• Distance, Time, Speed & Energy: A socio-political analysis of technologies of longer distance cycling

      Cox, Peter; University of Chester
      The basic laws of motion governing cycling are well understood. Consideration of the variables of energy use in cycle travel is less frequent. The potentials of both aerodynamically efficient cycle design and the augmentation of human power with e-motors dramatically reconfigure what we understand as a cycle and as cycling. The prospect of increasing travel distance in regular journeying, coupled with the logical application of augmentation (aerodynamic and/ or power), suggest a need to re-evaluate some of the ground expectations applied in design and planning for cycle travel if the cycles for which infrastructure is designed no longer conform to existing expectations of what a cycle is and how it performs. Current e-bike performance is limited principally by normative legislative intervention, not by the intrinsic potential of the technologies. Existing decisions as to what an e-bike can (and should) be, are shaped by the performance expectations of late 19th and early 20th century bicycle designs. Shaping modal shift for longer trips returns us to think about the place of cycling travel time as a function of the relationship between distance and speed. Increased speed allows for greater distance without time penalty. However, speed is itself governed by available energy, coupled with the efficiency of use of that energy. Without entirely substituting human power, E-motors allow us to augment the human power available in different ways; Changes in cycle design (velomobiles, for example) allow us to increase the efficiency of use of available power in overcoming resistance to movement. Identifying the assemblage of cycle/cyclist as a variable, rather than a determinate object to be accommodated, raises difficult questions for cycling provision, especially in relation to longer distance travel. Drawing on the capacities of already existing technologies of cycling and e-cycling, the paper focuses on the social implications of potentially problematic interactions. It argues that new decisions will need to be made in regard to speed and distance in cycle travel and that the forging of regulations consequent on those fundamentals will substantially shape the potentials and possibilities of modal shift for longer distance cycle travel. What emerges is a politics of longer distance cycle, not simply a set of technical barriers and problems.