Category Archives: Micromobility

Cycling Project Update

I’m really feeling optimistic about this project! Previous posts here and here. I sat down yesterday with our local extension council community and economic development specialist. She’s very enthusiastic and solidly supportive of the project. We met for 45 minutes to discuss the vision of such a project, goals, tasks and a basic timeline. Will be meeting with her in a month. She suggested we attend a city council meeting and a county commissioners meeting to let them know what it is we’re cooking up. Will be doing that in February.

We’ve set a goal of having our first group ride in the spring and possibly also a first bicycle safety class. So, I’ll be working on those as well as assembling a list of local cycling enthusiasts as well as assembling our initial order of cycling safety literature and checking in with the free bicycle helmet programs. Possibly a table at our local spring festival, Azalea Festival. These are all the short term goals. Other short to mid-term goals would be initial installation of bike racks and initial installation of bike share-the-road signage.

Mid and long-term goals still in the picture too and include advocating for the adoption of Livable Streets guidelines at city and possibly county level as well. Also development of bike and walking paths at city lake.

Still early days but this is moving forward. Woot woot!

Fredericktown Cycling Project

I mentioned in a post recently that I’d emailed the administrator at the local health department to inquire about a possible cycling project. She seemed interested and invited me to attend a meeting for the “Healthy Aging” group which I did on Tuesday. The response was enthusiastic! I’ll be again with one of those attendees next Friday to discuss further.

I’m hoping to see some progress as we move into spring. I suspect that agencies such as these move much more slowly than I’m hoping for but we’ll see. Certainly funding for larger project infrastructure would be gotten through grants which would likely be longer term tasks in the 12 month range. But I think shorter term tasks and goals might be achieved more quickly. I suspect the county Extension might be involved on some level which would be excellent.

My guess, based on Tuesday’s meeting, is that the next step is just sitting down to further discuss the needs of the community and how project goals would fill those needs. Basically the first steps in setting the parameters of a project that will need funding. I’m eager to get started and looking forward to creating a list of goals, tasks and a timeline.

240 miles

Apparently I’m making up for lost time!

1/6: 20 miles
1/7: 19 miles
1/8: 21 miles
1/9: 6.5 miles (rain!)

So, that’s about 240 miles in the three weeks of having a bike again. That’s all pedal assisted, mostly in pedal assist mode 2, some 3. Average ride time in January is 69 minutes. I know this because I have a spreadsheet. I have a spreadsheet because I am a nerd.

Being on the bike has me remembering back to my cycling in Memphis and it’s every bit as fun as I remember. I’m happy that at 50 years old I want to be on the bike as much as I wanted to be on the bike when I was 28.

I’m feeling pretty good about my knees. No pain or discomfort after 3 weeks. The electric motor is doing most of the work but I pedal constantly and, based on my heart rate and the battery level after my rides, I’d estimate that I’m adding in between 30 and 40% of the energy moving the bike forward. It’s not 100% as it was before but that’s still significant. My heart rate is consistently averaging 135 bpm during my rides.

A last benefit to mention would be mental health. I can say with certainty that, simply put, cycling makes me a happier person which seems to contribute to an interest in the wellbeing of the people around me which is to say, more social.

As I write this I’ve been off the bike for two days due to rain. 4” of rain in one night and persistent drizzle over two days. That’s not to say I won’t ride in rain and e-bikes are okay in light rain and small puddles but I’m less likely to ride in those conditions if I don’t actually need to. Anyway, the next few days look good.

Madison County Cycling Proposal

A few days ago I started to wonder what a cycling program in Fredericktown might look like. What would be helpful in this setting and for the citizens in this county? I made a few mental notes and then sent an email to the director of a local county health agency who I know. Here’s what I sent with some edits to make it a better blog post:

I hope you are doing well in the new year! I’ve got a project idea that I wanted to mention as I think it might fit well here, possibly a larger cooperative project with the county or city. In recent weeks I’ve been cycling again. I cycled for 10 years in Memphis until a knee injury. With e-bikes it’s now possible for people with joint problems to cycle with less stress on the knees, it’s fantastic. Anyway, as I’ve been cycling again I’ve also been watching and reading more about community cycling as it relates to individual and community health. For example, here’s a TED talk regarding just one such example

The more I read and watch I’m impressed by the potential in increasing health and happiness for people. Being in a small town we actually have very safe cycling built in by virtue of the fact that most of our town roads are low traffic, slow and safe. This is the basis for a safe cycling environment and we already have it!

