To Cool Down the Planet We Need to Embrace the Bike - by Melissa Balmer

Image:  Stengel/Motivate-Ford GoBike

Image: Stengel/Motivate-Ford GoBike

On Wednesday September 12th global thought leaders working to quell our planet’s rising temperatures will convene in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit (#GCAS2018) hosted by California’s Governor Jerry Brown. Dream with me a little, won’t you? Imagine if Governor Brown decided to take a page from actor and green activist Ed Begley Jr. and ride a bike around San Francisco during the summit instead of driving, or even walking?

In honor of the summit Genz (a leading electric bike and scooter manufacturer), Scoot and Ford GoBikes are offering their scooter and bikeshare systems free for attendees during the summit – and – a ‘free ride day” to everyone in San Francisco on Thursday September 13. Ford GoBike recently expanded their fleet to include the GenZe electric bikes, and Scoot has been using GenZe electric scooters as part of their zero emissions fleet for several years.

Imagine the social media buzz possibilities of pics of Governor Brown jauntily leading a cadre of VIP summit speakers and attendees to dinner by bike going viral. Even better if Governor brown chooses an electric bike. What a fabulously sly celebratory nod it could be for Governor Brown’s having just signed SB 100 (with its target of 100 percent carbon-free electricity for California by 2045). Think about the irony of the leader of the fifth largest economy in the world making this commitment while the leader of the first largest economy wants to fiddle while we burn.

This offer of a free convenient, easy, and fun way to get around San Francisco (named the 2nd most bike-friendly city in the U.S. by Bicycling Magazine in 2016) without having to deal with parking could be a real eye opener for many. Remember those three words–convenient, easy, and fun. They’re important. One free day for locals and tourists is great, but I’m thinking more of the culture shift opportunity for summit attendees from the U.S. (and other places on the planet) who’ve more-or-less overlooked the bike as a smart tool for optimism in the face of global warming. And yes, I realize it would be wise to add scooters to that mix now too.

I invite you to take-a-look at the # GCAS2018 speaker’s roster. Who else would you like to see on this imaginary bike ride to dinner with Governor Brown? It was hard for me to decide. It’s such a marvelous mix of inspiring people, but personally, I’d like to see SFO Mayor London Breed (she’d know the way to the restaurant), Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Dream Corp Founder Van Jones, VP of Environmental Policy and Social Justice Initiatives, Apple, Lisa Jackson, and of course Harrison Ford because he loves to ride his bike.

Why would a group like this having a fun evening out by bike mean so much? In my experience nothing opens-up someone’s mind about the opportunity of “the bike” like taking them for a ride that’s convenient, easy, and fun. It’s a big Oprah “aha” moment for many. We already know quite a bit about the opportunity of electric cars, that’s a subject that’s been covered in the media a lot. It’s the electric bike that we really should be excited about. Yes, I know, neither are that great if we don’t have clean electricity to run them, but California is working on that with SB 100.

With transportation now our largest polluter in the US, and congestion and sedentary diseases on the rise, we need to be thinking seriously about replacing short car trips by bike–or as my climate action colleague Andrea Learned likes to say #bikes4climate, to which we now need to add #ebikes4climate. Electric cars won’t help us deal with either traffic or sitting ourselves to death. The bike and the ebike on the other hand, can.

Not familiar with what an ebike is? They’re pedal or throttle assisted bicycles that make most hills and carting cargo a breeze, while still getting you moving enough to be valuable for your health and well-being. Uber has already found that their Jump ebikeshare system are cannibalizing rides from their carshare business in San Francisco. This is one of the only times I can think of that the idea of cannibalizing is a good thing, how about you? But ebikes are pricier than regular bikes, with an average price of $1,500.

Sweden thinks ebikes are such a good idea they’re investing $40 million in an ebike purchase incentive program. The program is so popular 40% of the budget was allotted in the first three months. The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) has been working for years to create an ebike purchase incentive program with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) which has spent nearly $536 million on electric car incentives already. Unfortunately, the ebike purchase program idea has yet to gain much traction. However, recently CalBike has added a recommendation to CARB for an ebikeshare expansion program under their “Clean Mobility Options for Disadvantaged Communities” program. At present most ebikeshare systems here focus on the wealthier coastal cities. CARB could change that, and their staff are planning to recommend such a program to the agency’s Board of Directors when they approve their budget in October 2018.

“We’re optimistic that CARB will show leadership to the world by getting ebikes into the hands of more people. People absolutely will use them to replace car trips.” Says Dave Snyder, the Executive Director of CalBike.  

I see that CARB’s Board Chair Mary Nichols is a speaker at the summit, I need to add her to my fantasy bike ride listeven more if I had an ebike. That’s the magic of ebikes, they make riding easy and fun for almost anyone.

Ok, chances are Governor Brown won’t have time to take a bike, or an ebike ride, at the summit. But am I naïve to hope that perhaps some kind, thoughtful attendees from say Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, or Seattle, Portland, Boulder, or San Francisco (any place that has made great strides in biking as a real mode of transportation for people of all ages and fitness levels) might not take U.S. environmentalists gently by the hand and play tour guide for a bike, ebike, or escooter spin around beautiful San Francisco? The bike and the scooter can’t solve our climate challenges all on their own, but they are very important pieces of the puzzle, pieces my friend Jim Brown of Sacramento Bicycle Advocates likes to call part of the “constellation of mobility options” that people should have beyond the car so that our world can be a cooler, cleaner, healthier and a safer place for everyone.

About Melissa

Melissa is the Founder/Director of She is currently writing “The Surprising Promise of Bicycling for America” with Jay Walljasper. Her writing has appeared in Mobility Lab, Momentum Magazine and Cycling Industry News. She served for two years as the Media Director for the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) from 2014 - 2016. She has placed CalBike, the Pedal Love Council members and their network in media such as the Associated Press, Bicycling Magazine, Bloomberg News, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Public Radio Int. Living on Earth, the Texas Standard, Reuters,Sierra Club Magazine, and more.