Comment of the Week: E-bikes and unintended consequences

“It feels like the wins bicycle advocates have made here over the years are now benefiting a different group and leaving some of us behind.

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Our article last week, E-bikes have changed the game. Is it time to change the rules? ended with a call for reader thoughts—and boy did you respond. The subject was clearly something people had on their mind.

Out of a long thread of excellent comments, only Maria’s received a “comment of the week” nomination. We liked it too. It was personal, respectful and in plain language described the feeling of vulnerability that many riders are feeling in what were once safe spaces.

But there were many other comments and discussions which also merit mention. First off, what are we supposed to call those things with two wheels that don’t have a motor? “Acoustic” bike really did not go over well with a lot of people, like “nails on a chalkboard” wrote maxD.

E-bike riders said their piece too. SDR, who is 68 and has been riding for 60 years, described their e-bike as a “game-changer,” especially in the southwest hills. And Brent pointed out that their e-bike is a “work vehicle” and “car replacement.”

Overall, it was an informative thread that did a good job hashing out the issues. But Maria’s comment stood out.

Here it is:

I’m so glad folks can be on two wheels instead of in cars. I want all bodies to be able to access the outdoor transportation and fun that bikes and ebikes have to offer.

But…here’s my “kids off my lawn” rant. I’m sure people will hate me for saying so, but I’m also sure I am not alone in this sentiment. As a solely acoustic bicycle user, and a car-free person, I’ve increasingly struggled on what used to feel like safe spaces for me (ie the bike path, the bike lane). Now, in addition to the danger of cars, I have to contend with other bike lane or bike path users on machines that are much faster and much heavier than me & my bicycle. It’s not much fun riding 12mph and getting passed by ebikers going 30mph. I know that’s not allowed but it’s happening, and it’s happening a lot. The last time I rode to Boring, the majority of path users were on ebikes, steamrolling me and passing dangerously close.

As the ebike revolution (which I thought would not be motorized heh heh) progresses, it’s likely more and more of those riders will have had little or no acoustic bike experience. As I get older and slower and more vulnerable to injury, and more of my encounters in the bike lane or bike path are with motorized users who may not have awareness of what it’s like to be passed at twice your speed and may not have bike handling skills created from riding acoustic bikes, it’s leading to a scarier world than I’d hoped I’d been working to help build here in Portland. Le sigh.

It feels like the wins bicycle advocates have made here over the years are now benefiting a different group and leaving some of us behind. There’s likely no way to address this without building an entire second set of infrastructure for human powered vehicles only. Of course that sounds ridiculous – probably just as ridiculous as it sounded to car drivers when bicycles demanded safe infrastructure in the past.

I guess all I can do is to ask ebikers to please slow down when passing and/or please give a wide wake to those of us still on acoustic bikes. And, oh yeah, please don’t pass on the right when a rider is turning right and signaling right (this is oddly common!). Thanks for reading, hope I haven’t ticked anyone off too much.

Two wheels, one love.

Thank you Maria. You can read her comment, and the entire thread, under the original article.


Note: This story originally including a reference to a comment on the original story that was inappropriate and has since been deleted.

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joan
2 months ago

I’m a long time bike person with a new ebike and appreciated Jonathan’s thoughts on how things might shift with this different mode. I also appreciated Maria’s perspective. I was surprised by some of the comments about ebikes, presuming that folks on them are new to bicycling (not so much Maria’s comments as others’). I think that might be some bias from the “ebikes aren’t real bikes” crowd. It had me wondering if folks might presume that I’m new to bicycling when I’m dressed up wearing heels on my ebike. How can you tell?

Regardless, it’s on everyone with a faster mode to be considerate of folks who are going slower. That means adults confidently riding or rolling quickly — whether on an ebike, escooter, or light road bike on a training ride — need to be careful around others.

I also have concerns about Watts’s comment, and honestly, Lisa, I was disappointed by your response in that thread and your highlighting of it here. I saw other folks echoing that language elsewhere. Can we talk about why it’s funny?

I feel like the answer has something to do with being insensitive to real concerns and needs of trans folks, who are some of our most vulnerable community members at this moment in history. We have a lot of problems with transphobia and sexism in the world, including in the bicycling world, and historically right here on BikePortland. The new moderation policy has been a big improvement. But, can we just … not make jokes with this language? “I was just joking” doesn’t make for a welcoming environment for trans folks. Casual sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia is not okay. Would you make that comment around a transgender friend or kid? What about one who had just been bullied or hassled? Because that’s the reality of being a trans person right now. Let’s not co-opt that language without more of an understanding of how that might hurt vulnerable folks.

ivan
ivan
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

I agree that highlighting that insensitive comment was a mistake.

