Tweens and Teens are embracing electric bikes for transportation, but it’s technically against the law.
By Hood River resident and cycling advocate Megan Ramey (@bikabout)
We are currently living through the next great transportation revolution. It may be difficult to see it while you’re in the midst of it, but the rapid development of the e-bike market – the development of the tech, the emergence of focused retailers, and finally widespread consumer adoption – is a market shift on the scale of the debut of the practical automobile a century ago.
Each of these major disruptions comes with promise, and with challenges.
From what I’ve seen, one of the most interesting new challenges with e-bikes are how teens and tweens have flocked to them. In the immediate sense, teens getting around town by e-bike instead of a car is a wonderful thing. Where we live in Hood River, Oregon, we see teens going to lacrosse practice, going to the waterfront to swim, going to school, and going to after-school jobs by e-bike every day. We lovingly call them “throttle kids” because they seem to prefer the Class 2 style bikes that can be powered via a throttle without any pedaling at all.
Traditionally, all of those trips would’ve been in a car – either piloted by the teen, or their parents. I’m thrilled to see “one less car” each time these kids zoom by, and their parents will probably tell you how nice it is to get the time back from being a taxi driver. In the longer term, they represent a potential for a generation of kids to envision a life getting around in something other than single occupancy cars for short trips. A teen who grows up using an e-bike is much less likely to feel like an $800 monthly truck payment is 100% mandatory as an adult.
Now on to the challenges.
The short of it is that the legal system hasn’t yet caught up to the technology, so most people are just doing whatever feels right. Even in states like Oregon, where it’s illegal to ride an e-bike under 16 years old, there are no ordinances or fines for police to cite, making enforcement more or less impossible. In a practical sense, if teens are riding responsibly, there’s not actually a problem to “fix” here. But the teens who are handed an e-bike are not necessarily also trained how to ride in an urban environment, which means someone’s going to get hurt.
All it’s going to take to have this conversation explode is a teen hitting a baby stroller or a senior citizen, or just as bad, hitting a fixed object like a pole or parked car. Crashes like this unfortunately happen with non-electric bikes every year, but if it happens with someone who is under age riding an e-bike, the media frenzy would be harsh. We could see overly restrictive laws passed, police changing their enforcement stance, and a general public backlash that sets bike advocacy back decades. As always, it’s best to get ahead of the issue and create these laws in advance, and not in reaction to a tragedy.
In the long-term, Oregon’s e-bike-related laws should be modified to define the class system (we’re currently one of 15 states without the three class, tiered categorization system), as well as allow kids of all ages on e-bikes with some constraints. Luckily, we have a Washington law to copy-paste which allows kids and sidewalk biking for class 1 and 2 e-bikes.
For a shorter term solution, we need to educate our kids.
This fall, I’ll be coordinating an education and awareness campaign with the Hood River Valley School District and the Hood River Police, letting parents know about the existing law. The school district received the ODOT Safe Routes to School Education grant which funds a program manager at all eight schools. Through this program over the next two years, elementary and middle school students will learn how to bike and older students will learn empathy, etiquette and laws of walking and rolling for transportation. High schoolers will have the option to take an e-bike learners program and e-bike field trip. For any middle school students who pass a biking safety test and receive a “badge” for their bike , I would suggest cities adopt an ordinance to allow kids under 16 the privilege of lawfully riding an e-bike, which can be revoked.
Two weeks ago I had a meeting with Hood River Police Chief Neal Holste. He assured me his team will never pull over a suspected teen on an e-bike because officers want to be seen as allies and don’t want to cause trauma (and yes I’m aware he and I are both white and his assurances might not be as comforting to riders or parents of color). Chief Holste also acknowledged my fear that if anyone gets hurt (or worse) due to a teen on an e-bike, enforcement may get ratcheted up.
My daughter is 12 and rides our e-bike while we ride acoustic bikes. She can even pilot the heavy Urban Arrow cargo bike and loves the sense of accomplishment in hauling stuff that comes with it. She has been riding a bike for transportation since she was in kindergarten and I trust she will be ready to e-bike solo next year.
Parents, please spread the word to educate our e-biking teens and tweens so this amazing privilege continues.
Megan Ramey recently became the first Safe Routes to School Manager for Hood River Valley School District and is passionate about childhood mobility. She is also the founder of Bikabout, a board member for Columbia Area Transit and the Active Transportation Representative for ODOT Region 1 Area Commission on Transportation.
