What Kinds of Bikes In The “Bike” Lane?

Background Reading

The Problem

Could these revolutionize transit? (Photo: Roll Over America/Maarten Heckman)

Eventually there are going to be spats between “traditional urban cyclists” and those who are new to environment. Anyone riding along a city street which offers the promise of “protected infrastructure” is going to be attracted to the calmer less taxing environment that such a lane holds promise of. And it will be likely that the persons who join the bicycle lane are not actually riding human powered vehicles (HPVs), at least not in the strictest sense.

It is time to be aware of the variants to the standard bicycle which are already in existence and which will contend for space in that bicycle lane next to you despite their advanced status as a transportation vehicle.

Shifting Paradigms

Cyclists, especially those in the urban arena love to tell you about how wonderful they are in sacrificing themselves by riding their bicycles. Why? Well at least two major problems are solved if more people riding bicycles:

  1. Automobile traffic is always most congested during the Rush Hours. This congestion means that fuel is being wasted and the pollution that results from all the byproducts of that combustion gather in the atmosphere above the city and make for a very nasty cocktail indeed.
  2. Respiratory problems are exacerbated and that means the very young and the very old suffer most. In addition there are contributions to the atmosphere which contribute to the “acid rain” problem that erodes concrete and steel facades everywhere.

But we are at the cusp of a brave new world in automobiles. Hybrid automobiles are the first wave in the solution to these two problems. But eventually as an electric recharging infrastructure is built fully Electric automobiles will become the mainstay in urban traffic environments.

These vehicles are unlike the ones we have come to “know and love”. Sitting in traffic does not require them “idle” to be ready to provide instant power. And there are no byproducts from their “exhaust” because there is none. Depending on the generation of the electricity that does the recharging of the batteries of the vehicle even that process can be quite earth friendly.

And make no mistake about the lure of something other than human power to assist in transportation is quite strong. There is now a robust movement to retrofit existing bicycles with electric assist motors of all sorts. You can get a feeling for the nature of this effort from a local website named www.recumbents.com.

Warren Beauchamp is the web administrator for this site and in fact is one of its more ardent proponents for e-assist vehicles as they are known. The Copenhagen Wheel Project is another example of the lure that this mode of transportation for venture capitalists eager to get in on the ground floor of what is sure to be a burgeoning market.

The Lure Of The Electric Vehicle

Why would e-assist attract anyone away from the health benefits of an HPV? In a word convenience. Bicyclists in the future will be contending with one another at rush hour more so than automobiles. It will be the bicycle lanes to which they are confined that will suddenly be clogged with vehicles of all sorts and sizes and driven by citizens of very differing physical capabilities.

Bicycles as they are currently configure make great tools for warm weather climes. Their allure drops off immediately as the weather turns nasty. Urban cyclists have options. They can take the bus or hail a cab or board a train. At the other end of their ride on urban transit they are perhaps close enough to hoof it the remainder of the way.

But when rain, snow, ice and cold begin to dominate the forecast anyone who has to leave the office during the day begins to reconsider their options. Do I ride my bike to work and then to a clients office in the rain or on icy roads? How will I look and smell when I reach the client site? And it becomes a question of convenience. If I have a bike that is equipped with electric assist motors I can choose to operate much as a scooter might but from the bicycle lane.

Depending on my weight and the terrain to be covered it is conceivable that the entire round trip could be made with virtually no pedal strokes from the rider. And what is more impressive are the speeds available even today for e-assist riders. Before long more powerful batteries and motors will be available to increase both the speed and range of such bikes.

Imagine a velomobile that has received a e-assist makeover. Recently a group of European cyclists visited America as part of the Roll Over America project. Lonnie Morse (as did I visited with the group). He writes about the experience on his blog. Like him I was amazed at the beauty of these bikes (actually trikes). But what really got my attention were two very alluring aspects of their design:

  1. These bikes can be ridden in all sorts of weather and some even invite you into a fully enclosed cockpit. You are in essence riding in a miniature “car”.
  2. But even without electric assist riders of modest physical abilities can by virtue of their superior aerodynamics power them along at speeds well into the 30 MPH range!

Now if you add the electric assist advantage to a vehicle like this you have one that can power its way around virtually any city in just about any kind of weather at speeds that frankly make it risky to operate alongside a soccer mom on a cargo bike with a couple of toddlers. But there you have it. Once again technology surpasses the ability of legislators to deal with its advancements and suddenly you have an urban hipster complaining that what you are riding is not supposed to be in the bike lane when in fact it can and should be. Furthermore it can run at speeds that are easily like those achieved on that scooter than occupied the bike lane and got you all “hot and bothered”.

This is a change that is going to be revolutionary. These vehicles have head and tail lights, and even brake lights and turn signals. They are more car-like than bike-like. And they will be honking their little horns to have your single speed, oh so yesterday, piece of crap move aside for a real urban assault vehicle.

What About Parking For Bicycles In This Brave New World?

Yep! It is not just lanes that will be places of contention in tomorrow’s world. The on street parking will be severely limited for conventional bicycles because these little puppies take up enough room for two or three bikes all by themselves. They can be locked and left alone without having to have a pole to secure them. But if the driver decides to secure them to a pole it will mean that no traditional Huffy bikes need apply when it comes to parking. They will simply overwhelm the area around them.

I can just hear the aging hipster communities phone calls to City Hall about the dangers they are encountering from other bicycles. The conversation will go something like this:

They came whizzing by doing 30+ MPH in the bike lane of all things, and honked so loudly at me that I nearly lost my nose ring. The driver of this contraption did a right turn in front of a buddy of mine and nearly caused an accident. And you really have to do something about the fact that these things are constantly running red lights and stop signs in my neighborhood! They are virtually silent and moving at high enough speeds that when you collide with one you can sustain some serious injuries. My dog nearly got cut in two when he ventured out into the street for the ball I was tossing and collided with one of these things.

And of course as you know they have a travel range that makes them ideal for those suburb riders who are essentially carpet baggers here in the city. In fact on Fridays a couple dozen or so of them congregate at the local water hole and take up all the parking spaces for bicycles and we are forced to find new places to lock our bikes.

Just yesterday my neighbor broke down and bought a couple of these things and now his teenage son is whizzing up and down Milwaukee avenue scaring the bejeezus out of us hardworking hipsters just trying to make a living. I want them banned from the bike lanes and certainly given the boot from the Chicago Lakefront Trail.

They are in fact taking over at our Critical Mass Ride each month and frankly with that kind of speed it makes it nearly impossible for our corkers to do their jobs. If you want my vote and those of my friends on ChainLink you will take my complain seriously. There is a move already in play to have these things banned from fundraising rides like Bike The Drive and the Four Star Bike Tour. They represent a hazard to real cyclists.

They ride so low to the ground that you simply cannot see them until they are right alongside you. And for the most part because they run silently you cannot even hear them, especially if you have had sustained hearing loss due to too many Indie Rock concerts. So again I implore you to have them banned from the bike lanes.