Thoughts on NZ ebike Legislation

I believe we deserve a better and more liberal regulatory framework for ebikes in New Zealand – one that perhaps leads the world in its progressiveness.

My Bias

Let me get it out there – I dislike slow ebikes on the road. They mean that you are forced into being a slow bicycle, even in situations where on a regular bicycle you would be going faster. This may be fine on busy Euro cycleways but not so much on a road where you are going vehicular. Riding along at 40+ makes you more of an equal and less of an obstacle. It changes the game.

I regard the ebike as a revolution in personal transportation – the environmental and urban footprint of a bicycle with greater ease and speed. It is a gamechanger and will continue to get better. We don’t want to get caught in a regulatory mess or constrain the potential of the ebike. It should also consider the needs of mobility users, cargo bikes and vehicles that we haven’t yet seen. We must beware of entrenched views and self-interest from the bicycle industry, motorbike industry and car industry. Then there are also many who are purists from the biking population and oppose anything with a motor “because that makes it a motorbike”. Throttles – which are useful – are anathema to some.

Something to remember here: you can go slower than your maximum speed. Cars do it all the time. If we lower speed limits on roads – hey – cars magically slow down without having to go to each one and adjust the speed limiter.

Legislative Gaps

NZTA is consulting to update legislation for electric bicycles and to regulate new classes of vehicles. Apart from ebikes of all types and speeds, we have hoverboards, electric skateboards, e-scooters, Yike bikes, Segways, mobility scooters, Postie wagons. Right now there is confusion which leads to trouble and also means that we miss out on many great bikes (a Stromer is an example – they have a 500W motor; most fast Euro bikes are rated 350W; even SmartMotion have a 500W bike for the USA market). Weirdly, the current legislation specifically addressed Yike bikes, which is odd given their ‘fringe’ status. I was driven to despair helping a colleague find out the laws dealing with electric skateboards. I think we need a simpler (and probably more liberal) legislative framework.

More on the current legislation here…

A Better Way of Looking at the “Problem”

The Dutch have come up with an urban design approach that address the issues around infrastructure sharing and speed. Essentially it comes down to these principles:

  1. Types of vehicles will be grouped in ‘vehicle families’ based on the mass and width of these vehicles.
  2. Types of urban space will be designed for the specific needs of the ‘vehicle family’ which is determined to be the dominant user of that particular urban space. Other ‘vehicle families’ can be guests​ in that space, but the design of the area will not be changed for their needs.

The group making these proposals goes on to defining speed limits for each class and some rules. What I like about this framework is the following:

  • When a new vehicle type comes along, it defines itself. We don’t especially care how many wheels it has, how many Watts it says on the label or how fast it can theoretically go
  • At the stroke of a legislative pen, rules can be set for a given zone and class of vehicle

For more info follow the links from this Bicycle Dutch blog post: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/crowded-cycleways-lead-to-new-urban-design-approach/

Copenhagen cyclists

Copenhagen Cyclists [Source: Wikipedia]

But Maybe It Isn’t That Simple

I’m no legislator and quite possibly naïve, so there almost definitely a need to have constraints applied. Some outer limits probably are needed, because not every vehicle will be operated in this ‘nicely ordered Dutch way’. eMTBs as an example – it will cause untold grief for all if high-power and high-speed eMTBs are whizzing around on singletracks. Many ebike buyers are inexperienced riders, so slowing them down at first is going to be a good thing for everyone too. We also want to see imports being subject to some engineering standards so that buyers have some confidence in what they are getting.

