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.

I love cycling, so why am I not doing it?

The only time I’ve ridden one of my three bikes in the last year was going to get my booster jab in mid December. Why? What’s wrong with me? Why would I have 3 bikes and not ride any of them? It sounds odd, but really I think it comes down to a mix of reasons that have just worn me down to where I’m at now.

Before covid, I was doing a relatively long ride once a week or so on a Monday or Tuesday. At that point I was working part time, and having those two extra days off a week was crucial to my mental health. It made working a pretty miserable, low paid job a lot more tolerable. But over time I was becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of car-light route options. Knowing that there was one somewhat enjoyable route to a location; and that taking any wrong turn would lead to stressful, fast moving traffic and the general feeling of being a second class citizen sucked so much of the fun out of these longer rides.

This wasn’t the first time I was feeling like this. I’ve had a couple of long breaks from cycling over the years. The first one was from about age 18 to 23, and then from 27 to 30. The first time was due to generalised anxiety disorder, and then the second 3 year gap was when I started a new job and I felt that I couldn’t cycle the 5 miles there because it wasn’t cycle friendly. I got a scooter for two years and then a car after that. Which brings me back to where I started doing those longer rides.

Looking back now on when my anxiety was the most incapacitating, I wonder how much of that time was attributable to what I now know about our unsustainable economic system, as well as that trapped feeling I had as a cyclist. Maybe subconsciously that played a big role in me feeling the way I did, but I couldn’t articulate it at the time. Maybe I knew that this society wasn’t made for people like me. When it came to the decision to buy a scooter and later drive a car, I was definitely very aware by that point that people like me who wanted empty roads and everyone cycling weren’t welcome here. Electric cars made me feel as if I wasn’t succumbing to society’s demand to drive, and that I was doing it on my terms. But I really wasn’t. I think it’s pretty clear that had I been living in a more accepting society rather than a closed minded one, I probably would have kept cycling all the way from childhood to now with no breaks. And my anxiety would have most likely been a lot more manageable too.

When covid came along, I felt a kind of relief at being locked down for months from April to June 2020 and being restricted to 30 minutes of exercise per day. It meant that I only had time to go from home to the seafront and back again to stay within the time limit. There was one route that allowed me to make it down there almost car free. It also allowed me to avoid the majority of pedestrians and other cyclists in addition to the few cars that were still driving around.

I continued in that pattern for a few months, occasionally trying some other local routes while the traffic levels were so low. When the full lockdown was prematurely eased, I went back to just riding that one route to the seafront. It became gradually less fun. The couple of busy roads I had to cross filled up again and took ages to cross, the noise returned, but it was still by far the best route to ride. I decided I wouldn’t go back to doing any long rides again until after the pandemic.

Then, the temporary covid bike lanes appeared in August and officially opened at the beginning of September, months after the full lockdown had ended. I decided to ride on those instead and change up my route. At first it was a novelty to have a whole car lane to myself going into town, but it wore off when I thought about how polluted it was with so many cars right next to me. I stopped using it even before it was removed at the end of November (just three months after being installed).

By that point, I had stopped riding long distances, seen drivers become more and more dangerous and anti-bike, experienced a (albeit fleeting and poorly executed) glimpse of what being given permanent dedicated space for cycling might feel like; and seen us return to business as usual while covid was still far from over. I started riding at night instead, but I couldn’t keep that up very long. I retreated from society even further and stopped leaving the house entirely.

Covid got worse and worse. All restrictions ended. The government became more and more openly absurd and anti-science. Scandal after scandal and yet they remained untouchable. No one in the mainstream challenged the anti-science stance that had seeped into the public psyche. Scientists who were doing that (such as Dr Deepti Gurdasani and others) were increasingly ignored and no longer able to get on major TV or radio. And that pretty much leads us to today. I still don’t want to go anywhere. I still don’t feel safe anywhere in public covid wise. I still have no intention of taking public transport anywhere.

