Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mettle fatigue

This was the kind of winter that makes owls starve to death. It was not an epic snow year, but the snow we got was dense, and melts slowly. The weather has not been very cold, but cold enough to make the winter very long. Snow arrived in November and never left. It's still here, more than a week into "spring."

Owls have been unable to reach their prey under snow too solid for their bird-weight to penetrate.

Until a couple of years ago, I would have been out there already, claiming my space on the road. As soon as the ice retreats fully from the pavement, I figure all's fair. At least I did. I needed base miles, and no one was going to stop me.

On my last days off, the temperature was supposed to top out in the mid 30s (F), on sunny, slightly breezy days. That's not inviting, but it's not bad. Dress for it. But on Monday I woke up with a weird digestive ailment that made me cold, depressed, occasionally lightheaded, and reluctant to venture far from the house. The malaise receded overnight, but enough effects lingered on Tuesday to make me stay off the bike then, too.

Each additional day off the bike gives me more time to contemplate the steadily increasing size of pickup trucks. Traffic looks less intimidating when you join its flow, but the big beasts are dangerous nonetheless. I have held my line with my elbow inches from tractor-trailer tires a number of times. It’s all part of the experience. Not a good part, mind you, but it will happen in the traffic criterium. It’s one reason that biking isn’t always a great way to see the sights. You need to concentrate on what’s in front of you while you try to herd what’s around you. You want to see the sights, take a leisurely walk or ride a tour bus.

It could be better. But any time we try to increase our speed using a wheeled conveyance we increase the risk of an unfortunate event. Balancing on two wheels is more precarious than squatting on four. You could stuff it riding on a separated bike path by yourself.

It’s not about the crash. I hate to crash, and I refuse to consider it inevitable, with experience and due care, but I have burned in a number of times, and always gone back to riding as soon as I healed up enough.

Mostly I dislike the public exposure of riding. We remain a minority, a bunch of weirdos who go without engines, on devices most people consider a phase of childhood, or perhaps don’t consider at all. We are simultaneously ridiculous super athletes and ineffectual dorks. Nothing we do will make us respectable. The best we can hope to be is tolerable. I did not understand the terms of this agreement when I committed myself to bicycling at the end of the 1970s. All of the idealistic bike nerds of the day thought that our time was coming. Surely the world had to notice that practicality and fun coexisted perfectly in the bicycle. It was true then and it is still true. Just because we haven’t won doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

The weather warms grudgingly. As usual for this time of year, warmth brings wetness, followed by resurgent cold. It used to be easier to take, when the whole world didn’t seem so cold in general. Funny thing to say in a warming climate, but you know what I mean.

Monday, March 18, 2019


One question has been at the back or the middle of my mind since the 1970s: What is the morally justifiable average lifestyle worldwide? Given that we keep lining up more people to consume pieces of the Earth pie, the slices have gotten steadily smaller.

Technology has helped us somewhat in the past, but never as much as we thought. It was easy to accept creature comforts and entertaining diversions affordably marketed in your technologically advanced society, and take a soft-focused view of those other countries where people still lived in more primitive circumstances. What did we owe them? Not much. And that may be true by some measures. Some genuinely primitive tribes famously repel attempts by modernists to come in and upset their balanced lives. In other cases, the locals would welcome a bit more in the way of comfort and respect.

From primitive to modern is another continuum. Unfortunately, once you accept some technology, you rely on whatever spawned it, and you will feel pressure to go further, even if you were satisfied at the previous level. And our technology has failed to make us better people, even though it hasn't really made us worse. Except that it has, in the critical sense that it makes us more voracious consumers of resources, while numbing us to the awareness of that fact.

A lot of technology uses resources more efficiently, reducing waste. But a growing population in developed nations consumes more resources in basic lifestyle amenities than a smaller, more stable population living off of more direct use of natural resources: hunting and gathering, and small-scale agriculture.

If I had to live at a primitive level, I would definitely do it where I didn't have to wear wool next to the skin. I'd be down in loincloth territory, preferably near some nice beaches, too.