Here is what I propose:

  1. Ebikes can be subject to any one of a range of approved standards marks (like we do with helmets already). California has a 3 Class specification, Europe has 2 (pedelec and e-bike 25km/h and 250W) and speed-pedelec (45km/h and 4kW!). The Euro pedelec specifications and type classifications are onerous, don’t allow throttles and result in an expensive bike. Main brand manufacturers will likely​ comply to Euro regulations anyway at the >$4000 price point.
    If it is ‘standards approved’ then modification is not allowed without reclassification as ‘Modified/Homebuilt/Experimental’ (or something like that)
  2. A voluntary code that has retailers setting maximum speed to 32kph by default (many people will be perfectly happy with this). This limit can be removed on request at dealer discretion.
  3. A voluntary code limiting eMTBs to Euro pedelec standards (most are)
  4. Allow 1000W maximum continuous rated power. Before you throw your hands up in horror, remember that there are other constraints being applied to speed. But a cargo bike with less than this is going to struggle with a load up a hill. Many converted cargo bikes are carrying 1000W today without causing trouble. The Euro L1e-A type classification allows for 1000W up to 25kp/h.
  5. As per Euro regulations, a maximum of 1.6x peak power to continuous power to avoid gaming of the specs (I assume that is sensible, let me know if it isn’t)

What do you reckon?

Appendices

Euro

EN 15194:2009 is a complex set of standards. Highlights include limits to 250W continuous output power and limited to 25-27km/h (this means it must roll off the power from 25 to zero at 27). A ‘speed pedelec’ class exists that is classed as a moped. You have to have a licence to operate a speed pedelec. Components used in speed pedelec bicycles have to have special type certifications. You might have seen e50 tyre ratings.

Type approvals http://www.bike-eu.com/laws-regulations/nieuws/2016/1/new-type-approval-for-speed-e-bikes-now-effective-10125384

What makes the Euro regulations confusing is that the overall type classifications (separate to EN15194) allow higher power but speed-pedelecs fit in to the ‘moped’ class because of their maximum speed:

  1. L1e-A “powered cycles” are defined as cycles designed to pedal, equipped with an auxiliary propulsion with the primary aim to aid pedalling. The propulsion should be limited at a speed of 25 km/h and its maximum continuous rated power should not exceed 1000 W. L1e-A includes two-, three- and four-wheel vehicles, i.e. also electric cargo bikes with more than two wheels.
  2. L1e-B “mopeds” are defined as vehicles with a maximum design speed of more than 25 km/h and up to 45 km/h and a maximum continuous rated power of in between 1000 W and 4000 W. As a result of this categorisation, a pedelec 25 km/h with 750 W for instance will come under L1e-A, an e-bike (ie has a throttle) 25 km/h with 500W as well, whilst a pedelec 45 km/h with 1000 W will come under L1e-B. A vehicle that combines pedal assistance with open throttle will come under L1e-A. Technically, this legislation, does not allow for e-bikes above 25 km/h. As for pedelecs 45 km/h, the regulations contain further technical specifications: “(…) mass in running order ≤ 35 kg and shall be fitted with pedals enabling the vehicle to be propelled solely by the rider’s muscular leg power. The vehicle shall feature adjustable rider positioning in order to enhance the ergonomic posture of the rider for pedalling. The auxiliary propulsion power shall be added to the driver’s pedal power and shall be less than or equal to four times the actual pedal power.” Furthermore, “the maximum peak power shall be < 1,6 X maximum continuous rated power, measured as mechanical power at the shaft of the motor unit.”

California

In California the an “electric bicycle” is a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts, separated into three classes: A “class 1 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedalling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour. (2) A “class 2 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour. A “class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, (no throttle) and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour, and equipped with a speedometer.

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9 comments

  • Interesting to read, currently running a 1500 BBSHD middrive set up. Having hit the road like a Waters slide at 40kph I find you learn to become a safer rider very quickly. I understand how there are rules in place for this kind of thing Just saying Do Not reach to the rack behind you while moving on a short handle bar bike. (We all have our idiot moments). Don’t let that deter you.

    —– I’m still a massive fan of High powered E bikes. —-

    Being a cyclist (no car) for over a year I only recently bit the bullet and made a powerful bike. Feels nice to be able to go the same speed if not faster than traffic and still get a good workout if you choose to.

    I you want to make something powerful there are some safety precautions that I feel high powered DIY systems probably should take into account.

    I write this in hope that people don’t repeat the same mistakes I did.

