Shannon and her car

Savvy E-Biking To A Car-Free Future

Part One

My sister warned me. “After you ride mine, you’ll want one.”

She was talking about her electric bicycle. Ironically, she’d never heard of e-bikes until I suggested she buy one.

Pull quote highlighting text: Nashville terrain kept her from bike commutingShannon learned to ride when she was 11, but for the next 30 years or so, showed no interest in bicycling, except to comment on observations she’d made from behind the wheel of her car.

During those years we enjoyed lively conversations about bicycling. If Shannon asked my opinion, I’d give it. Otherwise, I tried not to proselytize.

I’ve been an avid transportation cyclist for years, but I’m well aware that this is a tough sell to most Americans.

“C’mon now. Can it possibly be safe AND courteous to ride a bicycle in traffic?”

Adult bicycling education is an even tougher sell.

Savvy cycling makes transportation cycling a no-brainer. Yet you don’t learn this stuff overnight. Savvy cycling needs to be experienced. Then it takes time to process what you’ve experienced. There’s a lot to absorb, and deep cultural conditioning to overcome. So, I didn’t push my love of cycling on my sister.

But then, out of the blue in the Spring of 2016, Shannon called with shocking news.

“I bought a bicycle,” she said.

“Really?” I responded. Nothing she could tell me would have surprised me more.

Once Shannon decided to get a bike, education was an easy sell! Shannon is the kind of woman who becomes an expert at anything she sets her mind to. She read voraciously about bicycling and signed up for CyclingSavvy Online (there were no CyclingSavvy instructors in Nashville at the time). She loved the online course so much that she decided to travel to St. Louis to take an in-person workshop.

Shannon on trike in St. Louis

Shannon used her recumbent trike when she participated in a St. Louis CyclingSavvy workshop in August 2016

Pull quote highlighting text: I'm a textbook example of how an e-bike transformed me into a cyclist.

Shannon discovered for herself 1) the tremendous control she could have over her safety while riding and 2) that it was impossible for her to significantly delay motorists. Trust me, she tried. One of her vehicles is a recumbent tricycle. You have to change lanes to pass those things.

In traffic-choked Nashville, she figured that she could get to her office almost as quickly on her bike as in her car. She was ready to ride everywhere. Then Middle Tennessee’s “hills” put the kibosh on her plans to become a bicycle commuter, at least temporarily.

Nashville features gorgeous mountainous terrain, a challenge for anyone who commutes by bike. Shannon has no shower at her office. She didn’t want to carry multiple sets of clothes, and needed to look professional when she arrived. I suggested she consider an e-bike, even though I knew next to nothing about them.

She researched various brands, and rode e-bikes in New York City and Nashville. She decided to patronize a local dealer, and bought not one but two: a cargo and a commuter. I loved hearing about her adventures with each e-bike, which served very different purposes.

When I went to Nashville last April to celebrate Shannon’s birthday, we rode her e-bikes around town.

She was right.

I wasn’t “sold,” though. I was captivated.

Riding an e-bike in Nashville traffic

Shannon riding on Hillsboro Road in Nashville, Tennessee

E-bikes aren’t replacements for bikes. They replace cars. They can move you across town, and over steep hills, at higher speeds with less effort while still offering clean, low-cost transportation. What a tremendous opportunity to change the conversation about transportation, and maybe finally make bicycling normal in America.Pull quote highlighting text: With speed comes a greater need to understand the environment.

But there’s a catch many people don’t realize. With speed comes a greater need to understand the traffic environment: sight lines, door zones, blind spots, and common motorist mistakes caused by underestimating speed. Without this understanding, an e-bike may be just as likely as any other bike to gather dust in the garage after a few close calls.

This is why the engagement of CyclingSavvy and e-bike owners needs to happen, and it can’t be a moment too soon.

“I am a textbook example of how an e-bike transformed someone who doesn’t ride into a cyclist,” Shannon said.

