Hell on Two Wheels, Until the E
By Patricia Marx
You can learn a lot about what's trending by reading T-shirts. A few months ago, I saw someone on the subway whose chest announced, "My other car is an eBike." The tee was onto something: e-bikes are the top-selling electric vehicle in the United States. In 2020, Americans bought more than twice as many e-bikes as they did electric cars (score: an estimated 500,000 to 231,000). In China, e-bikes outnumber all cars, e- and not e-, Edward Benjamin, the chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association, told me over the phone from his house in Fort Myers, Florida. He went on, "Can Americans change from a four-wheel culture to a two-wheel culture in the next century? I say absolutely! There ain't enough roadway, there ain't enough materials to build cars, there ain't enough wealth to sustain the car culture."
As someone who is not an influencer but an influencee, I have had an urge lately to strap on a helmet, join the traffic, and e-go with the flow. "When the pandemic came, that pretty much ripped the cover off of the e-bike business," Shane Hall, a senior buyer for Bicycles NYC, told me one afternoon at the company's Upper East Side operation, which was crammed with bicycles and accessories. Several of the latter sounded vaguely pornographic, such as Muc-Off dry lube, Tannus Armour inserts, and a Mudguard Mounting Kit. "Our sales were huge, especially cargo bikes—gotta get the kids to school." (Many private schools remained open during lockdown.) "Suddenly, biking became utilitarian," Hall said. "Some of our e-bike customers had never even ridden a bike in New York before." Post-lockdown, the e-bike momentum has continued. What's bad for General Motors—rising fuel prices, concern for the environment, etc.—is good for e-bikes, sales of which rose two hundred and forty per cent between July, 2020, and July, 2021. K. C. Cohen, the owner of Joulvert E-Bikes SoHo, saw a similar surge in sales. "A lot of corporate types lost their jobs and started doing deliveries," he said. "They needed bikes and we were the first responders and allowed to stay open."
It was in the summer of 2020 that I joined Citi Bike, the bicycle-share program serving New York City and parts of New Jersey. In February, Citi Bike had rolled out only two hundred e-bikes. By the end of the year, Citi Bike had three thousand, and had logged six hundred thousand first-time riders. One humid day this past summer, when I was huffing up Murray Hill on my pedal bike, an old guy who, I flatter myself to think, looked as if he should be the tortoise to my hare whizzed by on a hey-look-at-me, red motorized bike. Cheater!, I thought, as if he were Lance Armstrong on extra steroids. Actually, studies have shown that riders using pedal-assists—a type of e-bike that amplifies your pedal power but does not take over entirely—get more exercise than those on regular bikes, because they cycle longer and more frequently.
E-bikers, even the ones who don't have "Life Is Better with an E Bike" mugs, are so ardent about their new transports that you’d think they’d given birth to them. Ozzie Vilela, a cherubic-looking sixty-year-old I met on Fifty-seventh Street and First Avenue, as we waited at a red light—he on a peacock-blue folding Fly Wing-2 ($850), I on my legs—told me that he’d had his bike for only three months but had already persuaded two friends to buy one. "When I ride in the morning, there are lots of parents taking their kids to school," he said. "I’m invisible to the parents, but I can see the kids’ eyes are big. They’re thinking, Hey, I want a toy like that!" Clarence Eckerson, a videographer who lives in Queens, borrowed his wife's Tern HSD ($3,699) and promptly bought his own. He rides thirty or forty miles a week. Carol Sterling, an eighty-five-year-old puppeteer, who has had two knee replacements and a hip replacement, e-bikes in Central Park a few times a week. "As I got older, I realized I don't have as much stamina," she said. "And yet I love being outside, feeling the sun on my face."
Motorized vehicles, including e-bikes, are not permitted in New York City parks, although plenty of pedal-assists clog the paths and the drives, which is technically a violation. Asked about how the city deals with scofflaws, Meghan Lalor, a Parks Department spokesperson, said, "When safely able to enforce, we do." In Los Angeles, John Bailey Owen, a TV writer, bought his Cero One ($3,799) after he and his wife got rid of their second car. Now he considers errands "so, so fun," he said in an e-mail, which closed, "My ebike is my favorite purchase of all time. I love it, dammit."
I weighed the pros and cons and concluded, "What's wrong with cheating?" That there never seemed to be any electric Citi Bikes available made me want one desperately. They are the four-leaf clovers of the fleet. Among the total bicycle stock of 26,450, they number 4,450 but account for more than forty-five per cent of the rides. The most sought-after pedal-assists are the spiffy models that were released by Citi Bike last May. They are palest gray, whereas the old ones were scuffed Citibank blue. (Spooky coincidence: the color is similar to that of ghost bikes, a term that refers to the bicycles, usually freshly painted throwaways, that mark the site where a cyclist was killed in a road accident.) The new bikes have a mightier motor, so they accelerate faster, and a heavier-duty battery that enables the bike to be ridden sixty miles—more than twice as far as the old ones—before needing a charge. (An e-bike battery charges the same way as a phone: plug the charger into an outlet, connect your battery to the charger, and wait three to five hours on average. Many e-bikes don't require you to remove the battery in order to charge it, but maybe you have a no-wheels-inside rule.) The downside is that the husky newcomers weigh around eighty-four pounds, which is fifteen per cent heavier than the blue ones, and can be cumbersome to maneuver when you’re not going fast. You know how it feels when you drive a First World War battle tank? Like that.
By the time I managed to snag a new model, I wasn't so gung ho about getting on it. My trepidation was similar to how I feel about trying heroin: what if I like it? I begin pedalling. The motor kicks in. It's not a jerky or a sudden sensation; it's more like when I was five and learning to ride a bicycle, being helped along by a gentle push from behind by my father. On the other hand, the bike's poor suspension makes me empathize with tennis sneakers put in clothes dryers. I tackle a hill, forty degrees upward. Easy peasy. Obviously, I have superhero legs—and a budding Icarus complex. Coasting downhill in a bike lane, the motor leaves me alone, knowing when it is wanted and when it is not. How does it know? E.S.P.?
Here we must break for a lesson on how e-bikes work. Every e-bike has a battery and a motor, and, if you don't know that, may I recommend my class on the invention of the wheel? The motor delivers power to your crankset by one of two systems: the pedal-assist and the throttle control. (Crankset, n. 1. the metal arm and surrounding components that connect the pedal to the wheel 2. informal. your neighbors in 8-G.) The Citi Bike is a pedal-assist. It will help you, but only if you help yourself. Pedal daintily and the boost it supplies will be commensurately unenthusiastic; pedal with more vigor and it’ll send in the Marines. Cheaper pedal-assists have a cadence sensor, which, unlike the torque sensor on a Citi Bike, is binary and, when activated, can feel like a passive-aggressive shove. The motor shuts off when your speed hits eighteen miles per hour, a limit agreed on by Lyft (the operator of Citi Bike) and the Department of Transportation. Most e-bikes cut off at around that speed, the exact m.p.h. determined by the relevant state or municipality. In New York City, the speed limit for pedal-assist-only bikes (Class 1) is twenty m.p.h., and the same goes for Class 2, a pedal-assist with a throttle. Class 3 bikes, which are also pedal-assist and throttle, can travel up to twenty-eight m.p.h., but New York City law requires the rider to wear a helmet. If you find this interesting, you should join the City Council's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure while the rest of us talk about throttles.
Throttles provide power regardless of what the pedal is or isn't doing. They are to regular bikes what Roombas are to brooms (pedal-assists being Dustbusters). A throttle control is functionally a gas pedal on your handlebars, operated either by twisting one of the grips or by pushing a thumb trigger. Now, if they just had air bags and a cup holder . . .
Time to scope out what's available in the marketplace. By this point, I’d ridden only Citi Bikes, and I was a fan: no parking or maintenance, and they afford the possibility of a one-way ride, in case, for instance, it starts raining or you break your leg. They seemed great, but, having never sampled anything else, what did I know? "With a Citi Bike, you get a functional experience of a bike," a Trek employee told me. "They are good at being not broken and moving people around. They are not as good at being bikes, so riding one will not give you the experience of a lighter, better-made, and more fun bike." How much better could better-made be? Almost a thousand dollars better (which is approximately the least amount of cash you’d have to lay out for a decent e-bike)?