    1) Powerful brakes (at 50+kph your stopping distance is much greater than that of a car going through same speed. Keep your distance, Get Discs, preferably hydraulic.

    2) Ebike tyres. If you are commuting on something this powerful go for BIGGER tyres not smaller. You will keep almost all of your speed and this power. But you can significantly brake faster with more control without skidding out. Been there, done that.

    3) Be seen! No one in a car expects a bike to go as fast as them. A POWERFUL front and rear light is recommended.

    4) Be wary of corners, Brake leading into and accelerate out of, if needed for Max control.

    5) Suspension, get a hard tail or a road bike. Had the motor on both. Much more comfort and control on a hard tail. Rear suspension or saddle suspension is a nice addition too.

    6) It’s F*#& loads of fun! Do not forget that part. After all the trial and error, it’s worth it, to have something totally unique.

    I know it seams like common sense, but I’m sure there are other crazy 25 y/o out there that are planning to do the same thing.

    FYI cops don’t seem to care. As long as they don’t spot you doing 60, in a 50kph zone. Common sense applies 😉

  • Thanks again for an informative article. I was involved with the NZTA consultation on road rules for low powered vehicles, and have to say I agree with Frank. The Euro standards I think are quite clear, and I recommended that NZ adopt these. They allow for people like Andrew who want to travel at 40 km/h -you just need a moped licence.

    Two main issues that I think you have overlooked or downplayed. First the data on ebike/pedelec uptake is that it is not the same as the current NZ cycling market which is dominated by 30-40 year old males and a ‘sport’ image and ethos. The data I have seen suggests that the average speed for ebikes is about 17km/h or 2km/h faster than non powered bikes. So I’m not convinced of the need or demand for a faster powered speed.
    Secondly as you say, most reputable manufacturers and non- reputable come to that, build to the Euro standard, so having a different standard immediately looses any cost savings from mass production. The price of many ebike in NZ are already inflated as Frank notes, by selling to a market that is based on a ‘boys toys’ approach and too many clips on the ticket.

    • Agree that the Euro regs are very thorough, but consensus among most riders is that the bikes are simply too slow. I really don’t see any need for the speed constraints unless voluntarily applied – it simply ruins a perfectly nice vehicle. Speed constraints should be applied to the infrastructure (road or path) not the vehicle. What works nicely at 25kph on an off-road trail is frankly dreadful on an urban street. I have ridden dozens of bikes and the ones that are nicest to ride don’t have an artificial speed limit (doesn’t mean to say it won’t top out at somewhere just over 35kph which is what you can expect from most motors and electronics).
      Good healthy discussion though!

      • Hmm, ‘… most riders’ think the bikes are too slow. That’s certainly not my experience. I haven’t done any formal research, but from observation I’d say that, excluding the Lycra loony brigade, my average speed on a euro compliant pedelec is usually faster than just about all other cyclists I meet. And that is definitely on urban streets.
        Again I think it comes down to a different mindset. Those whose only objective is to complete their journey as quickly as possible may well value speed over other factors. For me one of the great potential of ebikes etc is increased independence and mobility for those who can’t ride a non powered bike, so although I have a lot of sympathy for route not the vehicle approach, in practice I am concerned that higher speed capabilities could lead to the same impatience with slow riders that we see in vehicular traffic in NZ, and further discouragement to uptake by those that could benefit most.

