A preface: I started writing this post a few years prior, and it got lost in thought. While my transportation modality has changed: I now own an automobile, the bulk of what I said still stands. For a year and a half, I owned an electric scooter, which was sadly recently stolen after being down for maintenance and parts, and prior to that, I owned an electric bicycle that I have blogged about. If I were to replace these, it would be with something a bit larger.
This said, onward.
I’m an (US) American, and I’m generally not a fan of most automobiles currently and commonly available in my country.
Let this sink in for a moment, especially if you’re not from the USA.
I’ve made enemies with that statement, and I’m accepting of this fact.
But, let me present my reasons so that maybe it’ll make more sense why I’ve said that:
Our country was largely built in the automobile age. We figured out how to harness fire with dead animal juice and take up its reins, to get it to take us across the town, or across the country. The concept is grand, but it’s like that kid with his first radio with microphone: We’re super enthused and do it as much as we can to show off our status and ability to do so, but eventually, we grow jaded and eventually cannot stand the act, as it becomes a chore. All we see is glass, fiberglass, aluminium and steel wrapped around us in a cocoon of convenience, and miss out on the things we just cannot be arsed to slow down for.
We’re also farting up the air around us to do so, emitting noxious fumes, all to move short distances.
There’s a reason for transportation, for possibly even owning a car, yes — something that can carry us fifty, a hundred, two hundred miles away, at a reasonable speed when compared to walking, but so, so much of our need to move around is local range. We just need that five to ten mile round trip for groceries or employment, or a pit stop for enjoyment at the movies or what have you. Yes, there are folks that live far, far out that have to travel 50, 100, even 200 miles one way just to get their essentials, and these are folks that may not have a very plausible option otherwise.
That said, we’ve beaten the need for a car, and increasingly larger ones, into our heads and into our DNA here in the USA.
We’ve designed this country to rarely ever mix together homes and services. I can’t just go down to the first floor of the building I’m living in to be at a grocery store that has a small, but well stocked selection of things I could make use of for dinner. If I’m lucky, there might be a corner service station that has at least milk, bread, and/or bologna.
Therefore, this means I have to rely on something to get around and get to those places. This is where my bike and my scooter came in. I could at least hop on the bike, make it to a grocery store and back, making it possible to feed myself decent food at a reasonable cost, but it’d be nice to have something larger and more suited to cargo hauling needs.
This said, e-bikes that fit that role are often several THOUSAND dollars, which then leads the typical thought, “At that cost, I may as well buy a used car!”
It’s a fair thought, too, when there are electric bicycles out there that cost between $3,000 and $18,000, new, and are easier to steal than the average automobile.
Why am I focusing on e-bikes?
Accessibility, plain and simple. While I can ride a bicycle for a decent distance (5 to 8 miles, 8 to 13 kilometers), I have a knee that’s sustained a few injuries over the past decade and a half. It makes longer rides less appealing for me, if I have to supply all of the effort, as the end result is pain. An electric bike with a pedal assist system, especially if there’s a push-button instant throttle or twist throttle that can be engaged is an assisting device: it allows for me to continue my trip with less physical stress to the knee. It also means I can stay out there longer and actually get some exercise that I would otherwise not have.
It also means that on days where conditions allow it, I can commute to work in a sane manner, without being worn out, sweaty, and disgusting when I get there. Right now, that’s the majority of the year, barring ice or snow on the roads making conditions too unsafe to cycle.
The typical bane of the American office worker lifestyle is finding time to cram exercise into a day when we spend nine hours of it in a cubicle farm. Depending on where someone’s coming from, there’s then another hour or more spent on commuting by car or bus tacked on to the day. Then the typical at home needs of food, housekeeping tasks, self-care and hygiene kick in. By that point, the day has grown long in the tooth, and the user is worn down.
And that makes for a lack of time to squeeze exercise in. That makes us fat and sedentary, and seemingly ripe for others to constantly make their amusement known.
A real world example of a long day would be my commute to and from work when I lived back east in Florida. I took a moment to look up the bus routes for a typical weekday from near my old apartment to the call center I worked at for nearly seven years. While the route is physically a little shorter now, with a few improvements, the Go-Ogles still suggests it will take SEVENTY-SEVEN to EIGHTY-SEVEN minutes to get there. The 77 minute route gives the only potential chances to exercise outside of going for a walk during one’s break, by tacking on a 1.25 mile walk.
The return legs for that same journey, with the exception of one route, don’t even offer that same benefit and are eighty minutes on the bus. The route that offers a mile walk also requires a dangerous pedestrian crossing over a high speed road with no crossing area for about half a mile in either direction to get to the stop. It’s shit, plain and simple.
As result, I ended up with a gas powered scooter for a couple of years when I was working at this place, just because I was losing so much of my personal time to commuting via bus. Electric bikes weren’t much of a thing back then, because sealed lead acid batteries still ruled.
If I had to make that same commute here in 2019, I’d consider an electric bicycle with a 30+ mile range, since there are enough back roads between that old apartment and the old job site that I could stay out of the flow of big traffic.
This, thankfully, brings me back to the need. We’re growing in crowded cities here in America, with folks relegated to living out further from work in order to afford to live, wages stagnating while the cost of living increases. Our infrastructure crumbles because we’re running heavy vehicles day in and day out, each one with a single occupant trying to get by.
If we took the time to invest in more future choices, such as a modestly powered electric bicycle, the needs we have would change.
I think that in the gap between the start of this post and now, this future is creeping up on us, slow and steady, but it is showing up. There had been a positive shift in e-bike prices right before the start of this pandemic. There’re cargo bikes that are $2,000 at this time, and that would be just fine.
There’s also a growing presence of electric scooters that are more than just the little folding kid toys. I mean things that look like super light weight motorcycles without fairings, can do 30 miles per hour, have enough range for me to get around town for a few days before recharging…
For people who have the know-how and tools, there’re also options that will let you build your own electric scooter or bike, be it from plans found at Atomic Zombie, or through instructions found on Instructables, there are choices abound that are well worth their weight.
People have latched on to a misconception, remembering how old sealed lead acid batteries were: the weight, the costs, how many you’d need to get any kind of range, and have forgotten that we have made progress.
I’d love it if we could move on, move up, and make things better.
Electric vehicles to fit the human need is one progress marker.
Mixed zoning is another, but that’s a prattle for another time. 🙂