A war of words has erupted over proposed changes to EU laws on electric bikes. At present, for an e-bike to be treated as a bicycle its assisted speed must be limited to 15mph/25kmh and its engine must have a maximum continuous power rating of 250w. If it exceeds these limits, it’s classed as a moped and vehicle tax, helmet use and third party insurance become compulsory.
The European Twowheelers Retailers Association is lobbying to increase the power limit – but not the speed limit – of pedelecs (bikes where power kicks in automatically on pedalling) to 1kw. It also wants all throttle-controlled electric bikes to be classed as e-bikes, not e-mopeds, as long as they fall within these limits.
At present, EU law states that the motor alone can’t be used to propel the bicycle. This has widely been interpreted as allowing throttle-controlled e-bikes, as long as the throttle only works when the pedals are turning.* The new proposals, which are to be voted on by a plenary session of the EU Parliament later this month, would remove this requirement, allowing use of “twist and go” throttles which work independently of pedalling.
The executive director of Great Britain‘s Bicycle Association, Phillip Darnton, has warned the UK Government that bigger motors risk creating danger on UK roads by increasing average e-bike speeds and boosting acceleration. In a letter to transport minister Norman Baker, he said the BA was also adamantly opposed to e-bikes with “twist and go” throttles because they “muddle the clear distinction between pedal cycles and all other road vehicles”.
In response to Mr Darnton’s comments, the ETRA published an open letter that said the Bicycle Association’s argument was “full of inaccuracies” and “intellectually unfair”. The organisation’s Annick Roetynck told BikeRadar: “Our proposals are a far more suitable technical framework that would open up the market for practical electrically-assisted cargo bikes, kiddie-carriers and the like.”
David Henshaw has been writing and editing A to B magazine, which specialises in folding and electric bikes, since 1997 and is an expert on electric bike technology. He told BikeRadar: “It’s hard to understand the position of the Bicycle Association on this proposal, because a change allowing more powerful motors on cargo bikes and other commercial electric bikes can only be good news, with no obvious safety implications. Had the ETRA proposed an increase in speed for electric bikes, the BA’s opposition would be easier to understand
“I think a new ‘fast e-bike’ category with a maximum speed of around 35kmh would make sense too, with a few safeguards. The legal status of small electric vehicles needs to be completely revamped. Why should bikes and scooters without pedals be banned? Or twist-grip throttles outlawed? The legal definition of continuous rated power is poorly-defined nonsense, widely flouted by manufacturers and retailers. In truth, bicycles capable of producing more than a kilowatt are already available.”
* Strictly speaking, throttle-only power is allowed up to 3kmh to enable standing starts, but few throttle-contolled e-bikes are sophisticated enough to allow this.