Roger Marolt: Recharge or recover? That is the question
It’s e-bike season again and the warm weather controversy that each spring pushes the one of skiers complaining about snowboarders into the Southern Hemisphere is back. My prediction is it will be worse this year without the Fourth of July parade seat-saving scramble to distract us. I think the reason we pluck each other’s spokes over this is because we have lost our bearings on the way to the debate. There is a false equivalency at the root: that we must choose between bicycle types, be it a real one or an e-bike. It’s actually not like choosing between an apple and a cheeseburger, which are both foods. The fact is that an e-bike is not a bicycle at all. It’s a motorcycle.
The distinction makes all the difference in the world. If the e-bike is perceived as a bicycle, it becomes a technological marvel, a paradigm-shifting advancement in the evolution of the species, a symbol for an advanced age, an object of envy, a thing that you must have, no matter the price.
On the other hand, if the e-bike is viewed as a motorcycle, it becomes a technological compromise, the modeling of capitulation to devolution, a symbol for advancing age, an object of derision, a thing you will have to justify having because of the price, which is not insubstantial for a device with a motor wimpier than a cappuccino frothing wand.
Think about your rich history with real bicycles. You remember your first two-wheeler. Mine was red with white racing stripes. It had fenders with coxcomb fins that mimicked the ones cool teenagers had on their jalopies. Yet, this was nothing compared to the joy experienced when the training wheels came off and, after a few tries, you suddenly felt the magical sensation of maintaining balance through the gyroscopic force of spinning wheels taking over for dad’s hand on the sissy bar. Then there was gearing. You went exponentially from one to three to five to 10 to 27 speeds in the span of a few birthdays and possibly Christmas. In time, the melding of man and machine to create perhaps the most marvelously efficient form of transportation ever known had you hooked.
This compared to the advent of the e-bike, which came with equal parts mild curiosity, the transient thrill from a test ride, and the suppressed gulp when you saw the price of it on your credit card bill that arrived a week after the pride of ownership had already begun tarnishing. You might have had a sleek, foreign crotch rocket or a high-torqued rugged dirt bike, but you feel you didn’t start young enough to ever feel comfortable on either of those. You could still maybe manage a milder, street-tamed version of a real motorcycle, but, ah, there’s no need to rush into that decision. Maybe next summer. A scooter would be fun, but… That leaves a moped. Oh, but wait, I could get an e-bike and avoid the nerd-o-matic stigma of that old college campus gimmick. E-bikes are still considered cool, right? Yes, of course, like a gold Prius is!
You see where I’m going, all under my own power. The animosity in the e-bike debate seems to be mostly flowing through the barrow ditches draining serious cyclists’ disgust, which might be too mild a way to state it, into the settling pond of innocent e-bikers, many of whom were introduced to their machines of choice on honeymoons or twenty-five-year reunions of all kinds. E-bikers don’t seem to care enough to fight back much. Maybe their cotton Bermuda shorts breath better. Perhaps they instinctively know the bike shops will fight their battle for them to preserve sales of these high-margin trinkets of tourism. It matters not.
What bicyclists need to keep in mind is that they are not out there racing e-bikes to Maroon Lake, a contest they will never win, not even against bachelorette party weekenders looking for outdoor activities compatible with hangovers and Instagram. Stand down, Lycra-clad leg-shavers! This is not a threat. It is just another motorcycle, a dorky one at that, probably out on a sightseeing mission. Let it go. It’s better than a diesel pick-up truck whizzing by and leaving you aspirating billows of a sulfury black cloud. By comparison, an e-bike easing past on the final, steep grade to the outhouse seems downright pleasant. It’s too bad there aren’t more of them on the road. … or the bike paths. … or, the trails? Oh, my. I probably shouldn’t have brought up the trails.
Roger Marolt urges all users to share the road, and maybe a few of the lousier trails, but stay off the sidewalks, except for pedestrians. Email at email@example.com.
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