e-bikes as a new vehicle type, not the same as bicycles but also not anything like motorized vehicles we know

stw

Member
Region
USA
I'm new to e-bikes and a long-time cyclist who also likes motorcycling but hasn't done much of that in a while. The thread about the Japanese response to introduction of fast illegal Chinese-sourced e-bikes, made me wonder whether I'm being too limited in how I think about the e-bike and maybe it's a new vehicle type entirely rather than just an easier and/or faster bicycle.

There was video review posted in that other tread of the Super73 and Juiced machines that will make some people think: "see this is showing what e-bikes could be and how they can change what we expect," and others will think "see this is why e-bikes are going to get kicked off the streets(and paths and trails)."

The video didn't show the Super73 or Juiced mixing into traffic much. I can see how they could mix into dense urban traffic just fine because a top speed around 32 mph won't be out of place in parts of a city where that's the same as top average auto traffic speed. But there are lots of moments and parts of NYC traffic that are less congested and people speed up immediately to 45mph+ Suddenly that Super73 or Juiced will be diving out of traffic into the bike paths and then mixing with the slower bicycle and class 1/2 e-bike traffic, and this will cause different problems. That kind of Super73 and Juiced e-vehicle (only nominally a bicycle) is not going to fit into either place well. You already see this issue with low power petrol scooters that struggle when auto traffic behind them wants to speed up past 35mph and the scooter rider stays resolutely at 30mph--accidents waiting to happen. That's not to say it's the scooter rider's fault, especially if the speed limit is 30 or 35 and they're just observing the law, but that same scooter rider if driving an auto would also speed up to auto speeds with the auto traffic. So it's a mismatch of mixed vehicles and traffic expectations. It's just that the petrol scooter rider won't immediately dive into the bikes lane or bike path because long standing social expectation (and law) won't allow or suggest that.

The point of the thread:
The issue may be more about how a current traffic status should or shouldn't(?) accommodate new types of vehicles. Current status meaning: infrastructure/roads, laws, habits-traditions, user-expectations/frustrations. The other post's Japanese example is a new kind of vehicle--high speed e-bike--suddenly appearing in a setting where two kinds of vehicles are accommodated in separate ways, faster auto/MC/truck traffic and slower bicycle/e-bike traffic. When the fast e-bike doesn't fit either category, it is immediately noticeable and is getting eliminated both by operation of law/regulation and by social norms and expectations. Much the same might happen in EU cities.

But that wouldn't and doesn't seem to happen in N.America where social norms and expectations are different and laws/regulations different or at least differently enforced.

Accommodating new vehicles types in a given infrastructure and society is always problematic. Sometimes, some places, the new vehicle is summarily rejected just because it's new and people don't like change. Some places new vehicles are immediately accommodated because there is room and space so conflict with existing vehicle status is minimal, or where there is little regulation of social norm to prevent it.

I'm not saying this is true of the Super73/Juiced/illegal speed e-bikes in Japan, but sometimes it's good to recognize the virtue of a new vehicle type, and society should swallow its objections and norms and make way for change. Most of us would say the e-bike is one such new vehicle and should have the gates flung open. Some of us might say "the e-bike is a bicycle and should be welcomed as long as it can conform to expectations and norms close to what bicycles already have and do." Others might say, "why stifle the potential of the e-bike as a new vehicle type just because it doesn't conform to the limitations of bicycles on one side, nor the capabilities of autos/motorcycles on the other?" They might say: "the e-bike has virtues superior to either existing type and should be allowed to flourish and see how it changes society for the better."

The humble bicycle was in exactly this situation about 130 years ago, positioned between travel by foot on one side, and travel by carriage on the other. Because of societies' openness to the bicycle, roads were paved, tar-macadam was invented, infrastructure changed, social norms changed, and the bicycle significantly contributed to increasing the freedom and opportunities of people who were not carriage&horse owners. Maybe the e-bike isn't just bike-redux but is as potentially transformative as the bicycle was.
 