I appreciated the cotw (as well as what joan adds to it here).

Let’s be inclusive of everyone, regardless of type of bike or type of body!

pigs
pigs
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

Watts made a pretty transphobic comment and was surprised to see it highlighted here.

Aaron H
Aaron H
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

Thanks for speaking up on Watts’ comment and the response to it. I remember reading that and wondering what indeed was so funny about the comment. I didn’t speak up at the time (sometimes there are just too many problematic comments here to have the energy to respond to them all), but I’m glad someone did.

Adam
Adam
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

What exactly is unspeakably transgressive with playfully suggesting the use of the prefix “cis-” here? Cis is just a Latin prefix meaning “on this side of,” akin to the English word “hither” (which shares the same linguistic root as cis). “Trans,” meaning “across,” in Latin is cognate with the English word “through.” Cis and trans are really just generic and useful descriptive modifiers.

What’s funny here is that cis, along with trans, have been used in the last fifteen years or so most frequently as modifiers with the word “gender.” That’s how most of us these days encounter these prefixes, so when we see cis used to modify something unexpected and kind of random, like the word “bike,” some of us may involuntarily, but innocently, crack a smile or even laugh a little. *Gasp*

If your knee-jerk reaction to Watts’ playful and humorous suggestion is to assume malice and to sanctimoniously ask people to police their use of generic descriptive prefixes, then the problem is really yours and you probably need to lighten up a bit.

Matt
Matt
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam

This is gaslighting. Adam is gaslighting you.

Adam
Adam
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Matt, am I gaslighting about the easy-to-look up definitions of the prefixes cis and trans or about why some people may subjectively find some slight and innocent humor in the phrasing “cisbike?” It’s obvious some, like yourself, take subjective offense. I’m merely making the case that taking offense is not the best response, and that giving Watts the benefit of the doubt that they were being playful rather than malicious is the better take. I’m simply on this side of the cisbike debate and you’re on that side, or vice versa.

joan
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Thanks, Matt, and cheers for chiming in. I’ve certainly seen this kind of response before, where the person complaining that I’m offended seems awfully offended! Echoes of sea-lioning. And I certainly have learned not to engage. My comments are for folks who might agree with me but didn’t speak up and appreciate hearing from others who do.

Aaron H
Aaron H
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam

Ok, first off, I don’t even know what the purpose of your entire first paragraph describing the etymology of “cis” and “trans” is. It’s not really relevant to this discussion. As for your second paragraph, yeah we all got it. The problem is the target of the punchline. We live in a world where transgender people have to fight for their right to exist safely and to be accepted by society, including in terms of the language they use to describe themselves. People, even those who aren’t intending to discriminate, get this wrong all the time. Given that context, making light of language used for gender identity is just not a good idea.

Adam
Adam
2 months ago
Reply to  Aaron H

The point is that cis and trans are not exclusive modifiers for just the words gender, man, woman, or phobia, however much those usages dominate the current discourse. They are generic modifiers with generic definitions that can be employed anyway anyone well pleases without people getting up in arms about somehow hurting someone’s hypothetical feelings.

If someone is truly deeply distressed because of the goofy phrase “cisbike,” they likely have deeper insecurities that need to be addressed before worrying about how someone random on the Internet plays with words. In any case, taking offense does not automatically grant you special status or make you right.

As Joan said though, her point was to warn those who see this so-so bit of wordplay as even slightly funny, that “cisbike” is transphobic somehow and definitely not appropriate at all, so “turn that smile upside down.” Joan only wants to preach to the choir in her echo chamber and give words to those who were too meek, or more likely too sensible, to speak up against somebody called Watts writing “cisbike.” Brilliant.

Lastly sealioning is a disingenuous act. I genuinely disagree about this bit of language policing and, unlike Joan, think conversations like this should not be one way. Oh well.

Aaron H
Aaron H
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam

The context makes it clear that the use of “cis” in this situation was a play on gender identity language. That “cis” and “trans” are not exclusively used to describe gender identity is immaterial to the discussion if context preempts those other uses. If you don’t understand how context might modify meaning, then I don’t know what else to tell you.

