Friday, November 17, 2023

How electric bicycles are cheating

Electric bike, narrow road, seen from bus.
Electric bicycles evade rules against personal vehicles on park road.

 Electric bicycles are cheating. 

I say this without rancor. At my age, the time when I myself will need an electric bicycle if I mean to keep pedaling at all is soon approaching. 

But it's true: as useful as they are, electric bicycles are unfair. 

And I am a grouch about it. 

Case in point: my wife and I recently returned from a vacation in beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. To enter the park and take advantage of its stunning beauty you are required to park your car or motorcycle near the entrance and get on one of the park's frequent, comfortable, and free shuttle buses

The shuttles are a phenomenal success overall, although they are standing room only in the busiest season.

Before the shuttle system was inaugurated in 2000 this (relatively) small national park was being visited by 5,000 cars a day -- but had only 450 parking spaces. (How is this even possible? Period photos show the narrow park road lined with cars parked bumper-to-bumper on each side.)

So we parked our rental car, and got on the buses.

But not everyone took the bus.  Many rented electric bicycles at shops outside the park. They were now free to gum up traffic on the single, narrow park road, and park at will anywhere and everywhere in the park.

These folks had successfully evaded the rules against private vehicles; rules meant to benefit everyone.

I asked one of the shuttle drivers about the electric bicycles.

"I hate 'em," he replied. To be fair, he also "hated" all bicycles, electric or not. On the narrow park road the big shuttle buses are a tight fit and there are no shoulders to spare.

"We try to give them a little extra room," the shuttle driver told me. "But the shops that rent them don't tell riders that they are supposed to stop and put a foot down when we pass."

From our seats on the shuttles we watched as some bicycle riders did what bicycle riders often do: riding against traffic, riding side-by-side (blocking a lane), ignoring traffic behind them, and wobbling alongside as the buses passed.

Some time back I posted a photo of an electric street scooter on Instagram. It was not an electric bicycle (no pedals and, of course, tiny wheels). But the thing illustrates what bugs me about electric bicycles.

The thing had a seat. Seems like no big deal, but what kiddie kick scooter ever had a seat? Never. It also had front and rear disc brakes and full front and rear suspension.

Electric scooter parked on sidewalk.
Electric scooter built for road but parked on sidewalk.

What it did not have was a license plate. Free of registration costs, and undoubtedly free of insurance costs, it had one more unfair advantage that bugged me: it was parked on the sidewalk. Free parking, in the city, and a tripping hazard for pedestrians!

My angry post got me one reply, accusing me of being a mean old grouch: "Get off my lawn, you kids," the reply read. Yes, I laughed.

I don't begrudge electric bicycles a seat. Of course, all pedaled bicycles need a seat. But in other respects, they share the foundation of my displeasure with that electric street scooter.

Electric bicycles are motorcycles, or mopeds, if you will. They deserve to be treated (and taxed) as motor vehicles. It's not OK for these things to be parked at a bicycle rack, or on a sidewalk.

I assure you that if I parked my Royal Enfield Bullet at a bicycle rack I would get a parking ticket (it HAS happened to me).

I admit that I probably will soon be shopping for an electric bicycle, and I probably will behave as irresponsibly as anybody else. 

But I shouldn't be allowed to do so.

There oughta be a law.


  1. A very fair and balanced post David I am 84, a life long cyclist (and motorcyclist). But, at 84 strokes made an e-bike the only way to keep up my usual 3,500 miles per year by bicycle. They have been my saviour and I try to ride them with the same care and responsibility as I do with my Enfield Bullet. Horses for courses really,

    1. I am with you all the way. Glad you're still enjoying your wheels.

  2. Anonymous11/18/2023

    I'm afraid I can't agree with you her David, as I think any way you can get people out of their cars and on to bicycles, electric or not, should be promoted and encouraged. National parks should have bicycle paths, pure and simple. I know the attitude of many car drivers, especially in the US, is that bicycles are a dangerous nuisance, but to me they are a nearly perfect form of transportation with a much smaller ecological footprint than cars.

    1. Absolutely agree that bikes, electric or not, are a helpful alternative to motor cars. Thank you for making that point. But some in the city probably use the electrics as an alternative to walking, adding to the vehicle load rather than easing it. And, where a simple (and FREE and FREQUENT) transportation alternative -- those shuttle buses -- exists, the electrics can become an annoyance.

  3. Anonymous11/20/2023

    They pay no insurance. They don't need a license. In fact I see more and more drivers who have lost their licenses for impaired driving buying the electric bicycles to avoid paying for their crimes!


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