A few additions, elements of encouragement that might go a long way in increasing people’s interest and awareness in cycling for fun, health and transport:

  • A visible advocacy program
  • Bike racks around town
  • A marked route to City Lake and a walking/biking bath once there

These three would be a great start. The first two would be the least costly and easiest to get started I think. The last would be a fantastic addition to our community I think. It’s already fairly easy to cycle to city lake from town but there’s no path around the lake (that I’m aware of). That would be a fairly large investment/project but I think it would be an amazing asset to the community. A shame that we’re not currently taking advantage of such a nearby and beautiful lake.

More on YouTube…
Anything from this channel is very inspiring! Here’s one.

Many of these are about city planning for cycling which we don’t really need to do. But I think they’re worth watching just because they really underscore the overall feeling of walking/cycling towns. These people seem so happy and healthy!

A few more helpful YouTube links.

Aside from the health benefits of course is the financial savings of cycling as transportation. Bikes can be great fun but they’re also viable transport for getting places, shopping, etc. I lived for years without a car and in much of Europe that’s also the case. I’d think that, given the general poverty of Madison County, that many would stand to benefit from bikes as transport if it were encouraged.

I’d be interested in volunteering to help get a project like this started.

I’m not sure what, if anything, might happen as a result. I did hear back from her today and she seems interested and is going to discuss it with relevant local agency staff at a meeting next week that I’ll be attending. I’m sure I’ll post something about it again if something moves forward. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

Micromobility Defined

I’m really enjoying the Micromobility Podcast but certainly finding bits to disagree with.

Currently listening to episode 25, “The Case for Micromobility – A Recap Summary” and early on Dediu suggests that the definition of micromobility should not include bikes but only e-bikes. Huh? This seems silly. If we’re thinking about micromobility as defining a group of vehicles that are under a 500kg in weight1 and which are used to transport people why would bicycles not be included? The reason he gives in the podcast is that he’s defining micromobility as a new thing and bicycles are not new. But that seems problematic and unnecessarily arbitrary.

If the micromobility category of vehicles is to grow in importance in the transport of humans in the near and long-term future, that means that much else also changes. Most obviously, to get there it means actively changing public policy and infrastructure to better provide for the category. There’s no meaningful reason to exclude bicycles as they will certainly be an indiscernible part of the flow of this traffic category. At the moment the Wikipedia page for Micromobility currently lists bicycles. It may just be something Dediu said off the cuff and without thinking. But it is an important detail I think.

But looking at the first paragraphs of the Wikipedia page indicates a contradiction, emphasis mine:

Micromobility is a category of modes of transport that are provided by very light vehicles such as electric scooters, electric skateboards, shared bicycles and electric pedal assisted, pedelec, bicycles.

The primary condition for inclusion in the category is a gross vehicle weight of less than 500 kg. Additional conditions are the provision of a motor, primary utility use, and availability as a shared service.


  1. His definition regarding weight is loosely based on that being a cut-off below which even the smallest car cannot go. ↩︎

Dipping further into micromobility

I wrote a few days ago about rural cycling and micromobility and since then I’ve spent a bit of time reading and listening on the larger concept. Much of what I’ve come across thus far is focused on micromobility in the urban setting because that’s where it is most useful and where so many humans live.

Also, worth noting perhaps, is that my current primary source on the topic is Micromobility.io, the website and the podcast by Horace Dediu and Oliver Bruce. After perusing the site and listening to several podcast episodes this seems like an excellent resource on the topic though it does largely come from an interest in the business potential of micromobility which would be last on my list. His specific interest seems to be centered on the prospects of providing micromobility devices such as scooters and e-bikes as a ride-share platform such as Lime. I understand why Dediu takes the approach he does and it’s informative and very helpful and in a global economy with rampant capitalism it obviously has a place.

That said, I think coming at this from primarily a business interest sets it up with certain bias. In episode 41 of the podcast he specifically states at one point that he’s really only interested in micromobility devices as a service platform when he and co-host Oliver Bruce are discussing ownership as a utility product vs a rental services platform. At about 26:24 he states that “if the market is only utility I’m going to be out of it in a couple of years. Forget it. I’m done.” It’s possible I misunderstood that bit of the conversation but if correct I feel as though he’s going to be biased in his approach of the larger picture of the technology.

But really, I’m out of my depth in that I’m just a passerby who has stopped for a sip of water. Perhaps his is the best approach, a focus on micromobility as services built on apps with easy access is best. It certainly has a place in how people access the devices. But I tend to come at things from a concern for the planet and overall health. And certainly these concerns are addressed on both the podcast and the site, for example this post regarding micromobility and climate change.