Not sure what they have to do with cycling… the gateway to motorcycles is better than cars I guess but they won’t be going back to walking or pedaling if they ever did…
It has NOTHING to do with cycling, but it’s certainly a good way to squeeze every last remaining resource out of the earth before we finally fry ourselves to oblivian like ants under a magnifying glass.
Will this culminate into the upper-middle class version of Baltimore’s 12 o’clock boys?
If these teens have an e-bike instead of a 3rd or even 4th car for the family, that’s a big improvement. I’m not sure that is the case, however. In places like Hood River, I doubt any of these kids are going to be e-biking in February.
A bicycle blog should focus on using bicycles instead of 3rd cars.
They bike in snow & rain in Netherlands.
BP has jumped on the e-bike train as if they are bicycles… I guess since riding bicycles is declining in the city, they need a larger audience?
They have 2 wheels I guess but so do Harleys, I would cover those, it a far more lucrative clientele.
I imagine part of it is that regulation is likely to get stricter eventually. Rules don’t generally come around for things until they gain critical mass. My example would be drones being around for 5+ years before the FAA took major interest and started issuing licenses.
I imagine ebikes are coming close, and I assume there will be similar rules to Europe in that anything above a class 1 ebike will be subject to license and insurance.
Though there is the current state of minimal traffic enforcement. But that too may change at any time.
And the Harley Davidson Livewire is most definitely an e-bike
No. No, it is most decidedly not.
My Harley is my g-bike.
No class 2 without drivers license and motorcycle endorsement. Class 1 OK for use by anyone wherever “analog/acoustic” bicycles are allowed.
Please never use the terms acoustic or analog to refer to actual bicycles.
Seems like a similar argument was likely made when electric guitars were first introduced, no? Folks resistant to change probably said things like “don’t call that a guitar! It’s just an electric organ with strings!” and “please don’t call an ACTUAL guitar ‘acoustic.'”
I was extremely resistant to the ebike concept at first too when they began hitting the scene 10-15 years ago. Change can be scary. But the world changes and language evolves. It’s good to question your gut reactions and perhaps reconsider policing other people’s language.
Here’s the difference: As a retronym for a non-electric guitar, “acoustic guitar” makes sense. Whereas there’s nothing “acoustic” about a non-electric bike.
There’s a certain hypocrisy in telling one person not to police another person’s language. You’re literally policing a person’s language in doing so.
What about my post made you feel like I was policing your language?
If you want to see language policing, try reposting the naming proposal I made a couple of weeks ago.
That is silly. You don’t need a motorcycle endorsement for a 50cc gas moped or scooter that can go 30 mph, why should a bike that does 20 mph need one?
True if a scooter has a 50cc motor and does not go faster than 30 mph on a level surface than no endorsement is needed. But there are e-bikes that can go faster than 30 mph. Do a google search on the fastest e-bikes and the list of ones that can excide 30 mph may surprise you.
The law already says those ones aren’t ebikes and would require registration + endorsement.
Yes, Oregon law defines an e-bike has having two or three wheels and a speed up to 20 mph with electric assist, and a motor no bigger than 1KW. So why can someone go to Beaverton Trek store and buy a Alant+ 7S Stagger, an e-bike that can go 28 mph with electric assist. The state may not define this as an e-bike, but it still allows Trek to sell it as one. I am certain that you can find several bikes sold by shops in Oregon that exceed the definition of an e-bike.
Treks don’t have throttles. Plenty of cyclists can exceed 28 mph without motor assistance, the non pedal throttle is what you need to pay attention too. Not pedal assist.
You missed the point. Oregon law does not address how the electric assist is activated. Any bike with a battery powered motor that can be used to propel the bike past 20 mph (on level ground) is not (by definition) an e-bike. Trek (among others) sells several bikes with electric pedal assist capable of reaching 28 mph. I doesn’t matter how you or I define them. Under current state law these models are not e-bikes. But are they Mopeds or Motorcycles?
Pigs made the statement
The law already says those ones aren’t ebikes and would require registration + endorsement.
My reply was yes by Oregon law they are not e-bikes. I was under the impression that he feels that any e-bike that does not comply with state law should be sold as a motorcycle. Thus, requiring registration and the operator to have a license with a M endorsement. I then pointed out that there are e-bikes for sale locally that do not meet the state definition.
I believe. the state needs to change its definition of e-bikes into two classes. Class I (up to 20 mph), Class II (up to 29 mph. Anything 30 mph and above will stay under current law stating that an M endorsement is required.
Your bike is not “acoustic”. It’s just a bike.
