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Bicycles: Are They Automobiles?

Illustration for article titled Bicycles: Are They Automobiles?
Photo: Matt Brown

When somebody says automobile, they are usually talking about those four-wheeled things with internal combustion engines. But what if you have two wheels and no engine? Last week we determined that you don’t need any wheels for an automobile: Sailboats are clearly automobiles with no wheels at all. So if four wheels is an automobile, and zero wheels is an automobile, then two wheels is definitely an automobile!


Also motorcycles.

What about the fact that there is no engine? Sure, it’s mobile, but it’s not automatically mobile.

Illustration for article titled Bicycles: Are They Automobiles?
Photo: Karrmann

Automobiles carry many different power plants: gasoline, diesel, electric, compressed air, that turbine car that Chrysler made in the 1960s, that rubber band powered car that never really worked. Who says that you are not also a valid automobile engine?

“Uh, I do,” you say, “If you’re doing work then it is not automatic, obviously.”

Thought experiment: let’s say you buy a stationary bicycle that generates electricity while you ride. You plug that bike into your Nissan Leaf and ride vigorously for 8 hours. For a 100 watt bike, this will net you about three miles of range (40kWh battery /150-mile range = 266Wh per mile). You then drive your Leaf to pick up a protein shake and some Advil using only the electricity you generated with your leg pistons. Does the Leaf cease to be an automobile in this case?


If you’re pedaling up a hill, it is definitely not automatic, but what about when you get to the top of the hill? The bike will automatically take you down the hill. Or what if you pedal really fast and then just kind of glide along with inertia doing the work? As you pedal, you’re just putting in energy. Pedaling a bicycle is filling up the bicycle’s fuel tank.

Also, they can legally use the road. The whole road. And you have to wait behind them until you frustratedly pass on a double yellow and they yell something at you with righteous indignation but you’re passing quickly so all you hear is “aaaAAAHHHHhhh”.


Bicycles are automobiles.


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