  • In depth article. Keep things simple . Europe leads the way in the E-Bike market with 36v x 250w .Being a former EU accredited bicycle assembler, it is the EU that sets the standards. The most recent amendment now allows throttles. In the US various states have their own interpretations and from an industry point of view ( the bike manufacturers) 36v x350w is the US standard. This now with in the bike industry the major e motor systems manufacturers follow the two standards. NZTA has introduced a set of standards that take into considerations NZ geography and standards are 36v x300w. The problem has arisen is that the industry generally dont produce 300w hub motors or mid-drive motors. European bikes brands imported to NZ generally are 36X250W, however these brands also have US specd options for the US market…..some of these have entered the NZ market. There is considerable fudging by importers of for instance US brands 36vx350w and then saying these bikes have been de-tuned ? This then raises the issue that these bikes do not conform to NZ standards and require to be registered and the rider licenced. It raise the question that NZ standards should be modified to 36v 350w . Certainly kits are available to modify these motors either way increase or decrease wattage but then can void any warranty on the motors and increasing can burn out motors. The cost $250 dollars plus. The comment of E-Bikes speed max should be much higher 40k plus to negotiate traffic on roads doesn’t make sense why? The average speed on many of the Auckland City roads is as low as 20kph as against Christchurch 34kph. At the moment the efforts of Bike Auckland and Auckland transport is evidenced by the ever increasing cycle ways and bike specific paths what this has done has brought out families and older riders venturing to ride bikes safely.. these paths also have had an uptake of pedestrians using the cycleways to have E-Bikes whizzing past at 27kph is one of negotiating ….a child experiencing and learning the skill of riding a bike safely with out motor vehicle is a benefit in itself. Also the older generation re-discovering riding standard bikes again. I personally ride a lightweight E- Bike I fitted a 250w motor system I ride from Massey to the city under an hour faster than the train from Swanson where I live close by which is well over the hour..a car is and hour. If I want to go faster than 27kph limit I pedal it into 30’s. I am passed frequently by E-Bikes doing 40k’s easily and the brands are easily identified by brands that have been sold as complying 300w ! I have spoken to the odd rider at the lights and they say they were told the bike was sold as complying ? but having been passed previously it should have been licensed/registered… I didnt have the heart to tell them.

    • Thanks Frank. The reason I say 1000W is to enable cargo bikes. There are already such things and they don’t cause problems. Same with faster bikes. No sense in capping speeds if it isn’t a problem. To your point about shared paths etc, they should carry a max speed which will be less than the max speed of the bikes.
      I agree the Euro bikes are great, but it does make for a higher cost bike. There is a perfectly legit entry level that isn’t Euro compliant (the cost of gaining compliance is apparently quite high). Even then they play games. The Bosch 250W motors are identical to the 350W ones.

      • Cheers my comments are mainly relevant to trekking /city style bikes. Max speed in France on several cycle ways I rode on was 20kph as most are shared .Yes the Euro bikes are great and that is the level that should be the bench mark for distributors. Being in the industry a a couple of roles I have is one being a consultant, I have contacts with factories in Taiwan and China who already supply the Euro market and can supply NZ all with similar specs to the well known Euro brands seen here. An indication of retail price ex factory say for a Ladies city Dutch style step thro’ hub motor with Sturmey Archer 5/8speed gears (or Nexus)internal hub 700c disc brakes could retail at approx$2000 giving a margin for distributor and a good margin for the retailer. Many of the bikes here are sourced from brand name distributors which just puts too many clips on the ticket. I agree on Commercial Cargo bikes and that should be a standard similar to a Heavy Goods scenario with Commercial Trucks etc. I bring in the odd kit for friends and associates to fit to a regular bike they own…this factory does produce a 300w motor fully compliant cost would work out at approx $1500 front or rear hub motor LCD and throttle, PAS. LED lighting and a choice of battery styles the latest that fits in a small bag.
        Cheers like your site very informative.

  • Exceptionally well-researched wisdom, Bazza. Thank you for flying the flag for ebikes in NZ.

  • I find my 350 Watt, 45 kph e bike just right; there’s enough power to keep up with traffic in town, and enough power (just) to get me up Brooklyn Hill at night (a rise of about 160m over 1.5 km). I would rather the law left this speed assist level as is, but allowed a slightly larger powered motor, say up to 500 watts. I have used bikes that assist up to 28 or 32 kph but they feel like someone keeps putting the brakes on. Having almost arbitrary limits on e bike assist speeds will also be a nightmare for the authorities; there’s already speed limits, go over them and expect to get nicked.

    Too many rules and regulations could make e bikes too expensive and difficult which would be a tragedy as I see them as an essential piece of any grown up transport policy.

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