Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Furst things furst."

     The ability to tell if something is sincere or a joke is vital for a reporter. 
     So it was with some unease that, researching Friday's column about LimeBike, the company introducing self-locking, electric-assisted bikes to the South Side, I watched this safety video introducing the system. And found myself ... confused.
      It's some kind of arch parody of an in-flight safety film, correct? I mean, it has to be. With those silly uniforms, the lime green ties and neck scarves, not to mention buttons, badges, belts and shoes.  The unplaceable European accent.  "When biking with company" isn't even American English. The simpering smiles. The vogueing hand gestures. The confetti at the end.
     So definitely a joke, of some sort. But why? LimeBike is an American company that operates within the United States. No Dutch parent to have inherited the creators of this video from. What then? Some marketing company's idea of fun? I hate to be the person who takes stupid things seriously, but something about this left me puzzled, and it isn't the sort of question you could ask the company—what's with the video? They could barely muster a comprehensible response to my wondering why they never actually come out and tell riders to always wear helmets, but merely show helmets being handed to bikers, who then immediately discard the helmets, apparently, and go riding without them. They emphasize the need to comply with vague regulations, as if wearing a helmet were a legal nicety and not a vital stratagem to keep your brains from being smeared over the curb.
     Maybe I'm getting old.
     Back in the '80s, when David Letterman was king of late night TV, sincerity was considered toxic, and every young person went about life wrapped in a cocoon of protective irony. That got tiresome, eventually, and was seen as a kind of emotional cowardice. I hope this video is just an example of marketing gone horribly wrong, and not evidence that fey sniggering is back. I can be as ironic as the next guy, but in its place. 
      Looking for edification, I poked around the LimeBike site, and watched a second video, a Matrix homage browbeating riders to park their LimeBikes responsibly. That one is less distressing, and gives me hope that the safety video is simply singing in a key I can't quite comprehend. 
"Furniture zone"? 
     And yet. Some of the safety tips seemed translated from another language. What the hell is a "furniture zone"? Is that intentional? A mistake? How did that happen? 
      The LimeBikes weren't bad—although that electric motor has a worrisome quality I didn't have room to elaborate upon in Friday's article. When a rider tries to move forward slowly, say edging into an intersection, it wants to project the rider forcibly forward, to get the bike going, and I can see it thrusting bicycles into harm's way when the rider is trying to approach a hazardous situation slowly. 
      Come to think of it, there isn't a word in the safety video about getting adjusted to the electric motor either.  I understand not all of their bikes have them, and the video has a one-size-fits-all, "we're happy to be in your city" generic quality. But still. It's irresponsible. You don't want to find out about the electric motor when it pushes your bike in front of a speeding truck.
      I hope I don't seem safety-obsessed. But it seems you should be able to avail yourself to a new bike system without first passing through a gantlet of smirking sardonicism. They're going to feel pretty stupid when under-informed and poorly-cautioned riders start suing them, and those goofy videos are shown to granite-faced jurors in courtrooms across the country.


  1. It seems like they want it to sound like computer-generated dialogue. But if that's the case, why misprounce words? When did "important" become "impordant"?

  2. I discovered electric bicycles after an illness that made long distances on a bike problematic. You still get exercise but the pedal assist essentially negates the aggravation of hills and headwinds for geezers like me.

    I've owned several of them and can attest from experience that the phenomena of the motor surging is a real one. There are subtle difference in how the different bikes are engineered to perceives the pedal movement to assist you. Some bike lunge, some don't. The ones that lunge can get away from you in a heartbeat - your concern is well placed. When I take a friend out I always give them a lecture and have them practice starts and stops before we go.

    Before I learned the foibles of electric bikes I had several near disasters. I love bike riding and electric bikes have allowed me to continue to ride well into my dotage - but your article raises a vital consideration that apparently hasn't been addressed.

    1. Now that I'm older with health problems, my favorite bike is my recumbent. It's like a comfortable chair with wheels, pedals, and 24 gears. The only downside is that you can't stand up to pedal up a hill. That's where the low gears come in handy.

  3. Neil, I watched the safety video, and I'm totally not getting you. I found it perfectly comprehensible and entirely sensible. The only thing I could quibble with are the hand signals, which are adapted from cars, back in the days when turn signals were this newfangled doohickey; if you're on a bike and you want to signal a right turn, just extend your right arm. Other than that, everything in the video made complete sense to me.

  4. I'm with bitter scribe. It was clearly making fun of those airplane videos ( including their weird excitement at the end ....The American Airlines one in particular) but that just kept ones attention for a perfectly comprehensible safety video. I don't see this as problematic at all.

  5. Also FYI “furniture zone of the sidewalk,” is a phrase used by many bike companies and is "where you see things like light poles, benches and utility poles. I was told by someone it's a more common phrase in Seattle San Fransico.

  6. Electric motors have more torque on the low end, so I’m not sure the surging can be addressed without some complicated energy control circuit.

    If you signed a waiver for the bike service it no doubt contained all the safety and legalese. My point being, the waiver trumps the video as far as the stony faced jurors are concerned.


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