New York’s Bike Revolution Goes Electric

Stuck to the wall in my Brooklyn flat is a short piece of writing by Henry Miller. It’s called “My best friend” and it’s about the writers’ love affair with bikes.

When he was a teen, Miller explains, his mother would fume at him for leaving oil stains on the stone of the walkway as he scrubbed the bike’s spokes clean.

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image via Shutterstock

“I’m surprised you don’t take that thing to bed with you,” she would say.

“I would if I had a decent room and a big enough bed,” he replied.

While I cannot recall ever letting my bike into the sack with me, I understand the sentiment. The world looks different from a bike. Riding into New York early morning when the cycle paths over the grand arc of the Manhattan Bridge are nearly empty and the downtown hovers below you, there is a rare sense of space and solitude. Of course you’re not quite alone up there.

According to the New York bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, in 2009 roughly 236,000 New Yorkers said they rode their bikes daily.  This figure was up 28 percent from the year before.

This change has occurred in the last decade helped in part by a sympathetic administration. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made the creation of more cycle paths in the city a priority. In his State of the City address delivered at the start of the year, Mayor Bloomberg said this year his administration will add more dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian islands, usher in the largest bike share program in the U.S. and increase the number of 20 mph zones for schools.

Among New Yorkers support for cycling is overwhelming. A poll by the Bloomberg administration found 78 percent of people back cycle paths.

Alongside this quiet revolution is another: More and more New Yorkers are buying electric bikes.

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image via Greenpath

Damon Victor, who owns Greenpath electric bike company in Brooklyn, said that in the first four months of this year his sales had already reached the total for the whole of last year.

“I think there’s a lot of people who are sick of sitting in traffic or a crammed subway train,” Victor said. “They like the freedom that these things offer.”

Unlike regular cyclists who often commute by bike, electric users don’t usually ride to the office. This, says Victor, is because of the demographic of the riders.

“Most of my customers are over 50 and upper-middle class,” he said. “They want something for a leisurely runaround in their own neighborhoods. They don’t want to risk the stress of weaving through rush hour traffic.”

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.