One of the oldest purveyors of electric bicycles in the city is Propel, situated at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This pedal-assist-only business was started by Chris Nolte, who returned from military duty in 2003, disabled with a back injury. Over Zoom, he said that he had built an e-bike in 2011, so that he could join friends on a bike trip. That year, he opened Propel. At the time, the legality of pedal-assists in New York was fuzzy, and he racked up a series of fines (to the tune of six thousand dollars). He took the case to court, hoping to codify a pro-pedal-assist law as a boon to the environment. He won.
I visited Propel's Brooklyn showroom, which is open by appointment only, and was introduced to a few of the bikes on the floor by Roberto Jeanniton, who gestured to each with so much exuberance that his smartwatch kept reminding him to relax. Propel salespeople are called "matchmakers," because their mission is not to sell you a product but to introduce you to a vehicular partner that you will love. "When you ride an e-bike, the last thing you want to do is get off," Jeanniton said, touting the Tern cargo bikes, which allow you to tote a kid, an adult, and sometimes one of each, plus a bag or two of groceries from the Park Slope Food Co-op. O.K., but where in your New York apartment do you store this bulkitude? Most Terns can be stored vertically, and one model, the Vektron, folds into an origami-like configuration that can be rolled along like luggage, the handlebar becoming the handle. Terns range in price from $3,000 to $5,500, depending on add-ons, and many of the other brands are costlier still. The Benno eJoy ($3,799 and up), featuring wide tires and a comfortably ample seat, was inspired by the design of vintage Italian scooters. Jeanniton called it "a great date bike" and "great for an older crowd." Another Benno model—the RemiDemi—has a cargo attachment that can "carry a surfboard."
Jeanniton doesn't have the space for an e-bike at home, and commutes via Citi Bike, but I asked which model he would get if he could. The Riese & Müller Homage, he said. "It is the most comfortable bike I’ve had the pleasure to ride," he said. Ramon Hernandez, who had just finished adjusting a Tern GSD, also loves the brand. Because the bikes’ carbon belts don't require constant degunking and lubricating, like traditional chains? Because their dual batteries let you go twice as far? No. It's their panache. "If I’m sitting on a bike, I want to look a certain way," he said of these small-wheeled vehicles, so Quakerishly unadorned that they look like a picture of a two-wheeler drawn by a child. But, Jeanniton said, they cost "rich-uncle money"—$5,779 to $11,549.
Pricier bikes, forged from high strength-to-weight materials like carbon fibre and aerospace aluminum, tend to be lighter and faster. They are loaded with deluxe features, such as heart-rate connectivity, sensors that measure barometric pressure and air quality, and, on one bike (the Greyp G6; $6,799-$13,999), a button that saves the last thirty seconds of video taken by front and rear wide-angle HD cameras on the handlebars and uploads the footage to the rider's social-media feeds.
How much money is too much? "I don't think anyone needs to spend thirty thousand dollars on an e-bike," Christian Guaman, at the Specialized bike store in Long Island City, said. "It's a want." If what you want is to move around town encapsulated in a swish Kevlar-insulated cabin whose extras include stereo and temperature controls, then the Peraves MonoTracer MTE-150 is a must. Bonus: what look like training wheels pop out so you don't have to put your feet on the ground when you stop. Price tag: $85,000, which is so much cheaper than a jet pack ($350,000-$450,000).
