2009/05/14

Why not e-bikes?


There's been some disapproving murmuring within the patchwork of the cyclists in Toronto. People are concerned about e-bikes. There are several points against:
  1. They weigh more and are faster, and thus are more dangerous in a collision.
  2. They take more energy to produce than a normal bike.
  3. The batteries aren't eco-friendly.
  4. People don't use them as power assisted bikes. The pedals come off very easily. Even young able bodied people do this.
Argument 1 is true. The more momentum is involved in a collision, the more damage is likely to be done. It's physics. The only problem is that by this logic, faster heavier riders are as much, or more, of a safety concern as someone on an e-bike.

For example, I weigh almost 200 pounds, and my bike another 25. I was going 48 km/h on College yesterday. If I'd hit someone at that speed, I would have been a lot more likely to kill or injure than a 150 pound person on a 100 pound e-bike going 32 km/h.

By the same argument as 1 and 2 use, it could be argued that recumbent bikes and velocars should not be legal: they are both faster and weigh more than a normal wedgie bike. Without legislating against heavier riders and certain kinds of bikes, it would be hard to make a law against e-bikes on the grounds of argument 1.

Arguments 2 and 3 are both true, but not if you compare to alternatives. The alternatives to e-bikes are cars, buses, street cars and subways. Each of these requires batteries, and each takes more raw material to produce than an e-bike. It would be interesting to compare an e-bikes footprint to the shared footprints of various modes of public transit per person, but it's pretty obvious that an e-bike is better for the environment than a car.

Argument 4 is surely true. I've seen people with no pedals using e-bikes in bike lanes. But there's no law that says a bike has to be operated with pedals on. It takes less than a minute to take the pedals off any bike.

There are a lot of people in society who want to get around town in something less resource intensive than a car, but don't want to bike for whatever reason. An e-bike is the obvious solution for these folks.

The arguments that e-bike opponents make are all true, but they don't form grounds for banning e-bikes, either from bike lanes or in general. I understand not liking e-bikes for aesthetic or environmental reasons, but to suggest that they don't belong on our roads is wrong.

The big recumbent image at the top is by Mark Stosberg. The smaller velocar image is by Björn Söderqvist.

3 comments:

Mark Stosberg said...

Good post. Some people would ride a bike if it didn't create so much sweat. For them, an e-bike is a solution that gets them on a bike, but doesn't require breaking the sweat threshold.

I would prefer that people use human-power when feasible, but I support e-bikes if people would choose cars instead.

FixedXorBroken said...

I totally agree with your last sentence Mark. I see e-bikes as a decent compromise.

I was wrong with my weight estimate. E-bikes can be quite hefty. Someone on i bike t.o. posted a link to one that weighs 185 pounds.

FixedXorBroken said...

An angle I hadn't considered here is tandems. They're faster and easily heavier than e-bikes. If you have 2 180 pound rides on a 50 pound bike, it will definitely weigh more than an e-bike.