The fact that it is a goofy phrase is exactly the problem. It trivializes a serious issue. If you think this is about insecurity rather than not wanting to suffer the effects of discrimination, then you’ve entirely misunderstood everything that Joan said, assuming you read it at all. If not wanting to do harm to marginalized communities makes this an echo chamber, then I’ll just enjoy the sounds that the echoes make.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam

Sure, *everyone* speaks Latin fluently.

joan
2 months ago

Hi Lisa, if you are truly open to reconsidering, I’d suggest reading this article on how disparaging humor can increase discrimination against targeted groups. A few snippets:

Most of the time prejudiced people conceal their true beliefs and attitudes because they fear others’ criticism. They express prejudice only when the norms in a given context clearly communicate approval to do so. They need something in the immediate environment to signal that it is safe to freely express their prejudice.

Disparagement humor appears to do just that by affecting people’s understanding of the social norms – implicit rules of acceptable conduct – in the immediate context….

For instance, in studies, men higher in hostile sexism – antagonism against women – reported greater tolerance of gender harassment in the workplace upon exposure to sexist versus neutral (nonsexist) jokes. Men higher in hostile sexism also recommended greater funding cuts to a women’s organization at their university after watching sexist versus neutral comedy skits. Even more disturbing, other researchers found that men higher in hostile sexism expressed greater willingness to rape a woman upon exposure to sexist versus nonsexist humor.

So, by allowing these so-called jokes, by laughing at them and commenting positively and highlighting them, you and others are making transphobia more okay.

On the basis of these findings, one might conclude that disparagement humor targeting oppressed or disadvantaged groups is inherently destructive and thus should be censured. However, the real problem might not be with the humor itself but rather with an audience’s dismissive viewpoint that “a joke is just a joke,” even if disparaging. One study found that such a “cavalier humor belief” might indeed be responsible for some of the negative effects of disparagement humor. For prejudiced people, the belief that “a disparaging joke is just a joke” trivializes the mistreatment of historically oppressed social groups – including women, gay people, racial minorities and religious minorities – which further contributes to their prejudiced attitude.

I know Jonathan has worked hard to shift the culture at BikePortland away from sexism and transphobia, and I am disappointed that you aren’t willing to take some time to reflect on how comments like this from Watts and Adam perpetuate harm.

Adam
Adam
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

Right Joan, we should all avoid any jokes, puns, or comedy that dare to take risks, tackle socially controversial topics and taboos or highlight how people are different in any way. All offense should be avoided lest it cause someone somewhere harm somehow.

We should work on surpressing our involuntary reactions to laugh, smirk, our think wrong thoughts, even in passing, lest we disappoint you and your ilk.

I think I’ll continue to look to the likes of Ricky Gervais on matters of offense vis a vis humor and be glad you and I will not likely be in the same audience at Helium.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  joan

I have concerns about a lot of Watts’s comments. 

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  joan

Hi Joan (and others who agree with her),

I’ve deleted Watts’ original comment on the other post and have removed reference to it from this post. I regret not catching it initially and appreciate your concerns. I am sorry to everyone who was offended by it. The use of that term, even in the vague way Watts used, was not cool and it’s not something I will stand behind.

Tony
Tony
2 months ago

I have been riding an ebike for about 10 years in Portland and have never seen an ebike going 30 miles/hr. By law ebikes can’t go above 20 miles and their computers have a limiter that limits the motor to 20 miles/hr. Beyond that speed, ebikes are very hard to pedal without pedal assist beyond that speed because of their heavy weight.

Ray
Ray
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony

Not all ebikes are pedal-assist only. Unless it’s changed in the years since I worked in a bike shop, California created designations for ebikes. Class 1 is pedal-assist up to ~20mph and Class 3 is pedal-assist up to ~28mph. This leaves Class 2, which are most likely the ones that generate the most complaint. Class 2 has no pedal requirement, effectively making them mopeds. They are throttle-controlled electric motors…many that can easily go >30mph. I think most, if not all, of the RAD Power bikes are (poorly built) Class 2.