You want cheap? Let's drop by Rollgood, in midtown. Crammed with bikes, scooters, and paraphernalia, this narrow storefront serves mostly delivery workers. Explaining that I was a journalist writing about e-bikes, I asked José, an older man, if I could take a floor model for a spin. "You buy one?" he asked, and said, "This is the one you should buy." He pointed to a black bike that looked as if it’d been around the block—a BEK24 ($425), with a fifteen-mile range and a fifteen-m.p.h. capacity. "What if I buy one and don't like it?" I asked, to which he replied, "You have fifteen or twenty minutes to bring it back and we’ll refund your money." I eyed a sign on the counter:
NO REFUNDNO RETURNNO EXCHANGENO STORE CREDIT
I moved on. What about a bargain online? "If you see an e-bike for a few hundred dollars on the Internet, it's a piece of shit and will last a month, at most," K. C. Cohen, at Joulvert, said. Or worse. If the bike's lithium-ion batteries are defective (inexpensive ones are often not U.L. certified), they could explode and catch fire. (U.L. = Underwriters Laboratories, a century-old safety organization that tests and evaluates products, typically industrial equipment and home appliances.) NPR recently reported that an e-bike or e-scooter battery catches fire in New York City about four times a week. By mid-November, there’d been a hundred and ninety-one lithium-ion fires in 2022, almost double the figure in 2021. The increase mirrors a rise in the number of battery-powered devices used to deliver takeout food.
In early November, there was a fire in a Midtown East high-rise ignited by an e-bike battery in an apartment whose occupants fire marshals suspect were operating an illicit e-bike repair business. But most e-bike fires occur in lower-income areas. When the New York City Housing Authority proposed banning e-bikes in public housing, the plan was nixed, after workers’-rights activists protested that it would mainly affect poor and immigrant populations who rely on e-bikes for their livelihood. Before you curse delivery workers and the "Out of my way, I’m coming through, maybe even the wrong way!" attitude displayed by a handful of them, remember that the delivery apps punish the delivery guys who don't arrive at their destinations lickety-split.
Another reason to buy from a reputable brick-and-mortar shop (like Propel, Bicycles NYC, Trek, Joulvert, Hilltop) is that if anything breaks—and it will—good luck getting it repaired at, say, Mike's Fly-by-Night Bikes. Local shops take care of their customers as if they were family, putting them in "the fast lane," as Cohen said. But some of these, such as Trek, Specialized, and Propel, tend not to work on bikes that aren't theirs, because they don't have the parts. Stay away from big-box stores, too; Consumer Reports warns that their service and support are poor.
New York is dense with bike shops, but, for those of you who live in the hinterlands, don't despair. According to Shane Hall (of second-paragraph fame), some excellent brands are available online, among them Rad Power (the largest e-bike retailer in the U.S.), Aventon, Magnum, and Gocycle. I spoke to a real-estate developer named Ryan Johnson, who is building the first community designed to be car-free. (It is called Culdesac Tempe, near Phoenix, Arizona; rentals come with a thousand dollars’ worth of "mobility benefits" each year.) Johnson has been dubbed the Jay Leno of e-bikes, because he owns more than seventy specimens. He treats his collection as a "library," loaning the devices to people who often end up buying one of their own. (Try borrowing Leno's McLaren F1.)
Did Johnson have any tips for a novice? "Just buy one," he said. "People are almost always happy with what they have. And e-bikes are the gateway drugs to more e-bikes." The only e-bikes he’d stay away from are the ones sold on Amazon. Among those he especially recommends, the cheapest is the Lectric XP Lite ($799). He also likes the Dutch VanMoofs, citing the S3 and X3, and their anti-theft features, which include automatic rider recognition and a lock on the wheel that opens with your phone or by entering a code on the handlebars. If your VanMoof ($2,548) is stolen, there are onboard alarms and smart location tracking, and you can buy insurance ($348 for three years) that guarantees you a replacement if the company's Bike Hunters can't find it.
On second thought, if you live in the hinterlands, move. Unless, that is, assembling small vehicles in your garage is your passion. Yes, a few brands come ready-to-ride, but most want you to at least screw this thingy into that other doohickey with a type of wrench you’ve never heard of. The clincher, though, in buying an e-bike is a test drive—the quickest way to know if motorized micro-mobility is for you. Any establishment that doesn't allow you this small indulgence is an establishment you might not want to patronize. Call ahead to arrange for a road test and bring a credit card and a driver's license (hey, isn't the point not to drive?). In many cases, you may be accompanied on your excursion by a shop employee. According to K. C. Cohen, there have been cases of fake customers who use fake credit cards and then ride a sample bike off into the sunset, one way.
