Legal threat to China's electric bikes postponed

Is it time for a new law in the UK?

China's electric bicycle manufacturers can breathe a (perhaps short-lived) sigh of relief after the postponement of a proposed new law restricting the legality of e-bikes.

The new rules, proposed by the country's Standardization Administration (SAC), were set to take effect at the start of 2010, but have been put on hold following opposition from the industry and electric bike riders.

According to widespread reports in the country's media, nearly 120 million electric bikes were set to be banned from public roads from 1 January if their owners did not get a motorcycle license for them.

Also controversial was a proposal to set a minimum size limit on electric bike manufacturers: only companies with US$29 million of investment would survive, or less than one percent.

"Millions of workers could lose their jobs" said Lu Jinlong, a commissioner of the Pedal Bicycle Commission of China's Bicycle Association.

In contrast, recent legal moves in other countries are liberalising the position of electric bikes. For example, earlier in the year the Canadian province of Alberta legalised e-bikes for street use, providing they do not have assisted speeds higher than 32 km/h (nearly 20mph) or an electric motor producing in excess of 750 watts.

Tim Snaith of 50cycles, retailers of German electric bike brand Kalkhoff, has many years' experience in the business and has seen electric bike law in operation at home and abroad.

Speaking exclusively to BikeRadar, he said: "I'm not surprised that Chinese riders are up in arms. A huge amount of their population rely on electric bikes on a daily basis in a way that UK riders don't.

"From a UK perspective, I don't think a slight increase in the power rating would hurt – the current limit is very modest (200w or 250w continuous output depending on your interpretation of the law!). The other real need is for clarity – there is still a grey area over exactly which throttle-operated machines are legal in the UK.'

David Henshaw, editor of A to B magazine, which specialises in folding and electric bikes, told BikeRadar that it might be time to introduce a new class of electric bike.

He said: "When the original 1983 e-bike legislation was drafted, it was considered important to cover all possible loopholes to prevent people from riding what would effectively be an electric moped, but without helmet, insurance or MoT certification.

"In practice, battery and control technology of the day made faster and/or more powerful e-bikes unlikely, but today bikes capable of 20mph or even more are quite common, albeit strictly illegal.

"With the law being widely ignored, I think there is now a strong case for a new category of e-bike to bridge the gulf between the 15mph/40kg machines currently allowed on our roads, and 30mph mopeds. In countries where faster e-bikes are allowed, they are generally required to have basic insurance and safety testing, which would be appropriate here."

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