In general I’m not a fan of capitalism and the idea that capitalism can or should or will be the primary force in solving the social ecological problems it has caused seems off. Surely it has a role to play and I’m not going to say that specific companies and services can’t have a positive role to play. It’s complicated. Our social and ecological problems are complicated. If there are companies that can make a profit via micromobility device sharing services which help address the problem of climate change then that’s certainly positive. But I see no reason to rule out an approach that allows for other forms of distribution and development of such devices.

Which brings me to another point. Along with the focus on micromobility as a service I’m also seeing a focus on urban environments. Again, maybe that makes sense from certain perspectives. But in doing just a bit of preliminary searching for rural micromobility I came across the Shared-Use mobility Center and in particular this article on Rural and Small Town Transportation:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a rural area is any area that is neither an urbanized area (50,000 or more people) nor an urban cluster (between 2,500 to 50,000 people). Currently, over 60 million (1 in 5) Americans live in such areas. Similarly, the term “small town” has a wide array of connotations, encompassing communities ranging from tiny village to sprawling suburb.

And so, I return to the topic of rural and even small town micromobility. I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the content published by Dediu and others but what is to be done outside of cities? It may only be 20% in the US but certainly a solution is still needed. I’ve only really pondered my own small town and rural setting which, like many in the U.S. is relatively poor. Certainly many who are in this small town could be served fairly well by e-bikes. I’d guess that many in small towns smaller and larger than this might also find great utility in having access to one or two Ebikes equipped for shopping or other utilitarian purposes.

And as I’ve pointed out in numerous recent posts documenting my current use of an e-bike for riding to town there is also potential for some rural residents to make use of such assistive devices. My six to eight mile ride to town allows for me to do most of the things I need to do when I go to town. I don’t know what the numbers are for rural residents living in a similar radius but certainly small towns and their associated 5 to 8 mile radius of residents is worth including in the discussion of micromobility even if such areas are not prime profit markets?

As the the article on Micromobility and climate change states,, most of trips are short and that’s where most emissions are. I’d guess that the numbers vary when one get’s into the specific settings such as urban, suburban and rural ares but perhaps not by much. In any case, the problem of poverty and carbon emissions exist in rural and small town areas as well as urban and I’d suggest that while it won’t be the only solution certainly micromobility has a role to play here.

I’m probably a bit sloppy in my thinking here. Or, perhaps more accurate, I’m showing my newness to an area of analysis that’s been pretty well developed in a very specific direction. I’m looking forward to learning more from Horace Dediu and Oliver Bruce as well as the others writing and being interviewed. I’ll also be looking at the thoughts of others coming at it from other, less profit-driven perspectives.

E-bike Ride Journal

I’m hoping to be doing several rides a week but many of them will be the same or a very similar route so I’m not sure how often I’ll post once it starts getting repetitive. But as an extension of my initial review when I do post notes about rides I’ll tag the post as Lectric Ride Journal.

And, here’s another!

Monday 12/23/2019
I got on the bike around 11:30, 50°F and sunny. Today’s rides include a trip to Scoops and then up to City Lake which is where Fredericktown gets it’s water. I’d never been but it’s a pretty lake and a nice ride.

6.4 miles to Scoops Coffeeshop, ride time about 18 minutes
2 miles to City lake
8.6 miles return to cabin via County Rd 211 then 217 for remainder
Ride time about 1 hour, 45 minutes

4 miles round trip to the “Slime Pond”
1 mile goofing off

22 miles total for the day

IMG_2243.jpeg

One of the many bridges in Madison County

I did the first ride of 17 miles in pedal assist 2 and a slower average speed of 12 mph. I ended the ride with about 70% of the battery remaining. That looks pretty good as far as getting a full 50 mile range. I used the throttle a few times to boost past a chasing dog but this route had some pretty big hills which the bike handled very well with help from me. In fact, one was quite large and steep and I breezed up it with just moderate effort.

I’m finding that by the time I’ve done 15 or so miles (90 to 105 minutes) I need a break for my rear end though I’m still wanting to ride. I’m really looking forward to the new seat. Would love to be able to do a 25 mile ride! I’ve also got my eyes on a better suspension seat post. Will wait to see how the new seat does with the current seat post.