When talking about e-bikes and not e-bikes, its useful to be able to specify which. Similarly to ice cars and electric cars.
No, you are on a motorcycle, really…not a bicycle no matter how you want to define it.
Considering that ebikes have a top speed of 20-25 & motorcycles go exponentially faster, i see no similarities. Ebikes require no license. Not nearly as dangerous. No pollution. You can still pedal for exercise.
No pollution? Did you see my post about where the electricity to charge ebikes comes from?
Once again (as in the thread spawned by the hauling a kayak article) – it’s not the power source that makes an e-bike so much more environmentally friendly than any car – it’s the fact that you’re using 50-60lbs of vehicle to haul 200lbs or payload instead of 4000lbs to haul 200lbs of payload.
LOL it is like 10 cents worth of electricity to charge my ebike up
Okay, how about bicycles and electric mopeds then?
I’m not saying “acoustic” makes the most sense. But a term to delineate the two categories of bicycles is useful. Ebikes are bikes, they look like bikes, they behave like bikes, and to say they don’t fit into the category of “bikes” is absurd.
A two wheeled electric vehicle where power is applied through a throttle is better described as a motorcycle even moreso than a gas powered two wheeled vehicle, which should be called an enginecycle. Regardless, I ride a bicycle fully powered by me. It should be understood that I power the bike without having to qualify the term bike.
noun: acoustic; plural noun: acoustics; noun: acoustics
Ah, the prescriptivist take on linguistics. Interesting choice I prefer the descriptivist approach myself.
Yet many people here know exactly what is meant by an “acoustic bike”. We could all post lists of words that have entirely new meanings within the last few years–google (oops!) on your cellular phone “words whose meanings have changed since the internet/since the pandemic/since last year….”). And I’m not just behaving like “a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills” (aka “trolling”). Every year dozens or hundreds of English words gain accepted meanings that didn’t exist previously in any standard dictionary.
It’s actually quite sad that kids are given yet more options to exert less energy. As if this new generation wasn’t sedentary enough already.
They are merely existing in the environment the adults have built for them. Places in Hood River are too far away to pleasantly walk anywhere, its miserable in the winter, steep hills, and no bike infra. You say “just go play outside” and then berate them when they find a way to do so.
A million times this! I’m so sick of all the ways kids have been shoved inside in front of screens to keep all the adults comfortable, especially over the past two years. Tell me all the places where kids are supposed to play outside safely these days that they don’t have be strapped in and carted to by adults.
Better than a ride in the suburban.
At least the kids in the photos are wearing helmets – the kids illegally riding ebike mopeds and golf carts out here in Greensboro NC don’t even bother.
A helmetless child on a golf cart!! The horror!!
As others have noted, ebikes are not bicycles, they are electric mopeds. Instead of a traditional moped’s 2-stroke gas/oil engine, ebikes have motors powered by electricity generated by (in Oregon as of 2020) 38.91% hydropower, 26.47% coal, 21.50% natural gas, 7.01% wind, 3.47% nuclear, 1.67% solar, and less than 1% of other sources. Actual bicycles are powered by whatever you had for breakfast.
Having beef in your diet is going to offset any CO2 benefits from deciding to go with a regular bike. How do you know someone isn’t charging their ebike with their own solar panel? In sprawling Portland, where the buses suck, the only viable options to get around the city without a car are ebikes.
Ebikes are bicycles, 1500W motors capable of 30+ mph are motorcycles.
What are you talking about? You can get around on a normal bicycle, people always have. You need an E-bike if you are physically impaired.
Most are not.
SW Portland to central east side is not viable commute on a traditional bicycle. Sure its doable, many have, I have, but my ebike is the only thing keeping me from driving over most of the time.
Good for you, you know people have ridden bikes for years in Portland… Don’t know how they did it without electricity..
Dwk, I’m not sure why you are arguing this. In the hills, commuting w an e-bike can be the difference between doing it every day and talking yourself out of it because of [cold, heat, rain, darkness, being tired, old, not feeling great …] This isn’t an abstract discussion, e-bikes have been a game-changer in the hills for a while. It’s the present reality.
Depends on where you are in SW Portland. If you live up a steep hill then it’s tough to ride a regular bike every day. But if you live near Multnomah Blvd, Bertha, or the lower stretches of Barbur, then you have some flatter routes to ride downtown.
I invite you to a challenge in Hood River. Carry a kid and groceries up the hills every day for a month in August, and see how you feel about non-electric bikes as daily transportation.
