Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Perils Of E-Bikes

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 27, 2024] ©2024

There is not a day – maybe even an hour – that goes by that I don’t feel grateful that there were no e-bikes when my sons were growing up.  If I close my eyes, I can easily superimpose an image of my daredevil older son driving as recklessly as the kids who zoom by my house daily.

Trying to research the four classifications of e-bikes and their various age and helmet requirements for this column left my head spinning.  

The helmet part was easy: just as with a regular bicycle, anyone under 17 has to wear one. 

It’s the age part that has me confused.  Apparently, you have to be 16 to ride an e-bike if your electric bike can reach speeds of 28 mph.

While I fully admit that I would be at a loss to identify one classification of e-bike from another, the kids who go tearing by my house are either waay under 16 or have seriously stunted growth.  I would personally put many of them in the 12-14-year-old range.  So presumably they are riding e-bikes that go slower than 28 miles per hour. Somehow it seems   they are going waaay faster. Maybe it's just my heart rate watching them.

My home is located on a heavily-trafficked corner with a four-way stop.  If the local gendarmes wanted to fill the city’s flagging coffers quickly, they could lurk in the bushes and ticket the 50% of drivers who roll right through these stop signs, and, if they could even catch them, the 25% who blast through them without stopping at all. 

As you might imagine, there’s a whole of screeching of tires and colorful language going on as vehicles barely miss t-boning each other. You could learn a lot of bad words living at our house.

If I were to be completely honest, I was cited myself for a rolling stop some years ago on Prospect Street coming home from a yoga class at 9 p.m.  I was all mellow and om-y and the street near Bishops School was deserted. So I will confess to not coming to a 100% full stop.  A policeman lurking in the shadows pulled out and gave me a ticket requiring traffic school which at that time one had to attend in person. 

My fellow scofflaws all had one thing in common:  We all felt we had been entrapped.  Even the young woman who was cited for using her Doberman in the front seat to qualify for the car pool lane.  The instructor explained to me that a sign that says “STOP” actually stands for “Slow To Observe Police” and I would be wise to remember this in the future.

Having lived in our home for decades, we’re used to the lack of adherence to stop signs.  It’s the more recent addition of kids – lots and lots of kids – on e-bikes that is truly terrifying us. It would give their parents a heart attack if they saw them.  In fact, it’s giving us a heart attack and they’re not even our kids.

If there were one addition I could add to e-bikes, it would be a camera that recorded the bike driver’s driving and went straight to their parents’ cell phones 

Most of the e-bike riders would seem to be middle schoolers, at least by appearance and behavior.  Having raised two sons, I am acutely aware of how limited judgment and even a modicum of common sense is in this age group. 

It’s not just that few of these kids are even slowing down at the stop signs.  It’s that they’re speeding up.  Making left hand turns across oncoming traffic.  Not wearing helmets.  Putting two - or even three - kids on one bike.  Drag racing each other down the middle of the street.  Doing wheelie contests.  Riding on sidewalks. Having no lights after dark.

As a walker, I’m terrified they’re going to run me down.  It would not improve my already decrepit state to have my cervical and lumbar vertebrae disconnected from each other. 

My husband, Olof, is a former motorcycle guy.  In his college years, he was the happy owner of both a BMW 650 and a two-stroke Puch, his source of transportation since he couldn’t afford a car in that era.  His mother always suspected that he just wanted an excuse to ride a motorcycle to which she was adamantly, passionately opposed. Olof gets a misty look in his eyes as he describes his relationship with those bikes.

But he had a license, helmet, and took a motorcycle safety course before acquiring them.  Even he shakes his head in disbelief as he watches how fast and recklessly some of the local kids are driving on what are essentially motor vehicles.  It does seem evident that few of these kids seem to think the stop signs apply to bikes.  But then, that might be because they don’t seem to apply to cars either. 



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