PacificSource
PacificSource
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony

my e bike is heavy, so I can not go that fast. that being said, I feel like there is a new brand of e bikes I’ve seen explode this summer that don’t need to be peddled and they go soo fast. Not sure what they are called but they aren’t what I think of when I think of an “e bike”- they have thick tires too (they look super dorky IMO)

Scott Bravmann
Scott Bravmann
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony

By law, cars aren’t supposed to be driven in a bike lane …. A couple of weeks ago, while riding my non-electric Yuba Mundo, my red light turned green and I started to cross a major street in San Francisco. That major street, Van Ness Avenue, has a new center of the street two-way bus-only zone. Just as I started to approach the red lane, someone on an e-bike blasted through the red light. By law, he can’t run red lights. By law, he can’t ride in bus-only zone. And by law, his bike can’t go anywhere near as fast as he was going. And yet, he ran a red light at approximately 35-40 mph (some ebikes can reach 50 mph or more) and was illegally riding in the bus lane.

“By law” is clearly insufficient.

Kyle Banerjee
2 months ago

Comment of the week was well made and chosen, and the convo had a bunch of good stuff in it.

Switching gears in response to language concerns raised in this thread, I’ve always been puzzled by the omnipresent bicycle/bike/biker language.

Most adaptive human powered cycles are not bicycles and there are many human powered cycles that are also not bicycles — have ridden trikes for many years myself.

Pivoting again, I think anti car language holds cycling back. Just as religious yahoos have been spectacularly ineffective at convincing teenagers to not have sex simply by preaching how bad/dangerous it is, the same tactic has been equally unsuccessful convincing drivers to start pedaling.

soren
soren
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Just as religious yahoos have been spectacularly ineffective… 

 As a solely acoustic bicycle user, and a car-free person

This subcultural identity testament is a perfect way to provoike knee-jerk hostility from the SUV-centric majority. The concern trolling about e-mobility in the COTW is, IMO, another reflection of a navel-gazing and epistemically-closed cycling subculture.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Actually, under Oregon law an un-assisted trike is in fact a bicycle 🙂

I only say this because humans have a penchant for redefining words away from their original (Latin descended) meanings.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

“Well, actually…” Just because it’s law doesn’t make it right. Segregation was law at one time, too.

Kyle Banerjee
2 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Under Oregon law, they’re treated as bicycles and should be. That’s different than having two wheels

Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a trike being referred to as a bike or bicycle.

It doesn’t bug me personally. However, since language is a recurring hot topic here, this is an opportunity to not reinforce biased imagery.

The less baggage being a cyclist inherently carries, the more people it might appeal to.

Cycling should imply nothing about a person beyond that they’re cycling — just as it wouldn’t if they drove a compact sedan.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

In fact, I actually do say “my bikes” (as in “Hey, gonna be out working on my bikes for a bit”) to refer to both my 3 wheel & 2 wheel ‘cycles. Many people with both 2wheel & 3wheel rides do the same thing.

I only get specific if my GF says “what are you riding today?”

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a trike being referred to as a bike or bicycle

I have. Numerous times. Tricycles are treated as bicycles under Oregon law *except when it comes to public transportation* where they occupy some weird liminal space. The distinction is clearly made, and yet it is somehow also not. Tricycles are referred to both a “bicycles with more than two wheels,” *and* as tricycles.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

I have only once had an MAX operator try to tell me I couldn’t have my trike on the MAX. A supervisor came aboard, took one look at it hanging (taking up less square footage than a DF) and told her to let it go.

Every other TriMet employee seeing my trike hanging from a loop on the boom asks me about riding it if they say anything.

Buses, quite obviously are simply off limits – that rack can’t handle them or, in fact, my high-racer (even a SWB bent is pretty long and the pedals would protrude beyond the side of the bus)

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Most of the operators *usually* won’t say anything, only a few will. It’s usually supervisors or security. Like you said, a lot of them may just ask you about riding it, but eventually your luck will run out.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

Good topic. E-Bikes have really changed the mobility equation for many new riders and for existing riders who are getting older, struggling with longer commutes or carrying more gear/ kids. (A good example is my partner, who is a new e-bike adoptee this year for her 2x commute: midday trip to care for the dog to then return to work and then go home again. The e-bike helps to keep her car parked at home.) BUT sadly our planners / engineers (my field of work) have not started to truly re-think how a ~20 mph average motorized bike operating speed (vs ~10 mph pre e-bike era) will need changes to facility design and maintenance for these ‘new scorchers’…bigger sight distance triangles, signalization, better maintenance, etc. Just outside of my family’s front door is a new buffered bike lane – Columbia Street – that is seeing this transition: ~25% are ebikes (during weekends) and up to ~50% on some weekdays / less than ideal ride days.

