Be wary of car brands infiltrating the bike industry

So far, just an overpriced standard EMTB. But be wary of speed restrictions.

Car companies. They’re the bad guys who eliminated urban cycling in the UK and elsewhere. They brought us the joy that is one giant SUV after another on our narrow roads; originally built for bicycles, narrow vans and the odd truck. Now they want into the e-bike industry as well. Haven’t they done enough damage?

To be fair to them, there are a couple of potential benefits they can bring to the cycling industry. But before I get to that, I want to run through the obvious downsides.

High tech solutions to questions no-one asked

They’ll try to advocate for cars and bikes coexisting without infrastructure, and push overly complicated technology for bikes and cars to talk to each other. Just as momentum starts to build for bans on private cars in urban areas, they’d love to set us back and seduce neoliberal lawmakers (who eat this kind of stuff up) with plans to make cars and bikes work together by leveraging new technology. Why do the obvious thing of getting rid of the cars and having all that glorious space and clean air, when we can have cars and bikes that talk to each other and traffic lights to avoid collisions? It’s not as if we could use our eyes and ears to see bikes and pedestrians coming or anything.

Speed

They’ll try to increase speeds in e-bike regulations from 25kph to make them more like small motorcycles. This is a big one. Car companies are supposedly about speed and efficiency, so of course they won’t be able to resist lobbying their mates in power for higher e-bike speeds; and they may well think why not get rid of the pedals too while we’re at it? Never mind that you get stuck in traffic and passed by people on bikes gliding along to their destinations before you.

Greenwashing

They’ll try to use cycling to greenwash their businesses so they can phase out fossil cars or privately owned EVs later. Clearly, the car industry loves a bit of greenwashing. Manufacturers often promote hybrids while giving the impression that they’re better than EVs because you don’t have to plug them in. Just ignore the fact that you still have to fill them with explosive fossil juice. Or they make a car that powers the wheels like an EV, except the only way to charge it is with a tank of petrol. Seriously. Nissan calls that e-Power.

Presumably the next logical step would be to distract people with some e-bikes to make you look really green. But of course if you want to travel further than e-bike range, you’ll still want that aforementioned giant fossil powered SUV. Ok, maybe I’ll be charitable and say it’s a hybrid by 2025 when the world’s melting.

Survival

As a desperation move, I could imagine a car company or two buying a bike company and rebranding it in a last ditch effort to turn around their flagging fortunes when private car sales drop off a cliff. Or, alternatively, I could see it in the case of a manufacturer that gets caught particularly flat-footed during the EV transition. A rapid pivot to Micromobility might be the only play left to save the company.

The Positive(s)?

I did promise some positives, so here they are. Or here’s one anyway. All I could come up with. The car industry will bring a new perspective and prioritise vehicle grade components that last for urban journeys. Especially for cargo bikes, trikes and quads. But, the thing is that you can get a new perspective without resorting to embracing the car industry. Almost anyone from any industry can come in with a fresh vision of what bikes should be (anything without a derailleur would be a start). It’s not worth the risk of the automotive sector wrecking the bike industry. And I’m not saying that as someone who thinks much of the bike business. I’m very much of the opinion that it requires a massive shake up.

So… I guess that makes zero positives actually…

Before I write them off entirely, I should mention that this is assuming the current neoliberal system stays as it is. The system which of course will kill us all in due course if it does. However, if / when we do nationalise the car industry under a new economic system, it becomes a whole new ball game. You would have the engineering expertise of the auto industry but without the profit motive. In that case, you could repurpose their vast factories to make cargo bikes at record pace, and you wouldn’t have to worry about them lobbying for turning e-bikes into small motorcycles, since there would be no one left to lobby. The government (and the people) would be running the show.

So technically there was one positive in the end; but it probably won’t be a possibility any time soon when you look at the state of our politics. For example, Penny Mordaunt says she will cut fuel tax in half if she becomes PM (sigh).

Yes, we really must ban private cars

Logically, every day that goes by where we do practically nothing to address our climate crisis, the more reasonable the idea of banning private cars (especially in urban areas) should become. But in reality, it doesn’t feel as if we’re making any progress in this regard. People generally aren’t warming to the idea, or at most are warming to it at a snail’s pace.

I’ve been watching Al Jazeera a lot recently. They seem to be the best of a bad bunch when it comes to international media outlets regarding the climate crisis; especially when it comes to climate related suffering in the Middle East and the general global south. They still talk about GDP and economic growth being a good thing. They talk about F1 and World Rally straight after stories of record droughts, sandstorms, famines and so on. But at least they always highlight inequality, human rights under threat, and other uncomfortable issues that other outlets shy away from.

