Bicycles are the sharks of transportation, virtually unevolved through a century of technological upheaval in automobiles and airplanes. But shrinking motors and newly powerful batteries have, in the past couple of decades, enabled rapid advances in electric bikes. Electricity expands the bicycle’s range—and, perhaps, the range of people who will feel capable of riding one in the city.
Last month, I spent a week riding an e-bike around a city that struck me as a perfect test for the tech’s appeal: Los Angeles. Great weather and lots of quiet streets make L.A a decent biking city; formidable hills and great distances, I imagined, would make it a great e-biking city. With two battery-powered wheels under my control, I thought the famously disjointed city might cohere in the same way I had found other cities did on a manually powered bike.
In 2005, Andy Bowers wrote for Slate about using a bicycle to discover a secret Los Angeles. “The main roads may mimic Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but the areas between L.A.’s clogged arteries comprise mile after square mile of low-density, low-stress residential bliss,” he wrote. Since then, the region has gotten considerably more friendly to transportation alternatives, investing billions in new transit lines and even installing some world-class bike lanes. (Some cities are better than others, and you can easily trace municipal boundaries in L.A. County by looking at a map of bike infrastructure.) The most eloquent spokesperson for the new L.A. might be the writer Alissa Walker, who frequently chronicles the challenges and joys of car-free life in the Southland.
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