Electric bikes kit currently exist in a delightful legal limbo, basically treated as bicycles in return for limits on their power and speed.
As they can be ridden without further ado by anyone over 14, the experience is very much ‘get on and go’, a clear contrast to what’s involved in riding a petrol-powered two-wheeler on the roads: driving licence, helmet, Electric bikes kit type approval… So any changes to the regulations affecting e-bikes are a touchy subject, with the potential to affect the whole industry and of course the thousands of riders who use e-bikes already. In December 2011, Electric bikes kit the UK’s Department for Transport finally released its report on a two-year consultation process regarding the future regulation of ‘Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles’ (EAPCs). It’s been a long awaited announcement, anticipated to clarify a number of ‘grey areas’ in the rules which govern the use of electric bikes in the UK. As it turned out, the effect is likely to be minimal. The DfT will recommend that the continuous power limit go from the current (widely ignored) UK figure of 200W to the ‘EU harm on ised’ 250W, generally agreed to be an obvious step. Most electric bikes in the UK already have 250W-rated motors. But further decisions about throttle controls, weight limits, and regulations for vehicles such as pedicabs and load bikes will wait until after the EU decides on its approach, which could in turn affect any future UK rules. The release of the report sparked a vigorous debate within the UK cycle industry. Electric bikes kit The EU connection threw the spotlight onto lobbying being carried out by European group ETRA, who represent retailers of both petrol powered and bicycle type two-wheelers. They’ve been working to convince EU legislators to reformulate the rules on motor power and the need for power assist to work only while pedalling, arguing that it’s mainly the speed and weight of a vehicle which affect how safe it is (especially for other road users), rather than how it is propelled. To simplify, they’d aim to retain the 25 km/h speed limit for bicycle style pedelecs (assistance only when pedalling), while for vehicles which don’t need to be pedalled for the electrics to work (covering e-bikes with ‘pure throttle’ controls, scooters etc) there would be a 25 kg weight limit as well. Power limits would be relaxed to allow up to 1 kW motors,Electric bikes kit making electric assist more practical for users needing to cope with steep hills, heavy load bikes and suchlike. This drew a strong response from the UK’s Bicycle Association, who represent many of the UK’s cycle distributors and manufacturers. Their view is that any such relaxation of the ‘must be pedalling’ rules would blur the distinction between bikes and mopeds. Electric bikes kit Higher power could lead to more dangerous vehicles with excessive acceleration, they claimed, which could lead to a backlash from other road users which would ultimately harm all cyclists. Other organisations added their voices, too, largely via the bikebiz.com trade website: The CTC (the UK’s long-established campaign group) weighed in largely agreeing with the Bicycle Association. Electric bikes kit One of their arguments is that 250W is a good power limit as it corresponds roughly with the peak power output of a fi t person – so it’s a sensible amount of power to add to a bike which in its frame, brakes and so on is only designed to cope with the power of a ‘normal cyclist’. The Light Electric Vehicle Association, with members involved in electric vehicles of various types worldwide, spoke up for the ETRA view. They stressed that most electric bike customers are using their bikes for transportation, and that the current 250W limit just doesn’t make e-bikes practical for heavy riders in the hills. BEBA, representing 10 of the UK’s electric bike companies, also largely agreed with the ETRA approach. In particular, they were keen to explain the benefi ts of throttle control, independent of pedalling if necessary. It’s clearly a major benefi t for weaker riders, but also a good feature for many users: poll results from the Electric bikes kit Pedelecs website backed up a strong user wish to retain throttle function. The German national cycling organisation ADFC have come out against changes to power limits, citing fears of excessive acceleration and easy tampering to circumvent speed limits. But Extra Energy, a long-established electric bike promotion organisation also from Germany, advocate a different approach: no power limit, but compulsory torque sensing and speed limits varied according to rider power (so as to automatically limit the speed of child riders) and a rise in the speed cutout (for adults) from 25 to 32 km/h, which would be less frustrating for fi tter riders. They also make the point that many e-bike motors are already capable of 800W or so, but are simply ‘badged’ down to the legal 250W continuous – the standards don’t defi ne the power ratings well, so manufacturers push the limits. So what’s the upshot? Well, the next relevant EU vote is in March. Electric bikes kit ETRA seem to be well connected within Europe, but once that decision is made the UK will have to decide to what extent it’ll apply over here, where the Bicycle Association view may carry more weight. For now, UK electric bike regulations remain unchanged, with a 40 kg weight limit for bicycles (60 kg for tricycles), 25 km/h power cut-off speed, and the need for riders to be over 14. Pure throttles remain legal for now, too. The UK government have given an assurance that any future changes won’t be retrospective, so if your bike is legal now, it will remain so. I don’t see any change coming into force in the immediate future, given the slow grind of bureaucracy. So it’s hardly worth holding off a purchase in hopes of a future 1000W e-bike, especially given that as Extra Energy point out, many bikes today approach that in ‘peak’ power anyway. Nor should you panic-buy if a throttle which operates without pedalling is a key feature for you. This is perhaps the feature most at risk from regulations change in the UK, but if this happens, a ‘notice period’ of a year or more is almost certain. Then again, the DfT report did acknowledge the importance of this feature for users,Electric bikes kit so it may yet be retained. Can you help? Well, the open consultation in the UK has long since closed, but there’s a good chance further views will be called for before any EU rules are implemented. Perhaps the best start would be to fi nd our story from the 12th Jan 2012 on www.electricbikemag.co.uk, which has links to all of the arguments in full. We’ve had to summarise severely for this article, and it’s worth reading the full texts to get up to speed. Then, the UK’s transport minister and your MEP would be the people to write to. And please do send us a copy!