This is the third day of riding in a row and still, no knee discomfort and I put in a good bit more of my own effort today. According to my Apple Watch my first ride resulted in about 400 active calories and 64 minutes of exercise on the green ring. Much more than the rides on Saturday and Sunday.

Lectric XP E-Bike Review

I mentioned the other day in my post on rural micromobility that I had ordered my first e-bike, the Lectric XP which is also the first bike I’ve owned since I sold my bikes in Memphis in 2000 after a knee injury made riding too painful.

A bit of context before I dig in to the experience of riding the Lectric. Up until 2000 I was a regular daily cyclist for recreation and commuting when I lived in Memphis. That was 100 miles a week and included rides to work, fun rides, grocery shopping and errands. Previous to living in Memphis I used a bike to do the same stuff while in college though at that time I didn’t do much recreational riding. It was all utilitarian but I rode almost everyday. In all, cycling had been a part of my daily life from 1989 till 2000. So, it’s been 19 years since I’ve done any regular riding on a bike. In the time since 2000 my primary exercise has been walking. Some years more than others. This past year I’ve averaged just above 11,000 steps, a bit over 4 miles a day. I weigh about 170lbs. I mention these things because it likely impacts my experience of the bike. For example, I’ll get better range on this than someone that weighs 240 and pedals less.

Lectric Sunset.jpeg

The Lectric arrived Friday at 2pm and I got busy unpacking. These are very well packed, no damage to the bike in shipping. They come assembled but with the handle bar folded down and the center frame also folded. I put the key in and released the battery which I took inside to warm up before charging. For best battery health don’t charge in the cold or extreme heat. A good rule of thumb is to charge at room temperature, give or take 10 degrees. The green light finally went on at 7 pm and I took my first ride! Just a quick three miles which was mostly gravel and a little pavement.

Riding Journal

Saturday
A beautiful sunny day. I got on the bike around 10:40, 45°F and sunny. Stopped off for a couple visits 1 as I rode the first mile.

6.2 miles to Scoops Coffeeshop, ride time about 18 minutes
1.2 miles to Countrymart grocery store
7.4 miles return trip to the cabin
4 miles round trip to the “Slime Pond”

Summary
That’s about 18.8 miles. 4 miles of that is gravel road and the remaining is blacktop. Mostly level with a few small hills, slightly curvy. It’s fairly low traffic and really, for a cyclist, it’s a dream ride with several stream crossings, a mix of farmland and woodland. Very quiet. The 4 miles of gravel were done in pedal assist 1 or 2. The paved road was done in pedal assist 2 and 3 with occasional but minimal use of the twist thruster (no pedaling, motor only). Most of the pedaling I did do felt like no pedaling at all. It feels like the motor is doing all the work and I’m contributing very little. Usually my pedaling was in the highest gear though I think I shifted down a couple times on the hills which is when I contributed the most of my energy. A few times I actually felt as though I was exerting effort but I’d estimate that was less than 20% of the ride. No knee pain.

Scoops.jpeg

I celebrated my new bike with a fancy caramel mocha at Scoops then went another mile into town to check the grocery store for bike locking infrastructure (none) then headed home. I haven’t smiled this much in a day in a long, long time.

Average speed for the ride was about 16. At the end of the day the battery was at about 35%. Recharge time was about 5 hours.

Sunday
8.4 miles to The Dairy Bar
1.5 miles goofing off around town
8.4 miles back home
4.2 miles to Hwy OO and back.
1 mile goofing off around the lake

Dairy Bar.jpeg

Summary
So, around 23 miles on Sunday. Very similar ride in terms of route, speed, pedal assist, etc. Just a bit more riding. Oh, and an ice cream cone instead of coffee. No knee pain yet!

Currently at about 30% battery left. The folks at Lectric claim users should be able to get 25 miles with no pedal assist which seems about right given I’ve got 23 miles and still 30%. I’ve pedaled some but I’ve also been going at a higher speed and have several hills and the gravel road which in the winter is also really soft underneath so much harder for the bike.

Could I get anywhere close to the 50 claimed? I’m not sure but I suspect that were I to ride at only pedal assist 1 and 2 I’d think 35 would be pretty doable. Keep it at just pedal assist 1 on flat pavement and 45 to 50 would seem doable. I’ve got several days ahead in the 50s and 60s. I plan to push towards 35 miles at least one of those days and will report back.

After two days of riding, about 38 miles, I’ll say that riding the XP is a dream ride on pavement or fine gravel.

IMG_2251.jpeg

Look at those beefy 4” wide tires!

