The Tesla, My Valencia, and Commuting Differently

Tesla Model S charging?? via The Verge
I awoke this morning to take my ’05 Civic in for a major service. It was about 28°F when I dropped off the car and resumed the day by bike. My Trek Valencia has been really a solid partner when it comes to those commuting moments. But, the one thing it doesn’t have is heat. And going downhill on such a cold morning made me think about the compromises we have made towards commuting by car, and what is being designed differently in light of that.

I’m not doing anything special when riding other than making sure that I have a sufficient amount of layers on when I do. When its under 40F, three layers are the minimum. Visibility is par the course, but also is being comfortable enough to walk into whatever establishments I’ll be attending with little sweat or change of clothes needed.

This morning, the main thought that I had was heat though. I would have been nice to have something like the generator that I have on my bike (used to power my mobile) as something that sent some heat to the handlebar grips. I wondered about this only for a while, for I had the cold on my ears and nose changing those thoughts quickly, but in reading a review about the Tesla Model S at The Verge just a bit ago, I was reminded of that thought this morning, and the things we settle for which could be thought-better and designed for smarter use:

…For instance, there’s quite literally no ignition, nor one of those start-stop buttons that have become popular in recent years. There’s no power switch at all. As long as the key fob — shaped like a Model S — is on you, you just get in and start driving. When you’re done, you just get out. It’s a weird thing to get used to, because you feel like you’re missing a step somewhere.

The key fob has some other tricks up its sleeve, too. Walking away automatically locks the car, which causes all four door handles to retract flush with the body — it made me feel like I was in a sci-fi movie every single time it happened. When you walk back up to the car, the handles extend. But these aren’t mechanical handles: pulling on them detects your touch, which triggers a motorized latch and allows the door to be opened. Besides being wicked cool, the motorized handles give the Model S an ever-so-slight aerodynamic advantage when it’s in motion…

Its one of those things you don’t think about until its designed, and then once you’ve experienced it, you wonder why this isn’t normal. I feel that way about my Trek Valencia. Things like remembering to bring the right kind of lock should be avoided (a capable and heavy lock should be built into the frame, as should a cable lock for the quick visit moments). Or, if I opt to have lights on my bicycle, that there should already be insets for lighting systems that don’t use batteries, but a generator and my body as the fuel for it.

And then that heated grips thingy. It almost doesn’t make sense to those who bike a lot. Most will do like I did this morning and have the wind-breaker gloves with a wool set of gloves under them. But, your hands still get cold. As a matter of fact, I was surprised not just that my hands got cold, but how that effected my riding (I usually don’t get that cold in the hands with this setup). It limited how far I wanted to ride, and make me think even faster on how to get to a local business that had heat and hot chocolate.

In that story about the Tesla Model S, it was noticed how the charging stations just happened to be put near those places you didn’t mind getting out of the car and enjoying the neighborhood. I think that’s pretty smart, and really isn’t the way we go about designing infrastructure that supports getting around. I imagine in Charlotte that something similar could be done given the simple streets and needed cycling/commuting changes.

When I pick up my Civic later today, I’ll be using a key fob to open it, a key to turn it on, and have to remember also that the heat needs to go on. I’ll put my bicycle on the rack and be on my way. Shame that my bike doesn’t have a garage at that mechanic’s place where I could put it, then drive to it when its a little less cold, and a little more able to be taken advantage of for my commute. Trek designed an excellent ride in my Valencia, but in terms of making something that was designed for a commuter, I think the route Tesla is taking offers some lessons, and perhaps some opportunity unmet.