Long Island City is a glorious place for a joyride. Once an industrial zone primarily populated by storage units, it now has three bike shops (the No. 1 sign of gentrification), while retaining plenty of space for freewheeling. The newest shop, and the only one with a café, and a banner that reads "Pedal the Planet Forward" (No. 2 sign), is Specialized, an expansive two-level store that carries its eponymous brand exclusively. Christian Guaman e-ushered me around Hunters Point South Park along a lovely bike path hugging the river. I rode a Turbo Como SL ($3,250-$4,250), capable of achieving a speed of twenty-eight m.p.h., but it didn't have to try that hard with me. Never mind that the company's e-bike slogan is "It's You, Only Faster"; it turns out that I’m more scaredy cat than cheetah. While Guaman and I tool along the waterfront, the wind blowing so hard I feel like Miss Gulch cycling through the tornado, let's talk taxonomy.
There are several ways to categorize e-bikes, and I’m not counting the one most meaningful to me, which is by color. Technically speaking, it matters whether the motor is a hub-drive or a mid-drive. A hub-drive motor, commonly found in cheaper bikes, lives in either the front or the back wheel, propelling the bike by pushing it; a mid-drive perches above the pedal and the surrounding chain kit and caboodle, where it amplifies your pedal exertion, energizing a more nuanced assist that reacts to gear shifts. Most e-bike outfits, however, organize their stock according to intended use. To make things confusing, the nomenclature varies from company to company. At Propel, the inventory is divided into Comfort and Cruising, Commuters, Kids and Cargo, and Adventure. Specialized uses the terms Road, Mountain, Commuter, Cruiser, and Cargo. Within each category are more categories. Among Specialized's mountain bikes, you can select Cross Country, Trail, Downhill, and Dirt Jump. At Trek, there are Road Bikes and Hybrids, and also Mountain Bikes. If you intend to have adventurous fun on your commute in a mountainous city while carrying cargo, I guess any of the bikes would work.
Mid-excursion, Guaman and I trade bikes. When I tell him that his Vado SL 5.0 ($4,500) feels feistier than the Como, he explains that the Como may seem sluggish because it was designed to reproduce the vibe of a beach cruiser or a Citi Bike. At least, that's what I think he said; a gust blew that page of notes out of my hand. We walk our bikes on the sidewalk the last half block back to Specialized, an exercise that introduced me to a nifty feature of many higher-end e-bikes—the Walk Mode—without which dragging an electric bike can be a drag. (The average mid-drive model weighs between forty and seventy pounds.) This mode, sometimes called the assist function, provides oomph without your having to touch the pedals, even on stairs. Although I appreciated the help, the bike's brain was programmed to thrust my Vado SL 5.0 at two to four miles per hour. The thing felt overly pushy, as if I were trying to rein in a rambunctious Rottweiler on his leash.
At Bicycles NYC, Shane Hall selected a Gocycle G4i for me, because it's easy to ride ($6,000). "It automatically shifts gears for you. You don't have to know anything," he said, judging me correctly. The Gocycle's wheels are small, which makes them look farther apart than usual and makes the length of the seat tube (it connects the bottom of the bike's seat to the pedals) seem longer than it is; the bike's profile reminds me of a clown shoe. The shop's top-selling collapsible brand, the bikes are engineered to be folded up in less than twenty seconds, which makes me wonder if there are more bike-folding contests than I thought. Hall adjusted a Gocycle to my height (when you sit on a bike, only your tippy toes should touch the ground) and off I went. While trying to navigate around construction and traffic and dogs, I mentally wrote the second paragraph of my obituary, the one that contains the cause of death. I’d have risked riding in the bus lane, but then I’d have to rewrite my obit. I decided to illegally scoot down the sidewalk, figuring that I’d rather endure the wrath of pedestrians than that of drivers. "Asshole!" a guy yelled right away. "Yes," I muttered, "but not for the reason you think."