I was a borderline purist when I moved to Hood River from Boston in 2016. But after only 2 weeks in hot August, I felt like I was training for a triathalon and was close to tears because I thought I would have to give up biking for transportation. Then, I had my eureka moment with ebikes and that was it. I sold our Workcycles FR8 and bakfiets and got a Pedego on Craigslist and Urban Arrow from Clever Cycles and never looked back.
Living in Portland for 2 weeks, it’s admittedly easier here, but there are still some hills. My 12 year old has been riding next to us on the ebike, never complaining, and this gives our family the freedom of getting places exclusively by bike.
Whether it’s electric cargo bikes or ebikes, they take the edge off a normally hectic day of traversing cities for families…and oppositely, spark joy and normalize our streets with the presence of kids.
Oh. My. God. I seriously just laughed out loud at that. I am not entirely sure whether to be amused or thoroughly disgusted. First of all, how do you know? Second, don’t presume to know what disabled people need. There are plenty of disabled riders who don’t ride e-bikes.
I think the cut-off should be lower than 1500W.
Right before I got sick (I was 49) I had an FTP of just under 4W/Kg (87kg, 340W FTP).
With my gear on my trike for commuting I had a gross curb weight of just under 240lbs, about 10lbs less on my fast trike with just water, tools and a snack.
I could ride an average of 19.7mph (beaverton to banks & back, 48miles) for long distances on the fast trike, average just about 15mph from Beaverton to close in east side (10.5mi, 1000’+ of climbing each way) and back. I was doing that 4 out of 5 working days.
Going from SE 11th & Morrison to SW 117th & Center took me about 42 minutes (I made it under 40 once, but I was descending dangerously). Taking a 15 to downtown, hopping on a MAX then walking form BTC to home took longer.
*A 250W assist allows just about anyone to be as strong as I was.*
Bradley Wiggins produced 440W for an hour while setting the current Hour record.
*A 350W assist lets anyone be stronger than one of the best cyclists to ever ride.*
When we get down to it – anything that uses infrastructure designed for HPV’s should be in the human power band – 750W is right out.
I’d personally say anything that wasn’t
(A) pedal assist and
(B) under 350W
should not be considered a bicycle from a legal standpoint.
Definitely that 1000W moped should not be parked on a MAX train blocking people from entering and leaving. (hey you kids – GET OFF MY LAWN).
I agree with what you say. But everyone here assumes all ebikes are going 30 mph 1000W vehicles when that is simply not the case. It might be important to allow higher wattages for cargo style bikes, but yes 350W is more than adequate.
After I wrote it I realized that cargo bikes would probably need more.
It’s also important to remember that hub motors are probably the worst way to deliver power – mid-drives benefit from the gearing on a bike and are likely far better at lower powers.
Oh – and there is a guy with a big, heavy Type2 e-bike that regularly takes it on a Blue line train and has – twice in my experience – parked in such a way that I was unable to enter the MAX with my bike to get to the other, unoccupied, bike spot. I don’t *know* that it’s 1000W, but it’s massive.
I heard him tell his friend that he just uses it for the 2 mile ride from home to the MAX and the slightly longer ride from MAX to work.
Having ridden a cargo bike some, I can say that 350 watts is basically like finding an amex card that says E Musk.
Only if you eat a second burger when you ride. I don’t eat more when I ride — I still eat the same portion I always do. Humans have a strong “unit bias” when it comes to food; we rarely eat 1.1 meals because we rode today. (Or .9 meals because we didn’t.)
shhh.. Don’t tell JM..
If I recall, one had to at least pedal a moped to get it going. For those pictured, I believe you just push a button to activate the motor. So for brevity let’s just call them motorcycles.
All those bikes pictured are 750W hub motors, none of them are going anywhere as fast as the slowest 50cc scooter. Sure, you can just use throttle only but then range is significantly reduced. It would be disengenious to call them anything other than what they are, class 2 ebikes.
750W motors….. We actually do have crisis going on, skip the damn motors and pedal…
My e-bike is decidedly NOT a moped. You could maybe make the case that a throttle-powered bike is, but many e-bikes require pedal power.
Believe it or not, some poeple in this city still do something called manual labor and do not want to show up to work sweaty and exhausted before their 6 to 12 hour shift on their feet in a hot kitchen even begins. Some of you sure come across as classist, elite, hypocrites, especially when you pretend you are so good for the planet because you ride a bike, but have eaten meat all your 60 plus years and have more than one kid. Since reading all this hatred here lately, I find myself purposely halting the pedaling and cranking the throttle up every time I see an angry-faced graybeard glaring at me on my ebike.
