accessibility · cycling

There’s electric bikes and there’s electric bikes: Why one kind of them is making me grouchy

I have a new pet peeve as a cyclist and it’s a switch from hating on cars and inconsiderate drivers. My new least favorite vehicle is the e-bike. I especially hate them on the bike path. The other day I saw one on the bike path towing another bike (the regular sort) with a rope between them across the path. I wasn’t thrilled when I wanted to pass and couldn’t because of the rope barrier.

To be clear, these aren’t your European electric assist bikes. Regular bikes with e-assist seem like a terrific idea. I had a friend in Canberra whose father got e-assist so he could keep riding into his 70s and still cope with the hills. I have another friend, in Germany, who commutes by bike and hates arriving sweaty and e-assist made that possible. But in these cases they’re riding regular bikes and most of the time aren’t using the motor.

The ones I hate are like bloated overgrown scooters on steroids with vestigial pedals. As far as I can tell no one actually uses the pedals. They’re just there to make the thing legally a bike. As the ad for e-bikes at a shop near my house says “Ride with no license, no insurance, and no registration.” Great. I know they are better for the environment than cars and for that I’m thankful.

Here’s the Ontario governments FAQ about e-bikes.

What do you think of them?

Against: No pedals? Get out of my bike lane

For: Please, stop hating on e-bikes

8 thoughts on “There’s electric bikes and there’s electric bikes: Why one kind of them is making me grouchy

  1. The problem you encountered on the (multi-use?) path was not a problem because the other path user was an e-bike rider. It was a problem because the other path user was an inconsiderate jerk who violated the protocols of path use.

    E-bikes have valid and valuable uses for many people, and good e-bike riders need to be welcomed onto our roads and–yes–into our bike lanes. Bad e-bike riders–just like bad cyclists, bad pedestrians and bad automobile drivers–are a menace. But just like bad cyclists, bad pedestrians and bad automobile drivers, we cannot allow them to prejudice our opinion of all people who choose the same mode of transportation.

    1. Yes, multi-use path. But my concern is that these things are too fast, too big to really belong on these paths. And they aren’t regulated. And they aren’t bikes in any sense. Adding essentially decorative pedals doesn’t make something a bike. I guess I’m thinking we need different ways of drawing the distinction. Bikes with e-assist are wonderful things but I’m not sure where the bigger faster ones that no one actually pedals belong. The road? No. The sidewalk? No. So it’s a matter for both for better behavior on the part of individuals and new laws, I think.

      1. “Regular” bikes with e-assist are capable of travelling much faster than the scooter style e-bikes. For that matter, you propel your human-powered bicycle at a much faster speed than the top speed of a scooter style bike.

        The scooter-style bikes are heavier, yes–but they are also very stable. There are many people in our communities who do not possess the skill to safely handle a regular bicycle who could nevertheless safely handle a scooter style e-bike.

        Scooter style e-bikes are regulated. More so than non-electric bikes.

        I agree that the pedals requirement is silly. (It is possible to propel a scooter style bike with its pedals alone–but it’s a lot easier to get off it and push the thing.) Clearly the pedals rule is about legislators deciding it was easier to make a new product fit existing laws than to craft new laws to fit the product. But this doesn’t mean that scooter style e-bikes don’t belong in our communities. They do, and they belong on our roads, and they absolutely can be and are operated safely there by competent, law-abiding riders.

      2. Interesting. I’m still not convinced they belong on the bike path but I take your point about speed. I pass them easily. Maybe the issue is with the range of people using them. They’re certainly marketed to the DUI set who’ve lost their regular licenses. But I agree they’re a good choice for some people, just don’t think they’re bicycles.

    2. Yeah. Maybe it’s not the bikes but the bikers? Although I have to agree the pedals are useless. I haven’t seen anybody on these scooter like ebikes actually pedal the thing.

  2. I am not a fan. I get very angry when my grandmother has to jump out of the way of someone half her age weaving one of these along a crowded sidewalk. They take up a lot of space and while I’m sure some drivers are considerate, many aren’t. In bike lanes, they’re mostly an annoyance – again, because they take up a lot of space.

    1. I’ve had to jump out of the way of an electric bike on the sidewalk on campus, only to be abused by the rider when I hollered at him to ride with more care. But I’ve also almost been taken out on the bike path by regular non-electric bikes and roller bladers. So singling out one type of bike seems arbitrary to me. And I’m not sure how usable the bikes are for people with certain disabilities that make pedalling difficult, but that seems like a possible good use of them and a reason not to impose different regulations on them for accessing the path.

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