When I got into bikes, and later into the bike business, I considered it a benign use of technology, infinitely expandable without negative consequences. Any number can play, and it only makes things better. It was true then, and it's still true, of basic cycling and a limited amount of recreational riding. Bicycling as it is practiced today has moved away from that. It is now an extravagance of the developed world, fed by glossy magazines, up-to-date websites, social media, and partnerships with other consumer pleasures, like beer and coffee.

Beer and coffee are food groups. My perfect world includes them. Even in primitive cultures, most of them have developed some kind of recreational beverages. I'll defend that one. But the performance side of bike culture has become increasingly resource-intensive, not just in its use of materials and substances to make a functional modern bike, but in the demand on riders to be able to afford it. What do you have to do for a living to generate enough income to spend it on each of the expensive category bikes you will need to fully enjoy "cycling?"

Some economist will point out that prices adjusted for inflation end up coming out the same as, or lower than, prices for what passed for performance equipment in decades past. Pick your decade. There's an economic index to show that things are no worse now. The critical difference is not the up-front cost of equipment, it's the cost of properly maintaining that equipment in all of its complexity. You'll go through a lot of tire sealant, brake fluid, cartridge bearings, and shock oil if you follow the instructions that came in all of the owner's manuals you got with your new bike. Parts you wear out, like chains, cassettes, and tires, are all more expensive, and the chains and cassettes are more prone to wear because there is less metal in links and cogs. And I defy an economist to tell me that a $45 dollar chain today is equivalent to a $9 Sedisport chain from 1982. As of 2018, the inflated price of a $10 chain would be just over $26.  I added a buck because the price of the Sedisport did creep upward gradually during its long and glorious reign as the best deal in the chain industry.

You can say that the Sedisport only worked on the drive trains of the time, but the same width chain works from six cogs on up through eight. I could piece together a Sedisport from old links in my chain stash and run it on any of my bikes today. Along with price inflation comes the reduction in versatility, and the decreased service life of the crowded drive trains of today.

Years ago, on a group road ride, we were discussing Shimano's new STI road shifting. Several of the riders had leaped to adopt that innovation. "If you truly love cycling, you'll pay whatever it costs to participate," one rider asserted.

"If you truly love cycling, you won't need gimmicky modern bullshit to enjoy it," I replied.

Racing is another matter. Racing is an arms race. You need equipment equivalent to the weaponry your competitors will be using. Racing equipment has one job: increase your efficiency in tight competition with other riders whose only goal is to keep you from winning. Maybe they're working to help a teammate. Maybe they are the aspiring champion who wants to cross the line first, with arms upraised. It's a series of short term goals embedded in the long term goal of a successful racing season.

We who pedal fall into the trap of comparing our activities to worse activities: "It's better than tearing around on ATVs. It's not as bad as street racing little sports cars and hot rods." And so on. Cycling used to be able to say that it was not only not as bad, it was definitely an improvement on wasteful and polluting forms of transportation and recreation. Human powered recreation in general is much better for our species and our world. But resistance is strong. Persuasion is difficult. There's a long list of things you can't say, or ways you can't say the things you might dare to express. This is why real social progress is so agonizingly gradual. We meander and sidle and murmur and nudge, getting basically nowhere until grievances erupt into an outright war. The smoke and flame and blood spatter from that ends up obscuring a lot of what we were fighting about in the first place. The mere end of hostilities is such a relief that we call it good. Perhaps slightly improved after the experience, we go back to our previous piecemeal advancement of the things that really weren't solved at all by the orgy of violence.

The mountain bike boom was started by idealistic bike nerds who had stayed on after the road bike boom faded out. We all kept hoping that the hints of social acceptance in things like the movies Breaking Away, American Flyers, and Quicksilver indicated a growing public understanding of our worthy goals. Bikes even got a nod from Doonesbury:

Of course mellowness fell out of favor during the early 1980s, and militarism regained popularity. It was easy to back a strong military when no one was required to join it. The volunteer force was already evolving into a separate warrior caste, while the general public could enjoy the Hollywood portrayal of our brave fighters in comfort and safety.

As mountain biking evolved through the 1990s, police departments adopted bike patrols, usually on modified versions of the simple and versatile mountain bike platform. Some jurisdictions have actually continued the practice. There was even a television show about bike cops. It was done on the Baywatch format, right down to the California setting. It did little to advance transportation cycling or bolster the longevity of the bike patrol concept. The average citizen's sense of safety and desire to try riding on the public streets has steadily eroded even as the average price of a bike has steadily risen.

