As easy as riding a bike

February 18, 2024 David Slack

Revelations can come in many forms.

Some can change the course of history; some will only seem a moment of genius at three in the morning - your first coffee of the day will have you wondering what on earth you were thinking. But the ones that upend the way you see things forever, they really are something.

I once had one in a supermarket carpark. Our friend Mike was near the doorway, unlocking his bike. We greeted one another, he said something that included the word ‘e-bike’. The what? This was not a term I recognised. “His e-bike,” he repeated. “This,” he said, pointing at the bike.

It just looked like a bike to me.

But no, he explained, this was no ordinary bike. This thing made getting around a breeze. Keen as I was on biking, this innovation had passed me by. Was this some kind of novelty? I wondered. Mike liked his gadgets. How did they work? I asked. What sort of guts did it have? I asked.

"What sort of guts does it have?" he said. "See for yourself."

The shortest distance between having no clue what an e-bike is and seeing another future altogether is one lap of the Devonport New World supermarket on an e-bike. I was gobsmacked. You pedal a little and it moves A LOT. It glides; it makes biking a breeze. It is biking, but without the hard work, without the discouragement of the headwind or the steep hill. Mike could have explained this to me, but he knew it would be simpler and much more convincing to say, "See for yourself."

Since that day, I have been a convert. Since that day I have rhapsodised to people about the possibilities.

In due course, I got my own one. In due course, readers of my newsletter would get in touch to say: “You inspired me – I've got one.” And also, “How great are e-bikes!”

There are two things I heard from people that make me feel my writing might be serving some useful purpose. One is: "Because of what you said, I got my prostate cut back down to size." The other is "Because of what you said, I got an e-bike.”

That's not to say that everyone is persuaded. They may instead say: "Yes, but who can afford a fancy e-bike?"

I will tell them that's a fair question, if you're comparing the price to a push bike. But the fairer comparison is a car. That's because a great many of the trips you make in a car, you’ll be able to make just as quickly on an e-bike and without the hassle of finding somewhere to park. Also, an e-bike will never make you poor as effectively as a car does: all that pain of filling the tank, the repairs, the tyres, the parking, the monthly payments… you can say goodbye to it all as you glide through the streets with a happy smile on your face.

And of course, every e-bike that hits the road is one less car and a helpful step toward a lower-carbon future.

One day last year, I got a different kind of message from a newsletter reader. Marty, who is a good Rotarian and all-round good guy, who quietly does good work in many ways, wrote to ask if I might be interested in getting involved in a sponsored e-bike ride that would raise money for those affected by last summer's awful floods. It would also raise awareness about e-bikes which, of course, stand as a very apparent solution to the problem of carbon emissions which, well, you can doubtless see the connection.

Over coffee, we talked through the idea and enhanced the basic concept: how about holding a new event in some of the towns on the e-bike route? How about finding a way to replicate that eureka moment, that moment of revelation you have when you get onto an e-bike for the first time and turn the pedals and say, "I had no idea! This is incredible!!"

So what we have in planning and hope to make real this year is a cavalcade of e-bike riders making their way from town to town and at some of those stops, a Highland Games-style event, inviting everyone to join us for the games and take an e-bike for a ride. We will be offering fun on all forms of e-bikes: race from one point to another; load up a cargo-bike and deliver your load to a designated point; obstacle courses; timed relays — all manner of challenges to show off the capability of the bikes and the joy of riding them. But most of all: to do what Mike achieved that morning in the supermarket carpark.

It would be nice if we could raise a lot of money. But it will be reward enough every time we hear someone say: “I had no idea!” and “This is a revelation” and…

…“You inspired me, I've got one.”

David Slack is an Auckland-based author, radio and TV commentator and speechwriter.