What would my life in Sydney be if I hadn’t started riding an e-bike in 2011? My husband and I would likely have purchased a car. We might have had to move away to the suburbs to facilitate having it. Managing my weight would have become a struggle again. My stress levels and frustration would be higher. I wouldn’t have launched Vélo-à-Porter or been able to progress my career the way that I have. Why? Because with the e-bike, I started cycling again. It changed my life for the better.
We have had some excellent cycling infrastructure constructed in parts of Sydney. I took advantage of it when I had incentive to bicycle for transport. How could I turn down plentiful parking/locking up space; the opportunity to incorporate exercise into my daily routine to keep my weight down; evading congestion by use of quiet roads and cycleways? My husband and I chose the Nihola cargo tricycle with electric-motor-conversion as our solution for four years of separate drop-offs for our children in hilly and traffic-ridden Sydney.
It was a deliberate choice. As many cities which have been designed with the car as primary mode of transport, Sydney has an aggressive driving culture and an anti-bicycling press and state government. How to manage in a hostile environment? I took a course offered by the City of Sydney to learn how to cycle in traffic when necessary, to choose my path, to be visible on the road.
Instrumental to this progression was the e-bike. It helped me to regain my cycling skills, confidence and fitness. I regained my confidence on the bicycle because I had daily “time in the saddle,” as cyclists like to call it. But instead of riding kilometres to improve my fitness with non-existent free time that I have as wife, mother, employee, I took the kids to childcare, school and activities, shopped, commuted to work daily. The electric motor helped me move between 100-150kg of cargo bike, myself, two-children-who-continue-to-gain-weight and gear to this day. We live in Surry Hills which is aptly named. Living near the coast, as are most Australian cities, we have hilly terrain to navigate.
After I regained the skills and confidence for hill-starts and further improved my fitness by taking my daughter to violin lessons 32 km round-trip on Fridays in the cargo bike, I purchased an e-bike to ride to the office in summer in dresses and heels. Why? Because the e-bike makes it possible to bicycle to the office in +25 to 42C heat. I don’t have time to pack a bag with tomorrows outfit, shower, change, makeup and hair again after dropping kids.
In winter, I found I was cold on the e-bike. As a result, my next purchase was a bicycle to commute in winter. Because of daily time in the saddle, this transition was easier than I expected. I found my skills were accretive. And then, I went a little crazy. I could see the progression of my skills and bought a mountain bike. After a few injuries, I bought a road bike because I suspected I would have less incentive to jump on/off/over things.
All because of the e-bike.
Surprisingly, I have discovered that many are opposed to the e-bike. Many refer to it as “cheating.” What does that mean? I had a look in a few dictionaries to confirm my understanding of the verb “to cheat.” The generally accepted definitions are the following:
- 1 to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud cheated the elderly couple out of their property
- 2 to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice a young man who cheated young women into marrying him when he was already married
- 3 to elude or thwart by or as if by outwitting cheat death
The idea of cheating comes from the view that cycling is regarded primarily as sport in Australia and overseas. If one begins to think of the bicycle as a means of transport or lifestyle, the idea of cheating begins to fall apart.
What is the most genuine and accessible mode of transport? Walking. Consequently, the ultimate cheat is the car. Don’t you think?
As a result, I believe that the e-bike has a place in the evolution of people choosing to bicycle as a form of transport. This is especially relevant for those countries which have chosen the car as the primary mode of transport. You know the major guilty parties. Australia. The United States. The United Kingdom amongst many others.
In my last blog, the the overwhelming majority of those opposed to the e-bike were men. They referred to it as “cheating”. Some went so far to say that the e-bike was for “fat and unfit people.”
I understand the perspective of people who see the bicycle as a form of exercise/racing/fitness. I appreciate the simplicity and technology of the road/cx/tri/mountain bike. The lightness of these bicycles translates into a joyous feeling when using your own power to move and with speed. It feels beautiful and pure whether on-road or off. But for most of us, especially those of us who have families, time away from kids and work is a luxury.
In countries where there is little bicycle infrastructure to separate bicyclists from drivers, the terrain is hilly, and congestion rampant, using an e-bike for utility to carry children, groceries, or to travel long distances is a solution. Again, choosing one’s path is important. Taking quieter streets with kids and groceries is much preferable than risking conflict on major throughways with drivers. The e-bike makes it possible for many people, young and old, fat and slim, to gain fitness and confidence to resume cycling in many different forms. And it takes another car off the road.
Interestingly, women were overwhelmingly supportive of the e-bike and its place in cities as a result of my last blog. Why? Many women do not have the fitness to ride up a hill with their own power. Society still does not favour women to maintain their athleticism. The reality is that women’s time is directed elsewhere. Of the cohort which I am part (educated, professional, mother, aged 30-50), I too have given up on sport. Pre-children, I played A-grade club tennis when I first arrived in Sydney in 2003. I completed the New York City Marathon in 1996. The last time I picked up a tennis racquet? Two summers ago on holiday to teach my children. However, women seek to benefit the most by the adoption of the e-bike as a mode of transport. Too much congestion on the roads make car journeys stressful and public transport is unhelpful when one’s journey requires more than one stop. Incorporating exercise into the daily routine is beneficial when no extra time exists for exercise. Furthermore, women as the primary caregivers exert the most influence in the family and normalise cycling for their children.
As a happy contrast, many fathers joyously posted photos of their electric-motor-assist cargo bikes laden with children and shopping in response to the blog. In 2017, we have have freedom of choice to be able to parent and interact with our environment in many different ways.
So, why the judgement? Is all of this behaviour too virtuous for those who drive? For those who race/train/go fast? Is it considered “cheating” by those who commute, unaided by electric motor who have smooth cycleways, flat terrain and over 50% modal share because their governments “got it” and began to make significant changes in the 1970’s? Maybe. Unfortunately, those of us in countries where cars dominate are trying to create change in a heavily entrenched status quo. Give us a break with the judgement.
As a woman and a mother, it’s sad to think that my weekly journey to music lessons with electric-motor-assisted Nihola and 70kg of two kids threatens so much. Should the collective judgement against e-bikes coerce me into a car? Think about it. One more person on an e-bike/bicycle = One less car on the road.