Gordon71

Well-Known Member
Rural areas mostly have no accommodations other than signs saying that bikes have the right to use the same roads and cars can't come closer than 3' when passing.
 

jabberwocky

Well-Known Member
I don't really see the point of trying to treat ebikes as something new. Low speed bikes can be functionally treated like normal bikes. At some point they get fast enough, pedals or not, that it makes sense to start treating them like mopeds/motorcycles. All these things already have a place in the vehicle code. We may need to come to an agreement as a society as to where the lines between these things are, as well as figuring out what we want to allow and under what conditions on stuff that was built for pedestrians and normal bikes, but overall ebikes will get widespread access much faster if we just work within the existing sections of vehicle law and access.
 

stw

Member
Region
USA
Thanks for the responses. @jabberwoky: My own allegiance is with bicycles generally, I tend to see e-bikes as a subset of bicycles, and I agree with you that in most cases there is no need to treat them differently. I generally agree with your belief "overall ebikes will get widespread access much faster if we just work within the existing sections of vehicle law and access," but I also notice that ebikes' capabilities are growing quickly enough and enough new ebike types are introduced, that our belief is sort of a two stage process: 1) Work within existing access laws for now, then later 2) after widespread access is secure and ebikes are accepted as legitimate vehicle with right of access (as bicycles are), at that point the capabilities of ebikes as a new type of vehicle will be evident and evolution can proceed. This makes sense technologically for most of the early development of ebikes, when capability was more limited, and it likely still makes political and public interest sense now. But the proliferation of more powerful ebikes that challenge barriers seems to be testing this severely.

My point about the Super73 and Juiced machines is that they easily are not really bicycles but they are not nearly motorcycles or even motor-scooters yet, since they are not going to easily accelerate to 45mph for at least short periods which might be considered a minimal necessity for low powered motorcycle / motor-scooters to mix with non-bicycle traffic.

I worked in early mtb efforts for trail access and am familiar with what it's like to represent the new vehicle type in access debates with hiker groups and horse-back groups. Like you I would be reluctant to jeopardize trail access for bicycles if emtbs are represented as motor vehicles that will tear up your trail. The Super73 and Juiced sites seems to feature visuals of these bike throwing rooster tails of dirt. Maybe that's happening at a moto site somewhere, but that's the kind of thing that kills trail access when advocates are arguing emtbs don't tear up trails while Super73 is bragging "look how we can totally shred this trail, dude!" At the same time, every video you can see on Trek's site of fast descents of technical trails show regular non-e mtbs using trails in ways completely incompatible with other users so perhaps that's an example of the two stage access argument above. 1) get mtb access now, c.1986, 2) North Shore style shredding later.

My interest is not only with dirt trail riding though. I think there are four areas of ebike access at issue.
Listed not in an particular order:
1. dirt trails / singletrack where hard-won mtb access is potentially jeopardized by evolving powerful emtb differences.
2. MUP trails, multi-use trail paths, paved or otherwise, where the sharing groups included dog-walkers and family-group pedestrians where non-e bicycles already are considered fast enough to require speed limits, 15 mph limit is typical where I am.
3. On-road cycle lanes and bicycle street infrastructure designed for bicycles speeds where ebikes work fine when speeds are comparable but bicycles and ebikes may not mix well if ebikes speeds are significantly faster.
4. Vehicular cycling in regular traffic without bicycle lanes or infrastructure, where bicycles and ebikes may have the same mixing problems if ebikes are significantly faster than regular bicycles, but where ebikes are still not fast enough to fully mix with the auto/mc motorized traffic, even fast ebikes like Super73 and Juiced.
 

kmccune

Active Member
Rural areas mostly have no accommodations other than signs saying that bikes have the right to use the same roads and cars can't come closer than 3' when passing.
Here in OL' Virginny, it was increased to 6 ft on July the 1st. On the subject of terrain destruction, around here the better the trail the faster the "nincompoops" go( good trails do not last long) and this attitude of "screw you, you cannot tell Me how fast to run" creates a lot of anger, I have partial responsibilities for two"peace right of ways" over private lands and nothing angers Me more than some Jackass, spraying gravel and billowing clouds of dust for others to eat (FWIW , the dust was actually part of the road surface at some point in time) and these same inconsiderate humanoids do not contribute a thing to the road other than its destruction.
Word to the wise, never let someone else have a 'right of way" over your property 9 times out of 10 it will be abused by the less considerate people who do not contribute anything to its upkeep, even the "State Highways" around here turn into litter bins.( the old "Canoe Indian" was right to cry{ we crap in our nest})
 
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