Easy Rider

Commuting through New York City, it’s hard not to think about ebikes and so-called “micromobility” in general:

[Yes there’s no micromobility in this photo but bear with me.]

For all the additions to the bike lane network in the last couple of decades, I would say that in terms of riding a bicycle in New York City, the proliferation of e-thingies is by far the most dramatic profound and dramatic change I’ve seen (with the possible exception of the wild changes in fixie handlebar width, which is positively shocking)–and the more I see of it, the more I think the idea that somehow these things are going to compel people to stop driving is completely ridiculous.

Consider the image above, taken on a 90-degree day. (That’s 90 degrees on the Freedom Scale, by the way.) It’s a highway and a bicycle path. If you spend a lot of time on social media, you may be under the delusion that the average person thinks we’re in a CLIMATE EMERGENCY and that we need to save future generations from the ravages of EXTREME WEATHER. However, I promise you that whether they’re driving an F-150 with a Punisher decal or a Subaru with a Biden/Harris sticker, pretty much nobody is going to defect from the air-conditioned comfort on the left side of the picture to the bike path on the right, even if they can now get an electric device that requires little to no physical effort. This is because motor or no motor, pedal or no pedals, there’s still heat. And cold. And wind. And rain. You body needs to be outside at all times. Over the course of human history, at no point have we abandoned an easier form of transport for one that’s more difficult. It just doesn’t happen that way. Even when traffic on the Henry Hudson Bike Path is creeping along and they’re watching everyone on the Greenway whizzing by, they’d still rather be where they are, with the climate control and the Bluetooth and the knowledge that eventually they’ll get moving again, at which point they’ll be back up to speed with just the twitch of an ankle.

No, e-bikes and all the rest of it aren’t taking people out of their cars; they’re taking people away from old-fashioned bikes. I don’t know how they can keep pushing this “reducing car trips” thing when it’s so completely obvious. E-bikes and other contraptions are simply attracting the people who were already open to riding regular bikes, and who like being outside, and don’t mind experiencing weather. As such, they’re not emptying the highways and making our cities safer and more “livable,” they’re simply filling up the bike paths and supplanting pedal power. Again, people don’t choose the harder thing, they choose the easier thing. Ebikes aren’t more efficient and virtuous cars, they’re easier bikes, and it’s as simple as that. That’s why, as one of the dwindling number of people who ride a regular bike, I’m now constantly passed constantly by man, woman, and child. I mean I was always slow, but as a pedal bicyclist in 2023 I’m now really slow. Painfully slow. If you commute in New York on a regular bike, you’ve probably experienced the strange modern phenomenon of riding up an incline and hearing the clicking of a freewheel behind you because someone’s literally coasting while you’re climbing.

Of course I’m not saying pedal bikes will go away. People still ride horses, and draw with ink, and use sailboats, and engage in all sorts of “obsolete” pursuits that bring them pleasure. Hiking hasn’t disappeared, so why would riding unassisted bikes?

But as far as getting around the city goes, it’s over. Commuters:

Delivery people:


[Wait a minute…now that I look more closely, does that even have a motor???]

They’re all going electric, and that’s the way it is. Make no mistake–the pedal bicyclist is no longer a “stakeholder” when it comes to reshaping the city. The “Livable Streets” conversation is now about charging stations, and battery buybacks, and widening the lanes for more and faster e-cargo and throttle-twisting commercial riders. You’re a hobbyist engaging in a lifestyle choice, no different from the skateboarder who has a few parks to himself but must otherwise carve and grind out a place in an unaccommodating environment. So like the skateboarder, instead of naively assuming that whatever works out for e-traffic will work out for us too, we’re probably better off embracing the fact that there’s no place for us and never will be, and that maybe having no real place is the very best thing about riding a bike.

I do admit I find myself getting angry as people on all manner of contraptions beep at me and buzz me blast by me like dork-tastic missiles:

But then I remember that the world is for the young, not the old, and if they want a helmeted, face-shielded, electrified future that’s their business. Yesterday I saw a dog wearing a jacket that said “I’m anxious, please give me space.” At first I found this incredibly annoying. “It’s a crowded city,” I thought to myself. “Why do I need to tiptoe around your neurotic fucking dog?” But then I realized that I’m the dog. I’m the one riding around annoyed because someone on a battery with wheels got a little too close to me. Just as people don’t stop driving just because other people tell them they should, I cannot reasonably expect everyone else to conform to my idea of what getting around the city on a bicycle should be. The bike lanes may be full of e-crap, but they’re also full of people in “I’m anxious, please give me space” vests, and sometimes it’s better to ditch the Hi-Viz, pull yourself together, and get on with it.

I still hate electric motorcycles in the bike lane, though:

Then again, as someone who rides a ping Faggin, I would say that:

While I’ve been commuting pretty much exclusively on the Homer, yesterday I felt like a change. Racks and panniers and wide tires and a long wheelbase are of course great for commuting, but sometimes it also feels good to zip around on a tight little number you can secure with a single lock, even if it means wearing a backpack and sweating through your Nashbar t-shirt:

I also had an errand to run that evening (it involved phones):

And I locked up next to a machine that made me nostalgic for the days of Peak Fixie:

Apart from the smartphone handlebar mount, which is of course the phone holster of the bicycle world:

Normcore recognizes normcore:

Despite the heat, it felt great to be out and about in the city on the nimble Faggin–though I wasn’t quite as elated as this guy, who I believe was even bellowing:

My errand took me longer than I thought it would, though, and as night fell I really missed having a proper headlight:

E-contraptions are even more annoying at night thanks to their retina-searing illumination.

While the Henry Hudson Bridge is the scenic way to get to the Bronx, I usually take the more utilitarian Broadway Bridge, where I get to ride under the train I’d be on if I weren’t riding:

The train is a lot less fun, but it’s also a lot less sweaty.

Everything’s a trade-off.

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