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As e-Mobility evolves can we afford not to discuss electric bike speeds?

There are whispers circulating that the UK Government may have an open mind to a changing electric bike legislation to be more akin to that of the USA. CI.N tackles a controversial topic to understand the pros and cons of mirroring North American, rather than European norms…

During June a hint was dropped into the Cycling Industry Chat Facebook group that the UK Government has begun to consider whether the current regulations for the assisted speed on electric bikes could rise to 20mph. A few conversations later and it is clear brands around Europe appear to have heard the same whispers, though at the time of writing it should be stressed they are just that.

The thread has ignited an impassioned debate on the subject that has meandered between a suitable assisted speed for various e-Bike types, the dangers associated with various vehicle types and the scope to add appeal to the eBike category. Understandably, there are passionate views on both sides, but one common ground is established; the electric bike business and indeed wider micromobility trade is in its infancy. Evolution is guaranteed.

One brand with a significant interest in the subject is European specialist electric bike maker Riese & Müller, whose heavy investment in expanding its production will ultimately result in exports to territories with both 15.5mph and 20mph regulations.

Markus Riese is R&M’s expert on the subject, and he believes the limits in place should be reflective of the available infrastructure. “20mph is fine on a cycle network with space and wide tracks, but not so preferable under European conditions. 20mph is too fast on crowded and narrow cycle ways and too slow to integrate you fully into the car traffic. It is better to ride at same speed as the cars in the middle of the road with a speed EPAC. Like in Belgium or Switzerland, if cycle ways are opened to speed pedelecs then they will get popular. Cars are allowed to drive fast on highways and slow in cities; the same should really apply to speed pedelecs.”

How realistic is to have separate speeds for long distance connections and inner-city usage is a matter for technological development of e-Bikes and enforcement of regulations in city centres. It is an idea that has been mooted quite seriously by brands, however. When Canyon lifted the lid on a new concept velomobile to journalists in September of 2020 the product designers revealed the intention was to have two entirely separate motors for the aforementioned purposes – that is one high-speed assistance for on road use and one lower speed motor that will deliver a cycle path friendly experience.

The benefit here in car replacement terms is obvious, some argue and with motoring uptake forecast to add 10 million more cars on UK roads at any one time by 2050, something will have to give if inner city roads hope to be anything other than mobile car parks.

Annick Roetynck has a well-formed view of the subject as LEVA-EU’s manager. LEVA has members that wish to see regulations revised, believing there to be an untapped market for e-Bike commuters in the waiting. Some of these views are based on an assessment of regions where the speed pedelec is already chalking up sales thanks to bylaws permitting their use without all the attached paperwork usually associated.

“From the Belgian Flemish project 365SNEL, it has clearly appeared that there are two categories of speed pedelecs, i.e. cruising speed 30 to 35 km/h (anything with a Bosch motor) and cruising speed around 40 km/h (Stromer, Klever etc). They attract a different public. People who buy a Stromer or Klever originally believe that they will be able to reach a constant speed of 45 km/h. They are often looking for a vehicle to cover a longer commute. They think that the speed pedelec will save them a lot of time, which is only true in one respect. The speed pedelec offers them punctuality, they know exactly how much time they will spend on their commute, whereas in their car they can always get stuck in traffic. From 365SNEL it appeared that eventually the time issue became less important. The punctuality and the fun/pleasure they had from the cycling became determining factors. Of the 100 plus test riders in the project, around 20% decided after the test to definitely use a speed pedelec for commuting, while 15% swapped their car for a bike.”

Post time: Sep-08-2021