They’re extremely good at documenting the dire state of our climate. But when it comes to solutions, it’s a very different story. I don’t really see much about solutions, and I see very little possibility of them suggesting anything other than mainstream favourites like renewable energy and electric vehicles. At least not in the near future. So if the best mainstream media outlet isn’t informing people about the real solutions, then what chance do we have of change?

You might be thinking something along the lines of “yeah, but that’s mainstream media. What about social media and YouTube in particular?” Well, I do agree that YouTube is where the progressive ideas are going to come from. But in my experience, progressive news and climate related channels are still pretty small when you consider where we are in the crisis with seemingly endless weather extremes every day. And when I comment on these channels about a private car ban, I don’t see a lot of positive feedback. I’m more likely to attract either a troll or someone who’s supposedly on my side but who can’t imagine life in urban areas without cars. By now, it shouldn’t be controversial to end the plague of cars in our urban areas, but it is. It’s extremely controversial; even in places which could easily be cycled by unfit people if most of the cars were gone.

We all saw that non-cyclists were riding bikes during the original spring 2020 lockdown. But it didn’t lead to permanent change because the establishment didn’t want it to. I’ve talked about this a lot. Some cities and countries did use it as an opportunity to change a little bit; but no one had the bravery to go the whole way and severely limit private car use. Even when it’s clearly the fastest and cheapest way to get people cycling and to slash emissions from the transport sector.

So what happens next? My best guess is that nothing will happen until maybe later this year. The coming summer heat records combined with food supply issues and energy prices going into the winter could cause a societal tipping point around the world. But it will need to be an apocalyptic blend to make humanity wake up and start doing things that make sense (like banning private cars). The crises we’ve accumulated so far have not been enough, despite being pretty terrible. The climate crisis, the war, covid, cost of living, monkeypox, avian flu etc.

While we are seeing the status quo starting to struggle, we’re not yet at the point where people begin questioning everything en masse. But this is only going one way. The resurgence of unions and the disabling of a large percentage of the global workforce with long covid show that the current exploitative system can’t keep going for much longer. The question is how much longer; and if we will still have time to act once it does fail. One thing is for sure; it won’t be any form of media that changes the course of humanity. I just don’t see any progressive outlet growing fast enough to even challenge mainstream media’s viewership before our various crises start dictating society’s direction.

The Car Industry Doesn’t Sell People F1 Cars. Why Does The Bike Industry Focus So Much On Selling Racing Bikes?

I generally hate the car industry. I’m sure it began with good intentions, but it has evolved to be so underhanded and evil that they no longer have the ability to think about the greater good.

I don’t hate it. But it should be a tiny percentage of the overall bike industry.

But even I have to admit that the car industry does a couple of things right. And one of them is that they sell people cars that have practical uses. They don’t focus their entire industry on selling people sports cars when they need family cars. That’s obvious, you might say. And I would agree. But then walk into any standard British bike shop and look at what they sell.

95% or more of what they sell is the equivalent of car dealerships selling sports cars. The sports part of cycling is totally dominant in this country and most others around the world.

I get that when urban designers first began trying to push out the bike from towns and cities, bike shops probably were trying to fight back and sell bikes for daily use. But they must have realised it wasn’t going to keep them in business and switched to the now standard road and mountain bike sectors. But the real issue I have now is that times are clearly changing. People are realising the mistakes (to put it politely) of the past and that cycling is the key to our sustainable future.

But almost nothing is changing. The bike shops aren’t pushing in that direction. They’re just happy for cycling to continue being this tiny niche of selling leisure toys to mostly wealthy middle-aged white men, so they can keep driving their SUV to the hills or the trails to enjoy their hobby. No need to do anything about our car-ravaged towns and cities. No need to integrate bicycles into the public transport system. No need to build proper infrastructure or secure parking. No need to restrict car use whatsoever.

A great example of the problem is the YouTube channel EMBN (Electric Mountain Bike Network). It’s part of the GCN group of channels under the umbrella of Play Sports Network. It’s the only channel in the group to focus on e-Bikes. But 99% of the time they’re only talking about electric mountain bikes. There is no dedicated channel for urban e-Bikes. Just the occasional feature on the racing focused GCN. And even then, most e-Bike content is regarding electric road or gravel models. Not surprising for a British based channel, but they broadcast to the world and are very influential, which is a big problem.

Cycling is a sport. But like motorsport, it’s a form of transportation first and a sport second. And it’s about time the cycling industry got it the right way round. Our future on this planet is dependant on it.