The Case for Slowing the Bleep Down

Two things remind me daily of the explosion in popularity of the E-bike:  1) Conversations with potential customers about their transportation needs are often focused completely on motor and battery; and 2) the sight of very senior citizens cruising along at very high rates of speed relative their age and cadence (and, very likely, their reflexes).

I estimate that I have hit the pavement about 50 times in my life. My elbows look like they are patched with elephant hide. The crashes that were not racing-related resulted primarily from my riding much too fast for conditions. I either made a "rider input" error and things happened too quickly for me to react or, in one instance, a taxi driver misjudged my closing speed and turned directly into my path as I was absolutely flying through an urban environment on my way to work.

The best-selling cargo bike brands and models in Germany are very plainly built for speed. The available riding positions (bar height & reach relative to saddle height) begin at somewhat aggressive and end at downright race-inspired. Buyers of these bikes either genuinely prefer being hunched over their handlebars, or are unaware that there is a better way, or even any other way.

A very upright riding position is, of course, far more comfortable than "the hunch", but it is also superior for a few less intuitive reasons. The most important benefit to upright riding? Safety.

How so?

-- Riding in urban (and even many suburban) areas presents a play-for-keeps video game scenario for cyclists. Backing off a few notches on one's speed provides both cyclist and motorist that critical margin of reaction time to avoid an accident. Riding upright encourages, nee compels, a person to slow down. 

-- An upright position increases visibility, as regards both seeing and being seen.

Another argument for not hammering through cities? Riding fast does not actually save you time, or the time savings is negligible. On your next journey, ride at a casual speed, and watch: At traffic lights you will repeatedly pull up alongside the "pro" cyclists (or senior citizens with big motors) who blew by you a few minutes earlier.

If you have become accustomed to bikes with racerly geometry, I encourage you to test-ride a bike that is truly comfortable, that you will want to ride daily, and that might even save your life.

Robert LinthicumComment