Ebikes are not dangerous
I won’t bother y’all with the backstory of how the following landed in my lap. But if you’ve ever owned or been asked about ebikes, you’ve probably run across something like this before:
Ebikes! I have never riden [sic] one but I am a little on the fence on them. 🙂 I have seen them on the trail and some are dangerous to be on the trails. One guy was on a really big one and was zipping around at at [sic] least 25 MPH or more. He almost knocked me over passing me. Please promote safety! The speed limit on the trails is typically 15 MPH and those really big ones that can do 30+ need to be on the street! They look like fun but can be dangerous! 🙂 Are they required to take any safety lessons when purchasing an Ebike? Especially the big ones that are basically elelctic [sic] motorcycles. I would love to try one out sometime but I do want some instruction first. 🙂
Here is my TL;DR take on the issue: It’s not the bike. It’s the jerk on the bike that’s dangerous. ANY bike. In fact, pretty much any rolling vehicle can be dangerous in the wrong hands, whether it has a motor or not.
Now for the longer story.
But first a caveat: I live in California, specifically Silicon Valley. Ebikes are classified and regulated a certain way here, which may or may not be the same as the way they are where you live. My point of view is based on how California regulates ebikes, so it might not dovetail into what goes on in your neck of the woods. I’ll get into regulation in another blog post when I feel like getting all up in different state and country laws.
Back to the jerk on the bike… The one time someone crashed into me on a trail was when I was on my daily commuter, making a right turn, signaling, probably going 3mph (my bike has a brake light), and a roadie in spandex going faster than the posted 15mph speed limit and obviously not paying attention hit me from behind. The next thing I knew I had 55# of ebike on top of me. I still have the scar. No bell. No “on your left.” From the ground I yelled, “Don’t you have a F#$@%ing bell??”
That an ebike is inherently more dangerous than any other bike is a myth that needs to be dispelled. First, let’s address speed. In California there are two classes of pedal assist bikes (Classes 1 and 3) that you must pedal for the motor to work and which assist to 20mph and 28mph, respectively. (There is another class that allows for a throttle, which I will get to.) After you reach the designated speed the motor cuts out. The bike will go faster but you either have to pedal harder under your own power or be going downhill to go faster. While a sustained 28mph might be aspirational for your average cyclist, a sustained 20mph (or just speeds in excess of most posted trail speed limits of 15mph) is really not that much of a stretch. And going back to the responsibility of the operator of ANY bike, it’s up to the rider to control the speed. It’s not like you get on the bike and you’re automatically going that speed. Cars have top speeds too and you don’t see drivers always driving at their cars’ top speeds. You have to pedal and change gears and choose the level of assist and choose your speed.
Next, I’ll address the idea of safety lessons for ebikes. I’m all for safety lessons. But before we get to ebikes, let’s start at the top of the food chain: drivers. I would love to see more safety lessons for drivers. Imagine if drivers knew what sharrows were. Imagine if they knew it was legal for a cyclist to take the lane. Imagine… But I digress. Safety lessons should be universal. There is no reason to single out ebikes. Because the guy who ran me over sure didn’t understand basic trail etiquette despite his very colorful kit. Where were HIS safety lessons? More outreach needs to be done to promote safe riding everywhere. Do I have a solution for this? Nope. And I’m not here to lay blame at anyone’s doorstep. Just returning to the theme that it’s not the bike, it’s the uninformed rider who’s the hazard here.
Now to that other class of ebikes, Class 2 bikes, which are 20mph limited pedal bikes which can operate on a throttle. I would like to see the elimination of Class 2 bikes because the optics are bad as they zoom through parks and on trails looking and behaving like something that is street legal. The EU regulates them as motorcycles and I think that’s appropriate since something with a throttle is not a bicycle.
Another change for the better would be to do something about manufacturers who put in overclocked motors and then wink about how they’re meant for “offroad” use or call it a Class 3 but then publicly post how to hack the motor to remove the speed limiter. This is beyond irresponsible and targets the consumer looking for a way to skirt the law. They buy a bike labeled as a legal class, hack it to make it illegal, and can truly endanger themselves and others. It’s akin to selling a semi-automatic gun that can convert to full auto with a simple hack. If you want to build an electric motorcycle, build one. Don’t start by putting pedals on it and calling it a bicycle when it was never meant to be that.
When I’m out riding I’m not shy telling anyone on any bike to slow down or to shame them for not passing safely or not having a bell, and believe me, I see all kinds of riders on bikes of all kinds acting good and bad. The anecdotes from the OP are exactly the same as drivers saying, “Cyclists always run stop signs! They should obey the laws like drivers have to!” As if drivers always obey the rules of the road and cyclists never do. I’m sure this person has seen many more ebikes do boring things like ride around their local park at 10mph than squeal around at 25mph. It’s only the scofflaws who stick out in their mind.