Can a reality TV show sell you an electric bike for $2,298?
In Stockholm, Daniel and Ludo follow the tracker’s signal to a group of buildings. As they interrogate the residents, Daniel picks up on the “super tense” energy of a man running away before they can approach him. Searching the area, they spot a telltale VanMoof handlebar sticking out of a balcony. Daniel uses a digital signal to verify that it is Ludo’s bike, then calls the police, who help him retrieve it. Overjoyed, Ludo climbs up and begins to ride.
“Bike Hunters” takes a product category with enormous potential to increase the public good, and then talks about it in a surprisingly goofy way: via short, reality-TV-inspired videos of young people performing what sometimes seem like woefully inefficient scavenging operations. (In the first two episodes, several VanMoof employees flew from the Netherlands to Ukraine and Romania, spending days and significant amounts of carbon trailing bikes they never found.) The show can be a bit silly. This is exactly why it seems terribly important.
Consider cars, the heart of the problem that e-bikes promise to help solve. Much of the dominance of cars over transit culture in the United States stems from the accumulated power of a century of political decisions. But some credit must also be given to the great success of the car in seeping into all the crevices of our culture. Cars come to us in advertisements, in movies, in song lyrics; they’re powerful, they’re sexy, they’re fun.
‘Bike Hunters’ doesn’t exist to make you feel bad but to make you want a fancy bike.
Bikes, on the other hand – the everyday type, going from A to B – are offered as vegetables to the steak of the cars. Cautious and responsible, perhaps. Powerful and sexy, definitely not. Ditto for the likes of public transit and walkable neighborhoods, options often presented in the sober register of a nonprofit report. We talk about safety, public health and the negative aspects that we could avoid: number of deaths and injuries, toxic emissions figures, congestion statistics. We only hear about fun and enjoyment in footnotes and asides, if at all. This dynamic applies well beyond transit. Eating less meat, buying fewer clothes, wearing masks indoors during an epidemic: too often, overt good interventions arrive via chastising exhortations to eat our vegetables, both real and metaphorical. Not because vegetables are tasty, but because eating steak is bad for the planet and we should know that.