That, and a solid knowledge of savvy cycling. Shannon went on to become a CyclingSavvy Instructor. (I wasn’t kidding when I called her an expert.)

Now that I’ve told you some of Shannon’s story, I want to tell you mine. But that’ll have to wait until next week.

Next Week: The Crash

The Reality of Speed

While pondering how to make the shidduch of e-bike owners and CyclingSavvy, I did some Googling. It hopefully won’t be news to you that personal automobiles are a major cause of global warming. But do you truly appreciate how shockingly inefficient cars are at getting us anywhere?

chart of average US driving speeds

How fast is your city? If you click through, you’ll likely be surprised at how slow motorists are in cities. Your e-bike can get there just as quickly.

11 replies
  1. Harold A. Karabell
    Harold A. Karabell says:

    Has not New York City banned e-bikes on all its streets, including in all separate infrastructure? Apparently bicycle delivery workers and their employers are especially outraged at the de Blasio administration’s policy. (And in return, de Blasio has threatened to impose fairly hefty fines not only on the workers/riders themselves but also on the businesses that employ them. And to confiscate the offending two wheelers.) The City’s argument is that “e-bikes go too fast and are too dangerous.” Well, riders of e-bikes do go much faster than Old Turtle, that’s for sure. But so does almost every other type of bicyclist as well. From what I’ve observed many times from the seat of my Brompton in Manhattan and Brooklyn, riders of traditional “non-assist” bicycles often scorch at speeds equal to those of e-bike riders–and frequently engage in all manner of dangerous behavior too, especially lane splitting, queue jumping, and blowing through red lights with impunity. Once again, the real and fundamental problem is a lack of bicyclist education, something of which the de Blasio administration seems to be completely ignorant.

    • Karen Karabell
      Karen Karabell says:

      Who’s “Old Turtle”? ;-) I of course know, but other readers might not understand the reference.

      Regarding NYC’s ban on e-bikes, I agree! It’s a shame they’re targeting the vehicle, instead of the vehicle drivers’ unsafe behaviors.

    • Schubert John
      Schubert John says:

      Harold — We’ve discussed the New York problem many times. Every time one discusses New York bicycling, the discussion should begin with the fact that so many people are so darn aggressive. The target population — delivery drivers — gets paid for being fast. Many, probably most, don’t speak English. I’d love to reach them with Cycling Savvy, but that’ll take some adaptation. While I don’t like Mayor De Blasio’s move, I understand his reasoning. He can’t see a way to force e bike drivers to ride safely and politely, so he clamps down.

  2. Shannon Martin
    Shannon Martin says:

    Great article on e-bikes. The comments are also spot-on. Shubert is absolutely correct about the aggression of vehicles, bicycles included of course. I was almost run over by a cyclist while legally crossing an intersection (yes, I had the walk sign!) in the West Village several years before taking up cycling. This experience was burned in my memory for its terror and near-miss. Attending Cycling Savvy helped me make sense of my horror and how never to do this as a cyclist. Cycling Savvy teaches safety but it also demonstrates beautifully how to COOPERATE with patterns in our transportation structure, thus creating safe roads for all vehicles and pedestrians. We are creating a new language of transportation every time we ride our bikes on roads that rightfully belong to all.

    I have over 2,000 commuter miles this last year–most of them on e-bikes and these miles have been joyous, safe and accident-free. This amazes me, since I only starting riding bikes in 2016!

    Thanks, Karen for great article, for getting me on an e-bike and for being a great sister!

  3. Shannon Martin
    Shannon Martin says:

    Sorry for mis-spelling your name, John and to all for my mistakes and omissions. I’m a Savvy Cyclist but sadly not a savvy typist. :-)


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  1. […] her recent post “Savvy E-Biking To A Car-Free Future,” Karen Karabell […]

  2. […] fast is your city? You might have missed this info at the bottom of last week’s post about electric bikes. For most trips, an e-bike could get you to your destination as quickly as […]

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