Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Electric Bikes

This is not a bicycle, it is a motorcycle!

e-bikes are everywhere, it seems, and RV'ers seem to have taken to them.  If you have a motorhome, you can hang an e-bike off the back and use it to putt into town to get groceries.  If you are out of shape or elderly, the idea of not pedaling (or not pedaling very hard) is attractive.  But with this "new" technology comes problems.

I put "new" in quotes as these are really nothing more than mopeds.  Back in the 1970's when the gas crises was on, people looked to mopeds, which got 100 miles to the gallon, as a means of tooling around town.  They had been popular in Europe for ages, but were relatively new to America - in recent years that is.

Yes, the original "motor-cycle" was a motorized bicycle, and even Harley-Davidson started out with what was a bicycle (complete with pedals) with a motor added.    That quickly went away, of course, but the motorized bicycle never entirely went away.  Back in the day, you could motorize your bicycle by attaching a small "whizzer" engine to the rear wheel (friction drive, no less).  But America, being a car culture, never took to these sort of things.

In an eerie parallel to today, proponents of mopeds argued that they should get special licensing and registration status and not be registered as motorcycles.  Under existing laws, anything with a motor on it was a "motor vehicle" (at least in New York State) and had to be registered as such - as a motorcycle or car.  So special legislation was passed, State-by-State to legalize mopeds and allow teenagers to drive them with a learner's permit (but no motorcycle license).

And they were dangerous as fuck.  Since they went far slower than traffic, you were always being passed by cars, who were as courteous to you as most car drivers are today to bicyclists.  Which is to say, they tried to run you off the road.  Like any real motorcycle, they were a fair weather friend and of limited utility.  As gas prices came down, the moped movement died off and you rarely saw on one the road by the mid-1980s.

Motorcycles are, of course, a lot of fun, and if there were no such thing as cars or trucks and it never rained or snowed and there were never patches of loose gravel or sand or oil slicks on the road (sounds like motorcycle heaven!) they would be great.  The reality is, of course, that the minute you get on a bike, it seems everyone wants to kill you - or so it feels.  And you realize that human flesh versus 4,000lbs of car or truck is a losing proposition.  Or just falling off and becoming a "meat crayon" on the pavement is no fun at all.  Road rash is nothing to laugh at.

But with motorcycles - real ones - the cost of ownership and the hassle of getting a motorcycle endorsement on your license does limit the audience to the hard-core bikers.  Motorcycling is brutal on neophytes.  Talk to any EMT and they will tell you horror stories of mangled bodies and mangled motorcycles with temp tags on them.

So, fast-forward 40 years from the moped era, and today we have e-bikes.  They are bicycles with electric, not gas, motors.  But other than that, they pretty much look like mopeds, or at least some do.  Early e-bikes looked more like bicycles and were lightweight and had bicycle running gear.  But lately, the DOT-approved look has taken over - with wide motorcycle (or at least moped) wheels and tires, and DOT turn signals and lighting.  While some e-bikes use an electric "assist" which adds power based on how hard you pedal, these more modern counterparts use a traditional twist-throttle like a motorcycle or moped.

Back in the 1970's, they had to pass laws legalizing mopeds, such was the state of "big government" back then.  As I noted before, in New York State it was beaten into our heads that the moment your car registration or insurance expired, your car became an immovable block of metal - suitable only for towing.  Imagine my shock moving to the South and seeing people with cardboard signs in their rear window, saying, "Tags applied for!"  That would never fly in New York State, even under our Republican Governors!

But with e-bikes, something weird is happening.  In the Silicon Valley (Bullshit Valley) tradition of "Move fast, break things!" they are just selling these as bicycles and people are riding them without insurance, registration, motorcycle license, helmet, or anything.  And some are riding them on the road or on the shoulder, or on dedicated bike-paths and bike-lanes.  Many of these modern e-bikes can go close to 40 mph - I am sure some go more.  It is kind of unsettling when you are riding on a bike path (or worse yet, walking) and someone whizzes by at 30+MPH with no warning.  If they hit you, they could kill you.

