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

      Cox, Peter; orcid: 0000-0003-2374-3125 (University of Westminster Press, 2021-10-07)
      The basic laws of motion governing cycling are wellunderstood. Consideration of the variables of energy use in cycle travel areless frequent. The potentials of both aerodynamically efficient cycle designand the augmentation of human power with e-motors dramatically reconfigure whatwe understand as a cycle and as cycling. The prospect of increasing travel distance in regularjourneying, coupled with the logical application of augmentation (aerodynamicand/ or power), suggest a need to re-evaluate some of the ground expectationsapplied in design and planning for cycle travel if the cycles being designedfor do not fit the existing expectations of what a cycle is and how itperforms. Current e-bike performance is limited principally bynormative legislative intervention, not by the intrinsic potential of thetechnologies. Existing decisions as to what an e-bike can (and should) be, areshaped by the performance expectations of late 19th and early 20thcentury bicycle designs. Shaping modal shift for longer trips returns us tothink about the place of cycling travel time as a function of the relationshipbetween distance and speed. Increased speed allows for greater distance withouttime penalty. However, speed is itself governed by available energy, coupledwith the efficiency of use of that energy. Without entirely substituting humanpower, E-motors allow us to augment the human power available in differentways; Changes in cycle design (as us, for example, in velomobiles) allow us toincrease the efficiency of use of available power in overcoming resistance tomovementIdentifying the assemblage of cycle/cyclist as avariable, rather than a determinate object to be accommodated, raises difficultquestions for cycling provision, especially in relation to longer distancetravel.This paper takes an approach rooted in Actor NetworkTheory and developed through social practice analysis to explore theinteractions of people machines and spaces for longer distance travel. It paysparticular attention to the capacities and affordances of each of theseelements, especially in their interaction. Drawing on the capacities of already existingtechnologies of cycling and e-cycling, the paper focuses on the socialimplications of potentially problematic interactions. It argues that newdecisions will need to be made in regard to speed and distance in cycle traveland that the forging of regulations consequent on those fundamentals  will substantially shape the potentials andpossibilities of modal shift for longer distance cycle travel. What emerges isa politics of longer distance cycle, not simply a set of technical barriers andproblems.