Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today's Observations From The Street, Electric Assist Bikes & Joggers

Bike Lane Icon

In the past I have encountered the occasional gas powered mo-ped with what I refer to as transportation identity crisis. This is when a mo-ped rides the line between open vehicle lane and bike lane, not quite sure where they belong and haphazardly weaving into the bike lane when ever a car spooks them. Well today was my first time seeing a true blue electric assist bicycle, riding proper and straight as an arrow in the bike lane. I was riding down Broadway when a gentlemen passed me, this was odd to me because first of all rarely does someone pass me, even when I am not trying to go fast, and second of all this man did not look like he was in cycling shape.

Then I heard the barely audible hum of the electric motor that gave his pedaling a boost. Naturally being the competitive sort that I am I did the immature thing of on the following block kicking my cadence up a notch and passing him, not wanting to be beat by the hybrid man machine interface. Though obviously this was not a race, I still like to win. So anyways.. these bikes are still kind of pricey, but if they can help the average person ride at the pace of a more competitive cyclist, then this might be one key to getting more people out of their cars. I hear the little electric motors suffer on extremely steep climbs, but most people commute along routes of rolling hills and flats. Anyone have any personal experience with these electric motor assist bikes?

Then on my evening commute I came inches from slamming into joggers running two abreast against traffic in the bike lane. I try to be accommodating to the idea of all sorts of street users, but I seriously worry about slamming into a jogger by accident one of these days. In the day time on a wide bike lane like San Vicente, this doesn't bother me too much, I see them from far back and have room to go around. However at night on a dark portion of Santa Monica's narrow Broadway this is just asking for trouble.

I was riding fast, and the joggers were wearing non reflective clothing. I saw them at the last second and swerved left being careful to not go too far over as I was flanked by car traffic. On the sidewalk, foot traffic has the right away always, and if a cyclist chooses to ride there, they are obligated to go around the pedestrians and alert them when passing. However on the street, and especially in the bike lane, it's my right of way, and I don't think I should be obligated to swerve into automobile traffic to dodge people running at me. If you have any close call stories like this, feel free to leave them in comments. Perhaps this is an offshoot of the exercise folks being kicked out of traffic medians in Santa Monica, so now they are flocking to bike lanes.


bikinginla said...

You may have a point. I do my riding in the daylight, but I have noticed I'm having to dodge more joggers in the bike lane these days. The ones who run counter to traffic are usually polite enough to move out of my way. On the other hand, since a well-tuned bike is virtually silent, those who run with traffic usually have no idea a bike is behind them — and most seem to have their iPods turned up too loud to hear a warning.

ToxicHaste said...

Howdy, Gary. I'm a long-time reader/first-time poster here. ;op

I too am an avid bicyclist and I invested in one of these electric motor assist kits a couple years back. I thought it made more sense for these shorter, heavier errands (i.e. to the post office, library, supermarket and back with six bags of groceries and toddler on bike through the steep hills of San Pedro/Palos Verdes can be pretty unreasonable on a bicycle), and now I just use it for most of my commuting seeing that my daily route runs me about 25-30 miles a day (to work, to the gym, grocery store, and back home). You're right, they're a bit spendy (mine paid for itself in about five months) but it makes a lot easier to pitch folks who aren't bike nuts to give bike commuting a shot. Once they’ve ridden 'em and realize they can set their own level of difficulty with the throttle/cruise control, the hilly terrain here doesn't seem so daunting.

So, in conclusion, if you're a seasoned bicyclist and your commute's under twelve miles on relatively even terrain, I'd advise against it. Its just not worth the price tag. If you've got a much longer commute through hilly terrain, I'd definitely pitch it to folks.

Keep-up the great work, Gary. I love your blog!

Gary said...

Thanks for commenting, glad you like the blog. It's also nice to hear from someone who enjoys their electric assist bike, since they are still a rarity, and even most cyclists know little about them. I hope they continue to grow in the market, they seem like they could have the potential to really shake up transportation. More people on more bikes is more better.