BRATTLEBORO—David Cohen, founder of VBikes, is now working with local bike shops to make Vermont bike culture more “inclusive,” a movement that he says is “less about the bike and more about being a human being.”
VBikes is a nonprofit advocacy organization which, in contract with GoVermont, a division within the Vermont Agency of Transportation, has been providing free bike consultations to individuals seeking what founder David Cohen calls “car reduction therapy.”
Cohen does so with the help of e-cargo bikes and e-assist conversion kits, which he says will make it easier and safer for families, businesses, and seniors to incorporate biking into their everyday lives.
“E-bikes are a hybrid of human power and electric power and are probably the most energy-efficient form of transport available today,” Cohen says.
The U.S.-made e-assist conversion kits are powered by a rechargeable battery and make it possible to ride longer distances and provide an extra boost to tackle Vermont’s daunting hills.
The e-cargo bikes, some equipped with bucket seats and a throttle, make toting children or doing grocery shopping viable on two or sometimes three wheels.
Cohen works with people to match them with a bike that is suitable for their physical condition, family size, and frequented terrain.
He hopes to shift the perception of bicycling from the strictly recreational and seasonal approach many presume about cycling in Vermont, he says.
He disputes as myth that biking is only for “fit people” or “has created a culture of space age clothing, expensive accessories, and bikes that cost more […] but that can’t even carry a loaf of bread.
‘Investment in health and commuity‘
VBike is collaborating with two bike shops, Burrows Specialized Sports (105 Main St.) and Brattleboro Bicycle Shop (165 Main St.), about these available technologies, and refers people interested in “rebooting their bikes” to the shops.
There they can have conversions done on bicycles they currently own, or they can purchase brand-new e-bikes.
Current models include tricycles that can go in reverse, as well as step-through models that make it easier for riders with hip or knee problems to mount the bike.
“It’s an investment in your health and the community,” says Cohen.
While the e-bikes average about $1,500, the Vermont State Employees Credit Union has agreed to extend their VGreen energy efficiency loans — usually offered on homes — toward the purchase of e-bikes. Similarly, plans are in the works for e-bike subsidies.
VBike also has a fleet of e-bikes in Brattleboro, from which folks can borrow and take home for longer test runs. The nonprofit is also working in conjunction with Local Motion, the state’s bike advocacy program, to create a similar fleet in Burlington.
Cohen admits that existing local infrastructure and harsh winters do not make for an ideal biking environment, though he points out that there are cities all over the world where people use bikes as their main form of transportation in similar and even worse weather. He thinks that if it were easier for more people to take the leap to bike riding, the infrastructure would eventually augment accordingly.
“We’re the ones who have to bring the change,” he said. “The automobile is an amazing machine, but built into its architecture is a form of desensitizing us to the world.
“We think we are sensing the world, but we have no idea about the impact that we are having on it, because we can’t be outside our car as we pass by at 60 mph. It’s a neuropsychology of transportation which is leading us to see the world and interact with it more from the perspective of the machine rather than a human being.”