Bikes, long an underdog on streets, will rule the roads eventually.
That’s the conclusion of Horace Dediu, a prominent analyst of disruptive technologies, who has spent the past three and a half years researching the future of transportation.
Transportation is arguably the hottest frontier in the tech world. Innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond are spending billions to build flying cars and self-driving trucks. Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks of digging costly 30-level tunnel networks for cars. Google cofounder Sergey Brin reportedly has a giant airship.
But as Dediu sees it, a familiar, unglamorous technology will own the future: the bicycle. And the big loser will be cars.
“Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars,” Dediu told CNNTech, referencing investor Marc Andreessen’s seminal 2011 argument that software-driven businesses are dominating the world.
Dediu points to the explosive growth of Chinese bikeshare systems as well as the versatility, low cost and efficiencies of shared bicycles.
Bikeshare bikes of the future, according to Dediu, will be outfitted with cameras and sensors, collecting valuable data for cities. When a cyclist rides over a pothole, it can be automatically reported to a city. Cameras on the bicycle will provide real-time data, such as pedestrian traffic and pollution. Google Street View will look like an antique compared to near real-time imagery collected from bikeshare cameras.
The bikes will need to be carefully constructed so that the cameras and sensors aren’t easily broken during use.
Software and electrification are slowly transforming the auto industry. There’s talk of self-driving cars flooding streets in five or 10 years. It will likely take even longer for electric vehicles to go mainstream.
Dediu argues that electric, connected bikes will arrive en masse before autonomous, electric cars. Riders will barely have to pedal as they whiz down streets once congested with cars.
Bikes’ flexible nature will aid their popularity. You can park a bicycle in your home or your office. A bike can be carried on a bus, car or train. A car doesn’t offer this versatility. A similar case of disruption played out with cameras, as the always-in-your-pocket nature of smartphones helped them leave traditional cameras in the dust.
Bikes have another edge on cars — speed. New York’s shared bicycles have already been shown to travel at a faster average speed than city taxis during peak hours. They’re also more affordable per mile.
While the speed edge seen in New York today doesn’t hold up in every city, it will likely change as electric bicycles emerge. Electric bikes — whose motors generally top out at 20 mph — will attract customers because they don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat, struggling to climb a hill or keeping up with traffic.
“When you get on an electric bike, what we witnessed is a lot of those anxieties are calmed,” said Elliott McFadden, executive director of the Austin B-Cycle, the city’s bikeshare program. It recently surveyed citizens’ interest in electric bikes.