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Remember when the Segway was expected to change the world? But the two-wheel standup pedestrian assistance vehicle turned out to be a big yawn since it couldn't be operated on sidewalks or streets. That pretty much limited it to parking lots and use by mall cops.

There's probably a need for it on large private properties where other modes of transportation are too large, but for most of us, it's not practical.

Then electric scooters flooded the market with glowing reports of convenience, but they seem to be sputtering as cities see complaints and accidents. Some cities have restricted them to sidewalks, which has caused even more problems. And there are plenty of small towns without sidewalks.

I gave up my scooter at age 5. Standing on a scooter today with traffic zooming around me or riding on a sidewalk trying to dodge pedestrians is not my cup of tea. I almost bought one earlier in the year, but at the last minute I decided to wait until the regulations settled and to see if the scooters were just going to be another Segway.

I'm glad I waited because now the next big thing is beginning to flood the market, and it's something I am very familiar with: a bicycle. I still remember how happy I was when I got my first bike, and rode it until I was old enough to drive a car. However, I do remember those hot days where I peddled almost to exhaustion, and then had to push my bike up steep hills.

Today the next big thing is here to solve all those problems. It's the ebike. Electric bicycles with pedal assist are turning up on streets all over the country; over the next five years I predict thousands of ebikes will flood city streets.

The reasons for their success has a lot to do with us already being familiar with bicycles. That, combined with the problems of inner-city transportation, makes ebikes popular.

For instance, you are a student at the University of Arkansas and you live about a mile from the campus. At 8:30 a.m. you get in your car and head for the campus for your 9 a.m. class. Good luck in finding a parking place.

However, if you have an ebike, you zip along beside stagnant traffic, arrive at the campus in 15 minutes, and park your ebike within a short walking distance from your classroom building.

I have just ordered ebike racks for downtown El Dorado.

However, ebikes aren't just for college kids. They're an attractive option for those traveling from one to five miles in city traffic. Most progressive towns--as well as some of the most congested--are putting in bike lanes. I was recently in downtown Houston, where green-striped bike lanes are everywhere in the heart of the city.

A recent study shows that the majority of trips are within the city limits of residents' towns, and an ebike will make those trips easier, more economical, and quicker than a car. Say you live in Bentonville and work downtown. A lunch at Fred's Hickory Inn comes up. Would you rather get in your car and drive to Fred's on North Walton Boulevard with all that traffic, or zip along a backstreet and arrive at Fred's in 10 minutes?

You might shake your head at the idea you could go shopping at Walmart on an ebike, but the designers have already thought that out; instead of one rear wheel, a two-wheel ebike with a large square cargo basket is available. It is big enough to take your dog for a ride.

Or maybe you just can't be without your mobile phone close at hand. That's been taken care of with an cell-phone case holder with a compatible touch screen and waterproof case.

Helmets, while not required in Arkansas, are a good idea unless you like to visit emergency rooms, as well as good headlights and tail lights for night riding. A cargo bag, front basket, and bell are also useful additions.

Arkansas recently passed an ebike law that regulates their use and classifies them into three categories depending on the speed of the ebike. I won't go into the details, but recommend you familiarize yourself with those details. From my understanding of the current law, ebikes are allowed on all Arkansas roadways except interstates or other special use roads; the speed allowed is usually 20 miles per hour for the lowest level ebike.

After considering the benefits that come with riding an ebike, I'm in the market for one. I live about a mile from downtown where I work, and going back and forth isn't much of a problem. I have a Vespa, but it's been in the garage with minor mechanical problems, and when you have a mechanical problem with a large scooter such as a Vespa, it's hard to get it fixed.

An ebike is a much simpler mechanism, and with backup pedals it guarantees you at least a ride home if you are a mile or so from town.

But bike riding is more than just getting from one place to the next. There is something about riding in the open air where you are more in tune with your surroundings that's more more pleasant than being enclosed in a car going 45 to 60 miles per hour. We seem to live in the fast lane and although the ebikes slow us down, we inherently want them to get us to where we are going quickly.

Easing along on city streets at 20 miles an hour while enjoying the outdoors, combined with saving time by dodging traffic and saving gasoline money, beats the hectic race to our jobs that end in backed-up lines of cars incessantly honking.

Obviously, the non-polluting ebike is one of the more positive environmental things you can do for the planet. So get an ebike ... and while you're at it, give up those plastic straws and plastic grocery bags.

Email Richard Mason at richard@gibraltarenergy.com.

Editorial on 09/29/2019

Print Headline: Here's the next big thing

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