I am an avid user of social bike systems wherever I go. These are bikes available for shared public use for a small fee. In New York, it’s Citibike; in Montreal, Bixi; in Paris, Velib. And I’ve used systems in Helsinki, Boise, Berlin, Toronto, London (in the UK) and I’m forgetting where else. In many of the systems there’s a choice between non-electric bikes and electric-assist bikes. The latter involves a slightly higher fee. I choose non-electric the vast majority of the time. Despite that choice, lately I’ve noticed that my mind chafes at the usual way in which people refer to the two different types of bike-one as “normal” and the other as “electric.”
As I’ve become sensitized to all the judgemental implications of the word “normal,” I am uncomfortable with that designation, even for the bike. I see in myself how when I use that word to describe my choice, I am slighting the electric. (Yes, there are many good reasons to choose e-bikes and my fellow bloggers have talked about their choices, including: Elan here, Sam B here and Bettina here. They make great points about the virtues and benefits.)
Despite which, when I choose an electric bike, I am often saying something like this to myself: “I’m so tired. I don’t have enough energy for a normal bike.” Or, “I’m late. I’ll make this compromise to be on time.” Both of these could be as anodyne as discerning what I need, or even just want. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, most of the time the comments are tinged with judgement and self-criticism.
Then, the other day, while riding an electric bike (by which I mean electric-assist), when I started to hear that critical voice in my head, suddenly a new supportive voice piped up, “Not normal, acoustic.” The voice emphasized her point with a forceful strum of a chord on her acoustic guitar. Oh yes, the voices in my head are often kitted out with props.
I considered the implications of this linguistic possibility.
Acoustic bikes are the ones that rely completely on my physical power, on my body and where it’s at that day. I know that wherever I go, whatever hill I climb, it’s all Mina-powered. Acoustic days are ones on which I’m tuning into to my own strength…