Bumps, tire pressure, suspension, technique
As many reviews have mentioned, there is no suspension on these bikes. If you’re riding on bumpy terrain you really feel it. Small gravel isn’t bad at all. A part of my road has a bit of larger, 2” gravel and it’s rough. I’ve got my front tire at about 18psi, rear is about 25. They can go as high as 30 which would be better on pavement for lower rolling resistance and better range. On bumpier terrain the tires can be taken down to 5psi for a more cushioned ride. But since the majority of my riding is on pavement I’m going to leave them at 18 and 25 for now. As a former mountain biker my suggestion to lessen the bumpiness is to stand a bit above the seat and let your body be relaxed. I hold the handlebars a bit loosely and let the bike bounce rather than fight it. I lean my butt back a bit behind the seat and bend my knees so that the back of the bike has freedom to move under me. I also gently squeeze my legs together, using my thighs to loosely hold the seat.

A suspension seat post helps but even better is to come up off the bike. Practice the technique a bit  on non-bumpy surfaces to get a feel for it, then try it on the bumpy stuff. And I find that coasting or using the throttle/thrust is best so I’m not pedaling as much. In my case this rough ride is only about 100 feet of my regular ride. If I were going to sit for this portion I might even just turn off pedal assist or keep it at one for the slowest possible ride.

Setting the seat and handlebar height
On the topic of the seats and handlebars, it’s really important to adjust the height of these when you configure your bike. Proper seat height often seems higher than it should, especially for novice riders. How you know you’ve got it right: when you’re seated and riding the bike and have one of the pedals in the bottom position, your leg should be nearly fully extended but with just a slight bend at the knee. If your seat is too high your leg will fully stretch out and you’ll feel like you’re reaching for the pedal. If your seat is too low you’re leg will always be bent even when the pedal is in that farthest position. You want just a very slight bend. The result is that you’ll feel, at first, like the seat is too high when you are first getting on the bike to ride. When starting and stopping you should be off the seat not on it trying to touch the ground.

The handlebars should be above the seat height. My suggestion here is to do what feels comfortable. The higher you go the more upright a riding position you’ll have. Try different positions and see what’s comfortable. I tend to keep mine lower in a position similar to mountain biking.

At the moment my one critique of the bike has been mentioned by others. The key position at the bottom is tricky. I live in a tiny house which means I don’t have room inside for my bike. In good weather it will likely spend a lot of time on my front porch and when it’s wet I’ll keep it in a shed. But that means that in the winter months and the heat of summer I’ll be bringing the battery in daily to charge it. I don’t relish the idea of having to unfold the bike everyday to release the battery with the keys. I’m fairly healthy at 50 and I find this process a bit awkward. I can’t imagine my 70 year old father doing this. He could manage but he’d be cranky about it. All that said, I do appreciate that the battery is hidden in the frame and protected. For folks in mild climates or in a situation where they can bring their bikes inside without removing the battery it won’t be a problem. And I’ve only done this 3 times. I’m sure it will get a bit easier with practice.

Included features and likely aftermarket add-ons
The XP comes with very nice metal fenders and a solid back-rack capable of holding 50lbs. It’s also got a headlight and tail-light. It feels like a very solid, premium built bike.

IMG_2249.jpeg

The front light works pretty well and our roads have been wet enough that I’ve already seen benefits from having fenders.

The first thing many people buy is a new seat. The included seat isn’t bad and really, people who haven’t been riding much are going to have a sore bum in the first week or two of riding. It’s just a matter of getting used to it. That said, I went ahead and spent the $29 on a Cloud9 seat many recommend. When I figure out how I’ll lock this up at the grocery store I plan to use my bike for all my shopping so I spent $50 on these folding rear baskets. The stated capacity for the rear rack is 50lbs and those baskets should hold that. And they fold in when not in use. I’ve also got an old insulated fabric cooler thingy that I can strap on top of the rack for items that need to stay cold. And, locks of course for the 30 minutes I’ll be in the store. Some handlebar mounted side mirrors and a cup holder. I opted for a fabric, insulated cup holder, also handlebar mounted. A hand pump, patch kit, inner tube and under seat pack for tools. I’ve ordered all this stuff but won’t have it for a week or two.

How I plan to use the bike
In the foreseeable future I’ll still drive the car to town once a week as I do the shopping for my elderly aunt and uncle and much of what they need comes from the Walmart on the opposite side of town. I’ll switch my personal shopping back to the local store and do that by bike and at some point in the future I expect that I’ll only need to take the car to town when I need to buy big things such as 50lb bags of dog food. I’ll just get in the habit of doing a car run once every month or two and get all the big stuff at once.