Bike advocacy does advance. We make incremental improvements even as the need to make massive adjustments grows more urgent. It's better than nothing, in the same way that a single cotton ball stuffed into an arterial wound is something. We could save the situation if we had enough balls.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Wheelbase means nothing, except when it means something

A minor but significant effect of the shift to 29- and 27.5-inch wheels is that the bikes get a lot longer. Wheelbase by itself means almost nothing as a discrete measurement of frame geometry. It is a result of other dimensions and frame angles that really do make the critical differences in determining a bike’s intended use. But in a crowded shop, mere length makes a huge difference when you put your new stock on the sales floor.

Bikes hung from hooks now impinge on floor space, while bikes displayed on the floor stick up higher because of their taller wheels.

The trend to fatter tires means that bikes don’t fit easily into push-in display racks designed when 2.3 inches was a really wide tire. Even plus tires, a mere three inches wide, don’t fit in a traditional bike hook. The new hooks themselves are about twice as long as older bike hooks, in addition to the longer bikes.

People with large personal fleets of bikes are no doubt encountering the same need for adjustments. But we love our stuff and build our lives around getting it, keeping it and, if all goes well, getting to use it.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The ethical fat bikers

The recent commandeering of the cross-country ski trails by an aggressive faction of fat bikers has stirred a return wave of support from the riders who respect the decision to keep bikes off the ski trails.

As far as we can tell, only one of the self-styled legends who have been leading the incursions onto the ski trails even lives in town. The nonresidents can’t even play the “aggrieved taxpayer” card. The visiting riders are not only not paying trail fees, they’re not paying anything.

Right and wrong are not automatically about the money, but taxes and membership fees are forms of the same thing: they’re the contribution an individual makes to the group treasury to support the aims of the group. Public-private partnerships are common in support of nonessential lifestyle enhancements like ski trails, skating rinks, performance venues, and more. Because a library is a public space, can you go in and dribble a basketball up and down the aisles? Should you? A ski trail system on a mosaic of public and private land is the same as that library: a space where proper etiquette and usage are understood by the grownups and taught to the unruly young.

It has been a great relief to hear from the grownups in the Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro fat biking culture.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Theft of services

Skiers poaching on a trail system for which they have not paid a daily or seasonal use fee are technically guilty of theft of services. The New Hampshire statute reads as follows:



Section 637:8

    637:8 Theft of Services. – 
I. A person commits theft if he obtains services which he knows are available only for compensation by deception, threat, force, or any other means designed to avoid the due payment therefor. "Deception" has the same meaning as in RSA 637:4, II, and "threat" the same meaning as in RSA 637:5, II.
II. A person commits theft if, having control over the disposition of services of another, to which he knows he is not entitled, he diverts such services to his own benefit or to the benefit of another who he knows is not entitled thereto.
III. As used in this section, "services" includes, but is not necessarily limited to, labor, professional service, public utility and transportation services, restaurant, hotel, motel, tourist cabin, rooming house and like accommodations, the supplying of equipment, tools, vehicles, or trailers for temporary use, telephone or telegraph service, gas, electricity, water or steam, admission to entertainment, exhibitions, sporting events or other events for which a charge is made.
IV. This section shall not apply to the attachment of private equipment to residential telephone lines unless the telephone company can prove that the attached equipment will cause direct harm to the telephone system. Attached equipment which is registered with the public utilities commission shall not require a protective interconnecting device. If the telephone company cites this section in its directories or other customer informational material, said company shall duplicate the entire section verbatim therein.

Source. 1971, 518:1. 1977, 175:1, eff. Aug. 7, 1977.


While skiers are seldom  prosecuted for the offense, it is in the background if a poacher pushes the point when apprehended by a trail patroller.

A bike rider poaching grooming on a ski trail network hits into a bit of a gray area. They're not skiers, stealing the work of the trail designers, builders, groomers, and stewards. They weren't attracted by the full value of the product for the users it was designed to serve. They just like it because it's packed down for them.

