Forget the e-bike, here’s a pretty logical alternative

Our guest writer Maarten Verkoren thinks it’s high time for a personal diatribe against the excesses of e-bikes.

In this speech I will take you through the battle for the bicycle path, reveal some disturbing side effects of e-bikes and advocate a surprising alternative that is more environmentally friendly, cheaper, easier to maintain and healthier than any electric bicycle.

As I write this, a fat bike is tearing past my window. Of course over the sidewalk and against the direction and with two ringleaders on it. The co-driver kicks over my green bin as he passes every week. Unfortunately for them, they go too fast and he kicks too late. They make a big smack, broken plastic pieces fly around and the boys are on the floor. Their knuckles and mouths are bleeding and their counterfeit Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags are also broken. My neighbor is cheering at the window while I give first aid. This is the street scene in 2022 and there is a lot that is wrong with this picture.

Kids on souped-up e-bikes

Why do children have to go to school on an ‘e-bike’ that looks more like an e-moped? Why not just bike? They must be in a remote school. But no, when asked they say they live less than two kilometers from school. Could there be something wrong with their legs? Their lungs? That also turns out not to be the case, because they also play football, they say. Why then pay their parents thousands of euros for their means of transport? Because we want to fit in, as with designer clothes, they admit.

The fact that children are not yet very capable of overseeing traffic situations is apparently not something their parents have thought of. Combine that with the fact that boys their age want to ride fast with their (often souped-up) ‘e-bike’ at all costs and you have an explosive combination. In busy shopping streets, intended for pedestrians, you regularly see them flying slaloming past the pedestrians, in Dark Knight style. The percentage of serious pedelec accidents rose from 4 percent to 22 percent in teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 over the past four years. And no, there is not (yet) a helmet requirement.

Tough men don't need e-bikes
A true proliferation of e-bikes creates dangerous situations with children (Image: Author)

Incidentally, it is not only children who increasingly cause e-bike excesses. More and more adults are also switching from real bicycles to e-bikes. There is even a real e-bike association. The advertising campaigns of e-bike brands loudly proclaim that e-bikes are better for the environment because people take the car less often and ensure that people become healthier if they cycle more. This ignores the fact that the production of the batteries puts an extra burden on the environment and that they are usually charged by gray electricity.

In addition, it appears that many people no longer really cycle, but increasingly use the e-bike as a kind of moped. There are several studies that show that many people actually lose their condition due to the switch to e-bikes. And that actually makes sense. René Wormhoudt (condition coach of the Dutch national team) recently said at a conference that he was also concerned about the poor condition of the young people.

Condition of e-bike riders is deteriorating

“According to the standard for healthy exercise, a young person must deliver about 125 watts per day for an hour on the bike, an adult 100 watts for half an hour and an older person 75 watts for half an hour. This is not a strenuous exercise, does not require sweat and is good for your health. That half hour of relaxed cycling is maintenance. The drawback of the electric bicycle is that you have to do your best to achieve the minimum effort of 100 watts. Tests show that many people with e-bikes do not achieve this, which causes their condition to deteriorate.” (source: Cyclists Union)

You will intuitively feel that cycling without support contributes more to your fitness and strength. Why? Close your eyes and imagine you are riding a bicycle. It’s autumn, it’s windy and raining hard and you’re starting to get tired. You want to go home and, despite the fatigue, turn it on for a while. You start to pant, sweat and get hot; a considerable effort.

You do not consciously choose to exercise, but you deliver a physical performance because your mind restrains your protesting muscles: your muscles have to work, there is no other option. This is exactly the type of effort that pushes you past your limits in the gym. And by doing this regularly, you improve your strength and condition, next time you can pedal a little longer and harder.

Of course it depends on which position you put it in, but the eye test reveals a lot. Few e-bikers reach the minimum effort of 100 watts. As an experienced cyclist, I often go on the cycle paths and I see a big difference. Many young people (and the elderly) hardly pedal, even when they go very fast. I’ve even seen youngsters on e-bikes sit with their feet on the handlebars as the pedals spin and they move forward hard. Overweight people have also embraced the e-bike en masse. Previously, they mainly traveled on mopeds or Cantas, but now also on e-bikes, preferably fat bikes, of course. And no, none of these carriages consume 100 watts. To illustrate the overlapping target groups, funnily enough you also see that students from wealthier backgrounds suddenly go to school in Canta’s.