Maybe word got out about me, because, when I tootled around the Upper East Side on my Trek FX+ 2 loaner, the streets were deserted. The FX+ 2 ($2,500) is a hybrid, meaning it's good to go on the road and off-road (leaving out what? oceans?). It has a rear-wheel hub, which makes it lighter (forty pounds) and supposedly less balanced than a mid-drive, but it seemed as stable as any seat on two wheels could be. Maybe it's the FX+ 2, or being king of the road, or maybe I’m finally getting the hang of these newfangled gizmos, but I felt so confident that I sped up and sailed through a yellow light.
Correction: not newfangled. In 1881, in Paris, Gustave Trouvé fastened a lead-acid battery and a motor to a British tricycle, et voilà, he puttered his contraption along the Rue de Valois. Fourteen years later, on the last day of 1895, Ogden Bolton, Jr., received United States patent No. 552,271 for a battery-powered electric bicycle with a "6-pole brush-and-commutator direct current (DC) hub motor mounted in the rear wheel."
Doesn't "throttle-propelled" sound scary? As if you and your e-bike would be shot into space? Nevertheless, I gave it a go. The most chic examples I tried were at Joulvert, which also sells scooters. (Scooters are essentially skateboards with handles and motors but no seats, so let's leave them out of this.) Cohen opened Joulvert in 2016, about fifteen years after he emigrated from Israel. "It was the first serious e-bike shop in the city," he told me over beverages at 19 Cleveland, a Mediterranean café he owns near Joulvert. At the time, e-bikes were not technically legal in New York, but, he said, "the law was inconsistently enforced." Cohen started dabbling in the business in Israel in 2004, having enlisted his father to install cheap Chinese motors on standard bicycles. The business took off; he sold his share to his brother in 2012.
Cohen went to Burning Man for the next few years, each time bringing more e-bikes, which he distributed with the instruction "Go demolish them." He explained, "I wanted a report on everything that could go wrong, so I could fix it." The main problem was dust, so Cohen created a silicon-sealed electric system that was waterproof and dustproof. In the years since, his Burning Man clients have included Puff Daddy, Gerard Butler, and Paris Hilton. The bikes survived Burning Man, and their reputation was made.
Among the throttle models on display, I picked the Orbiter T1 ($3,000), because it did not look as if it belonged in "The Terminator." To engage the accelerator, you push down on a spring-loaded thumb throttle on the right grip. Trying to summon the courage to press the throttle, I pedalled along the empty sidewalk of Broome Street. I turned onto Elizabeth Street, where there were some people on the sidewalk whom I preferred not to mow down. I switched to the street. Trembling, I pressed the throttle. Whoa! There was no jerk when the motor kicked in, as there can be with a pedal-assist. The throttle allows a more gradual acceleration than a pedal-assist does. It's also useful in starting from a standstill on an upslope. By the time I reached the end of the block, I was ready to join the Hells Angels.
Let's say you’d like an e-bike but don't want to spend the money, or you already own a bike. One option is to buy an electric-bike conversion kit—essentially, a motor, a battery, and electric controls that you add to your analog bike. Most of these kits require you to swap out one of the wheels, a process that, according to instructions I’ve read, resembles performing a head transplant with a screwdriver.
If you think that sounds like a fun D.I.Y. challenge, I hate you. Luckily, there's an alternative to this alternative. It is CLIP, an upgrade that you clamp onto one wheel of your bike which instantly electrifies it ($549). It's bigger than a barrette but not as big as a breadbox, and as easy to use as both. No tools are required. If, later, you’re not in an e-bike mood, it takes a second to remove. This matte-white device weighs a little less than a cat (eight pounds) and looks like a sleek version of the boot that traffic cops stick on the wheel of your car if you’ve forgotten to pay your parking tickets. It contains a battery and a four-hundred-and-fifty-watt motor, and its two arms hug either side of the front wheel. A bike with CLIP installed can be ridden for fifteen to eighteen miles (or about forty-five minutes) on a single charge and travels up to fifteen miles per hour. CLIP can be preordered for shipping this spring, the initial run of a thousand having sold out.
