|One of a number of e-bikes on display at this year’s Tour de Cape. |
There are advantages to consider. From a purely practical standpoint, e-bikes are about as economical as motorized transportation can be. For those with very long or difficult commutes that include features such as bridges and hills (obviously, this is not an issue here) or even wind (think Cape Coral, our own “windy city”), using an e-bike can keep one from having to expend energy that may be required for other purposes, such as work. The sweat factor can be reduced as well, another important work-related factor for some.
Some of the drawbacks to e-bikes are similar to those associated with any other motorized vehicle. A primary one is that far too many folks who ride bikes don’t know the laws applicable to them or how to safely and appropriately operate their bikes. Adding artificial power to the situation makes it that much more problematic, regardless of the fact that it’s relatively low-power, compared to many other motor vehicles. In fact, one class of e-bikes can propel someone up to 28 mph before the power assist disengages. Speeds like that are usually not realized by an average cyclist, so it would be foreign to almost everyone — both the e-bike rider and others sharing the road.
Another problem is that our laws have not kept up with advances and unforeseen upticks in low-powered vehicles in general. In the case of e-bikes, there’s likely going to be much confusion among users and law enforcement officials about where they can be ridden (under power or otherwise) and what laws apply to which class of vehicle. The federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines a “low speed electric bicycle” as a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph and an electric motor that produces less than 750 watts.
The rules for e-bikes on public roads, sidewalks and pathways are under state jurisdiction so are different in each. Along with federal and state laws the e-bike industry defines 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 pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph. 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 mph. 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 mph and is equipped with a speedometer. The Class 3 e-bike isn’t covered by either CPSA’s or Florida’s legal definition. And while no driver’s license is required, in Florida one must be at least 16 years old to operate an e-bike.
One clarification that a reader reminded me to include on this topic is that any low-powered motorized vehicle that’s approved for use as an assistive device for those with mobility limitations or other disabilities is allowed to be used anywhere a person is allowed to walk, outdoors as well as indoors. Power wheelchairs and e-scooters are examples of Mobility Assistive Equipment. Unfortunately, some devices that serve this purpose but aren’t classified as MAEs are being used in places where they present problems. Also, MAEs are not to be confused with electric personal assistive mobility devices, such as Segways, as defined by Florida law.
I’m all for getting more bikes on our roads but there are concerns that need to be handled on the front end of what is likely going to be a boom in the near future. That boom may be good for those selling e-bikes, but maybe not so great for vulnerable road and pathway users, whether because of potential physical harm or legal problems that may become commonplace.
For example, in Florida one section of our laws allows those without a driver’s license to operate a moped but another section negates that law based on its classification as a motor vehicle because it’s gas-powered. For those with suspended or revoked licenses this is a serious matter if they are found operating a moped. Class 3 e-bikes may create that same problem, especially before any changes to the law are enacted. ¦
- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 334-6417.
For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (caloosariders.org); Florida Mudcutters (mudcutters.org); and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group (meetup.com/Biking-SWFL). The Florida Bicycle Association (floridabicycle.org) is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.