Along for the Ride
By David Weinstein
There is a growing controversy brewing on the streets of California, and it is not about land use. This one is over bicycles. Specifically electric bikes, or E-Bikes, as they are called. It is particularly apparent in coastal and higher-income communities, probably because the cost of one of these E-Bikes often start at over $2,000. Proliferated by the pandemic and a hunt to find an alternative to public transportation, they have become the rage. But you already know this if you live near a popular route that leads to a school, down Bluebird Canyon Road, or hike on the scenic coastal trails in Orange County.
I am puzzled by E-Bikes. I wonder if they are part of a multimodal transportation strategy that will save the world from greenhouse gases, or just another short-lived novelty, like those electric fat-jiggling machines from the 60s that promised fitness without effort. On this, I’m an opinion columnist without an opinion.
It may depend on your perspective. When I’m out for a quiet walk with the dog at 7 a.m., and a 14-year-old comes screaming by on an E-bike from behind with no warning, silently racing down the wrong side of the sidewalk, and then flips me off because I holler to slow down, I’m probably against them. In this instance, they seem dangerous. But, like a lot of us, I’m situationally self-interested, which means when I’m driving, I hate sharing the road with bikers, walkers, joggers, and even other drivers. When I’m biking it’s the same thing, I dislike cars and those casual sidewalk saunterers that get in my way. And as a walker or hiker on trails, I eschew ATVs, mountain bikes, and pack animals. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but, like many of us, my opinions are heavily influenced by my immediate self-interest.
I readily admit there are many benefits to E-bikes. They are eco-friendly and less costly to operate than cars. They free up scarce parking spaces, which is a big plus for a city like Laguna Beach. They are a means of exercise and recreation for people who might not otherwise get outdoors. And they are a convenient way to get your kid to and from school and avoid the interminable hassle of the drop-off and pick-up zones. Besides, they are fun! Especially if you’re older like me and have lost some of the “pedal power” you once had.
However, there is also a plethora of arguments against them. For one, any 13-year-old, worthy of the respect of their peers, can figure out how to bypass the 28 miles per hour speed limiter on any E-bike. And is it really a good idea to have a bunch of young teens driving around on hopped up, motorized bicycles? Medical knowledge informs us that while the adolescent brain may be done growing in size, the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for considering the consequences of risky behavior and controlling impulses is not fully developed until much later in life. In fact, some would suggest this part of the male brain may not be fully functional until they reach an age of 81, which coincidentally is three years past their average life span. Of course, if you are a mother, wife, or girlfriend of a male, you already know this. So, who can we depend on to enforce the few laws and regulations that exist if these E-bike operators are incapable, or unwilling? Parents, police, school administrators? The unsatisfying answer is probably nobody.
Then there are the philosophical issues. In a culture that values individual initiative and hard work is it fair to bicyclers burning up their lungs and legs making their way to the top of Park Avenue to have some fat guy like me come pedaling by them on a $3,000 motorized contraption some people consider a bike. And finally, there are the bicycling and mountain biking purists who, for fear of change or otherwise, just can’t abide a bunch of newcomers destroying what they consider the soul and character of something they hold dear.
In Laguna, this “soul and character” argument sounds very familiar. Discussion and debate to surely follow.
David lives in Newport Beach and is an occasional contributor to the Laguna Beach Independent.View Our User Comment Policy