Why are e-bike regulations so hit and miss?


Simon Cowell could tell you something about the regulation of e-bikes. Last year, he was seriously injured after being thrown from a vehicle everyone called an electric bicycle, but which was actually an electric motorcycle. He’s better now and back on the bikes, but recently told TMZ:

It’s not what i would call an electric bike, what i had was basically a motorbike with an electric motor, .. the one i was riding this weekend was a different kind of bike where you have to pedal, u can put the power on smoothly … I would say to anyone who buys an electric bike, buy one where you have to pedal.

Cowell has learned the hard way that there’s a reason the vast majority of e-bikes in Europe have pedals that you have to use, motors that are nominally 250 watts (peak power is much higher), and a top speed of 15.5 mph. These are standards developed in countries where a lot of people cycle and where e-bikes must play well in the vast network of cycle paths. They have extensive experience and knowledge, and you can move from country to country all over the European Union and bikes are subject to pretty much the same rules.

In North America, there are few national rules for electric bicycles. In the United States, there are federal safety standards, but traffic codes are regulated at the state level.

According to PeopleforBikes:

“Almost 30 states have incorporated e-bikes into their traffic codes and regulated them in the same way as traditional bikes. However, around 20 states still have outdated laws that do not have a specific classification for bikes. In these states, electric bikes are regulated according to a patchwork of laws targeting mopeds or scooters, or in some cases it is not at all clear how electric bikes are classified. confusion for consumers, retailers and manufacturers, and this discourages the public from enjoying the benefits that electric bicycles offer. ”

People for bikes

PeopleforBikes has created a model electric bicycle law which has been adopted by many states, introducing three classes of bikes. They may all look the same, but they have different top speeds ranging from 20-28 mph, different controls, and result in state laws that give them different rights and requirements. There is also a separate category for mopeds. There doesn’t seem to be any logic in this and it seems to ignore all the precedents set in countries where people are familiar with e-bikes, but at least it’s a set of definitions that manufacturers, sellers and regulators can use as starting point. . But that doesn’t prevent local and state strangeness, like when New York City wrote its own rules that we described as “unfair to older or disabled cyclists and long-distance commuters.”

Meanwhile in Ontario, Canada …

Illegal in Ontario.

Ben Cowie / London Bicycle Cafe

In Canada, the federal government once had limited regulation of “electrically assisted bicycles”. But in February 2021, Transport Canada raised its hand in the face of all new micromobility options and scrapped the regulations. Anders Swanson from Bikes Cycling Canada had lodged a complaint with the Prime Minister that it was a step backwards, in vain:

“Federal disharmonization would also create confusion among users in all jurisdictions and exacerbate the industry’s already significant import and export challenges. Establishing a patchwork of non-harmonized safety regulations will prevent also the adoption of micro-mobility to move people and goods across provinces and territories Canada in difficult times and with the looming threat of a climate crisis. ”

In the province of Ontario, we see Swanson’s prediction playing out in real time, as the government introduces Bill 282, “Safe Mobility Ontarians Act (MOMS).” Ben Cowie from London Bicycle Cafe introduced Treehugger to the legislation, noting that it appeared to have been written by staff members who “don’t know the difference between a 1000 watt motor and a 1000 kWh battery”.

Province of Ontario Bill 282

For example, they literally reinvent the wheel by setting a minimum wheel width of 1.37 inches and a minimum diameter of 13.77 inches. Cowie tells Treehugger that “your Gazelle electric bicycle is now illegal”. This is because they took a number of the previous legislation on scooters. Almost all bicycle wheel rims are under 1.37 inches and the tires are usually bigger, and no one knows what they’re talking about. Then there’s the diameter: 13.7 inches is an industry standard and the province just banned Bromptons, tricycles, recumbent bikes, and adaptive bikes used by people with disabilities.

Many cargo and adaptive bikes would also be illegal under the 121-pound rule, which makes no sense anyway, as Cowie says that “all other vehicles on the road are measured by the gross weight of the vehicle, what really matters. Let’s compare apples to apples. ”

Legislation notwithstanding, Cowie will continue to do what he has always done: sell Class 1 e-bikes like those used in Europe, where the vast majority of e-bikes are sold. He intends to ignore “unreasonable legislation which excludes 90% of the world’s bicycles”. It’s not as if the police are going to be given micrometers to measure the width of the rims.

He also complains: “It’s crazy how it’s going. They don’t see what’s going on, that e-bike sales are doubling and tripling.” Cowie notes that governments still view bicycles as “toys that have no place on the road.”

Bicycles and electric bicycles are means of transport, just like cars; they’re just lighter.

It should take priority over cars.

Solskin / Getty Images

Swanson expressed his frustration with the regulation of cycling in general in a tweet to Treehugger: “Yes, there are a few things to be worked out. The harmony of trade regulations is a real issue, but in general we just need to copy places that have already figured it out., keep it consistent across the country, and then push e-bikes of all kinds to retire. The faster the better. “

He goes on to suggest that this is part of a much bigger issue in the larger transport picture, and how bicycles and e-bikes need to be part of a continuum based on weight and carbon footprint.

“The ins and outs of regulation distract from the real issue. From the F-350 to the ballet slipper, even the heaviest cargo bike is a godsend. Other countries have already figured this out and the pandemic has made it clear what people love. Canada should embrace a transportation vision where you end up with the right infrastructure ready for the lightest vehicles. Think about it: if Canada / Ontario or the Yukon or anyone who wanted to usher in a low carbon future, you would think they would fall into place to prioritize transportation based on weight. By default, anything that is lighter than what we are currently using for the same trip would win. And by the way, like magic, you start to tackle the real security problem we all ignore. ”

He calls for unified transport regulation based on approaching everything that way. We would calibrate all policies to reduce weight (vehicle type), kilometers (land use) and speed (law / design). In this world, he says, an e-cargo bike is the first thing people need to solve simple problems like “how to bring those little monsters home from the uphill daycare and catch a melon.”

Swanson is here in ‘bikes, climate action’ territory – bikes are means of transportation and can be part of the climate solution if anyone wants to pay attention.

“Here’s a question: Have you seen Canada’s comprehensive transportation plan? Or Ontario’s plan to reduce the average vehicle weight per trip? No, you haven’t because these plans don’t. This lack of clarity is how we can simultaneously have this armored personnel carrier weapons war, where cars get full amnesty while making it look like it’s a father taking his little one and a pumpkin home from the store in an electric bike that deserves to be scrutinized ”.


Swanson is right: we shouldn’t be drafting bicycle and e-bike legislation in a vacuum. It should be regulated by national transport departments and ministries because bicycles are not toys. They’re part of the transportation system, somewhere between his ballet slippers and his cars. They are some of the most efficient and low-carbon solutions we have.

The mom in the SUV and the mom with the cargo bike do the same thing: bring their kids and melons home from daycare; moving people and things from point A to point B – and the low-carbon cargo bike should take priority.


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