Can a Reality TV Show Sell You on a $2,298 E-Bike?

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In Stockholm, Daniel and Ludo follow the tracker signal to a group of apartment buildings. As they interview residents, Daniel picks up “super tense” energy from a man who runs off before they can approach him. Searching the area, they spot a telltale VanMoof handlebar sticking out from a balcony. Daniel uses a digital signal to verify it’s Ludo’s bike, then calls the police, who help recover it. Overjoyed, Ludo hops on and begins riding.

“Bike Hunters” takes a product category with massive potential to increase the public good, then talks about it in a surprisingly goofy way: via reality-TV-inflected short videos about young people executing what sometimes seem like awfully inefficient retrieval operations. (In two early episodes, several VanMoof employees flew from the Netherlands to Ukraine and Romania, spending days, and significant amounts of carbon, on the trails of bikes they never found.) The show can be a little silly. It’s for exactly this reason that it feels terribly important.

Consider cars, the core of the problem e-bikes promise to help solve. Much of cars’ dominance of United States transit culture stems from the accumulated power of a century of political decisions. But some credit must also be given to the car’s great success at infiltrating every crevice of our culture. Cars come to us in advertisements, in films, in song lyrics; they’re powerful, they’re sexy, they’re fun.

‘Bike Hunters’ exists not to make you feel bad but to make you want a fancy bike.

Bicycles, by contrast — the everyday, getting-from-A-to-B type — are offered as the vegetables to cars’ steak. Prudent and responsible, maybe. 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. There’s talk of safety, public health and the negatives we might avoid: death and injury counts, toxic emission figures, congestion statistics. We hear about fun and pleasure only in footnotes and asides, if at all. This dynamic applies far beyond transit. Eating less meat, buying less clothing, wearing masks indoors during a disease outbreak: Too often, demonstrably good interventions arrive via scolding exhortations to eat our vegetables, both real and metaphorical. Not because the vegetables are tasty, but because eating steak is bad for the planet and we should know better.

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