Acoustic Bikes: New Language Changes How I Think About E-Bikes

I am an avid user of social bike systems wherever I go. These are bikes available for shared public use for a small fee. In New York, it’s Citibike; in Montreal, Bixi; in Paris, Velib. And I’ve used systems in Helsinki, Boise, Berlin, Toronto, London (in the UK) and I’m forgetting where else. In many of the systems there’s a choice between non-electric bikes and electric-assist bikes. The latter involves a slightly higher fee. I choose non-electric the vast majority of the time. Despite that choice, lately I’ve noticed that my mind chafes at the usual way in which people refer to the two different types of bike—one as “normal” and the other as “electric.”

As I’ve become sensitized to all the judgemental implications of the word “normal,” I am uncomfortable with that designation, even for the bike. I see in myself how when I use that word to describe my choice, I am slighting the electric. (Yes, there are many good reasons to choose e-bikes and my fellow bloggers have talked about their choices, including: Elan here, Sam B here and Bettina here. They make great points about the virtues and benefits.)

Despite which, when I choose an electric bike, I am often saying something like this to myself: “I’m so tired. I don’t have enough energy for a normal bike.” Or, “I’m late. I’ll make this compromise to be on time.” Both of these could be as anodyne as discerning what I need, or even just want. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, most of the time the comments are tinged with judgement and self-criticism.

Then, the other day, while riding an electric bike (by which I mean electric-assist), when I started to hear that critical voice in my head, suddenly a new supportive voice piped up, “Not normal, acoustic.” The voice emphasized her point with a forceful strum of a chord on her acoustic guitar. Oh yes, the voices in my head are often kitted out with props.



I considered the implications of this linguistic possibility.

Acoustic bikes are the ones that rely completely on my physical power, on my body and where it’s at that day. I know that wherever I go, whatever hill I climb, it’s all Mina-powered. Acoustic days are ones on which I’m tuning into to my own strength. On the other hand, just like an electric guitar requires an amplifier, electric-assist bikes amplify my strength and fluidity. Some days, Mina-amped is a wonderful option. I can still be outside, instead of on a subway, and I don’t have to wear myself down to a nub. I can be on time, without being harried. Plus (important plus)—the joy of the extra speed, freedom and ease. Let’s blow out the speakers with great music. Choosing with discernment. No judgment.

My synapses made some connections with another kind of amplifier—psychedelics. I work as a Learning Facilitator with The Synthesis Institute in their Psychedelic Practitioner Core Training, a program for people interested in facilitating psychedelic-assisted therapy and/or ceremony. Scientists often call psychedelics “non-specific amplifiers,” meaning that the effect is to amplify the pre-existing mindset and setting, which includes the intention a person brings to the experience. Research suggests that even a so-called bad trip can be used to a person’s benefit, if they are open to receiving the message, which may ignite our inner healer, pointing toward new possibility. In my own first facilitated experience, I was subjected to a super amplification of negativity from every one of my inner critics. An unpleasant trip. Yet, I heard the message, “Mina, it’s time to change your relationship with the inner critics.” Changing my relationship with all those voices in my head is a work in progress. Including, most recently, changing my relationship with the inner critic who wants to judge me about my choice of bike on any given day.

What kind of bike I ride is just that—a choice between two worthy options. Sure, I mostly like an acoustic ride. And, there are days I want to plug in the amplifier and ride like the Queen of Rock and Roll. Sometimes I need to tune into Mina-amped—to let me know what to work on in myself, or just to get around town.  

4 thoughts on “Acoustic Bikes: New Language Changes How I Think About E-Bikes

  1. I have mixed feelings about your use of the word “acoustic” to mean a bike powered by your own muscles. I have heard the word used in that sense before and bristle a bit. Since the word comes from a Greek word and specifically refers to hearing, to use it in a sense which has nothing to do with hearing or sound can be seriously misleading, especially to a non-native English speaker. On the other hand, equating it to amplified vs non-amplified guitar seems appropriate. With all the words in our language, there must be a better one out there… The description of psychedelics as “non-specific amplifiers” seems pretty appropriate. I worked in that field 50 years ago, and helping people with “bad trips” had a lot to do with helping them to integrate the information they found unpleasant. The immediate work while high was just to resolve the crisis and protect the person. The real work was what came next. I use “bad trip” in quotes, as some pretty phenomenal growth can come from an experience in which we confront demons from which we spend our life hiding.

    1. Thank you for all the different elements of this thoughtful response. Someone suggested “analog” instead of digital, but I don’t love that either–less “musical” and I think of listening and tuning into my body. Also, analog implies mechanical, which is too Cartesian for me. As for your insights on psychedelics–I am aligned with you.

  2. Great analogy.ies!
    Now that you tried both bikes (acoustic and electric) you simply have one more choice, meaning more freedom…
    As per the “normal” whatever, only you knows, deep down, what’s good for you.
    The critical voice, i find (for myself), is often one of fear…
    All the best. Enjoy the ride, bike and life 🙂 cheers

    1. I am struck by your phrase putting “normal” next to what’s good for us–you’re right that those two are not equivalent concepts. The whole word “normal” is very tricky these days. “Typical” is probably more neutral. Thanks for reading!

Comments are closed.