Yesterday, I saw a lady riding an e-bike,pedaling slowly (but going fast) with no helmet and talking on her cell phone the whole time.  For like an hour, too!  Granted, she was cruising the campground, but some of the car drivers here fly down the campground roads, which have blind corners and intersections (we are parked at one of the latter).  She could have been t-boned at any time.

e-bike riders are an interesting lot. I am sure it is like smart phones, too - I can say I would never ride an e-bike like they do, but within a month, I would become an e-bike zombie just as I became a cell phone zombie - despite my best intentions.  But it is funny, when you are walking or riding a real bicycle on the bike path, you see an e-bike coming and they start pedaling furiously.  As soon as they are out of sight (or think they are, anyway) they stop pedaling and go back to full electric mode.

e-bikers have the best of both worlds - or want the best, anyway.  They can ride in traffic like a  car or real motorcycle, and they can park at a bike rack like a bike.  They can ride on the sidewalk (or do anyway) or the bike lane or bike path. They can weave in and out of traffic and "lane share" - or at least try to, until they get hit.  And they do all this without any training, registration, insurance, or licensing.

What is weird to me is that back in the 1970's, this was a big deal to pass legislation to register and regulate mopeds - legislation that is still on the books in most States.  e-bikes, particularly the more robust-type, would seem to fit the definition of "moped" but I have yet to see a moped plate on an e-bike in any of the several States we have visited in the last two years or so.  Maybe they are supposed to be registered, but it doesn't seem like cops are enforcing the law.

Funny, too, because people today - born after 1980 - claim we are being "oppressed" by onerous government.  The reality is, it seems like many laws that were strict back in the day, are ignored, even by the Police, today.  In the 1980s, a friend of mine put "straight pipes" on his Harley - and took them off a week later.  He had a sheaf of noise violation tickets to show for it.  Today, off-duty cops have these on their bikes, and no one issues noise violation tickets anymore - as you may have noticed.

Speaking of Harley-Davidson (arguably the inventor of the moped!) that company has come under a lot of criticism by trying to attract a younger audience by selling smaller bikes and even electric motorcycles.  It went over like a lead balloon - or more precisely like Bud Light.   The "traditional" Harley riders felt betrayed, even as their demographic shrinks from year to year.  Harley had to do something to increase its audience, and their expensive union contracts meant that their bikes were expensive, too (more than a car!) and thus limited the customer base to boomers with disposable income.

I have noticed some ham-handed attempts at SPAM-ing on motorcycle sites.  On one "crotch-rocket" discussion group, a "random person" opines that after test-riding his boomer Uncle's old Hog, it "wasn't all that bad!" and once you get up to speed, it hardly vibrates at all!  Nice try, SPAM-Bot!   I don't think the Ninja drivers were buying it, though.

Electric scooters bear mention as well.  We saw a young man tearing along at at least 25 MPH on one, with no helmet, just one pothole or small rock away from doing an end-over-end and becoming a poster boy for The Brain Injury Institute.  Worse yet, they rent these things, again, unregulated, and it is causing a real problem in cities as they pile up in neighborhoods and get tossed in canals and lakes and rivers.  Years ago, you would see bumper-stickers saying, "Ban Moped Rentals!" because a lot of people were killed or maimed after renting mopeds on Caribbean islands.  We saw one such grisly accident in the Bahamas - a man with a bloody head, laying on the pavement.  All fun-and-games until you leave "Senor Frogs" after three margaritas.

The same idea applies to scooter rentals - someone in silicon valley is making a lot of money and literally killing and maiming people.  The scooters are rented to tourists, who don't know their way around or even how to ride the scooter - and of course, helmets are not provided.  Class-action lawsuits have been filed, of course, but those will only profit the lawyers.  If you are killed - or worse, paralyzed for life - it is little comfort that as part of the settlement, you or your heirs get a free Lime scooter rental.

So what's the answer?  Well, I hate to be one to break up a party, but there are laws already on the books for mopeds.  Whether they need to be amended to include e-bikes, I do not know.  And helmet laws for motorcycles and mopeds exist (in States with helmet laws).  Sometimes it is best if "big nanny government" protects the ignorant from their own folly.

I say this as an elderly friend (who has balance problems) just bought an e-bike.  After wiping out a 50cc scooter, you'd think they would have learned a lesson.   I fear for their life, quite frankly.  But an e-bike, even a nice one, is still a motorcycle, and motorcycles are not for the feint of heart, or those with balance issues, or slow reaction times.  That is one reason why I am glad I gave up motorcycling when I did.  At my age, I would be dead within minutes!

All that being said, I guess these e-bikes are here to stay.   But expect to see a lot of bloody e-bike accidents (which, like with Tesla, the industry will sweep under the rug).  It wouldn't be so awful if it was only the e-bike riders hurting themselves.  But I suspect that there will be a wreck on our idyllic bike path on our island, and some nice old lady will get run over by a 150-lb e-bike, with a 200-lb rider, who will at the very least, break that old lady's hip, if not kill her outright.  Motorcycles don't belong on bike trails!