Talk about spewing hatred. BTW, does the restaurant whose hot kitchen you slave away in serve meat?
It’s mostly vegetarian, but they did have to add some meat to the menu once all the younger patrons started bringing their parents with them, and that whole paleo/low carb fad happened. I personally haven’t consumed animals since 1995. If I was the owner, it would be different. Do you have the power to tell your boss how they should run their business? probably not.
The heaviest ebike I have sold weighed 76 pounds, but most have weighed 50-60. The lightest ebikes of which I’m aware weigh under 40. So far as I’m aware, mopeds generally weigh much more. IMO, distinguishing ebikes from mopeds makes sense for that reason alone.
It’s not just kids that need education on e-bike rules, courtesy and safety. At the point where they are going 25mph+ on multi-use paths or shared sidewalks like the Sellwood Bridge, with no pedal power, they should be treated like Vespas or gas-powered mopeds.
Walking on mixed used paths is dangerous these days.. Bikeportland hyping this crap is embarrassing.
You nailed it, Laura. It’s the discretionary speed that makes these mopeds (they are really mopeds, not e-bikes) so different.
I don’t disagree at all that people need to be courteous and safe when riding e-bikes but had to specially comment on this one regarding shared use paths.
I have an e-bike and have been riding the trolley trail/Springwater/esplanade/Naito route regularly and can say confidently that I’ve been passed by just as many (and honestly probably more) non-e-bikes than I have e-bikes. And that’s on flats where I’m going 18-20mph and spandex-clad folks on road bikes fly past me.
All riders need to be courteous, safe, and adjust riding to be context specific.
E-bikes are a true life changer and while I could physically ride my 9+ mile one-way commute without it, it would absolutely suck, would take 1.5-2 times longer, and would require being sweaty and gross and possibly require a shower (adding yet more time). That was always an option for me and a choice I could never bring myself to make. Now that I have the e-bike it’s a no brainer and I’ll go out of my way to do it and ride more than I ever did before.
Wonderful article, Megan. But please:
Can we come up with a better descriptor than “acoustic” bikes? Thanks.
Why does “acoustic” prompt strong dislike? I have been riding a non-electric bike my whole life and find it endearing, mostly because my husband is a guitarist.
I attended the National Ebike Summit in Tucson this past October and there was a group exercise of what to call non-electric bikes besides “normal” because that’s demeaning to those who ride electric bikes.
The group overwhelmingly agreed on “acoustic” distantly followed by analog.
What would you call it to differentiate in converation because it does come up?
To differentiate in conversation? Bicycle vs. electric moped.
I’ll stop calling non-electric bikes “acoustic” if you stop calling ebikes “electric mopeds” – deal?
“Bike” and “Ebike.” “Cargo bike” and “Ecargo bike.”
Hmmm, nit picky but: “cargo Ebike” is more consistent usage 🙂
Unless you’re hauling a load of batteries.
Interesting. I’ve never called my electric cargo bike a cargo electric bike. This is the first time hearing/reading “cargo electric bike”.
I don’t love the term “acoustic bike” either but fully admit I don’t have another phrase I prefer.
“Acoustic” is only used by transportation intelligentsia and will only be a target for the scoffers who will use it to divide. There are bikes and bikes with motors. Non motorized bikes already have a name they are “bikes.” “Electric bikes” are powered by electricity, “electric assist bikes” assist the riders with electricity, ect. Don’t use names like acoustic to appeal to your self or group: names for utilitarian things like bikes should be simple and easy for everyone to understand.
I love the phrase acoustic bike personally. I think there’s a bit of a generation gap – older folks seem to dislike it more than younger folks.
If you absolutely need to make the distinction, I’d prefer the term “muscle bike” or “traditional bike”.
In the recreational boating world, boats are further differentiated by gas/diesel, electric, sail, human powered. Why not HP bike?
“ Why does “acoustic” prompt strong dislike?”
Because “acoustic” has a definition, which someone helpfully posted above. It has absolutely nothing to do with bicycling or transportation in general. Co-opting a term because it sounds cool (electric guitars, man!!) is extremely lazy and draws unnecessary scorn to an already polarizing topic.
If you are keeping score, add me to the “strong dislike “ category. The hubby’s guitar playing and the focus group determination do not sway my opinion.