Every day I just have this ridiculous hope that maybe soon we will come to our senses as a society and force the end of car ownership, so we can have empty streets to ride again. In my mind, getting rid of cars has become the symbol of when our insanity stops as a species. But it doesn’t feel like anything is going to change any time soon. Only the climate crisis or another deadly Delta-like covid variant have the potential to interrupt business as usual and maybe lead to lasting change to the benefit of cycling (and everything / everyone else sane left in this world). It doesn’t seem as if the current cost of living crisis is going to be enough to force any real change. People will just put up with it quietly, like the obedient little pawns in the economic game they are.

So I guess if I have to sum up why I’m not cycling, it comes down to lack of quiet bike routes, cars, psycho drivers, endless covid mishandling / corruption / stupidity, lack of infrastructure and my depression at the endless stupidity of our broken economic system. I think that covers it.

The cases are going down gradually at the moment according to the ONS / Zoe Covid Study, but they’re still remaining stubbornly very high compared to previous waves of the pandemic. Universal masking is a distant memory at this point, and the booster must be wearing off significantly by now.

I’m hoping that by the summer, things will have shifted significantly in a positive direction, and I’ll hopefully head back out on the bike again. I’m curious to know if I’m the only one who feels this way. There must be others out there who just feel so beaten down by all this shit.

What I would do tomorrow if I was in charge

After the last post where I talked about how much it feels like what we’re doing now is leading us straight to extinction; I thought I would indulge myself and come up with a list of things I would do immediately if I was in charge of the country (and assuming every other country was led by someone with exactly the same ideals). In the process show any doubters that I am in fact positive about the future. Just one where we make massive changes; rather than one where we waste precious time tinkering around the edges of our disastrous current system.

Rather than write a lot about each policy idea, I just want to simply lay out the basics of my plan, and perhaps go into more detail in future. Especially on topics I haven’t previously covered.

  • End capitalism
  • Nationalise all essential industries, and shut down all businesses that don’t bring a clear benefit to society.
  • Bring in a universal income so work is optional and only for the benefit of society as a whole; not for individual gain.
  • Ban all new and begin rapid phaseout of existing fossil fuel infrastructure
  • Implement the MEER Reflection Framework, Marine Cloud Brightening, Ocean Pasture Restoration, and other Geoengineering / solar radiation management techniques.
  • Tax the rich 99% (everyone lives the same way)
  • Ban all unsustainable building materials
  • Ban private cars for everyone except for those who couldn’t live without one today (disabled etc). Begin rapid phaseout of diesel taxis and the small number of private cars that will remain in favour of EVs.
  • End deforestation and give back vast areas of grazing land to nature.
  • Ban all cryptocurrencies, mining, NFTs etc.
  • Ban pesticides
  • Ban meat production
  • Ban all new road, airport, port, and other developments intended to increase trade and GDP.
  • Ban all new single family homes, luxury apartments and mansions, and begin the process of converting existing large homes into many tiny apartments or buildings for other societal purposes.
  • Ban landlords
  • Begin rapid phaseout of fossil fuelled vans, trucks etc. Aim to replace most vans with cargo bikes. Demand for vans and trucks will drop due to massively reduced consumption levels.
  • Ban private jets, super-yachts and all other privately owned luxury transport.
  • Ban second homes
  • Severely restrict flying. Mandate that people may only take one return flight per year, regardless of wealth. Only holidays, visiting family, moving overseas permitted. Business travel by air banned.
  • Mandate that ground transport must be used for all trips where the destination can be reached within about 24-36 hours. Air travel only when absolutely essential.
  • Immediately invest massively in public transport, bicycle parking, and begin the phaseout of diesel buses, coaches, trains.
  • Immediately begin phasing out plastic and mandating the use of reusable containers and schemes to return them to shops for reuse.

I could probably go on endlessly listing more and more things, but I think this covers a lot of bases. Imagine a real politician coming in day one and doing all of this. It would be incredible compared to everything we’re used to. But we shouldn’t forget that what I’m talking about here isn’t some crazy nonsense. What politicians do right now is pure insanity. What I’m proposing is entirely logical and urgently necessary. The people talking about net zero 2050 are the crazy ones.