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  • Ellen Bassett

Praise Poem to My E-Bike in Limericks

("Ode on a Grecian Urn" was way too complicated to parody. "There Once was a (gendered term) from Nantucket"—much easier, if a rather tame takeoff.)

There once was a lady from Cville

Whose bicycle commute was quite evil

With the main streets aslant

The steep grades made her pant

‘Til her cycling was no longer gleeful

Should she make that sad Faustian bargain

And commute by burning some carbon?

But she might buy a Leaf

To save the Barrier Reef

Oh, her conscience was starting to hearken!

The answer came in a bright color

An electrical car only smaller!

A motorized assist

An emissions-free twist!

An e-bike for this VA scholar!

More seriously this is the best technology I’ve had any experience with in the last 20 years. (Take that Apple!)

But I have been given significant grief for this purchase. Called lazy or a whimp (while they really want to say “old), generally by people who live in the glaciated areas of the upper Midwest or on the flat inner southeast of Portland. I’ve taken to telling people it is not a bike, but a car substitute. I am happy to see my analysis is being borne out by others. The New York Times had an article in November on e-bikes that makes just that point. See:

As the article points out, these bikes are heavy (like 50 pounds). They can go to speeds of around 25 MPH (although I only achieve that going downhill). But unlike an electric car, when you run out of juice you can still pedal (somewhat painfully.) Or push.

These bicycles are game-changers regarding making biking accessible across the lifespan. Already in Europe they have enabled commuters to make housing location decisions further out than they would if they had a conventional bike. (Bike sprawl. Conversely bike-enabled housing affordability.) They are experiencing some level of conflict between conventional and e-bike users due to relative speed. See:

The automobile companies are paying attention. BMW, in conjunction with Tongi University in China, is looking at ways to make routes that parallel but are raised above the existing road system. See:

If our transportation system is really revolutionized by driverless car technology and shared cars, for instance, we might not even need roads to stay completely open for cars—they might be closed and made bikeways on demand. My colleague Andrew Mondschein is looking at such technologies with faculty at UVA’s Engineering School. A cool video highlighting their work can be found at:

Last Updated:  14 September 2020