Just like everything new, there are issues that need to be addressed. Although many avid cyclists are adamant that people who don’t put in the wats don’t deserve to ride, the truth is that the more people use bikes, be it regular or electric, the safer it is for everyone.
E-bikes offer a commuting alternative to less active people, the older generation, and even those recovering from injuries. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s eco-friendly. What’s the problem?
The issues with e-bikes
Well, there are a few of them. Firstly, due to the lack of license and registration needed, anyone can take off and fly down a public road at motorcycle speed. It’s not a rare view to see someone speeding down a sidewalk, slaloming between pedestrians as if they were cones. This presents a significant risk.
There are also quite enough people who ride an e-bike while texting. As absurd as that is, the capability of these bikes to run as fast as 25kph should be terrifying enough. Moreover, some don’t know or entirely disregard road rules set to keep everyone safe. Thus, you can see e-bikers run red lights with astonishing speeds. And while the same might be true for regular cyclists, at least those who don’t respect the law usually can’t reach such high speeds.
Another serious issue are the injuries inflicted by crashing with an e-bike. Research done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that accidents with an e-bike have more severe consequences than with a regular bike. Head trauma is significantly higher, although a helmet is much more frequently used. The main corporate behind these results, according to the experts, is the much higher speed.
EU regulations for e-bikes
The EU legislators must have come to the same conclusions, and they enforced some strict regulations on manufacturers willing to sell their bikes in the EU. Although the lawful limits on e-bikes have been criticized for being too lenient, the EU parliament decided that it will just put a frame in place. The national legislators could place more restrictions if they conclude it’s needed. For now, EU directive 2002/24/EC dictates the rule for all member states. According to this directive, for an e-bike to be exempt from registration and the need for a license to ride it, it should have a motor that continuously puts out no more than 250W.
Furthermore, this output should gradually be reduced as the speed of the bike increases till it reaches 25kph. The motor completely cuts off its support at this speed, and the rest is all up to your legs. Moreover, the e-bike motor shouldn’t be able to work independently as many of the rear and front hub motors can.
So, for an e-bike to be legal in the EU, it should:
- have a motor that has a continuous input of no more than 250W
- have the motor only as an assistant
- assists you up to 25kph
This bike heaven decided that having just one category of e-bikes is not enough. After all, there are hundreds of types of electric bikes, and it’s only logical to separate them a bit further. So, Belgium divided the e-bikes into three separate categories.
- 250W bikes that assist you to 25kph are deemed safe for all ages and could be ridden without a helmet.
- 1,000W bikes that assist you up to 25kph are categorized as “motorized bikes.” One needs to be at least 16 to ride such a bike. A conformity certificate needs to be issued as well.
- 4,000W bikes that assist you up to 45kph are named “speed pedelecs” and are classified as mopeds and follow their regulations.
The world’s cycling capital surprises no one with its lenient approach to such e-bikes. Since 2018 in the former Viking kingdom, speed pedelecs have been allowed on cycling paths. To ride this super e-bike, you need to be at least 15 and wear a helmet. However, no licensing and number plates are necessary.
Finland allows anyone to ride a 250W e-bike that only assists you until you reach 25kph. However, they allow powerful e-bikes on their roads, as long as they are licensed and have insurance. Nonetheless, they still should be limited to 25kph. This limitation is a must even for e-bikes with a separate driving system and assists without the rider’s input.
Despite not being in the European Union, Norway follows part of the EU’s directive. However, the local government decided to add some more rules to their legislation. For example, e-bikes can only be used on bicycle infrastructure – bike paths, bike parks, etc. Going on the road or to a shared space with an e-bike may lead to a hefty fine. Furthermore, while in the EU the max assistant speed is 25kph, in Norway it’s only 20kph.
Another non-EU country that has similar e-bike rules. However, since 2012, the Swiss have allowed e-bikes to have a motor with a 5,00W input, although the assistant speed limit is the same – 25kph. There is also a speed limit to autonomous motor riding – up to 20kph.
The UK saw a boom in e-bike purchases, especially during the pandemic. Many people who typically use public transport for commuting decided to switch to this faster and healthier alternative. Since the UK was in the EU when the regulations were implemented, after Brexit, they just kept the rules. However, they found it necessary to add a weight limit. For an e-bike to be exempt from licensing and other motorcycle-related regulations, it needs to be no more than 30 kg. Also, riders must be at least 14 years of age to be eligible to ride an e-bike.
Other countries in Europe
Most countries in the EU follow the general rules the European parliament agreed on. Also, many none-EU countries, such as Turkey, have adopted the EU directive as a basis of their own legislation on e-bikes. It’s safe to say, though, that more countries will follow the examples mentioned above and will carve their own e-bike laws that correspond with the local culture of riding, infrastructure, and other specifics.