By Wendy M. Levy/The Commons
BRATTLEBORO—Josh Traeger, Outreach Coordinator for VBike, pointed to a small, white button on the left handlebar of an electric-assist bike at Brattleboro’s Burrows Specialized Sports.
“That’s the button that makes Brattleboro flatter,” he said.
I miss my bike. But, I can’t make it up all those hills. Traeger and Dave Cohen, founder and director of VBike, tell me I can get my bike out of the basement and back onto the streets with the help of a battery-powered motor.
Still, I was skeptical of Cohen and Traeger’s claim. So, to prove it, they brought me, and Burrows’s e-assist demo bike, to Brattleboro’s Walnut Street, right next to the parking lot of Brattleboro Savings & Loan. My assignment was to ride the bike east, and then head up the hill to Terrace Street.
My skepticism increased. I’m in no shape to bike up that hill. After some fiddling with the electric-assist’s connections, Cohen demonstrated how I could get up the incline: push the button.
So, I adjusted my helmet, got on the bike, pedaled toward the hill, and pushed the little white button. Suddenly, I heard a whirring sound coming from the bike, and as if elves suddenly appeared behind me, giving me a push, I was at the top of Terrace Street, by the old Governor Holbrook mansion.
My legs still pumped the pedals, so it’s not like I was doing nothing. I exerted myself, but not to the point where it felt like my heart was going to thump forth from my ribcage. I had help, via a battery-powered motor I engaged by simply pushing the little white button.
I yelled behind me to Cohen and Traeger, who had followed me up the hill, “It’s like I just had my ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ moment!"
As we rode along Wantastiquet Drive, the three of us on our electric-assist bikes, we said hello to people in their yards and commented to one another on the lovely sights and smells of the late-spring afternoon: freshly-cut grass, blossoming flowers.
“You can’t do that in a car,” Cohen said.
“There is a simple examination of the word ‘automobile,’” Cohen said in a follow-up email to The Commons. “‘Automobile’ literally means to move about with little or no engagement and involvement from us — whether with our bodies, senses or emotional connection. VBike is working to promote the exact opposite of that — more engagement, involvement, and connection,” he wrote.
“You have to get on the bike and experience it,” Cohen said, adding that when people use their bodies, “it has a way of washing away ‘car-brains.’"
“Our limbic brain is how we take in and sense the world,” Cohen said, adding that when we travel in automobiles, “we sever that connection. The more people show up in the world with their senses, the better off we’ll be.”