The Draisienne Manifesto
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You might be wondering what this newsletter is named after and why.
Draisienne is the archetype of what became the bicycle. It’s also known as a Dandyhorse or (my personal favorite) a Laufmaschine. The Draisienne was invented by Karl Drais in 1817, and was the first vehicle with two wheels powered by the rider. It’s what I refer to as two-wheeled transportation. Karl Drais’ invention became a craze in cities across Europe, and is the precursor most two-wheeled transportation we know today.
The next big boom for two-wheeled transportation occured when the penny farthing came along in the early 1870s. The penny farthing featured revolutionary technologies like ball bearings that enabled riders to travel faster and farther. By placing the rider atop a large wheel with a high center of gravity, penny farthings were slightly awkward and only hobbyists rode them.
The third boom was the McCammon safety bicycle in 1884 (below), which is closer to what we conceive of as a modern bicycle. The safety bicycle was groundbreaking and created an explosion of cycling in the 1890s. That boom lasted until the automobile, but many don’t realize millions of people rode bicycles in cities across America. The Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn was one of the first bike lanes in America and Los Angeles built bicycle highways. Inventions like spoke tensioned wheels, spring saddle, the pneumatic tire, and the chain drive brought bicycling to the masses. Importantly, it enabled women to ride comfortably with a step-through frame. One of Susan B Anthony’s more famous quotes praises the bicycle: “I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel... the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
The McCammon Safety Bicycle
Get To The Point
You maybe asking yourself… Why is this important? Why is this relevant? Why are you naming your newsletter after the Draisienne? What's the point of all this bike history?
The TL;DR is that two-wheeled transportation experienced a series of major booms in the 1820s, 1870s, and 1890s, gradually taking over cities in Europe and America until World War I. There was an explosion of different styles -- racing bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes, touring bikes, recumbent bikes.
One thing that’s very different about this most recent boom is its ability to leverage concurrents revolutions in digital infrastructure and the shared economy. There are many early examples of bike share, like the Provos’ white bikes in Amsterdam back in the sixties or Copenhagen’s coin operated system in the nineties. Starting with Velib in 2007, two-wheeled transportation’s recent boom has been powered by the internet of things and every wireless acronym you can think of (3G/4G, NFC, GPS, RFID). This same revolution also enabled the sharing economy, where apartments, cars, bikes, scooters, and whatever we think of next are shared with strangers. This brings us to electrified two-wheeled transportation, which is largely associated with micromobility, defined as electric vehicles of various classes weighing under 500 kg. Micromobility owes its breakneck growth to an extraordinary infrastructure built by the smartphone revolution and the app-based shared economy. The Draisienne was a revolution, but nothing on the scale of what micromobility has seen in the past 3-4 years. Micromobility has seen unprecedented growth, with Bird and Lime defining a category and becoming some of the fastest growing companies of all time. Bird is the fastest start up ever to hit a $1B valuation and Lime beat Uber to 100M trips. My two former employers, were both bought by ride-hail giants (Motivate, purchased by Lyft and JUMP, bought by Uber). We are at another inflection point and micromobility has taken shared and electric two-wheeled transportation worldwide.
I’m not going to delve further into a history lesson because I can’t claim any academic credibility. I can claim a strong passion for sustainable mobility, obsessively following the space for the past decade, and having the privilege of working on the industry’s marquee systems. My first job was at a now defunct company called Bike Nation in Orange County, CA. I learned just how bleak this business can be trying to run shared mobility in car country circa 2012. At Motivate, I was most proud of my work on Portland’s BIKETOWN, where my team worked for nearly two years to implement and launch the project in 2016. The name of the game for that project, and every Motivate city, was public private partnerships with sponsorable naming rights.
