Cycling enthusiasts have set themselves against it for many years, believing the bicycle to be one of the greatest engineering achievements of mankind, and immune to the electrification virus.
When in the early ‘90s one of the first ExtraEnergy Tests was printed in Radfahren, then the membership magazine of the ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club), a tidal wave of letters flooded in from indignant readers, accusing the author (who is also the writer of this article), of sacrilege: how could he even think of writing about ‘motor bikes’, especially in a magazine which held as its holy grail the ‘velocipede’, propelled by muscle power alone?
For many cyclists, even the thought of motorized assistance on a bicycle was an affront. It was especially unimaginable for many politically engaged and organized cyclists even just to try a pedelec. It was all part of the self image and worldview to every day push a beloved bicycle uphill, or get up a good sweat, in a near-religious self-abasement – a sort of penance for a cleaner environment, to honour creation and following generations.
Yet any analysis of development trends over the last 100 years shows a strong and unmistakeable trend towards electrification, which in the last 30 years has transformed into the sharper form of electronification. The cycle industry has long seemed immune, but by 2010 at the latest one can say that the bicycle has, as one of the last mechanical objects in our lives, been infected with the virus of electronification, and it is now incurably infected. The purely mechanical bike will, believes ExtraEnergy, in future survive only in specialist niches, and otherwise it will be replaced by electrified bikes.
The process has already occurred similarly for other mechanical objects. Today, these have become fossilised as cult objects or decorative items. Examples of such near-extinct categories include the washing mangle, the mechanical typewriter, the mechanical telephone, the mechanical car, mechanical cameras or vinyl records.
I hear “That’s a shame” in reaction, but do we really miss these objects in everyday life? Of course it’s cool to put a vinyl LP on the record deck and listen to the analogue music with all of its hiss and crackles – but in reality, this product has been completely replaced by the ‘bits and bytes’ of an MP3 file. You only really listen to records in a fit of nostalgia while you digitise them.
Should you have attempted to explain to a record player dealer in the ‘80s of the last century how things would develop, he would have declared you completely mad and gone back to his vinyl. It’s a similar story today for many cycle manufacturers and dealers, who still don’t want to fully accept that the mechanical bike has no chance at all of recovery from the virus of electronification, and its only chance is via resurrection through reinvention.
The mechanical bike is dead, long live the pedelec!
Symptoms of the electronification virus
A) The virus is highly contagious, meaning there are many customers for the electronified product. The propagation rate of customers may suddenly increase during the course of the infection thanks to newly developed functionality and hence new applications. (Factor 3 to 30).
B) Infected customers will happily pay to be supplied with the electronified version of the product. The many extra functions are the trigger. Prices rise by Factor 3 to 4.
C) Products in a new category often have a radically reduced lifespan, which has negative ecological consequences. As new technological opportunities appear, the products age ever faster and customers get upgrade fever ever more frequently. The EnergyBus Standard could offer some relief here: for the health of customers and of the environment, even if many manufacturers would rather just supply everything new. See:
>> `Best Practice’: one plug for all
Copy and picture: Hannes Neupert, prepared within the EU GoPedelec! project: GoPedelec! Handbook (German version)
>> Go Pedelec! Handbook in Czech, Dutch, English, Hungarian, and Italian
Translation: Peter Eland (www.electricbikemag.co.uk)
Online release: Angela Budde
15 December 2012