Advocate On The Hudson

E-Bike Share: Perfect Wave of the Future

Jun 08, 2014

Instead of spending hard-earned income on an asset that sits 23 hours out of the day and takes constant 'care and feeding' in the form of a toxic, polluting fuel, just to move 170 pounds of human, how about something 1/50th the weight that does the same job, only better?

Ebikes weigh 60 pounds. Cars weigh 3000. That is a factor of 50. A car is driven about 10,000-15,000 miles a year, at typical speeds of about 30-60 miles per hour. This computes out to about an hour a day, about 1/25th of the time. Cars provide comfort and speed. We can make human-scale vehicles that allow for changes of body position and provide other advantages that make them far superior to industrial-scale vehicles in a variety of ways. We need to create and deploy automobiles' replacements.

We can evolve electric bicycles while developing a system, for them to be handed from person to person, during the 20 hours that we are active each day, as an alternative means of travel. When you multiply the excess weight of cars, by the wasted time that they sit unused, multiply 50 by 25, and you arrive at 1250 pound/hours expended. By this calculation, the person who is using the car is wasting 1230 units out of the 1250 units used, in order to accomplish the same task, to provide mobility for a person, every day.

Neo awakes in the movie 'The Matrix'

Neo (Keanu Reeves) awakes in the movie 'The Matrix', finding he has been asleep all his life and dreaming in a computer generated world

If I was a fan of conspiracies, which I sometimes am, I would say that we are so rich that, in order to maintain the same social system, a way had to be found to keep us poor, or at least deeply in debt. This methodology, inserting us back into a padded mechanical womb, has the added benefit of rendering us dreamily unconscious, so that we are incapable of offering any defense against this savage assault on our well-beings. We are required to be regimented from birth, in order for us to be deprived of our natural tendency to cooperate and instead be set against one another, continuously, in unnatural formations, called classes, races, sexes, or social orientations. We want to find and establish the ways that we are not the same as everyone else, as a way to assert our individuality and specialness. Being tied up in that quest takes a lot of energy. What is left over is seldom enough to achieve lift-off.

We find that our self-esteem, to some serious extent, is being measured by our capacity to generate waste. Being concerned about issues such as this, can put you in the category of somebody who may not be able to pay their bills promptly, or is suffering from some other debilitating stress. You have to project an attitude of ease and comfort or you could be on the skids. This attitude of nonchalance, whether on the receiving or the delivering end, includes the ability to totally disregard the needs and concerns of others, to be a virtual monarch in your own dimension, living high and acting like a big baby.

To foster this addiction to competition and loss of empathy, we are constantly being reminded of the pecking orders that surround us. Superstars in their bling rule. If you are in a certain profession, it is understood that you will behave in a certain way. Businessmen and women wear cleanly-pressed garments and speak in measured tones. The food servers are usually extra-friendly and smile even when it is not called for, as a way to lessen the chances that they will displease you and be called out for their behavior. Kids play their games and choose their friends and soon begin to treat others differently, depending upon a host of signals that are unspoken but ironclad. If you hang out with this one, that one doesn't want to know you and vice versa. The popular kids know it and begin to use the value of their friendships as bargaining chips and so the game begins.

Part of this is biological and has to do with choosing mates and improving the species, but a lot is learning where you belong and adjusting to the realities. That one is faster. That one is smarter. That one is prettier. Here is where I fit. Here is what I have to do to get along. Good educators know that you can break down these classifications and the limitations that they impose on our ability to appreciate the unique contributions that each of our fellow creatures may be able to make to our common lives. It takes skilled work to help kids to do this though, and paying professionals to do this is too expensive for most school systems.

Bullying is just an extreme form of the tiny slights and little signals that define our relationships to each other and to the world. If you look around at all the subjects which interest you the most, sports, music, business etc. it is clear that there are only a tiny number of big winners and a huge army of wannabes, and you soon get the message. The realization that this is the nature of our society, or at least its dominant trend, puts some into a frenzy of determination to be the winner, sometimes at any cost, while many others collapse into despair, full of the realization that they can never reach the pinnacle. The frustration that ensues can take many forms, but anger and hostility are one. Unfortunately, there has never been a good system for identifying anti-social individuals at a young age and helping them to modify their behavior. These days, it is easier to give everybody the anti-ADD behavior-modification pills and disregard the underlying problems.

We are constantly receiving messages and sending them, what we like, what we accept, what drives us crazy. When they are not received and responded to we get bent out of shape and behavior becomes more extreme. Identifying issues becomes difficult or impossible as, often, those with the same view of the world become friends and cliques grow based on a wide variety of factors, including insensitivity to the pain of others. Mall rats watch their parents' consumption patterns and start copying them early. The owner/manager class is anxious to pass down the skills and habits needed, to preserve position and status, to their offspring. Often these lessons are ignored or actively opposed by the next generation and the materialism and shallowness rejected. Just as often, they are absorbed and used to give a further advantage to the advantaged.

How we respond to this situation defines our personality, and we are a product of our perceptions and actions, and they also determine how others see us. All the jockeying for status takes a lot of energy. Extreme rejection by your young peers can be destructive and permanently damaging but it is also a way for your fellows to let you know that you had better change your ways, that you are not fitting in. This can be a good thing, for instance, if an overweight kid decides they are tired of being made fun of and are ready to put the work in to get themselves into better shape. Someone can be tired of being called stupid and start studying more. Usually the result is the opposite though. We are cowards and conformists and peer pressure does more to intimidate us than to teach us. Our sense of the possibility of a common future or a common place is destroyed over time, by the realization that people live in every kind of condition, from horrible to exalted, and that this is not only considered alright by many, it is seemingly becoming more so every day.