I don’t commute for work (spoiled freelancer working at home) but I can see myself getting out on this 5 days a week for fun, exercise and errands that in the past I would have waited to do on my shopping day. In short, this opens up extra rides to town that I currently avoid due to climate change concern. Yes, there’s still CO2 that is being generated for the charging but compared to the emissions of a car it’s negligible. And, of course, eventually I’ll need to replace this battery. So, I’m not entirely oblivious to the environmental impact of an ebike but relative to the car it’s incredibly green and clean.

I plan to do at least one, probably several follow-up posts as I put more miles in. In truth, after two days of riding, less than 50 miles, this is really more of a first impression. I don’t think my opinion will change much but it’s possible I find a few more things to mention as I become more familiar with the ride and the bike. I may well also start a log of rides too. I suspect the bike itself will hold up very well. Time will tell on the battery and the hub motor.

Would I recommend?

In general, yes, definitely. It’s a new company that does not have a long track record. So, that’s something to keep in mind. That said, they’ve delivered an excellent e-bike which is selling very well. They’ve expanded their staff to accommodate much higher than expected sales. Reports by customers that needed support is that they’re getting the help they need. Aside from the electronic components it’s also worth mentioning that this is well built bike made with solid and standard bike components. It’s heavy as a standard bike but it still rides pretty well as a bike with no assist.

If, like me, you’d like to ride a bike but have knee or other health issues that limit how much pedaling you can do, I think the Lectric XP is an excellent choice. I’m doing a lot more pedaling than I expected and that’s a good thing. The fact that I can do it without strain means I’m also getting exercise and really, my legs feel great after a couple days. I think it’s just a natural urge to pedal when your on a bike like this. If you’re someone that needs more exercise this is going to be a fun way to do that and over time as health improves you can put in more of your own effort as you choose.

Further updates on rides will be tagged Lectric Ride Journal.

A few links of interest:


  1. A side note about Saturday’s ride. I stopped to see my parents on my way out to ride as they were excited to see the new bike. My 70 year old dad who has not been on a bike in 30 or 40 years tried it out. I wasn’t sure I was going to get it back from him. He’s considering getting his own which is quite a thing for someone that was never a bicyclist. So, as happy as I am for myself I’m hoping that my dad makes the jump as I think he’d enjoy the same ride I took today and it would be great to have his occasional company. ↩︎

Rural Cycling and Micromobility

My Journey to the e-bike

I’m a child of the suburbs. I grew up thinking that the bicycle was a toy rather than actual transportation. In Arnold Missouri cycling anywhere outside of our “subdivision” just wasn’t something anyone did. Though our neighborhood was only three miles from “town”, they were narrow. I don’t remember ever seeing a cyclist on the particular road that one would have taken to Arnold from our location.

When I went off to college in Kirksville I got my first taste of using a bicycle for transportation. Beginning in my third year I lived off campus and got an old Schwinn which I equipped with a pair of inexpensive metal baskets. I used it for riding a half mile to campus, a quarter mile to the laundromat, and a mile or so to the grocery store. That was the beginning of my love of the bicycle and my understanding of it as an inexpensive, efficient form of transport for humans. As a small college town, Kirksville had a diameter of maybe 5 miles and was surrounded by farms. As transport, a bicycle was almost the perfect form of transport on the small side streets that made up most of the town. For myself and many others in the town, the bicycle was all the transport we needed and at very low cost of ownership.

When I moved to Memphis that bike went with me and got regular use there too until it was stolen. I replaced it with my first mountain bike. My transport was a mix of walking, cycling and driving depending on the task, destination and distance. But without a doubt cycling and walking were my preferred and predominant forms of getting around. Cycling was my practical way of transport but also grew into something new as I realized it’s benefit to my personal health as well as the environmental and community benefits. I began riding for pleasure, and my 15 miles a week for transport turned into 100 miles a week for fun and transport. This was the case until a knee injury forced me off the bike in 2001.

I reluctantly went back to walking and tried my hand at using one of the very first electric scooters on the market. It was functional but was not a great experience. Instead of feeling in control of my body and vehicle as I cruised along at 15 mph I was suddenly not in control and moving something closer to 10mph. I could not easily maneuver from street to sidewalk and always felt a little less safe. Even worse, the scooter was limited to 3 to 4 miles per charge. It was usually just barely enough to get me to work. I used it for a year or so and then went back to a mix of walking and, reluctantly, driving. At 32 years old I was fairly healthy but generally resorted to a car for transport to work because of the knee injury was enough to keep me from cycling.

