Cyborgs in Our Midst!


Why and How E-assist makes sense to the Cyclist

Why it has been so confusing

Sounds like a movie doesn’t it? Before you start thinking I am talking about creatures of the Borg from Startrek or about human Cylon hybrids I need to do a little definition.

Cyborgs, as I use it here, are quite simply “Enhanced humans”, very unlike popularized science fiction versions. My broad definition is ‘a human body enhanced for its environment by technology to level the playing field or for repair of a damaged or sub-par component ‘.

It doesn’t necessarily mean a human has to replace an organ or have the enhancement installed within. The dictionary says electro-mechanical. I am just saying technology. But Pace Makers, Replacement joints, Insulin pumps, contacts, cataract lens replacement, and others certainly qualify. I might put something like amphetamines in there because cheats in sports are using that dis-allowed tech to level the playing field, from their perspective. But the use of technology is not in itself cheating. Clothing is one of the first wearable techs that humans used to conquer the full range of the planet that we couldn’t have naked. Shoes, makeup, wigs, false teeth, replacement limbs, and eyeglasses are all fully accepted by all to help level the playing field! ( Yes Ben Franklin and George Washington by my definition could be considered early cyborgs!) Driving a car or motorcycle, and powered flight does not make a cyborg. This is where I say ‘enhanced’ to ‘level the playing field’ comes from.

Bike Friday adds new playing field enhancements for its community of cyclists!
Electromechanical Enhancement from the perspective of a cycling bicycle lover.

Bike Friday is now making electric enhancement possible on all it travel bike, tandems, cargo bikes etc. Electric Assist has been a controversial subject because of major confusion about “Electric Bicycles”. Is it just an electric motorcycle, is it cheating, does it remove the magic of cycling under your own power, will my friends hate me! The answer comes from the fact that there are 3 distinct categories of ‘electric bicycles’. Electric motorbikes that skirt the law by having pedals even though they are not used any or much plus often go over the legal limits & have throttles, purpose-built motor-assisted bicycles that require the motor to be running to ride them, and electric enhanced bicycles that are designed as quality properly design bicycles for cyclists that have help available when needed, to climb, keep up, or go the distance to ride with others and go places you could not fully handle without some help. These last are built to ride and the electric system is minimized and stealth-ed. The bike rides well with or without it, it is quiet or silent when used, and it fits the definition of Cyborg that I give above.

I have thought long & hard on this. It took much introspection to come to the conclusion that powered bicycles of any kind could rightly be included in the legitimate tools of cyclists! You may have similar difficulties seeing its importance. Coming from an emancipation by bicycle in my early teens and being a physically powerful young idealist, cycling was pure.

The world fad of single speeds on campus is the current response of the young to the same drive I had. A few pounds (as few as possible!) of metal & rubber under you made for a perfect and unadulterated entry to the world. A world I could circumvent on my own terms with few resources and the ability to meet friendly people wherever they were and be welcomed. Two of my friends & I toured the state of North Dakota for 14 days by ourselves at the age of 16 on about $5 a day. This convinced me that Arriving by Bike was the best!

To my core, I have always felt the bicycle was one of the best inventions by humans. Fullers Ephemeralization demonstrated at its best. The poster child of elegance and energy efficiency. The shape of a fair and equitable world where everyone had enough and could take part in the largest of the world without a few haves and majority of have-nots. An understandable and human scale machine reflecting humans physical needs by giving immense emotional uplift while demonstrating non-violence. For me the Human Scale is prime.

“Make it as simple as possible. But no simpler”

This is one of my favorite quotes from Einstein. Certainly the mantra of those who understand and value the healthy and empowering perspective of Human Scale design. So how to apply human scale to Electric Enhancement for the cyclist?

How fast is Fast? How far between the horns of a Dilemma?

In one of my earlier blogs, I went through some examples of what is needed in wattage to enhance your cycling for different needs, speeds and distance. This little chart makes it simpler to see what I mean by enhancement. The wattage needed for a particular speed is the same whether you supply it all or you do it enhanced with some assist. What you will know from it is the level of this playing field we can cycling. In the middle column, you can find yourself if you know the approximate speed you know you tend to ride it. We do not naturally all have nearly the same amount of power available. We also can produce less as we get older. Sometimes we just want to keep up with others with faster natural talent. Cycling, after all, is best shared. If you want to ride with others at a little faster speed then subtract your wattage from theirs and that is what you need for an enhancement to ride with them at their speed. It is not cheating and there are no points. (OK some points for fitness!)

-This chart was really fun for me to do as it added a perspective that settled a discord in me from all my years racing before watt meters and modern cycling computers.
Wattage needed for you & bike on level
~Speed at this wattage
25 watts
6 mph
These speeds are all based on pavement & 25lb bike w/150 lb rider. 6 mph is about twice as fast as walking at half the wattage.
50 watts
9-10 mph
If you are currently fairly slow an extra 50-75 watts will allow you to ride 15 mph with more skilled & fit riders while you develop your fitness & stamina
75 watts
11-12 mph
Legal speeds for electric assist bicycles in Europe is about 15mph. Most of US it is 20mph. You don’t need 350, 500, 750, or 1000 watts for enhancement
100 watts
13-14 mph
Over about 13 mph air resistance becomes a much larger influence so position on the bike becomes more definitive of your speed
125 watts
14-16 mph
14-16 mph is typical of a strong fit sports cyclist. Now you can see why they don’t think an electric assist is necessary. This is a very effective speed.
150 watts
16-18 mph
Avg speeds in the world’s cities for motorized traffic is often under 15 mph! With E-enhancement this speed is easy to achieve, quicker than auto usually!
200 watts
18-20 mph
This is really way too fast for bikeways and over this speed is not safe for cyclists without race training. Stuff is just coming at you too fast to respond.
400 watts
29-31 mph
I put this here to compare with the worlds top cyclists doing the world hour record for bicycles!

So if you are into cycling for its magic benefits of being one with nature, health, the benign effect on the environment, and playing well with others. Or maybe you appreciate its Human scale economical transportation that is meditation in motion rather than road rage. If so then E-enhancement is as important to some as a bike that fits, good tires pumped up, having and knowing how to shift gears, having a comfortable saddle and good friends to ride with. After all we modern humans are no longer naked apes we are all Cyborgs!

Best in Cycling!
Alan Scholz
co-founder Bike Friday & Burley Design

Ephemeralization: A term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller, is the ability of technological advancement to do “more & more with less & less” (until eventually you can do everything with nothing), that is, an accelerating increase in the efficiency of achieving the same or more output (products, services, information, etc.) while requiring less input (effort, time, resources, etc.).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *