Augmented bicycling is about to hit the “hockey stick” on the product adoption curve. Translated into English: We are all about to have a lot of fun. Electric bikes are powered by small motors traditionally on the frames of the bike that assist with pedaling.
These “E” bikes have been around since the 1890s. But those early e-bikes were heavy, short on range, slow to re-charge and expensive. During the last few years they have evolved into lighter, smarter versions. As goes Tesla, so goes the e-bike.
Their power supplies have lightened and their range increased. The e-bike market has quickly expanded from a novelty to a credible choice for both road and mountain bike fun. They have become cool.
For sports enthusiasts, the impact of this simple technology is huge. What was once a grueling, three-hour ride through a mountain range with five steep hills can now be done in an hour, with the fun factor increased dramatically. And the whole family can come along, with one parent using more of the “assist” setting than a stronger, younger and fitter child.
For drivers, the deadening commute, traffic, tolls and parking fees that were grimly tolerated (because riding your bike to work involved sweating, finding a shower and sometimes being late) now become a question of how fast or slow you want to get there. And no sweating necessary—unless you want to. Having visited Beijing, where there seems to be a million noisy, polluting motor scooters, one can imagine a government decree insisting they all become electric bikes. The city would be transformed.
Even more remarkable are the new powered “wheel only” devices. Instead of buying a somewhat heavy electric bike, you can now buy just an electric wheel that will fit on any bicycle. A wireless connection to your smartphone, mounted on your handlebars, gives you all the feedback you could dream of—from the wattage output of your pedaling to the charge remaining on the enclosed battery. And, the price is a fraction of even the most discounted e-bikes. At the recent TED Conference in Vancouver, one company—SuperPedestrian—demonstrated a powered wheel that, like a Tesla, had the option of a slight assist for a hill or a “Ludicrous” setting for speedy escapes. The fun factor was off the charts.
It may be time to re-examine your need to use a car to get to work. For most people, the commute is reasonably short. What if that commute was fun, as athletic as you want it to be, free of gas, tolls and parking, and made you feel like you were helping the planet? What if your individualistic sport of cycling suddenly became as social as we imagine it could be? Now that is an idea worth sharing.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.