Okay, look: The Atlantic had a Hot Take, and my jimmies were rustled.
Ian Bogost thinks that ebikes are bad because they are in between bikes and motorcycles. Really – that’s the main objection.
Maybe ebikes increase the amount people exercise, or maybe they decrease it, he says:
… The truth will differ based on circumstance, but the result is the same: a weird ambiguity. An e-bike sure seems like a way …
But isn’t it weird for this piece to entirely set aside the idea that it should refer to the actual effects in truth? To sidestep having to do more than “some people say A and some people say B and the fact that people don’t agree signals spooky weirdness”? A lot of “feeling” in this piece about things that seem like they could be investigated as fact. Like: are you, an NYC pedestrian, as likely to get mowed down by an ebike as a taxicab?
…an alternative form of transit. In theory, the easier ride that an e-bike provides should make it more tempting than a standard bike. For people with certain mobility issues, it may indeed be. Yet for the most part, all the nuisances of biking still crop up: hot or cold or wet weather, needing to transport something heavy or awkward, taking on another errand during the day that requires a drive, and so forth. Counterintuitively, because the e-bike is easier to ride than a normal bike, I feel less inclined to adopt it as a regular practice, let alone a whole commuting identity. All the downsides of biking still remain, without the satisfaction of persisting in the face of adversity. Perhaps my e-bike ambivalence co…
I don’t think you can reasonably say both “for the most part” and “all”. The difference between “for the most part” and “all” is important – and if we’re saying it’s unpleasant to be out in weather, why isn’t that adversity in the face of which he can persist?
… two-wheelers are up for grabs. A motorcycle signals power (and maybe a caricature of outmoded masculinity) from its exhaust. But a bicycle makes no noise ap…
…elves out. But I’m not so sure. Something is ontologically off with e-bikes, which time and adoption alone can’t resolve. Whether as bicycles haunted by motorbikes or as mopeds reined in by bikes, e-bikes represent not the fusion of two modes of transit, but a conflict between them.
This makes about as much sense as ice cream cakes representing the conflict between cake and ice cream. Also, the extent to which infrastructure here is acknowledged (pedestrians and bikes sharing space is a problem) but treated as fixed: bananas. Nuts. (Banana nut ice cream!)
This is a lyrical paean to ebikes. It is better than what I might have written, so I won’t tell you any of that. Hurrah for ebikes qua ebikes.
What I will tell you is that I had a not particularly good ebike that I used to get to my college campus, 6 miles away through a variety of deeply bike-unfriendly roads1. Here is the thing that an ebike gives you: at any given moment, you can put in whatever effort you want. You don’t need to save effort for a hill further on. You don’t need to hustle to make a light. At any moment, you can push the pedals as hard and as fast as feels right to your legs.
This matters to someone like me, who is off the chart to the nerd end of the nerd-jock spectrum. I don’t want to show up to things sweaty. I don’t want to have to dress for exercise for my commute. But I also benefit from getting to stretch my legs, remind my quads that they have more function than supporting a laptop. An ebike lets you match your effort to what you want and need, not to the route you happen to have to take. This rules.
I am not a “cyclist” and I do not want to be one. I do not want to motivate myself by thinking that I’m persisting in the face of difficulty. I like going places. I don’t drive. I shouldn’t have to. An ebike just stretches out what I can do and what I end up wanting to do (I cannot emphasize enough how much I hate being sweaty when I show up somewhere).
It’s been a long time since I had an ebike. My household just landed at the end of a gravel road. My dad’s looking into them too – we’re going to schedule a test ride for these bad boys.
And if Ian Bogost can’t appreciate any of that, too bad for him.
Later stolen, RIP. ↩
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