Taking on the Bad E-Bike Takes

How to spot a bad-faith e-bike story.

2 minute read

August 10, 2023, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Rear view of man riding electric bike wearing business suit with large leather messenger bag slung across his back

Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

In an article in Streetsblog, Kea Wilson describes four common tropes used in news articles to denigrate e-bikes in what Wilson calls “a rapidly-emerging genre: the Bad E-Bike Article.”

The first trope—no doubt familiar to all cyclists—is victim-blaming. Using a series of New York Times articles by Matt Richtel as an example, Wilson notes how Richtel blames the death of a 15-year-old boy on the fact that he was riding an e-bike, rather than examining the role of the driver or the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit on the street.

“Notably, his reporting also doesn't include any information about whether or not the driver was cited; the design, speed, or weight of the work van that motorist drove; the actual rates of e-bike "accidents" in the town where Champlain Kingman was killed, which Richtel claims are "on the rise"; or even whether those rates are explained by the rising popularity of the vehicles themselves or how drivers behave around them.”

The other “bad e-bike” tropes: “Spreading myths about modified e-bikes,” “Conflating unsafe teen drivers with unsafe teen cyclists,” and “Ignoring all the good e-bikes can do.” For Wilson, “Perhaps the worst thing about the Richtel series, though, is what's not in it: any mention of all the good that e-bikes are already doing for the world.”

E-bikes may have their issues. But “The frank truth is that, of all of the dangers the Times attributes to e-bikes — grisly crashes, lawless vehicle owners modifying their rides to be more deadly, lives abruptly stolen from children and teens — car drivers and the auto-centric systems that surround them are overwhelmingly more likely to be the culprit, as evidenced by the fact that nearly every crash mentioned across the four stories involves a driver.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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