The remedy for the angst associated with understanding your place in the world, is to foment a system in which the inessential differences between us do not prevent everybody from getting a modicum of what is needed to survive and prosper. The essence of that enterprise, is shared access to needed resources, like transport for instance. NYC is blessed with an underground railroad that carries the majority of people around without clogging up the streets. Most other communities are reliant upon various forms of surface transport and face endless lines of barely moving, smoke-spewing motorcars every day.

In addition, in NYC, there is now a shared bike program that is enjoying great success. It is proving to be safe and convenient and attracting use from every sector of the society. It is still not being deployed everywhere around the city where it is needed, and the economics are still being tweaked to get it to work better, but no fatalities after a year and widespread joy at its installation, have made it possible to consider expansions and variations on the theme. If it is better to be able to use something than to own it, what implications does that have on everything else? If your status is a product of what you do, not what you have, what does that do to the current model of Paradise?

Only .8% of us commute by bike. It is too much hard work early in the morning unless you are a very fitness-conscious person. The troupe is tiny, but growing to be sure, especially in big cities, where distances are modest and a lot of young folks are moving into the workplace. The fashion now is “fixies”, incredible machines of under 20 pounds, that can be hauled up stairs with aplomb and use coaster brakes (mistakenly described as “no brakes”) so they are as trim as many of their riders. Like messengers before them, they connote style and are streetwise fashion leaders. Clunky electric-assist bikes are considered to be a sign that you are not at the height of physical condition and therefore a few notches down on the ladder to perfection, for the cool, Brooklyn crowd. Pride of ownership is a big deal at this time with this crew too. The notion of sharing their prize possession is anathema. There is nothing inherently wrong with bonding with your ride, I suppose, although it is a little kinky.

The current bike culture is the enemy of the future bike culture. It is still very trendy and fashion-conscious. Whether you ride a classic clunker or a $10,000 carbon-fiber masterpiece, defines, to some extent, who you are and how you are. Being a rebel on wheels was a great image for decades, a symbol of those who rejected the central tenet of the consumer society. Now, you are riding a big, heavy shared-bike, with ugly advertising on it, but it doesn't matter because it is only a 15 minute ride and much easier and more fun than the subway. It doesn't matter how you look, it matters that you can go nearly door to door in minutes and without mussy hair from wearing a helmet. The barriers to riding are breaking down. Older people are getting over the fact that is has been decades since they rode and doing it.

Even on the smooth and level roads of the city, it still takes effort to move the machine. That discourages a lot of people, accustomed to our no-sweat lifestyle. There are moments when you want to minimize that effort because you are tired, or feeling lazy, or loaded down with gear. Voila, the electric-assisted bike. Transportation for the other 99.2% of people who are not accustomed to making muscle-powered transport their mode. I don't think that even 1% of the public has ever been on an electric bike. They are being used by a bunch of food delivery people and a handful of older folks. Everybody has seen them in motion but almost nobody has ridden one.

That's a shame, because once that has happened, a million free rides later, the public is going to turn into a loud cheering section, demanding their availability. The only way to accomplish this task expeditiously, aside from the manufacturers unleashing a host of free rides at block parties etc., is to deploy shared-ebike schemes. They are already underway in San Francisco and Berlin and many other places and will soon be everywhere. The slack is ready to be taken up. By connecting to existing businesses, the huge expense of automated kiosks can be avoided by giving local establishments first dibs on handling the action in their neck of the woods. Instead of putting existing bike stores out of business, as was reported in Bloomberg News this week, this program can be used to infuse new traffic into neighborhood businesses, who will welcome it and the income it can bring.

It has to be made possible for the machines to be taken home at night by commuters, who are only charged a reasonable fee for the privilege. They need to be made so rugged that they can hold up under constant use, and have their components replaced on a regular schedule along with other kinds of maintenance. They will need to be electric-assist and require pedaling to move, not just throttles, so that they are not in conflict with existing bicyclists, some of whom are already displeased at this prospect. There can be an infinitude of designs and we can shake out the best producers and shapes and configurations, through feedback from the users. The evolution of these devices from the crude imitations of standard bikes that we have now, into the fully-functional, safe and comfortable transport of the future, has to come from the bottom up. This pertains to the weight and impact of these transporters as well as the hand-crafted, constantly-changing nature of the devices.

Many of these new vehicles need to be trikes rather than bikes. Even though two wheels have the advantage of less rolling resistance and overall weight, lean steering and easy storage, trikes bring stability and a way to mount the weather protection, inflatable mostly, in place, along with copious storage. Multi-passenger vehicles, like virtually all existing cars, will become the rule rather than the rare exception for cycles. It will be possible for multiple persons to use their muscle-power to contribute to the movement of the vehicle too, both for fun and for energy efficiency, and side by side configurations will make the experience more social and comfortable.

Replacing the giant-esque automobile with something more suitable for dense and congested urban spaces, is inevitable, and does not have to take forever. Sparking innovation is not easy, but in this case everybody is familiar with the concepts; it is just the equipment which is temporarily not yet available. That situation will change dramatically when a few designs are being produced more widely, like the ELF, which prove the viability and popularity of these ideas. Programs like www.SharingUmbrellas.org will help encourage more creative activity. Full legalization will advance. Peace will find a way, and so will we. Or I'm a monkey's uncle.

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