Last November around Thanksgiving, my friend invited me to use his Yurt (an acoustic house!) so I spent a couple of weeks off grid. It was a lot of fun, but of course I needed to make sure I brought my acoustic razor, because grooming and appearance are important to me, even in the desert, an acoustic can opener, my acoustic guitar (obv!) my acoustic socks so I didn’t get cold feet and my acoustic bike. Thank god I had acoustic blankets, because it got cold as heck in Central Oregon at night, and for Thanksgiving, dinner would not have been as successful if I hadn’t remembered to bring along the acoustic knife to carve up the bird. Cooked in an acoustic fashion. Tragedy averted.
Glad everything worked out, acoustically speaking.
This made me laugh. Thank you. I get it, but I still need a substitute word for non-electric bike.
traditional? conventional? mechanical? my favorite:bike
Extremely funny to see a bunch of Middle Aged Bike Dudes mad in the comment section of bike portland dot com, upset about these extremely cool teens who are zipping around hood river looking tan and relaxed, living their best summer lives.
“ThAT’s NOt a ReAL BiKe” ok Dave. nobody cares what you think is a real bike
I would also like to add a bit to the conversation. I believe fanny packs worn over the shoulder are far more detrimental to the youth than kids riding throttle controlled e bikes. My wife and I have seen multiple groups of teenagers walking in downtown Hood River wearing fanny packs around their shoulders opposed to the correct way.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Last week, an elderly neighbor of mine stated that her grandson refused to watch an episode of The Andy Griffith show with her, as he insisted on listening to soundcloud rappers while putting her groceries away in the kitchen. This is what’s wrong with the youth of today. We need to stop this action now while we can.
I think there should be fanny pack safety and etiquette classes taught in our schools. When the student passes the course, they will receive a “badge” to affix to their fanny pack. The badge would let their peers and other members of the community know that they will always wear a fanny pack correctly around the waist while in public and refuse to fall into the temptation of wearing fanny packs around the shoulder.
Huh, back in my day is was the 1-strappers vs. the double-strappers.
The more things change.
Nice straw man. You don’t think electric motorcycles are significantly more dangerous than fanny packs?
Lots of teens and young adults don’t want to drive, or learn to drive, and I think it’s fantastic that there are new options open to them. I’m glad both of my teens have, years after having no interest, embraced bicycling for transportation. The bus doesn’t get everywhere they need to get when they want to get there, and their willingness to bike means less pressure on me to get another car for my family of three.
And while we do have the west hills and Tabor, I think Portland folks grumbling about this might be forgetting that biking around Hood River likely involves a lot more elevation, and ebikes are perfect for making a steep bike ride that much more reasonable. These bikes, to me, do not seem to be a gateway to motorcycles, but rather part of a mosaic of non-car approaches to transportation, and we desperately need that in our smaller cities as much as we do here in Portland. We also know that ebikes open up bicycling to folks who may not have the stamina to keep up with friends and family members who ride a lot already.
I wish teens in Portland had free Biketown passes to complement their free transit passes through PPS. We could create an entire generation of kids who would then lobby for even more bike infrastructure, and we’d get so many adults and kids out of cars.
Megan, I appreciated your mention of the complexities around traffic enforcement for families with kids of color. I think about this with my kids all the time.
Why do we think there would be outrage over a teen accidentally injuring someone with an e-bike when the tens of thousands of actual road deaths caused by cars and trucks is treated at just a fact of life?
Personally I think it’s because they’re new, coupled with the public’s negative view of bikes. I remember when the scooter shares first came into Portland around 2018/19 there were plenty of people (though this may have been a vocal minority) against them because of they’re supposed danger (riders going too fast, leaving them laying in the middle of the side walk, etc.), all the complaints were based on actual things that were happening but blown out of proportion.
Anyways, I would bet a similar type of outrage would be had, lots of painting with broad strokes (e-bikes are weaponized bikes! or something along those lines), and pushes to outlaw or regulate them would be undertaken.
All that to say, I do agree that it would eventually be taken as a fact of life (even if e-bike violence was as widespread as car violence), since that is how we tend to do things here in the US.
Have you seen how ebike delivery people are demonized in NY? I expect the same response in a small town.
You basically answered your own question. People in the states see traffic crashes as tragic accidents in which nothing could have been done to prevent it and think cyclists are almost always at fault when they’re injured or killed. If a teen on an e-bike injured someone the teen would be demonized very quickly. Sadly, as you said, if the teen had been behind the wheel people would talk about how the teen has to live with the knowledge they killed someone and everything else they do to absolve drivers of agency and fault. Cars dominate and anything that deviates from that is judged more harshly.
