05 May 2017

Bikes Will Eat Cars

Bikes will eat cars.

No, I am not using, uh, herbal remedies for non-medicinal purposes.  I haven't done that or used any other illicit substances in so long that I'm covered by the statute of limitations. (That is one thing to look forward to as you get older!)  In fact, the four words that opened this post aren't even mine.

They were uttered by Horace Dediu.  Who is he?, you ask.

I confess:  I didn't know who he is until I came across an article in, of all places, CNN Money.  There, he is described as a "prominent analyst of disruptive technologies."  That title alone makes him sound like he has an IQ that's even higher than my weight (in pounds, which is saying something!)

The way he sees it, bikes have all sorts of advantages over cars.  We are already familiar with some of them:  They're a lot easier to park and store, they cost less both to buy and maintain, and in many large cities, it's possible to get from point A to point B in less time one a bike than in a car, bus or, sometimes, even by rail.  

He also sees other advantages, which have only become apparent with the growth of bike-share programs.  One is, of course, the fact that bike share programs are relatively easy for cities to implement.  But another has to do with the sensors found in the bikes of some share programs.  At the moment, they're used to track the location of bikes so that they can be retrieved, especially in the newer programs that don't use ports or docks.  They also, of course, make it more difficult to steal the bikes.

Horace Dediu:  "Bikes will eat cars."

But the way Dediu sees it, that technology could develop into cameras that are placed in the bikes.  They, and other kinds of sensors, could record potholes and other real-time information that could be transmitted to city authorities.  They could even provide data on traffic and other street activity that could make Google Street View seem as antiquated as maps inked on parchment.

If you were to tell your non-cycling acquaintances what I've recounted, they'd object that bikes won't displace, much less "eat", cars for the same reasons they don't ride:  They're afraid of traffic, road conditions are bad and, oh, what do you do when it rains or snows?

Dediu has thought about those objections.  To address them, he describes the way infrastructure evolved around the automobile.  When the first motorized cars were created, there were far fewer paved roads, even in the most developed areas, and even the best roads were pretty rough.  Also, early cars were open-air.  It only took a generation or so for the landscape to be transformed by the infrastructure created for automobiles--which, by that time, were enclosed.

He sees a similar "evolution" for bicycles.  He thinks shells or other enclosures will become widespread, and that cities and other jurisdictions will develop bike lanes and other thoroughfares specifically for cyclists.

Finally, I must point out that when he says "bicycle", he isn't talking only about the kinds we pedal. He believes that electric bikes will also be part of the change he envisions.  Evidence for that, he explains, can be seen not only in the "explosive" growth in sales of e-bikes, but also in the fact that a few cities are introducing e-bikes to their share programs.  Some people who would be hesitant about trading their cars for pedaled bicycles could be enticed to ride e-bikes.  Also, the advantage in speed the bicycle offers in cities like New York could spread to areas further from urban centers.

One other obstacle--which, according to Dediu, must and will be overcome--to bikes displacing cars is the lack of availability of share bikes.  New York and San Francisco have the largest bike share programs in the US, at 12,000 and 7,000 bikes, respectively.  On the other hand, Beijing has 650,000 share bikes, all of which have hit that city's streets within the past nine months.

Horace Dediu says "Bikes will eat cars."  Whatever wastes they emit after their repast can't be nearly as toxic as what vehicles with internal combustion engines belch into the air we breathe!


  1. For two weeks yellow paint circled a small pothole in front of my home. Yesterday I returned home and it was miraculously repaired. marvelous, but what about the two dozen or so which can be clearly seen from where they had unloaded all the equipment to fill that one hole!?

    No wonder so many ride off road full suspension bikes on the roads...

  2. World population is now north of 7 billion. Imagine a million people standing in one place. Now multiply that image by 7000. It seems all 7 billion want an SUV, 2.8 children and a three bedroom brick rancher in the burbs. You don't need to be Nils Bohr to figure out that that just isn't going to happen, no matter how much technology you throw at it. The bicycle is an elegant 19th century solution to a lot of 21st century problems.

  3. Coline--If I circed a pothole with paint in my neighborhood, someone might think it's art. Or graffiti.

    Phillip--"The bicycle is an elegant 19th century solution to a lot of 21st century problems." You expression of that idea is elegant.