Do they belong on the bike path?

No. The fact that souped-up e-bikes are officially not allowed on public roads is overlooked by many people. Unjustified, because the situation on the cycle paths is becoming more dangerous by the day. Every regular cyclist who paddles quietly and enjoys the weather and nature knows how annoying it is to be chased by an e-biker rider who is impatiently jingling behind you that he or she has to pass. Must, yes. Because that one word contains a lot. Being able to work hard equals having to work hard. And you as a regular cyclist are robbing them of their precious time by not giving way fast enough. Home five precious minutes earlier. Which are then wasted again by scrolling through endless TikTok or Instagram feeds. Which, incidentally, also happens while cycling. Five minutes for which these e-bike riders take all risks by overtaking like crazy on cycle paths or mixed bike-walking streets that are not intended for high speeds.

As a regular cyclist, try to stay zen when you hear that annoying ‘sonar’ from a VanMoof behind you. Only to be almost hit by another VanMoof coming out of a side street and angry that you’re not going fast enough. Then you have the VanMoofjes that are driven by posh teenagers, always accompanied by a step-shy shoulder-hanging buddy.

Those few kilometers that they cycle per day must of course really be done by e-bike. Otherwise they would have a hard time. In no case do they achieve the minimum effort of 125 watts for 1 hour. Wondering if they will also be cycling with a blanket over their legs next winter, just like on their scooters.

The alternative? A real bike!

Leaving aside all excesses, which carriage is the best choice for you as a tough man who keeps up with the times? The alternative is so obvious that it is simply overlooked. How about a real bike? Would there be no more hip bikes? Innovation has not stood still in that area either and the latest models prove to be extremely popular and are always sold out. With only 100 watts you can also cycle quite fast on a real bicycle, according to measurements.

“A fit adult or young person does not need to purchase an electric bicycle for a speed of between twenty and twenty-five kilometers per hour. With a normal, good sports bike and a healthy, moderate effort you can also reach that speed. So if you are considering purchasing an electric bicycle because a normal bicycle pedals so heavily, also take a look at a faster regular bicycle. In any case, much cheaper and less vulnerable,” says the Cyclists’ Union.

After letting all these considerations and tests sink in, I tried out a normal e-bike from a friend. This Batavus had different positions, but with none of them I had the feeling that I had to make an effort. Then I tested the VanMoof of another acquaintance. Not for me, I don’t think it’s a bike. A tour of the fields at VanMoofs owners therefore results in a flood of complaints: warped brake discs, rusting bearings, squeaking brakes, blocking kicklocks and brake pistons, peeling paint.

Tough men don't need e-bikes
The ultimate tip for every tough man! (Image: Gazelle)

For comparison with these e-bikes, I try out Gazelle’s newest city bike, the Marco Polo Urban. This real bike is powered by muscle power. Instead of a chain, the Marco Polo Urban is equipped with a belt that converts the wattage you pedal into whisper-quiet speed. I can easily catch up with e-bikers without panting. I do feel that I am exerting myself, but no more than with other real bikes. For less than half the price of a VanMoof, you get a maintenance-free, super-fast, lightweight bike that gives you everything you need. As far as I’m concerned, this is the ultimate tip for every tough man!

With the exception of medical reasons, as a tough Manners man you really don’t need an e-bike. Many e-bike variants use sidewalks and bike paths as racetracks, regularly putting themselves and other sidewalk and road users at risk. Where e-bikes started as support for the elderly, we are gradually shifting to a lighter variant of electric cars. Whether it concerns cargo bikes, fat bikes, VanMoof’s, Canta’s or other proliferation, it has little to do with bicycles. Their riders are in a hurry, think they have the right of way, don’t obey traffic rules and become lazier and less fit. I enjoy cycling against this trend: on a real bike, smiling and enjoying my surroundings. In the meantime I am also working on my condition unnoticed.

The Marco Polo Urban is available from €1,499.

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Forget the e-bike, here’s a perfectly logical alternative

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