worlds; cheap speed for no effort at all. In fact, e-bikes in their current form have gained a reputation for giving an easy transportation solution to both alcoholics and road warriors who had previously lost their licenses. Now I hasten to point out that those types aren’t representative of the majority of e-bikers, who are undoubtedly as civil and considerate as, well, drivers (wait, did I just say that?), but it only takes a few bad apples to ruin an image for everybody.
Yes, e-bikes are the fresh-faced new kid on the block and they already need some image rehabilitation. So consider this post my pro bono image consultancy to you, e-bike world. Get your act together because I would like to see you flourish on our streets.