Every once in a while I am asked why I do not write about electric bikes, and the answer is simple: because they do not interest me. Maybe in 40 years they will, but at the moment I do not find myself longing for a sweet e-assist ride. Still, I have nothing against electric bikes and their usefulness is readily apparent to me: cargo bikes and pedicabs, upright bikes in truly hilly areas, and bikes with assistance for the elderly and others who have a hard time pedaling on their own power. What's not to like?
Yesterday I was cycling across town and a middle-aged man on an e-bike was pedaling in the bike lane just ahead of me. He was going pretty slowly, so I passed him, not giving it a second thought. Then behind me I heard another cyclist passing him, and then I heard that cyclist shout: "Get the f- out of the bike lane you retard!" There was more, and the abuse was directed toward him riding an e-bike - which the regular cyclist did not feel belonged in the bike lane. That was not the first time I'd heard this sentiment. From Interbike last year, I know that the e-bike industry is trying hard to push e-assist onto the cycling market, and I also know that there is resistance among those who see e-bikes as a threat to "real cycling." But I figured meanies will be meanies and soon forgot about the shouting incident.
Then this morning, I saw a link to this article in the Gothamist, debating whether a $1000 fine for riding an e-bike was overkill (the previous amount was $500). I had not even known that e-bikes were illegal in NYC, but apparently they are. It is illegal to ride them and it is illegal for bike shops to sell them. And now the city is considering a serious crack-down, because the food delivery guys on their "souped up" bikes are out of control, terrorising the peaceful citizens by going as fast as 30mph.
What bothers me about the NYC situation is not specific to e-bikes. It's that instead of the government regulating public behaviour with strictly enforced laws, perfectly useful objects are criminalised. 30mph is a speed that any decent roadie can hit on their racing bike without the help of e-assist. Yet racing bikes are not outlawed in NYC as far as I know. If speed-demon delivery boys are causing problems, set and enforce a speed limit. But the blanket targeting of e-bikes is not logical. When posting a link to the Gothamist article, a bicycle blogger wrote: "NYC is flat and small enough that no one needs an e-bike here. Ever." What she means of course, is that she does not feel the need for an e-bike in NYC. Neither do I in Boston. But that line of thinking can just as well be applied to us by others. "Nobody needs to be riding a bike on the road!" is something I've heard too many times. The fear and loathing of e-bikes is just as irrational.
If we're going to outlaw stuff, I personally would like to see a law for motor vehicles to be stripped of doors, since doorings are responsible for countless cyclist injuries and deaths in cities. Make car doors illegal and problem solved. Maybe NYC should get on that.