Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

How tech revolutions happen


Trends in New York City tend to foretell trends in London, whose fashions in turn set the pace for smaller British cities. After a summer in the Apple, I can therefore provide British urbanites with a glimpse of their future.

I get around on what I newly perceive as a dumpy, sluggish pushbike. Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested extensively in the city’s cycling infrastructure — much to the resentment of motorists, and often for good reason. As London drivers will also attest, removing whole lanes from congested thoroughfares is rarely justified by the modest number of car trips that cyclists obviate. Still, given the soaring popularity of two-wheeled transport, when chugging against a headwind alongside the Hudson I ought to have plenty of company.

Indeed, I do. But although signage on Manhattan’s busy West Side cycle lane warns sternly ‘No e-bikes or e-scooters’, the advisory is farcical. Those signs might as well read ‘E-bikes and e-scooters have right of way; prehistoric dependents on pedal-power should join the 21st century’. Between the previous summer and this past one, the electrified craze reached a tipping point; by my rough calculation, over half the traffic on New York’s cycle lanes now plugs in. We’re not only talking about vehicles with a tiny ‘assist’ to give ageing athletes a boost uphill, either. Today’s e-bikes readily whizz past at 30mph, leaving us Luddites behind in the dust. Some of the latest models are enormous, with wheels like Harleys. They merely emit a subtle mosquito whine, so you can’t hear them coming when they overtake. And boy, do they overtake.

Unsurprisingly, these e-people are even more blithely oblivious of traffic laws than the troglodytes in Lycra

E-scooters are everywhere. As their riders reliably wear a serene, superior expression, weaving effortlessly through clumps of wheezing technophobes must be fun. Legally, e-scooters are limited to 15mph, but their speed controls are easily disabled, which explains why the more powerful scooters can neck-and-neck with the e-bikes doing 30.

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