One comment on my previous post, "Parasitic Fat Bikers," stated, "Fatbikers groom several of their own trails and complain of postholers, yet they will still ride and enjoy. Let's all just enjoy." My answer is that the injustice you suffer on your trails does not excuse and invite the injustice you perpetrate on the cross-country ski trails. People who don't ski on performance skis have no way to assess the effect their tire tracks might have. On an ideal day, you might see little or no imprint. On a less than ideal day, there will be ruts and ridges, even from a "5-inch tire with 10 psi," as someone put it in another discussion. Once a trail system is thrown open, even with some restrictions, riders will take it for granted. With use comes abuse.

If the trail system charges a bike fee, riders will feel entitled, when they invited themselves to use facilities that were established before many of them were born. The riders are shoving their way in because they want to, and they think they've found a legal loophole that will allow it. And they may be right. The fact that it is bullying, selfish, and pushy does not bother them. The fact that they have paid nothing for the building, maintenance, and grooming of the trails does not bother them. We're grooming them anyway, right? How is it different from riding on the road?

When I ski a hiking trail on my backcountry skis, I expect to see marks from other users: snowshoe prints, postholes, dog tracks, other ski tracks. If conditions are hard frozen, I won't be on skis. And a lot of the time I don't use a trail at all. I'm bushwhacking in search of hidden attractions, or just to get away from as many signs of humanity as possible. It's been decades since I skied on any kind of snow machine trail. The last time I did ski on a snowmobile trail was back in the late 1980s in Sandwich Notch. A line of snowmobilers came ripping past me right off the tip of my elbow in a classic intimidation pass. I decided that whatever quasi-grooming I found as a result of snowmobile passage was not worth the encounters with motorist assholes. I put up with enough of that on the roads.

I've never encountered the "groomed fat bike trails" mentioned by the commenter. If I did, I would turn away to avoid contact. I am not a parasite. I may be an underachieving slug, but I try to carry my own weight.

I also try not to tell people how to do the things they're good at. I may decry the fact that they do them at all, but I don't presume that I have noticed something that they have not, or counsel them to lighten up and let me have my way when they seem to be lodging a reasonable or heartfelt objection.

Invasive species

The debate over fat bike access to the cross-country ski trails entered a new phase today. The proprietor of the brew pub answered my comment by implying that the riders have the full approval and support of the recreation department and the town prosecutor. I guess the town prosecutor — attached to the police department — is pretending to be the town attorney, which is a different role. Be that as it may, the riders feel that they have a moral and legal right to engage in theft of services by using grooming that they have paid nothing for.

The issue has moved from social media to actual policy makers. The outcome will determine whether Wolfeboro retains its reputation as a top-notch small Nordic center or has its trail network shrink to half of its previous length and loses all of its hillier terrain. The half that is open to riding would just be a bike park that tolerates skiers. You’d definitely want to think hard before launching down a twisting descent on skating skis if you might run into a biker toiling up it. Likewise, you might get more than a scare if you were all laid out in a V1, climbing up the grade, and a cyclist came banzaiing down. In all good conscience, we could not recommend this to skiers.

The invasive species may prevail. The emerald ash borer is well on its way to destroying that tree species in the United States. Stink bugs, kudzu, Japanese knotweed, the list goes on of aggressive competitors with no natural enemies in their transplanted environment. If the law ends up forcing coexistence, the invaders will rule by default.

Skiers have always had to accommodate the hazards naturally associated with their activity. Varied terrain and weather call for adaptability and judgment. So if skiers have to share space with people on wheels, many skiers will deal with it. If nothing ever goes seriously wrong, if the bloody, mangling collision never occurs, then all concerns beforehand will be seen as hysterical. And even if it only happens a time or two, it will be no worse than the occasional road cyclist crushed by a motor vehicle. Sad, but a necessary loss. Be glad it wasn’t you. Offer a few thoughts and prayers. That’ll cover it. As for the petty annoyances when competing users get on each other’s nerves, just be grateful that you have a place to play at all.

I will go back to bushwhacking.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Parasitic fat bikers

It turns out that the fat bikers I saw slithering down Mill Street on Sunday were on their way to poach the cross-country ski trails. They posted proudly about it on Facebook afterward, on the page of their flagship drinking establishment.

