When Tony Valente invited me over for a tour of recent cycling developments in the City of North Vancouver, he offered an irresistible inducement: an e-bike experience.
As someone who has never quite seen the need for one (or felt that it was a kind of cheating), I nonetheless anticipated that e-bikes were the wave of the future. In fact, I was surprised they hadn’t washed ashore sooner in a tsunami from some massive factory in Taiwan.
Well, the future is showing up – that wave is coming in on the North Shore. In particular, at Tony Sun’s Reckless outlet in The Shipyards.
Perhaps it’s is a confluence of factors: small powerful batteries, an aging demographic, falling prices, the need for pandemic-safe recreation, the cool factor.
Or even hormones. Once Tony took a few minutes to explain the basic mechanics, I was pressing the button to kick in the e-assist. It was like a hit of adrenaline, the bike felt almost alive, and out of my mouth came an unforced reaction.
And what better place to take a test run than the North Shore. They have hills over there. Long ones, like East Keith Road:
The kind of nasty hill that, when it seems like you’re reaching the summit, you haven’t. There’s another peak beyond the crest, and maybe another. North Van has a few of those nasties, like Lonsdale, which discourage people from thinking a bike could be a practical way to get around. Even the young and the fit avoid these challenges on their commutes.
Yours for a thousand – except for this:
It’s like the vaccine; most people want them now, no excuses. And when I started to look around, I realized how many e-bikes were already on the road, notably in the hands of an older demographic, like me, not just the kids who ride hell-bent down the mountain-bike trails of the North Shore.
Which also means that cities need to be literally paving the way. Fortunately, the City of North Vancouver has been developing bike infrastructure, and more is planned, as we’ll see shortly. But the e-bike revolution presents a new set of challenges, two in particular: sheer volume and differential speeds.
At the moment, it can take up to a year to get some kinds of bikes. But when even in The Netherlands, two-thirds of bike sales are electric-assist, you know those factories in Taiwan will be working overtime. In the coming post-pandemic year, that tsunami of e-bikes may well wash over us.
When you can already pick up an e-bike at the foot of an escalator in London Drugs, it may not be all that long before electric-assist will be built right in to the standard bicycle, and you’ll have to pay extra to get one without that’s targeted to athletes.
As more people take to e-cycling, while they may not get as much intense exercise as they would with a conventional bike, they do cycle more and go longer distances. They tackle Keith Road. They appear increasingly in places where cycling numbers were small or non-existence. They crowd the popular routes, like the Spirit Trail.
And they move at speeds more typical of small motorized vehicles – 15 kmh and more. That means on some routes there will be a need for a passing lane. Think Beach Avenue (right).
And of course, e-scooters – for which the City of North Van will be one of six municipalities authorized by the Province to test them out on roads. They’ll be accompanied by what will likely be a host of e-assisted commercial vehicles – cargo bikes especially. Already home food deliveries are primarily on e-bikes, and are morphing into designs that don’t quite fit into any one category.
Expect there will be more calls for licensing, speed limits, enforcement and just generally more complaints. Except one:
‘Why spend any money on bikeways? No one will use them in our hilly city.’