Great article, Megan! I love to see it. 🙂
I’ve recently noticed a trend in the comment sections for BP’s ebike articles: the same folks arguing that ebikes are “too fast” are also often the ones that boast about how fast they can go on their “not-at-all-acoustic-or-analog-just-a-regular-bike-please-and-thank-you” bikes under their own power. Is high speed on two wheels only accepted and laudable if you’re physically gifted enough to achieve it? I don’t see many folks lambasting the lycra-clad, maybe-taking-HGH, TDF-wannabe that passed too close during their morning bike ride. Why is it a problem when someone goes the same speed with a little electric assist? Do they have to earn it through a fortunate combination of beneficial genes, spending power, and enough free time to train for it?
I’m a former “vehicular cyclist” who rode higher-end road bikes with narrow tires, aggressively, hard and preferably over 20mph thank you very much. Ebikes were very much “cheating” in my mind. One day about 10+ years ago I was talking to someone who was excited about getting an ebike. She was a mother with 3 kids who wasn’t athletically inclined or even physically active. Biking was previously out of the question for her in her suburban NJ town. But with an ebike, she enthused, she could achieve a speed closer that made her feel more confident and in a way that made getting on a bike approachable, She could even arrive without being a sweaty mess! I lambasted mocked her. That was NOT “a real bike” and was “cheating.” The idea of being passed by her while I was sweating up a hill on my bike made me furious. I left the conversation feeling angry and self-righteous. Couldn’t she just get out of her SUV and ride a bike? It would be so much better for her and the environment! And, it suddenly dawned on me… my ego. Why else would I be so against her getting out of her car and onto an albeit electrified bicycle? She wasn’t going to get out of the SUV now. Biking as I knew it wasn’t an option for her. And I’d just done my best to make her feel awful for considering an alternative. It took me a few hours to process these thoughts, but I contacted her the next day and apologized profusely. I begged her to get that ebike and said I looked forward to going on a ride with her.
Isn’t it better to have these folks zipping around on their ebikes than driving a Nissan Titanic or whatever? If an electric motor is all it takes to get someone out of that ICE-powered Ford Fiefdom and onto two wheels, isn’t that a good thing? Should there be some more regulation regarding motor wattage and top speed? Certainly! But the nitpicking over language, etc. is the worst kind of gatekeeping, IMHO.
TL;DR: I’d rather be crowded on the MUP, being passed by 20 teens on over-powered “mopeds” (or choose your epithet of choice) than have one of them flatten me in their Dodge Deathstar when they blow through the stop sign at the other end of my ride.
Thanks for all this, Karstan. Ebikes are truly transformational, and I think all of us with them are realizing this. I appreciate what you’ve shared here.
Appreciate this comment! As a relatively new e-bike rider (who still has and uses a regular bike too, gasp), I was riding along a wide stretch of Tillamook recently and had a lycra clad dude tell me I was cheating. After reading the disdain in this comment section, I understand that I’ll likely get more comments like that while riding – fun! As a well seasoned cyclist who lives in East Portland and can now bike to anywhere I please in a dress or to not be sweaty or for any reason at all, it’s disappointing to say the least but not surprising. I vote for this for comment of the week hesitantly only because it will lead to another comment thread full of e-bike hate but this is a really nice reflection. Thank you for sharing Karstan.
You’re too kind. 🙂 And I agree with your sentiment about future comment threads. It’s a shame.
If you’ve worked to gain the fitness to ride a bicycle “fast”, you’ve most likely spent enough time in the saddle to develop good bike handling skills as well. Part of good bike handling skills is being able to sense potential trouble before you arrive at it and to take appropriate action to minimize the risk. For example, if you’re riding on a MUP and you see a family ahead of you with their backs to you, you slow down, signal to them that you’re approaching, and prepare for one of the kids or dog to dart out in front of you at the last moment. There’s lots of other scenarios you’re on the lookout for because you’ve encountered them before. Kids or adults who jump on ebikes and ride them immediately at “fast” bicycle speed (or greater) don’t have the experience to be aware of potential trouble. Never once have I heard an “on your left” from someone passing me on an ebike. Back where I lived in the 1970s, triathletes started going on training rides with groups of bike racers. It was a bloodbath for a while because the triathletes had the fitness to keep up but hadn’t developed any bike handling skills.
Oh, and PED usage? Get real. That’s a total red herring. I ride “fast” because I train.