They assured their readers that they had been told that fat bikes were welcome, by a town official who has nothing to do with the rec department or the Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski Association. But people are eager to hear what they want to hear, instead of paying attention to what the actual overseers of the trail system have been telling them for a couple of years, ever since the whining began from the fat bike users around town.

One or two of the fat bikers around town used to ski cross-country, but have given it up for various reasons. Indeed, Wolfeboro XC considered whether fat biking would make a good supplemental income source way before the fad broke in a huge way, because we could see the way climate change was eroding our livelihood as a ski center. But the change has not meant less snow and consistently warm winters that have turned us into Maryland or something. This year was a pretty long and consistent ski season. We do suffer longer and warmer thaws in some winters, but we also have found ourselves parked under the Polar Vortex a time or two, enduring weeks of frigid temperatures that wandered off from their Arctic homeland in search of a place to hang out.

In the grand global environmental and economic scheme of things, fat bikers and skiers alike are frivolous. But for a while we will continue to try to play on what winter brings us.

Fat bikers are parasites on the grooming of ski and snow machine trails. They can also traverse roads and frozen lakes, but they love to find a trail that someone else packed out, so they can ride in the woods. If civilization ended tomorrow, biking would end with it, but the ancient practice of skiing would endure. For that matter, if just the grooming ended tomorrow, I would still be able to go out on skis or snowshoes, while the pedalers waited for ideal conditions to be able to roll.

The snowmobilers might or might not mind encountering a bike. I think it's masochistic to expose yourself to interactions with motor vehicles in the winter when you have to put up with it all summer, but I have a low tolerance for self-induced misery. I can assure you that bikes and skiers don't mix well under most circumstances. You will find videos of happy mixed groups doing their thang on trails together, but it's far from assured. Unless the trail surface is bulletproof, even fat tires will sink in to make weird ruts. And the rhythm and flow of skiing and biking are different enough to induce friction pretty easily. Not only that, the trails are posted. Any time anyone cares to call the touring center and ask first, they will get the same answer: fat bikes are not allowed on the ski trails at this time. Initial testing was negative and further review has only confirmed that it's not a good idea.

On the particular day that these poachers went out, the combined factors of snowstorm and Sunday meant that they were unlikely to encounter many -- or any -- skiers. We did have renters out, and season pass holders might go at any time, but it was generally a quiet day. No doubt they will find the negative feedback amusing and annoying, because they don't feel that anyone was hurt.

The grooming machine cost about $100,000. Upkeep is not cheap. The guy who does the grooming gets up at 04:30 to do the system, and then comes to work at the shop until after 6 p.m. -- sometimes well after 6 p.m. Bikes are only barred during the ski season, and then only from the ski trails. It stinks that they don't get to play with their expensive, recently-invented toys on a trail network that existed for skiing decades before most of them were born, but life is full of disappointments. Their sense of trail ethics is certainly among those disappointments.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Legal rights versus legal standing

As a slick, heavy, late winter snowfall accumulated on the roadway, I watched three riders on fat bikes slithering unsteadily down Mill Street with a motorist trapped behind them. I contemplated once again the difference between official rights and the treatment someone gets for exerting those rights.

Rights only seem to be won at a blood price. Women were beaten by men, and some died, as they protested over many years to get the right to vote. Black people have endured centuries of oppression and discrimination, massacre and murder. They can tell you how their rights are respected in actuality even now, as opposed to what is written. That’s not even addressing the way some things need to be rewritten even further to secure liberty and justice for all. Native rights everywhere get crushed beneath the advancing front of militarized industrialism. Labor confronted management for a fairer division of the proceeds of that industrial system, but their gains are being erased even as the system continues to gouge the illusion of profit out of the dying planet.

Because the roads are a shared space, every user has to consider the genuine rights and needs of the other users. A cyclist almost always appears to be on a trivial errand. A motorist will ask, "does this person need to be riding here, making me wait and maneuver around them?" By law, the roads are the common herd paths we have all agreed to use to get from place to place by whatever means we have. Horses are still allowed on most of them. You're within your rights -- but out of your mind -- to walk along most of them. Both equestrians and pedestrians will always get more sympathy than a bicyclist, because we have a sentimental attachment to horses in our history, and pedestrians seem like fellow drivers who are just down on their luck. A bicyclist has made a conscious choice to get this wheeled thing with which to wobble half in and half out of the legitimate territory of big metal boxes that go effortlessly quickly at the push of one pedal.

