San Francisco’s geography is less than 50 sq. miles and about half of that is filled with hills which can make getting to destinations difficult by bicycle. You are very limited in the ways you can go around by bike and communities are separated by hills and pockets of seedy areas. Our public transit system is fairly unreliable. People are practically forced to own cars due to the lack of quality and reliable alternative means of transport which makes our city less livable. Our population has been growing at 1% a year (that’s 8,000 people per year) and 40K new housing units are needed in SF over the next 5-10 years. Will we be able to accommodate all the new drivers in the streets of SF when space is already limited and the streets already congested? We live in the greenest city with the most progressives in the country and it is unfortunate that we are not as far along in getting off our dependence on cars. We should all be getting out of our cars and riding our bikes whenever we can, if not walking or taking transit, but we still have quite a way to go in addressing the things that keep us from doing so.
We have a prediction though. While it is unclear if San Francisco will actually reach its goal of 20% of trips made by bicycle by 2020, we see that biking in SF is only going to become truly mainstream if we can find a way to get all those people who live on hills to bike. Perhaps the infrastructure will eventually take care of itself, perhaps attitudes about biking will get better, but the hills will always be there. Getting all the people who live on those hills to bike would be like, well… moving mountains.
But leave it to tech savvy San Franciscans to find a high tech solution. E-bikes are bikes which are assisted by electricity and they give you a boost while riding. While e-bikes were not invented here, we can see the folks of San Francisco quickly appreciating their virtues. Most of all, they making biking up hills practically effortless.
E-bikes have been around for some time now, but the models on the market today are better than they were years ago. They are pricey (prices can range from $1,500 all the way to $4,000+), but we believe that over time, owning an e-bike could prove to be advantageous and worth the money. Gas prices will continue to rise and available car parking in the city is increasingly becoming more limited with the few spots that are left ferociously competed for. Owning a car will become less convenient for trips within the city. Bike infrastructure is also improving, albeit slowly, but any improvement will make riding bikes easier and that helps e-bike owners capture more utility for their investment.
We aren’t completely sure this is what will happen. But we predict that if mainstream adoption of bicycling is going to happen, it will happen with the e-bike. Here is a great article on “the future of city travel” by Momentum magazine.
Of course, the other factors have to fall into place to create a tipping point but at this point we are hopeful.
SF is one of the most scenic cities in the world and us cyclists are missing out on experiencing many of its beautiful gems by bicycle because they are up in the hills. We cannot reach them unless we have thighs of steel. But say no more. With e-bikes we can experience them whenever we like. So, let’s e-bike!
Below are some of the amazing things you can see if you can get up those hills and the experience is so much better when you are outside on a bike than in the steel cage of a car.
Here are some of the e-bikes that are currently on the market except for Farady Porteur which is launching in a couple of months. There is an e-bike for everybody, I mean literally for everybody.
Faraday Porteur is a classic designed e-bike for the well-dressed. It is light weight for an e-bike at 39 lbs. (17.7 kg) and has an 8 speed hub with a 195 Wh battery that can give you a 15-20 miles (24-32 km) range. This one is made right here in the SF Bay Area.
The counterpart of the classic Farady Porteur is this futuristic-looking Smart e-bike. It has a powerful Lithium ion battery of 423 Wh which means you can get up to 62 miles (100 km). It uses a carbon belt drive that reduces maintenance.
Italwin Prestige Elite step-thru for the ladies with dresses or not. It comes in an aluminum frame with 7 speed gears, powered by a 200 W motor and an assisted range of 37 miles (60 km).
If you like the Italwin design and you are a guy, here’s one for you called Eagle Elite with similar specs as the Prestige Elite.
What about a beach cruiser? Yes, there is such a thing as a cruiser with a battery. It is called a Cruiser Lithium from Italwin.
From the land of cargo bikes, Copenhagen, Denmark, TrioBike Mono E (also comes with more cargo space in the Boxter E model). Mono E has a 250 W motor, disc brakes, 7 speed, and a riding range of up to 56 miles. The nice thing about it is that it comes in almost 1,300 color combinations from the seats in the cargo to the seat on the trioBike.
