‘The E-Bike Is a Monstrosity’

In an article published by the Atlantic, writer and Director of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Ian Bogost, claims e-bikes have an identity crisis and “represent not the fusion of two modes of transit, but a conflict between them.” Here’s an excerpt from his report: I’d like to drive less, exercise more, commune with nature, and hate myself with a lesser intensity because I am driving less, exercising more, and communing with nature. One way to accomplish all of these goals, I decided earlier this year, was to procure an e-bike. (That’s a bicycle with a motor, if you didn’t know.) I could use it for commuting, for errands, for putting my human body to work, and for reducing my environmental impact. A cyclist I have never been, but perhaps an e-biker I could become. […] But I’ve been trying to live with one, and brother, I’ve got some bad news. These things are freaks. Portraying e-bikes as a simple, obvious, and inevitable evolution of transportation (or even of bicycling) doesn’t fully explain these strange contraptions. The same was said of Segways, and then of Bird scooters, and both flamed out spectacularly.

Bikes have always worn many helmets: cycling as exercise, cycling as leisure, cycling as sport, cycling as transit. These roles often conflict with one another. The commuter sneers at the spinner, who pedals pointlessly to nowhere. The leisure-rider spurs the Lycra-racer, who endangers pedestrians and inspires drivers to hate cyclists. E-bikes continue, and worsen, that disorder by jumbling up aspects of bicycles and motorcycles. Strapping a motor to a bike turns out to alter more than just speed and exertion. It produces a chameleon that takes on, under various conditions, both the best and worst features of a variety of transportation technologies. The result is less an evolution of a two-wheeled machine than a pastiche of the many things such a device represents. It’s a monster made from bicycles and motorbikes.

Here’s what I mean: A bike can be exerting to ride, which is both a feature and a defect. Biking to the store or office offers an opportunity to move one’s body instead of spreading it into the seat of a car (or even a train). Depending on distance and terrain, biking can raise your heart rate, making it an effective workout. But working out can make you sweaty and smelly, a feature incompatible with using a bike for commuting (or even errands). E-bikes, by contrast, allow a motor to assist the rider, reducing exertion and thereby delivering you to the office or cheesemonger with a dry brow and dry armpits. But in exchange for that polish, an e-bike rider gets less exercise than the equivalent trip under full pedal. […] The truth will differ based on circumstance, but the result is the same: a weird ambiguity. An e-bike sure seems like a way to cheat at exercise, even if it really facilitates it. […] Further reading: America Has An E-Bike Problem That Can’t Be Solved With More E-Bikes (Motherboard)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.