For years now, bike advocates have pinned all their hopes on the e-bike. It was going to replace car trips. It was going to flatten the hills, annihilate the barriers to entry that keep people from cycling, and change the course of human history forever. Here in New York City, there was also another dimension to all this, which is that the e-bike was the vehicle of choice for the food delivery worker.
Well, not anymore:
New York City safe streets advocates (not to mention opinionated semi-professional bike bloggers) have long allied themselves with delivery workers. This makes perfect sense. They’ve long been the victims not only of shitty apps, but also NYPD crackdowns, theft, and reckless drivers. Plus, their very name–“Deliveristas”–makes them sound like freedom fighters, which is particularly attractive to the sorts of people who volunteer at the Park Slope Food Co-Op and wear Che Guevara t-shirts. And certainly the safe streets advocates and the e-bike-riding delivery workers seem to share common cause: a city free from the scourge of deadly fossil-fuel burning vehicles.
Well, guess what? It turns out the delivery workers don’t really care about e-bikes. They need to make money, so they just want to use whatever helps them get shit done the fastest:
This of course is eminently reasonable, and there’s a reason why in many parts of the world the gas-powered scooter or motorbike or whatever you want to call it is such a common mode of transportation:
They’re reliable, they’re easy to ride, they’re efficient, and they’re cheap. Here in America, we’re giant woosies about anything with two wheels, and that includes motorbikes. Just as we’re mostly only comfortable with the bicycle as a lifestyle pursuit and a form of recreation, we’re also mostly only interested in getting dressed up in dumb leather clothes and riding big flatulent motorcycles that are heavier than the cars people drive in the rest of the world:
We consider anything smaller to be “underpowered,” while the rest of the world gets around like this:
But unlike the rest of the world where these things have always been ubiquitous, they were fairly small in number here in New York City until recently. Now they’re everywhere, and it’s not just delivery workers, it’s everybody. If their riders were using the streets like they were supposed to this might actually be a good thing. Unfortunately, as it turns out, our relatively new bicycle lane network (as half-assed as it may be) has proven to be the perfect invasive species pathway for them. It’s not just the on-street bike lanes, either; the bridge crossings and the long stretches of greenway are increasingly becoming motor scooter highways now. These things are also unregistered, and judging by how many teenagers I now see using them, I can’t imagine too many of the riders are licensed:
I’m pretty sure you have to show a license and proof of insurance to buy a motorbike in New York State; I’ve bought several and I certainly had to do it every time. Maybe you don’t if it’s a “Class C,” but judging from the speed of a lot of those things I doubt it’s the case:
I have no problem with delivery people, or motor scooters, or even joyriding teenagers. It makes no difference to me whether their vehicles use batteries or burn gas. I don’t particularly care if they’re licensed or their bikes are registered. (I mean it would be nice if they were insured, but I doubt half the motorists in New York City are properly insured.) What I do have a problem with is that the bike lanes are fucking full of these things, and that the people on them often ride like assholes, both in and out of the bike lane.
It’s funny how things rarely turn out the way you think they will. Who would have guessed that when the city started building a bike lane network it would be ruined by motor scooters? Moreover, it all started because of e-bikes, those supposed saviors of mobility. Why? Here’s what happened:
- Delivery riders took to e-bikes
- “E-bikes” took many forms, from pedal-assist bikes to throttle-control bikes with vestigial pedals to electric motorscooters with no pedals at all, but which people still called “e-bikes”
- Nobody knew which was legal and which wasn’t, or how to deal with it, and despite the much-publicized crackdowns it was mostly a free-for all
- Eventually, they made laws and rules on the state and local level, but nobody knows what those are, nor do they give a shit
- Once people realized they could ride pretty much whatever they want, they decided “Fuck it, I’ll just ride a motorscooter”
- Enterprising retailers figured out how to fill the demand
And here we are.
As much as I hate motor scoooters in the bike lane, I understand that transport and commerce and life in a big city is always evolving, and it rarely does so in a way that pleases you. However, I’d at least like to see some introspection on the part of the advocates, who could at least admit it’s a lousy situation and that they didn’t see it coming. Instead, they’re sticking to the old line:
If you’ve ridden across the Manhattan Bridge recently, this will not surprise you:
But, you know, the poor motor scooter riders are doing it because they fear for their safety:
Bullshit. Nobody who’s seen the way people ride motor scooters in New York City honestly thinks they fear for their own safety, unless running red lights at speed whilst wheelie-ing is something you do out of fear. They’re doing it because it’s easier to use the bike lane to get over the bridge than it is to use the car lane. And yes, drivers are absolutely more dangerous:
But that’s a dangerous way to think. There was a good long while there we could have reigned in cars in the city, too. Overnight parking wasn’t legal in Manhattan until 1950. If you want to do something to keep the bike network motor scooter-free now is probably the time.
Then again, it’s easy to say now that we should never have legalized overnight parking. It was the automobile age, and saying people shouldn’t drive in 1950 would be like saying people shouldn’t use smartphones today. (I mean you could certainly make a good argument for that, but it’s completely and utterly unrealistic.) It could be that the bike lane network is destined for a full-on motorized two-wheeler takeover whether I like it or not; certainly it was never all that great for bikes to begin with, so maybe it’s no great loss. In fact, judging from this bike I saw locked up mid-span on the Brooklyn Bridge, people are just giving up old-fashioned bicycles right on the spot:
It’s a relic from a simpler time:
Today this is what constitutes a two-wheeled urban runabout:
It’s like an impractical bike and an impractical motorcycle:
I think it’s this one:
Don’t want to share the bike lane with a throttle-powered bike that does 30mph? Don’t worry, it works on the honor system:
And yes, of course there’s a kids’ version:
It’s always about building skills and confidence, right?
Incidentally, in that same post about how motor scooters are our friends, Streetsblog noted this:
Yes, it’s so exclusive anyone can get it:
Indeed, it just so happens I stopped into REI yesterday evening, where I overheard a salesperson explaining to a customer that e-bikes were going to be on sale for 50% off:
So I’m guessing this is less about REI caring about delivery people and more about them drowning in e-bike inventory:
How could they possibly compete with Super73 twist-and-go e-bikes and gas-powered motor scooters?
Anyway, if that makes you feel despondent then you won’t want to read this, to which I was alerted by a reader:
Don’t leave home without your shifting glove!
I’m old enough to remember when Shimano made a shifter that let you shift and brake at the same time. It was called a “mechanical STI lever:”
Shimano’s competitors would brag about how their brake lever blades didn’t move, but if you raced you knew that this feature allowed you to slow down while cornering and downshift at the same time.
Now all you need is a special electronic glove.