"Get a faster bike mate" - why I feel safer on an electric bike

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by Michael Tritt

I normally ride my 20km round trip commute on an electric bike, but recently switched back to my old push bike while the e-bike is getting some maintenance.

As I was slogging and perspiring my way up a hill this week, I felt the presence of a ute (translation for international readers: “pickup truck”) behind me.  I must have held the driver up for all of ten seconds, so switched into the right-hand lane to allow him past.

The act of magnanimity was clearly lost on him, as he bellowed out the window “get a faster bike mate”.   It occurred to me that I’ve never heard that phrase whilst riding my electric bike – because, unsurprisingly, it is a “faster bike”.

Instead of a slow slog up the hill, I’m cruising up at 25kph.  Instead of holding impatient drivers up for ten seconds, it’s only five seconds.  That is probably the difference between being bellowed at and not.

The difference between twenty seconds and ten seconds might be the driver attempting a stupid and dangerous overtaking manoeuvre.  None of this is excusable on the driver’s part, but this type of Neanderthal behaviour is all too common. 

The fundamental reason I feel safer on an electric bike is the speed difference between my bike and the other vehicles we try and share the road with. 

If you have to switch lanes with traffic going 40kph, it sure helps if you are able to travel at something close to that speed. 

If you have to take off from a standing start at a traffic light, getting out quickly and visibly in front of the cars is hugely preferable over the jostling for position that otherwise occurs. 

Don’t even get me started on roundabouts – when it’s “your turn” to enter the roundabout, the window of opportunity to execute can be small, even when you’re in a car.   On an electric bike that improved take-off speed makes all the difference.

Of course, the fundamental issue is that bicycles are forced to share road space with much heavier and faster vehicles.   The answer is simple – separate the traffic: lane(s) for vehicles going up to 50kph, a lane for bikes (and scooters) doing 20 – 35kph, and a footpath for everyone else.

Regrettably on my route (Dominion Road in Auckland) there are almost no cycle lanes.  Politicians had the opportunity to fix it a few years ago but they lacked the courage, instead designating a circuitous alternative cycle route that barely anybody uses.

The cities that have had the vision to put in cycle lanes – from Seville to Copenhagen to Vancouver – are seeing the results: people switching en-masse from driving to cheaper, more enjoyable and healthier cycling.

But it requires forward thinking, investing now to realise benefits years into the future.  We can only hope our decision makers will think further ahead than the ten second time horizon of the ute driver.

“Get a faster bike mate?”.  I will be doing just that, but meanwhile how about joining me in supporting more cycle lanes. Then we can all get where we are going, both quickly and safely.   

Michael Tritt is a Founder and Director of Electrify NZ. The opinions expressed are his own.  


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