It’s been amazing to experience micromobility’s hockey stick growth, and the shift from publicly supported to privately funded micromobility. I was unbelievably lucky to join JUMP when I did, experiencing the Series A - IPO life cycle of a start up in just two years thanks to Uber’s IPO. It’s been a wild ride, but even in that relatively short time I’ve also witnessed history repeating itself. As I learn more about mobility, its history, and its impact on urban experience, the more I realize I have so much more to learn. One mode’s boom led to another one going bust, battling for mode-share and right of way space. Two-wheeled transportation has had many ebbs and flows, but something feels different about micromobility. Just like the Draisienne and the safety bicycle unlocked opportunity in the 1800s, micromobility in 2020 truly feels like a superpower.
We are in revolutionary times, and there are more people than ever on two (and sometimes three) wheels using bikes, scooters, mopeds, and more. Two-wheeled transportation continues to have a lasting impact on our society, and the present revolution really feels like it could upend our mobility experience in cities. Approximately 84 million trips were taken on bikes and scooters in 2018 according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. In the chart below, analyst Horace Deidu shows how e-scooter giants Bird and Lime grew faster than Uber and Lyft, and are some of the fastest growing platforms of all time.
Micromobility adoption ramps vs. platform ramps from Horace Deidu | Twitter
As cities around the world are embattled by traffic, climate change, poor air quality, public health concerns, and more, two-wheeled transportation has a bigger role than ever to play. Cities are beginning to implement congestion pricing, including NYC, and the more progressive ones, like Oslo, are starting to ban cars in downtowns. Cities like Seattle are seeing vehicle-miles travelled reduce after consistent investment in public transportation and Kansas City just made all their buses free. As good policy takes root and begins to make driving obsolete, two-wheeled transportation in conjunction with public transit is one of the best tools we have to address these shifts.
Despite this sea change, micromobility and shared mobility are experiencing a lot of challenges, particularly around unit economics. Four months after Lime hit 100M trips, the company announced it was withdrawing from 12 markets and laying off staff in the pursuit of profitability. ShareNow, fka Car2Go and ReachNow, announced similarly bad news that it was withdrawing from North American and the UK. There are questions being asked of the industry that it’s failed to deliver on before, Ofo being a cautionary tale.
So what can we do to keep this revolution going? Or will it be similar to the bike craze of the 1890s which was quelled by the automobile?
The Draisienne Manifesto
If I accomplish one thing with Draisienne, I hope to demonstrate the value and importance of taking a long view with transportation. The best way to ensure this revolution continues to study and honor our industry’s long history, rather than believe we’ve rewritten the rules with a disruptive app-enabled scooter. Micromobility is often framed as a messianic invention when it’s really a reincarnation of the same incredible tool we’ve had all along: two-wheeled transportation. Micromobility’s history did not start in 2014 with ofo and Mobike, it did not begin with the launch of Velib in 2007, and it did not begin with Bird’s launch in Santa Monica in 2017. These are all a series of inflection points in a 200-year old s-curve. It began in 1817 with Karl Drais’ Draisienne and the invention of two-wheeled transportation which revolutionized city life, enabled opportunity, and evolved alongside a modernizing society.
Two-wheeled transportation has come and gone before, supplanted by an ever growing cornucopia of new transportation modes, like the automobile. The opportunity we have with micromobility and shared, electric, two-wheeled transportation feels like the first real challenge to the automobile. We also have to be ready for more disruption and do the work of evolving our existing cities transit infrastructure and streetscapes. Let’s draw inspiration from the Draisienne, the penny-farthing, and the safety-bicycle and incorporate that history into micromobility’s future.
Where to from here?
I can’t really tell you where we go from here, but I do hope you’ll join me on this journey. Just writing this article has uncovered many cans of worms I’m excited to open on this medium. I’m also about to embark on a trip across the country on Amtrak, and I plan on writing about that experience here. I also plan on interviewing my mentors and close colleagues, and who knows, maybe invite a guest writer or two.
The most important thing is, If you’ve gotten this far: please give me feedback. If you feel like it’s good enough to keep reading or share with your network, I’d greatly appreciate your subscription and sharing on whatever platform you prefer. If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on my website, via email, on Twitter, LinkedIn. Thank you for reading!