This is not only happening in Portland or Vancouver WA…but in the Netherlands too…as my most recent trip there – after 10 years away – had me more worried about being run down by e-bike and careless bike delivery hacks than by car operators as I walked around the car free city center streets (Haarlem etc.) I had visited since the late 1990s.

And Yes, not all e-bikes are pedal-electric or set to their factory limit of 20 mph…the ease of bumping up a e-bike’s top speed is even easier than a red state truck owner seeking to modify their engine to roll coal. And new bike companies are stealing a page out of the car industry’s play book by marketing them as uber SUVs and over enabling their bikes performance: a great example are Miloo’s newest bikes (‘Classy Beast’: 25 kph and ‘Mighty Beast’: 45 kph)…as I saw at the Micromobility Industry’s great conference in Amsterdam…of all places. https://www.miloo.co/en/about-us

Scott Bravmann
Scott Bravmann
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

The only serious accident I have seen in the Netherlands was the result of a moped (bromfiets) riding in the bike lane across Waterlooplein. The relatively fast moving bromfiets wasn’t permitted to ride in the bike lane, but so it was.

PacificSource
PacificSource
2 months ago

I am a devote E bike rider but I def do not go 30MPH! I got like 13 haha slow rider. I use it for the hill assist. that being said, I heard “analogue bike” & have been using it ever since for non e bikes

Paul
Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  PacificSource

But then you’ll have techies like me telling you that “analog” properly has nothing to do with low-tech or non-electronic. (Analog electronic computers were a big thing in the past and may even be in the future.)

TakeTheLane
TakeTheLane
2 months ago

What’s wrong with simply saying bike or bicycle for a non motorized bicycle and e-bike for a motorbike that’s allowed to use bike lanes? Everything else is a motorcycle. Although the original “motorcycles” are technically enginecycles.
Furthermore, in my opinion e-bikes should only be allowed in the bike lane when the posted speed limits are above their max speed (20 mph). That or laws and enforcement of reckless riding in the bike paths.

wallis
wallis
2 months ago

For someone who walks as much as bikes, the world is simple – cars are my enemies and bikes my friends, even the bikes with an electric motor. Todd has nailed it though – time to start designing things differently. I believe that to be the real issue.

James Calhoon
James Calhoon
2 months ago

Found this on the Oregon DMV website under motorcycle endorsments

Who needs a Permit/Endorsement?You need a motorcycle permit or endorsement if your “bike”:

  • Goes over 30 mph on level ground; or
  • Is over 50 cc.

For more information on motorcycles, mopeds, autocycles, off-road vehicles and their endorsement requirements, see the Motorcycle & Moped Manual.

Kyle Banerjee
2 months ago
Reply to  James Calhoon

So technically, a reasonable road cyclist should have a motorcycle endorsement.

I got pulled over some years back doing 31 in a 25 on level ground. No ticket — cop said it looked like I was having too much fun and needed to calm down a bit.

James Calhoon
James Calhoon
2 months ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Good point and after I posted my comment I did think about that. One would hope that in the legal definition of a “bike” that needs a motorcycle endorsement that a motor is required. This of course would include e-bikes. I do believe that if a two (or three) wheeled vehicle with a motor (gas or electric) and goes over 30 mph it should require a motorcycle endorsement. This also means the rider would be required to wear a DOT approved motorcycle helmet. Most important is that they would not be allowed to ride in any bike lane.

chris
chris
2 months ago

It is sad, but not at all surprising, how intolerant some of the “one less car” and “share the road” crowd can act.

Tim
Tim
2 months ago
Reply to  chris

Anybody remember 20 is plenty, anyone?

Maria
Maria
2 months ago

Thanks, everyone, this whole thing has been very heartening. A couple of notes:

* Joan – right on! Thank you for making these important points, much love to you!!

* Bike terminology – I get that people don’t like the riff on guitar types (hahaha!) but my concern is if we call bikes without motors just “bikes” and insist all others be called “motor-bikes” or some such, this could lead to people saying “oh, that’s not a bike!” about someone’s e-bike., setting up a nice scenario for shaming and exclusion. Blech. Even though I’m not an ebiker, I can’t imagine how crappy it would feel to be told my two wheeler is “not a bike”. I saw a comment below by Pacific Source that suggests “analog” bike and I LOVE IT! Let’s make it happen! Analog bikes and digital bikes, 1-0-1-0-1-0-1-0 !!! xoxoxoxoxo