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.