What a poor argument. You can easily reach ebike speeds going at a slight downhill without “years of training”. Going down Tilikum or Sellwood is ripe with ped/bike conflicts and a high speed is easily attainable. It’s not rocket science to see people in front of you and slow down.
This is weird because it presumes all those folks on ebikes weren’t experienced. Which makes me think that the assumption is that folks on ebikes don’t have another bike they ride all the time. How do you know, when I pass you on my ebike wearing a dress and heels, that I don’t have two other bikes at home I ride regularly? Are you looking at my calves? My clothing? Or are you just irritated that you’re being passed, and especially by a woman?
I get passed all the time by folks who don’t say anything. This isn’t standard bicycle culture around here for everyone.
But also, this is just textbook gatekeeping. If we’re on non-electric bikes, we are just going to have to adjust to people passing us. All bikes are good bikes.
Dang Joan, we should get some stickers made! “All bikes are good bikes.” Proceeds go to buy ebikes for kids, of course. 🙂
It sounds like triathletes are a menace to society and all things good and moral as well. Perhaps we should look into banning them as well?
Comment of the week, Karstan. Thanks for that personal reflection story.
I feel bad for the person who tells me that I’m cheating, especially after they drove to the same location I biked to. I race cyclocross and won my category last year. My teammates are mystified that I don’t train but they don’t see the stuff I haul in my Urban Arrow and the hills I climb on a daily basis with it.
My other favorite, “I’m a real rider” referring to the 100 milers they do on the weekend. I guess my daily errand running by bike isn’t real enough for some people.
Thanks, Megan. 🙂 All the studies I’ve seen on ebike use show that fitness gains are similar to uh… pre-electric bikes? Or maybe manual bikes? I feel like the word acoustic is more fun, but I guess it’s hurting some egos. Anyway, as I’m sure you’re aware, folks on ebikes go further than they would without that assist so end up with more time in the saddle supposedly.
My favorite study to share on the health benefits of ebikes is Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives journal.
Love your SUV names. I believe I’ve seen a thing called a Fortaleza, which is hilarious.
For kicks, try putting the word ‘anal’ in front. Fords especially. Motordom will never be the same.
Thanks for covering this.
The Oregon Vehicle Code is written such that Class 2 E-bikes are electric assisted bicycles, though frequently ridden as motorcycles.
I love bikes but nothing makes me cringe more than seeing 12 and 13 year olds on these things, hauling A55 at 20mph on sidewalks (or wrong way in the bike lane!) wearing sandals. It’s even worse here in the Beaverton ‘burbs because the vehicles are bigger and the speeds are higher.
I live in the suburbs of New York City and ride my bike which I converted to an ebike all the time. So far I and others here have not had a problem with ebikes since the vast majority ride in the street just as the regular bike riders do. Have not been to the city in quite some time so can’t vouch for what happens there, but on a recent trip to Seattle was absolutely horrified by the bicyclists there riding on the sidewalks. Who, in what crazy drunken stupor, though giving bikers the permission to ride heavily congested pedestrian walkways was a good idea? And as bad as regular bikes are there, the ebikes and the escooters are a nightmare of confident riders weaving and zipping past strollers at ten to fifteen miles per hour. When driving my car, I would never think to make a u-turn or swerve left or right before looking back to see if some other car was about to pass me. But when was the last time you felt like that sort of move was necessary on the sidewalk? Taking one false step to either the left or right could put you directly in the path of a biker thinking you are going to continue walking straight. I love biking, I love the idea of electrically assisted bicycles. But let’s pass rules and regulations that put them on streets, in bike lanes, in designated areas where they won’t be a constant danger to pedestrians.
Oregon’s law restricts ebikes on sidewalks, statewide.
However, when you see someone biking on a sidewalk, as is the case for the bike train I lead to school, it’s an indication of unsafe bikeway or connection and the burden of providing a solution rests with the road owner.
With electric bikes:
I worry that bicycles will be supplanted by electrics; that hordes of electrics will swarm past me and I’m order to keep up with traffic, that I’ll eventually be forced to get one too.
I hate struggling up a hill and feeling a sense of satisfaction in doing so; but which immediately turns to ash in my mouth as someone breezes past me effortlessly.
I dislike training and trying to improve my speed, only to be passed repeatedly by ebikers.
That said, I’m okay with them. I’ve had a couple friends get em… I know they wouldn’t be cycling otherwise. At least now i have more friends to ride with.
The more people enjoying some version of cycling, the bigger voice we have for improving local cycling.
Finally, i know my knees might eventually give out. I like the idea that will still be able keep going regardless