There is a simple solution to bicyclist/motorist conflict that needs to be more widely recognized: electric bikes. To a great extent conflicts are caused by the difference in relative speed between cars and bikes. Electric bikes can help more cyclists close that speed gap. Motorists easily become annoyed and even enraged when they see a slow vehicle in front of them. No amount of bicyclists’ courtesy can prevent that reaction. A bicyclist on an electric bike, however, can keep up with traffic and thus eliminate the source of conflict. I have been riding an electric bike for three years and I’ve experience a dramatic decrease in altercations with motorists.
Why is it not widely known that electric bikes reduce altercations and improve bicyclists’ safety? Unfortunately there exists a certain bigotry among bicyclists, and I’m not talking about bigotry towards motorists. I’m talking about bigotry towards electric bicyclists. I recently posted about ebikes and bike safety on the People for Bikes blog and got the blunt response “Electric bicycles are not bicycles. Period.” Certainly the name of the vehicle doesn’t matter. An electric bike, ebike or whatever you want to call it, is a lightweight narrow vehicle that travels at bicycle speeds (less than 20mph by design). For many people an electric cargo bike is more useful than a bicycle–or a car. I use mine to carry children and groceries up steep hills. What do you use your bike for? I see many bicyclists who put in more miles carrying their bike on the roof of their car so that they can travel to remote spots to exercise with it. I feel this is a perversion of the bicycle’s potential. I prefer a bicycle that is safer in traffic and is more useful to the masses than an h-bike (human-powered bike–I just coined that term). I prefer a biker culture centered around utility rather than physical prowess.
You might ask that if an ebike travels at less than 20mph how does it reduce speed-related conflicts? Ebikers can keep up with traffic because they have a higher average speed, though not necessarily a higher top speed. Ebikes can also accelerate faster than automobiles, which helps getting across intersections. You might think ebikes are only for slower bicyclists. Ebikes aren’t just for weaklings, they are for anyone who wants responsible useful transportation. Faster h-bikers can benefit from also owning an ebike as well as slower h-bikers. Remember, ebikes are utility bikes. No matter what your recreational interests are, you still need solid transportation. If you bike and drive a car, you are part of the problem. I know people who use an h-bike for exercise but use an ebike to carry children and groceries and for car-replacement tasks in general. In fact, as the owner of a cargo bike shop I often use my ebike to carry bikes.
You might also ask where do you draw the line on ebikes–how much power and speed is ok? Should electric bikes be allowed in bike lanes and on bike paths? Ebikes draw the line at 750 watts (about one horsepower) and 20mph. This is by design and also according to Federal law. This limits ebikes to about the same weight and power of an h-bike. Anyone who questions whether ebikes should be on a bike path or bike lane should simply try one. You will find it has the same handling and top speed as a regular bike but with increased safety and utility.
Let’s end the feud between ebikers and h-bikers. Let’s embrace a technology that allows bicyclists and motorists to coexist. And let us, the enlightened bicyclists, begin the transition from fossil-fuel-powered automobiles to electric cargo bikes.