If you are a beginner or want a fitness bike, here is the Cannondale Quick 3. With Cytronex technology, 1.5 hours of charge will help you go 20 miles (32 km). It is simply a hybrid bike with 18 speeds and you can use the assisted power if you want by just pressing the Boost button. Guess where is the battery located? If you answered the bottle, you are correct!
Above is mountain e-bike, GT Transeo 4.0 that has similar technology to the Cannondale Quick 3.
Okay, you ask me, “Why do road e-bikes even exist?” Maybe the rider wants to challenge a pro cyclist? This Cannondale Super Six has all the best components of a road bike (full carbon frame set, Dura Ace groupset, etc.) and comes in at 28 lbs (12.7 kg), the lightest e-bike around. Check out this fun video.
All the modern technology you can think of is packed in this transit commuter’s GoCycle G2R folding e-bike. The G2R has a fuel gauge on the handlebar, 3-speed electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, a riding distance of 40 miles (64 km), and a magnesium frame that makes this e-bike almost as light as any regular folding bike at 34.3 lbs (15.6 kg). For more info, watch this video.
If none of the above interests you because you prefer to electrify your own bike or just have an electric motored trailer (Ridekick) connected to the rear wheel, that is also possible. There is one full service e-bike shop located in the city (The New Wheel) that can help you with installation. So San Francisco, let’s e-bike!
About a month ago, we wrote a post about how the bikes in Copenhagen compare to bikes in San Francisco. We made the observation that Copenhagen has lots of Dutch style city bikes and quite a few cargo bikes. There are a number of “broke down bikes” too.
Why are there so many of these types of bikes there? Well, we can venture a guess. Dutch bikes are not only practical, but stylish too and Copenhagenites are certainly a fashionable bunch. Also, the city is very flat and easy to ride. The streets are safe for cyclists with some streets posting speed limits as low as 9 mph. That allows for easier usage of cargo bikes and therefore you can find lots of cargo bikes there (move over SUVs) transporting cargo and even small children. As for the “broke down bikes”- I am thinking that there are probably a few different reasons why they still ride such destitute contraptions, but the thing we want to point out is that the way the city accommodates cyclists enables people to safely ride even bikes which are not optimally functional.
You can get a sense of a city’s character and culture from bike watching. In San Francisco, due to the relatively poor cycling infrastructure, the ratio of men riding bikes to women is around 3:1. The men you see on bikes are generally young and fit and able to bravely navigate the rough streets. This also explains why road and hybrid bikes are popular. They allow for optimum performance and speed in a challenging environment with rough terrain. Trendy looking fixed gear bikes are popular with the younger set as well and there are quite a number of vintage road bikes from the 80’s. Occasionally, you’ll spot a folding bike from Dahon or Bike Friday (MUNI only allows folding bikes on their trains, BART doesn’t allow full sized bikes during rush hour) and some Dutch style city bikes such as those from PUBLIC and Linus. At this point in time, e-bikes are not very common, but we predict that for biking to become more widespread in SF, e-bikes will have to become the bike of choice for those people who live on top of SF’s famous steep hills and don’t want to break a sweat.
For those of you who enjoy people watching, you know firsthand that when you visit a new place you can expect the people there to look quite different. It doesn’t matter if the new city is across the ocean or just 400 miles south (ahem, Los Angeles), or even in another neighborhood (the Mission District vs. the Marina District). It isn’t just a racial thing, but also the way they dress, what they are generally doing as they pass, how they carry themselves and speak, and the facial expressions they wear that can be quite different. Even the smell can be distinctive (I’m thinking of Paris). Interestingly, despite the global market and the same bike brands being sold virtually everywhere, there also exists such a thing as bicycles of a certain place having a certain aesthetic.
For those of you who have not yet visited Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark and one of the two most bicycle friendly cities in the world, I’d like to ask you what you think the bicycles there would be like. I’ll tell you what I thought before I went back in the spring of 2011. I thought there would be, “Good looking and stylish people zipping around on equally good looking and stylish bikes.” Was I right?
Well, I was right about the good looking people part. As for the bikes, I was partially right. From what I observed, the bicycles of Copenhagen fall into four general categories (actually five if you count the bike share bicycles).