I tried a prototype at the CLIP headquarters, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard's New Lab building. Dating from 1902, the building was the machine shop for every significant ship launched during both World Wars. Now it is home to more than two hundred startups. At the ferry dock, I was greeted by Somnath Ray, CLIP's C.E.O. and founder, a boyishly charming Indian architect whose résumé includes creating electric rickshaws, unfortunately at a time when the world wasn't ready for them. Ray chaperoned me to the CLIP offices, on the second floor, passing one groovy venture after another. He explained that CLIP works via "friction drive": "Think of it as a smaller gear driving a bigger wheel. CLIP is the smaller wheel and can deliver just the right amount of torque to the wheel."
Because it was a weekend and the Yard was empty, I was able to take a test ride back and forth along the concrete floor in a corridor downstairs. I pedalled, felt a nudge, then pressed a red button on the handlebar and got a burst of juice. Whee!
Chances are that New York won't be building a roof over the city, flattening its hills, and paving its streets with smooth poured concrete for my pleasure, at least not during the Adams administration. Short of that, what can be done to make life more bikeable in this city built by the car-loving Robert Moses under the guiding principle that "cities are created by and for traffic"? Other cities, particularly in Europe, have found ways of tackling the matter. Paris has committed to banning most cars from its city center by 2024. Utrecht has a three-story bike parking garage (the world's largest) that can hold more than twelve thousand five hundred bikes. (The Netherlands has the highest number of bicycles per capita: twenty-three million for a little under eighteen million people.) Copenhagen synchronizes its traffic lights in favor of cyclists. It is a city in Norway, though—Trondheim—that has pioneered the invention most likely to be found in a children's book. On a dreadfully steep slope, the Trondheimers constructed the Trampe CycloCable, the world's first uphill moving sidewalk for cyclists. This cyclist-helper is four hundred and twenty-six feet long and not much wider than your foot, travels at three to four miles per hour, and is operated by an underground motorized cable. To use: While sitting on your bicycle, keep your left foot on the pedal, and place your right foot on the metal platform attached to the conveyor belt. Sit/stand tight and you will be raised to the summit. And it's free!
In that spirit of innovation, I solicited pie-in-the-sky ideas about how to make the city more hospitable to cyclists. Most suggestions involved bike paths: roomier, safer, and more of them. Joulvert's K. C. Cohen wants to make sliding doors on taxis mandatory, outlawing doors that open outward and garrote unsuspecting cyclists. Randy Cohen, an avid biker, who might switch to electric when his body parts are too old to continue pedalling, would like to see the elimination of free on-street parking, or, as he puts it, "the squandering of scarce public space to store private property." CLIP's Somnath Ray recommended that e-bikes have a tattletale button so that riders can report infrastructure problems and enforcement issues. Please, someone, get to work on realizing the dream of Roberto Jeanniton, from Propel: "I’d build bike lanes above the streets, like in ‘Blade Runner,’ or the High Line." Nobody mentioned offering money to people who cycle to work, but European countries have devised tax-incentive and purchase-premium programs. France, for instance, will give up to four thousand dollars to anyone replacing a car with an e-bike; Belgium will pay you twenty-five cents per mile if you bike to work.
Winter was approaching, and I don't like being outside when the temperature dips below eighty-three, but I was determined to find out what it was like to have access to an e-bike whenever I wanted. Zoomo is a worldwide business that rents e-bikes by the week or the month, servicing them and offering insurance ($49/week; $199/month). Most of the users are delivery people, for whom paying the Citi Bike surcharge on e-bikes for the long hours they work is prohibitive. I rode a Zoomo bike home, five blocks away. Designed in-house but made in Taiwan, the bike (there are two models) is a workhorse, meant to be comfortable and reliable for long stretches of time. I can confidently report that my two-minute ride was very pleasant. The rest of the week? Turns out I don't go anywhere. After a week, I returned the bike—another lovely jaunt—and resumed my daily twenty-minute routine on a pre-Peloton stationary bicycle. Why can't someone electrify that thing? ♦