Then I left Memphis in 2004 and stayed with family for 4 years before settling into my tiny house at my current location which is about 6 miles from the outer boundary of the nearest town, Fredericktown. And while I’ve gotten in plenty of recreational walking over the past 15 years, I’ve relied on a car for all necessary transportation into town for shopping or any other required errands. Due to my concern about climate change I’ve limited my car trips to town to an average of about 6 trips per month which works out to 90 miles drive per month given a round-trip distance of 15 miles.

Over the years I’ve kept an eye on small electric vehicles, especially e-bikes. In the past couple of years the technology has been making some big gains. Batteries, motors, conversion kits, and fully assembled bikes are all becoming more readily available at lower prices. Probably the most important advancement has been improvements to the lithium-ion battery. In any case, I wasn’t sure that I’d have a use for one because of my rural location but this past summer my interest in the possibility began to take hold. In late summer I discovered a new electric bike by Lectric that fit with something I could afford and which might have the range I need to be useful. A week ago I ordered it. It is scheduled to arrive today.

How will this be useful in my rural location? I’ll admit, that a part of my reasoning for ordering the bike is simply to enjoy the pleasure of being back on a bike. Initially I expected that, at a minimum, it would be useful for visiting my parents who live a mile away. I regularly walk that distance with my dogs for their exercise and to get mail so in that regard, I typically cover that distance on foot so it would not be essential except for making the trip faster, more convenient and more frequent. More frequent and convenient trips to visit my parents was the other motivator. But then I started looking more closely at other possibilities for extended range use.

Rural transport by e-bike?

Like many others in rural areas, I have roads that would be fairly dangerous to use for cycling. The primary 2-lane road between my tiny house and town has a 55 mph speed limit and no shoulder. I’d never feel safe cycling on it. But there is another route, a county road which is only an additional half mile. Much of this road is paved, a large stretch of it is still gravel, but it will get me to the outer edge of town at about 6.7 miles. The ride to the grocery store is 8 miles, a round trip of 16 miles. This road has far less traffic than the 2 lane highway and should be very safe for cycling. It will bring me all the way to the safety Fredericktown which largely consists of low traffic side roads that have speed limits of 25 or less.

The e-bike I’ve ordered has a cruising speed of 20 and a range of 25 to 50 miles which varies with rider weight, terrain and the amount of pedaling the rider contributes. In short, it will easily handle the 16 miles I need with a good bit left over. I should have no problem with light-weight, low stress pedaling. Not only will this get me to the grocery store in about 25 minutes but also the library and all the main street shops if I need them. Also, Fredericktown has two, two, ice cream shops.

In other words, a $1,000 e-bike will make it possible for me to reduce my car-based trips to town to one a month rather than four. And if I were in a position where I needed to daily commute to town for work
I could do that with this bike. In considering this for myself I’ve also pondered the possible usefulness for this kind of device in the larger rural community, hence the title of the post. Is micromobility useful in a rural setting? Before I attempt an answer, perhaps some context would be useful.
From Micromobility.io:

The mobility world we know today is based on 100 years of technological development. From the Internal Combustion Engine enabled by Rockefeller’s refined Standard Oil to Ford’s innovative supply chain that allowed Model T’s to come off factory lines as easily as bottles of soda. From the mandates of President Eisenhower putting WWII US veterans to work building the most massive network of roads the world had ever seen to the rise of suburbia, malls and edge cities, a car in every driveway came to symbolize the American Dream.

But that car is a bundle. As a pre-paid option to go anywhere and at anytime, a car offers a bundle of trips whether short or long and whether used or not in a box weighing, on average, 20 times its payload. The externalities of this arrangement are becoming daunting. From more than 1 million fatalities every year, to climate change, to congestion that saps productivity and enrages, this object, carrying typically only one passenger, ceased being a liberator. The bundle became overbearing and over-serving crushing more value than it creates.

Where do we need to go?

An excerpt from the Micromobility Manifesto:

Micromobility is a big word for a small idea.

The idea is small in the sense that it represents machines that are small.

Machines that are sized to the job at hand: moving people. And not sized to the process that makes them move.

Machines made to fit us not their internal violent reactions.

That such machines are now possible is a testament to our inventiveness and we consider that inventiveness as our superpower.

This manifesto is a call to use our superpower to make moving better.

