Bikeshare systems around the country run by Motivate, a subsidiary of Lyft, are pulling their electric bikes from the streets due to a potentially faulty front brake that may send riders tumbling head over heels even if they just tap the brakes.
The e-bikes are being pulled from Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, but the main city hit is New York, which has seen the most aggressive e-bike rollout. In only a few months, Citi Bike has added some 1,000 e-bikes to the fleet and they planned to roll out an additional 3,000 by June.
The news of the recall was first announced on the Citi Bike website, stating that the bikes were pulled because of “a small number of reports from riders who experienced stronger than expected braking force on the front wheel.” Similar messages were later posted on the Ford GoBike (San Francisco) and Capital Bikeshare (DC) websites.
The company says they’re removing the e-bikes “out of an abundance of caution” and that the move is proactive.
I wonder, though, if the man AM New York spoke to who broke his hip when the front wheel of his e-bike seized up when he tapped the brakes would consider the removal proactive:
Bill Somers, who lives near Columbus Circle, said he broke his hip after flying head-over-handlebars when he lightly tapped the front brake on his pedal-assist Citi Bike. Somers said he has regularly ridden a bike since he was a child and was a Citi Bike member for years, who had experience with its pedal-assist bikes before the March 17 incident.
“I literally touched [the brake] with two of my fingers and it locked up,” said Somers, who described attempting to brake while biking along Central Park West and noticing a car edge out onto the road from the intersection with 61st Street.
The New York Times also spoke to a number of riders who crashed after their front wheels locked up. One of them, former Gizmodo employee and current Vice News Tonight reporter William Turton, still mourned the temporary loss of his e-bike:
“It’s honestly tragic,” said Mr. Turton — in spite of his close call in Brooklyn two weeks ago. “I’ve been commiserating with my friends today who are also electric-bike enthusiasts.”
Mr. Turton said the electric bikes had cut his commute time in half.
This may seem like a puzzling reaction. Surely anyone would be happy to take a commute twice as long in exchange for a higher probability of not being injured during it.
But it’s worth remembering we’re talking about bicycling in major cities, a means of transportation that is far more dangerous than it ought to be due to city governments that don’t adequately separate bikes from traffic even on brand-new bike lanes. So the long odds of a front wheel locking up pale in comparison to the much better odds of getting hit by a box truck. Anyways, it’s not like driving is a paragon of safety itself.