The first category does indeed include all their good looking bikes. Wow, there were beautiful bicycles there that I had never seen in my life that reflect the artistic expertise and eloquence of Danish designers. I’m thinking of the Avenue Cykler. I never knew such a bike could exist until I saw them in Copenhagen. They are not that common there but you do see them occasionally, and every time you do you have to stop and look and admire. That kind of bike would not last in San Francisco because if it doesn’t get stolen while locked somewhere, even with three U-locks, you will get held up at gun point while riding on it. It attracts way too much attention and is too noticeably expensive (and they are indeed expensive). It would be like bringing a unicorn into Satan’s lair- the horn is going to get cut off.
But, on the other hand, Copenhagen has some pretty broke down bikes too. They have bikes that are the equivalent of homeless people in SF. Derelict, rusted, dirty, hanging out on corners, and just hanging on. I have never seen so many rusted bikes in my life. Copenhagen is a clean and well-maintained city, for sure, so those bikes must be the most hopeless looking things in their town. But I think people actually still use them anyway. I actually respect that they don’t feel a need to throw out the old and will try to use the bike until the day it collapses beneath them. Then there are ones which have tried to live a new life and are spray painted a single color from one end to the other, wheels and all. They actually come out having some artistic aesthetic when they do that.
The third category of bikes are the most common. They include your typical city bikes with step through frames. They have a basket in the front and fenders. They don’t stand out very much and are usually red or black in color. They are practical and easy for every day use and I suspect they were imported from the Dutch.
Another group of bikes you will observe in Copenhagen are the cargo bikes. I actually loved seeing those and they make for the cutest Kodak moments because they will often have an adorable Danish child sitting inside while mommy or daddy pedals them around. The children are usually alert and like to look around at the scenery, pointing at things and making commentary. Sometimes there is also a cute family dog riding inside with the tot like a pair of best friends. Just too cute. I don’t think grown ups outgrow riding in those cargo bikes from time to time because I witnessed a mobile bridal shower celebration taking place using one. The bride-to-be was riding in a cargo bike box with a bridal veil on her head while her friend, probably her bestie, pedaled her up and down the streets of Copenhagen. Her entourage of friends were riding on their own bikes beside them ringing their bells and cheering and people were cheering them on as they passed.
Finally, bike shares make up the last category and they are actually pretty awful in my opinion. It is hard to get one, they are in such short supply and if you leave yours on the side and look away for a minute, it will be gone. It seems the social agreement there is that you can just grab one when you see it no matter who might be claiming it. They are also huge. Danes are tall and so if you are a petite person like me, forget about trying to mount one. They are heavy like a mother******. I use that word because riding their bike shares will probably make you utter those curses. They are sometimes broke down too and start to resemble those hopeless rusted bikes, as you will see in the photos below.
So here is the run down on bikes in Copenhagen: Lots of typical city bikes and broke down bikes, occasional nice bikes better than you’d see anywhere in SF, a decent number of cargo bikes, and some clunky bike shares. I want to emphasize that most bikes there are ordinary or broke down but when you do see a nice bike, it is really, really high-end and well designed.
SF on the other hand, doesn’t currently have extreme high-design bikes like the Avenue Cykler. The closest are PUBLIC bikes and some others, but while they are nice, they are still not at that level. There will be a highly-designed Faraday electric bike coming out soon, which was designed by IDEO, but until then I have yet to see anything on the level of those in Copenhagen.
What I do see in SF along with PUBLIC bikes, are lots of colorful fixies, lots of mountain or hybrid bikes, lots of road bikes with spandex riders, some touring bikes with panniers, and a few city bikes. Interestingly, we don’t have many or any broke down bikes. And we certainly, at this point in time, don’t have any bike shares. We do have those Blazing Saddles rental bikes though and pedicabs if you include them. I do see an occasional cargo bike but I would like to see more of them. At events, I sometimes see man-tricycles which is my name for those three-wheeler adult bikes that usually have bumping hip-hop speakers on the back. I also see unicycles with riders who are very good at balancing on them and can even ride them up and down hills. I see tall bikes and I see Rock the Bike bikes. I see bikes that were made for Burning Man and shaped like a dragon or covered in colorful faux fur.
You know, SF bikes are pretty cool too in their own way. I like bikes in both Copenhagen and SF. It’s like that Jay-Z song that goes, “I love girls, girls, girls, all over the world…” except you replace “girls” with “bikes”.