Many of us have had the experience of reporting a motorist to the police when we had only a full description of the vehicle including license number. If you can't identify the driver, you have no case. And, as a bicyclist, your problem seldom merits any expenditure of resources by police to help you nail down that identification. The registered owner simply uses the standard excuse that someone else was using the vehicle that day and the whole thing goes away. Even in cases where a cyclist was killed and the driver was known, penalties are disproportionately light, because bicycling is viewed as a voluntary act known to increase the rider's vulnerability to what would be a minor collision between the armored vehicles customarily used for personal transportation in the modern world.

When a police officer pulls you over in your car, what do they ask for first? Your license and registration. That is the moment at which they nail down who is driving what at the time of infraction. They've got facial ID and the perp in the driver's seat. That is the standard, and it's a good one when you consider how unpleasant it would be to live in a country where you could be thrown in the slammer on nothing more than an accusation. While that is unfortunately common in racially biased enforcement, and hardly unknown even among the privileged, it is not the official standard. It gets complicated when persons of interest are brought in for questioning and actual suspects are detained, but that's beyond the street level experience of a rider simply trying to proceed unmolested in the perfectly legal act of using the public roadway.

I thought that the fat bikers were being foolish and selfish, but I did not get to see whether they were just taking a few yards to pull off safely in the slithery conditions. It wasn't as bad as the morning many years ago when I saw one of the athletic firebrands in Jackson, NH, riding his cyclocross bike down Route 16 in about six inches of new snow, with a gigantic state plow truck stuck behind him. Rights are one thing. Smarts are another. Because we may be asked to pay a blood price for our rights at any time, pick your battles. I hardly expected the plow truck to crush the macho man on the 'cross bike, but I'm pretty sure the penalties would have been slim to nonexistent if he had. Similarly, had one of the fat bikers fallen in front of the car behind them, I doubt if the driver would have been cited for following too closely when he was unable to stop before sliding over the fallen rider. Just bad luck. Sorry about that. You shouldn't have been out there on a bike when you didn't need to be. And who in this great land of ours ever really needs to be on a bike? You hardly even see the DWI crowd riding bikes anymore. At least I don't see too many of them around here.

In the mostly urban areas where a lot of people live without cars, and a lot of them use bikes for transportation, the culture of acceptance builds alongside a corresponding seething cauldron of hatred from committed motorists subjected to large numbers of bicycles in the traffic mix. The cyclists can make a better case that what they are doing is necessary, but they are still branded as slackers and wastrels who should get better jobs and buy a car like a normal person. Rather than respect the contributions of workers on the lower end of the pay scale, performing necessary functions that most of us would prefer to avoid, our wealth-obsessed society scorns them and treats them as disposable interchangeable parts. Lose one dirtbag, grab another one from the sidelines to fill the spot. A lot of bike commuters are involuntary, on really crappy bikes, with no awareness of cycling culture and tradition. They're not out for the health benefits and to save disposable income. They're stuck with it, and are trying to make the most of income that falls far short of any surplus. However, they are reaping some exercise benefits in spite of themselves, and the economic benefits are no less real. With a focus on promoting the lifestyle and improving everyone's experience of it, every bike commuter and transportation cyclist would benefit.

Hope as I might, that is highly unlikely to happen. In spite of the fact that my haphazard pursuit of creative dreams has left me working for less than the proposed minimum wage of $15 an hour, and facing a destitute old age, the fact that I am a white male from a middle class background automatically condemns my ideas as elitist, tone deaf, and contemptibly out of touch with reality. I have been excoriated before. Until I shut up and go away, I will be again. It's sort of like riding your bike. You know that someone is going to yell, honk, swerve, or throw something. Your only defense is surrender. And that's not really a defense.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Surly goes electric. What EV.

Someone I know asked someone else I know what I thought about Surly’s new electrified version of the Big Dummy, called the Big Easy. I don't know why he didn't ask me directly. Anyway, it was the first I'd heard of it, because I don't pay much attention to industry news.

