We cyclists have something we need to learn. In the past it was the motorists who were our toughest challengers. Today it is the motorised e-bike riders. It’s time for some straight talking among bicycle lovers.
Those were the days. For decade upon decade we all followed the same rules of the game. If you were tougher than the rest and had stronger legs, you could race along the steep Aargauerstalden and up the Stutz faster on your military bike than all the others on their ordinary bikes. If you had trained more than the others, you could cover the distance from the Helvetia Square and up to the Thun Square in under 70 seconds. And if you had the right technique, you could fly sideways across the tram islands, which would really annoy the drivers whose big fat sports utility vans were blocking your way: The ladies and gentlemen simply had to wait. We had the right of way, almost always, and even when the lights were red.
If you wanted to travel more elegantly and comfortably, you would pedal your way through the pedestrian areas on your suspension bike. When the wind revealed the thighs of the ladies on their bikes the walkers would forget about complaining and the cyclists could safely ignore the cycling ban. Yes, back then we cyclists were united on one point: we were bikers and the rest were not. Our greatest challenge was how to protect our own interests and to resist the sheer might of that which outnumbered us on the streets: the cars, the buses, the trucks and the taxis. We cyclists would flow along together, with a common purpose and with a common mission – to ride a bike and not to drive a car. But that’s all in the past now...
It’s all different now and big changes are underway. There is an electrical buzzing sound in the air, and a hovering and an accelerated pace are in the order of the day. The rider’s backbone is rigid and the eyes stare straight ahead. The lady directing the traffic overtakes the racing cyclist with a grim expression on her face. The uphill speed is about 30 km/h. The rider sits high up on the saddle, with lights flickering and electric motor buzzing. It all just leaves muscle pedaling for dead. The e-bike rider is fast, decisive and relentless.
E-bikes and electric mountain bikes are gaining ground much faster than predicted. There are already hundreds of thousands of them in Switzerland. In southern Germany, as many as one million new electric bicycles are said to have been launched. This brand new riding sensation, propelled by an electric motor, enables the novice to ride much faster than long-time cyclists. With a spare battery in the backpack, the electric mountain bike rider feels superior on the long climb up the Alp while leaving the muscle biker far behind. Yes, it’s a great feeling for any cyclist who hasn’t done much training.
But this is a new era of cycling – and it has come to stay. So, muscle cyclists will simply have to get used to these motorised bicycles in the same way that we had to learn how to share with cars, trucks and motorbikes. As cyclists we have always known that there are more powerful and faster vehicles on the roads. But we also know and are proud of the fact that there will never be a more noble way of traveling on the road than that used by the silent, slow muscle-powered road-users that we are. But we are still left with a dilemma. Are we, the noiseless ones, the better people? And are the e-bikers the unecological guzzlers, uncaring energy wasters, and the speedsters of the cycling scene?
Well one thing is sure: cyclists are experiencing an increasing number of skirmishes, dangerous situations, hair-raising overtaking maneuvers, incidents of emergency braking, verbal altercations and accidents. The time has come for some decisive action on the part of all cyclists. Both groups, the muscle cyclists and the e-bike users must now take action to prevent the need for further regulations and restrictions to be imposed on us. We simply have to make demands on ourselves and on the other target group.
It's up to the e-bike users to be less offensive, less aggressive in displaying their superior power over other cyclists, and less inclined to pretend that they are better than everybody else. In future they should ride more defensively, be more considerate, and slow down in good time so as not to scare mothers and fathers on pedal bikes with children in child seats and in kids trailers. E-cyclists need to realise that a speed variation of 20-30 kilometres per hour can be enormously threatening to the slower road users. Ordinary cyclists can find it terrifying when e-bike riders flaunt their superior ability to ride into a headwind because they cannot hear them approaching and then they suddenly appear.
«In city centres, the e-bike riders are now using new generation e-bikes that travel as fast as cars.»
Out of consideration for the slower riders, these faster electrically powered road users also have the option of dodging onto the road and flowing in motorised traffic instead of frightening and jeopardising their slower counterparts in the bicycle lane. The noiseless cyclists, on the other hand, have to get used to the fact that recently an additional, stronger partner has joined the traffic... and that it is here to stay. The stronger, faster riders with more power and grunt can help diffuse the situation by remembering what it was like when they themselves had no motorised booster attached to their bikes.
There are better ways for e-bikers to ride – they can become more considerate and more careful, and go at slightly slower speeds at critical spots, avoiding sudden acceleration, and making less risky overtaking maneuvers. And hence adapt their technical edge so as to ensure that other cyclists also enjoy their rides.
Those without electric propulsion, the more ecologically correct cyclists, should not be too narrow-minded in their elitist approach. Sure, we all want to be better people, and we all have to contribute towards neutralising the ever-increasing air pollution. But at this time our priority is to find a way to ensure that cyclists can coexist happily.
Maybe we need to remember the words of the old song that exhorted car drivers to go easy on the petrol by telling them to
«Slow down and take it easy»
We all ride bicycles because we love the motion, agility and simplicity of cycling, and the ease of parking. So let us avoid having a proxy war waged by dogmatic and over-zealous riders.
Let's not forget that, traffic-wise, the future is getting better all the time – with bike paths and cycle roads, increasing numbers of cyclists and significantly more e-bikes. And self-driving cars that think for themselves in urban areas, exhaust-free buses and electric vans, all with less noise, stress and stench. There are good times.
But this will only happen if the e-bikers among us start taking more care and behave more considerately towards the weaker cyclists, the riders on their bicycles without an engine.
About the writer
A native of the Emmental, Bendicht Luginbühl has been CEO and partner of REPAPER Consulting AG for information management based in BERN and ZURICH since 2005. He has over 16 years of operational management experience in media companies and publishing houses and has won multiple awards for his journalistic work.
Luginbühl was co-founder and member of the management of the Goldbach Group in Küsnacht. As Programme Director for the DRS3 radio station, he was a member of the executive board of Swiss Radio DRS. Along with publisher Beat Curti, he established Switzerland's first digital publishing company, Swisscontent Corp (German). in Zurich and was its first CEO. Today he is a partner and member of the board at Swisscontent.
Luginbühl is one of Switzerland’s mountain biking pioneers. He is said to be the inventor of the foldable bicycle transport bag and owns the TranZbag.com bicycle transport system. Bicycles can be transported free of charge in a TranZbag on practically all public transport in Europe.