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Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

You know that expression “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” Not that our orbs are mendacious by nature, but just what the heck was that, that I beheld on a city street

the other day, during a rare tease of summer weather?

There, in full faux Hell’s Angels-style leather and regalia, was a lanky greybeard astride a Harley-style hog that was, well, if not exactly kid sized, about a half-scale version of the classic gleaming chrome beast, complete with the signature tailpipes.

These tailpipes were not belching thunderous hellfire, though, as the vehicle glided slowly along the street to the collective jaw-dropping of spectators on the sidewalk. No, this was an e-chopper, powered, presumably, by lithium-ion batteries, not high-octane hydrocarbons.

Our easy rider leaned dramatically into a turn onto a side street and with a whispery hum, he was gone.

One is left with a few thoughts after witnessing such a spectacle, such as what motivates a grown man – elderly, even – to seek out and buy such a machine – can we say toy? – and then get decked out in biker gang gear to complete the fantasy for the wonderment and awe of all who behold him.

Another question is: Where are we going with this explosion in electric vehicles of all imaginable varieties? Electric cars, buses, trucks, trains and airplanes are one thing, and surely overall a good thing for the greening of mass transit. But we are witnessing a less wondrous growth in street-level electrified wheels, from e-scooters to e-bikes to e-skateboards to whatever those electric Dyson-vacuum balls are called.

We saw this e-mania coming a few years ago, and were forewarned with the box office success of Paul Blart, Mall Cop, in which the heroic title character patrols the mall aboard a Segway scooter.

Despite the general derision, Segway was not laughed out of the electric scooter business. Indeed it is still producing the Paul Blart model of vehicle, and after being acquired by the Chinese Ninebot company in 2015, is now churning out slick motorcycles, including an electric-hydrogen hybrid with a design inspired by another movie, Tron.

Segway-Ninebot also makes e-scooters for companies offering sharing services that are rapidly becoming either the salvation or the scourge of urban commuting. Such services – Lime and Bird are two of the best known – are abounding in cities around the planet, much like there was a boom (and mostly bust) in commercial bike sharing and rental in recent years.

In what might be called a Tale of Two E-Cities, the inherent virtues and vices of e-scooter sharing were put to the test last year – sure, during the pandemic – in Montreal and Ottawa. In the nation’s capital, the e-scooter rental trial was a smash success; in La Métropole, it was a failure.

Ottawa decided to double the fleet of e-scooters for self-service; Montreal opted to pull the plug, as headline writers described the cancellation of the program.

In Montreal, the project was plagued by irresponsible participants who ditched the scooters wherever they felt like it and neglected to wear helmets as required, compelling Paul Blart law enforcement types to issue more than 300 tickets.

The relatively more conscientious and law-abiding citizens of Ottawa embraced the concept; some 72,000 people took 238,000 trips between July and October. The fleet, ergo, has jumped from 600 to 1,500 for this summer.

The proliferation of personal e-vehicles is having a serious impact on traffic in cities, but also in emergency wards. Because scooter wheels are tiny in comparison to those on bicycles, they don’t take kindly to the potholes that riddle our city streets. Hence, face and body meet asphalt, asphalt wins, and teeth and skin are lost.

There may be a reckoning coming where our urban overlords have to crack down on e-wheels. They may have to decide that bike paths are for bikes and should not be overrun with a carnival of electrically souped-up rides where enthusiasts stand or sit immobile, lacking “dignity” in Elon Musk’s estimation.

And, in case you were wondering, Harley Davidson does make electric motorcycles. In fact, last week it announced the creation of a new division, called LiveWire, to serve the needs of “wild hogs” (yeah, like the Travolta movie) who want to be mean – and green.


Photo from Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 Facebook page

Like actor Kevin James in the Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (2015), more and more people are scooting around city streets on small electric vehicles.

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