While I’m no fan of smokeless mopeds, I have previously acknowledged that electric assistance makes sense for a cargo vehicle. It brings all of the undesirable complexities of motors and batteries. It does alter the power to weight calculation by adding irreducible weight even when a dead battery or other malfunction negates the power assist. But it does increase load carrying capacity when it is working as intended.

I still assert that a smokeless moped is a motor vehicle with pedals, not a bike with an auxiliary motor. If a bike seemed heavy enough to tempt you to add a motor in the first place, the extra poundage of a battery and motor will definitely discourage you from pedaling without the assist. Once you accept that motor, you’ve stepped onto the same kind of production line that led from the earliest sailing ships with steam engines to the ones with vestigial masts and then no spars at all.

The quest for power warps everything it touches. The Telemark revival of the 1980s was an attempt to increase the versatility of touring skis by using a 19th Century technique to control traditional length skis in downhill maneuvers. Touring skis are long and skinny so that they move efficiently on flat to rolling terrain. Alpine skiing -- the dominant form today -- developed only in the 20th Century when skiing finally reached the Alps. The quest for downhill power and control took over the evolution of ski gear to create skis very poorly suited to anything else. Even the Telemark revival killed itself by turning Telemark skis and boots into just another downhill-only tool. Say what you will about alpine touring gear, trudging up and up with climbing skins for the sake of the downhill run, you would not want to use that stuff, or modern Telemark stuff, to go for a rambling bushwhack where you will encounter mixed climbing and descent. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Telemark skiers were tackling the whole range of terrain on skis around 70mm wide, controlled with leather boots and very basic bindings. By the late 1990s, all of that gear was mutating rapidly into the alpinesque monsters of today. It's all a risk/benefit calculation. You can get seriously mangled with long, narrow skis and non-releasable bindings. But by eliminating one aspect of risk and increasing the power of the tool for one phase of operation, the other functions were seriously diminished or lost.

In bikes, every category illustrates how the quest for one kind of power diminishes the overall versatility of the type.

A cargo bike is already shaped by specific needs. You're not likely to hop on it to go for a ride on the local pump track, or a group ride with sporty friends. But it's an investment. And the more complicated the mechanism, the more support it will need over its lifespan.

By joining the electric parade, Surly has obligated itself to support a complex product that uses expensive components over which they have very little control. The motor assembly is made by Bosch. The frame is built around that specific unit. The weight of the vehicle demands powerful hydraulic brakes. You still wouldn't use it to take the family on a summer vacation to visit the major national parks. That leads to another interesting question: National parks arose at a time when personal mobility was about to increase rapidly. Land was set aside because of various natural attractions as people were developing more and more ability to go and see those attractions. If personal mobility dwindles because people realize that it is more environmentally responsible and affordable just to live where they live and keep most of their trips short, will the justification for the grand and wonderful places crumble, opening them to the destructive extraction of finite resources? This may seem like quite a leap, but the Big Easy lists for $5,000.00 USD. It's either a car replacement or a car supplement. Extrapolating a widespread shift to relatively short-range transportation devices leads to a scenario in which a highly developed public transportation system would have to pick up where the cars and SUVs had left off. Either that or the adamant non-pedalers are simply running us down with electric behemoths instead of fossil-fuel guzzlers.

Because the Big Easy is a Surly product, it is solidly built and as simply designed as possible. I still don't want one, because its vulnerabilities outweigh its benefits, same as all the smokeless mopeds. Any complex piece of equipment is only as good as its support. Can you get parts? Are they the parts that actually need replacing? Can you get in and out of the mechanism without destroying it? Can you get good instructions and diagrams? What sort of facilities will you need to perform maintenance and repairs? I got into bikes for transportation because I could do absolutely anything I needed to do in a one-room apartment. It's a lot easier to maintain a vehicle that you can lift with one hand than it is to work on one that requires a hoist or a hydraulic lift.

No one has stopped driving cars because they don't make parts for a Duesenberg anymore. The evolution of machinery has left many fossils behind. But the extinction events seem to come along more frequently these days, driven as much by the accounting department as anything else. Just buying a product forces you to bet on the health of the company and its future prospects. When a product includes critical assemblies from multiple companies, you're at risk from every one of them.