Better by getting there happier, healthier and more in harmony.

In harmony with our environment and with each other.

In the medium to long term, it’s not really an option. If we’re going to address the problem of climate change we’ll need a radically different system for moving people and goods. But, again, can e-bikes, be useful in rural areas? For some in rural areas, yes, absolutely. Right now it is possible given current roads. In my use-case, the e-bike I have coming will work perfectly for my location. Looking at a map of the area around Fredericktown tells me there there are many other people living close enough to Fredericktown with direct access to the same kind of lower speed, low traffic county roads that they also would likely be able to meet at least some of their transport needs in the same way.

But there are many who, just a few miles away, would not be able to safely ride to town due to the higher speed, higher traffic roads they are limited to. But the variables change over time and what might be unsafe now might be safe in 5 or 10 years. The changes might come culturally, technologically or in terms of infrastructure. Let me provide an example.

In the past three years our county has become home to a Mennonite community. Within this short time period the local 2 lane highway that I will not use for cycling has become a primary route for Mennonites using their traditional horse drawn wagons. Now people expect to see them on the road and it likely has an impact on the perception of what normal traffic is on this road. Just three years ago the expectation was that this road was only for cars driving at 50 mph.

The point here as that what a community considers to be traffic changes. Our community now expects and accepts horse drawn wagons in and around town. We are prepared to slow down for them on the 2-lane highway and drive around them safely as we are able just as we do for farmers on tractors.

Similarly, as other forms of vehicles, in this case, e-bikes, come into wider use, their presence will change what is perceived to be acceptable and normal traffic. Of course, it’s not the same as a person on an e-bike is much smaller and in some ways more vulnerable. Even more, e-bikes (and bikes generally) are not very common on the roads in this area.

But what would happen if the bicycle grew in popularity over the next decade? Given the poverty of this area, affordable, sub $1000 e-bikes would be a great benefit for many in town and in the surrounding rural countryside. A recent report looking at e-bike trends forecasts a remarkable jump in production based on current growth trends. From the millions we’ve seen per year in recent years the trend points to 130 million e-bikes in global production between 2020 and 2023. The Verge reports:

The next decade is going to be defined by a revolution of battery-powered transportation, and the vehicle that will lead the charge won’t be the Tesla Model 3 or even the wildly polarizing Cybertruck. And it definitely won’t be an electric scooter.

It will be an electric bike.

Of course most of these will be sold in urban areas that are often viewed as the ideal place for bicycling and the e-bike due to the close proximity of destinations. In an urban setting 10 miles or less will get one to anything they need.

What I suggest here is that rural areas are actually somewhat similar even though on the surface that might not be the case. At a glance rural areas are spread out. But again, many rural residents depend on towns within 10 miles of their residence and with access to low traffic, low speed roads similar to the county roads I’ll be using, they could likely reduce their use of automobiles by substituting modern and affordable e-bikes.

All that said I’ll end on a note about American culture that seems to be especially true of rural culture that generally is more conservative. Cars are sacred, cars rule, and in the countryside trucks rule. No matter how irrational combustion-based travel may be it is a solidly entrenched norm here. For most it is a part of their identity and how they define themselves. As I recently searched through YouTube reviews of my purchase I came across two reviews by farm families with YouTube channels. Both initially laughed at the idea of trying an e-bike. Men on farms use big tools, loud and smelling of gas! The idea of such a quiet form of transport was an affront to them. Too vulnerable, too weak. But then they and their family got on the bikes and the unexpected happened: They. Had. Fun.

The e-bikes of 2019 are not weakly powered bikes. Turn the throttle and you zoom off. They are fast enough to be scary at first and then they settle into fun once the rider is used to them. And some of them can be put to real work, even on a farm. Put a crate on an e-bike and you can carry up to 50lbs on the back which easily accommodates a chainsaw and some tools. And I’m just talking about the more popular e-bikes that are designed for general commuting. There are others that are heavier duty cargo bikes and more will come.

The e-bikes of today and tomorrow have far more power and range than people realize. The are fun to ride and quite capable of transporting a person as well as tools and goods. But at the moment they are an unknown. I suspect that as people interact with them and see them more often they will grow quickly in popularity. They are inexpensive when compared to the ownership of a traditional automobile and make a lot of sense as real transport. And in the small towns that dot the rural landscape riding an e-bike should generally be as safe or safer than riding in an urban setting.

So, to answer the question, can micromobility become a part of small towns and the surrounding rural areas? Absolutely.

Links of interest: