Day 317: E-bikes and road rules

16 11 2010

I know I’ve talked before about my opinion on electric bicycles (or e-bikes), but I thought this CNN article on e-bike hackers the other day was interesting. The underground e-bike movement includes people of varying ages who enjoy building motorized bikes which can sometimes reach speeds of up to 35 mph.

Logic says it may be better for the environment, but how long do the batteries last? Are the batteries rechargeable? If not, they end up in landfills. Not to mention the fact that e-bikes don’t help the user get exercise. Some of the e-bike enthusiasts have rejected cars after losing loved ones in deadly car accidents. It seems though, that you’re a heck of a lot safer surrounded by steel inside a car traveling 35 mph than on a bike traveling 35 mph.

I found this particularly disturbing:

Experts who design community bike plans for roadway bike traffic and off-road bike paths generally don’t factor in e-bikes, says Jennifer Toole of Toole Design Group.”It’s kind of a wait-and-see approach to electric bikes,” says Toole, whose firm designed Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan and has projects in 15 states. “If electric bikes become really popular, cities will start dealing with them.”

If that happens, she says, the result will likely be more bike lanes and a re-evaluation of whether bikes should be allowed on sidewalks.

I’m sorry, but just because someone thinks it’s necessary to “re-evaluate” whether bikes should be allowed on the sidewalks doesn’t mean that makes it safe for them to be on the sidewalks. (More information on the dangers of sidewalk riding is available here and here.)

If e-bikes can reach speeds over 15 mph, they should be on the streets. They should not be allowed in bike or pedestrian lanes. I would hate to run into one of these on a bike path somewhere like Cherokee Park. Allowing e-bikes to take over the bike lanes, thereby forcing traditional cyclists to the sidewalks is the most asinine idea I’ve heard in a long time. Despite what many people think, riding on the sidewalk is much more dangerous than on the streets.

According to the EPA (via, riding 500 miles on an e-bike instead of a gas-powered vehicle:

  • saves 25 gallons of gasoline
  • prevents 25.28 pounds of carbon monoxide air pollution
  • prevents 3.42 pounds of hydrocarbon air pollution
  • prevents 1.77 pounds of nitrogen oxide air pollution.

And that’s all good. Less vehicle emissions are obviously better for the environment (not to mention our health). But I think there needs to be more discussion and planning about where e-bikes are allowed to ride. If they have a motor, then they should be considered a vehicle … to be driven on the street. Not bike paths. And don’t try to force me to ride my pedal-powered bicycle on the sidewalk. If the law states (and it does) that bicycles are supposed to act like a vehicle (obey traffic signals, ride in the same direction as vehicle traffic, use signals, etc.), then e-bikes should have to follow the same law. If I’m riding in a bike lane when necessary, I have enough to worry about (car doors, cars making right turns, traffic signals) without having to worry about getting run down by a moron riding his motorized franken-bike in the bike lane.

What are your thoughts on e-bikes?

Today’s food journal: I sucked at the diet today. It was a chilly, rainy, wintery-type day today and for some reason I just wanted to eat all day. Tomorrow will be a better day.

— Strawberry, banana, peach smoothie = 6 points

— Jimmy John’s Slim Turkey sandwich = 8 points
— Skinny Chips = 3 points
— Chocolate chip cookie = 9.5 points
— Diet Root Beer = 0 points

— Club sandwich on whole wheat = 8.5 points
— Iced tea = 0 points

Snack: (because I’ve not eaten enough crap today and they day isn’t quite over yet.)
— Skinny Cow ice cream = 2 points

Life’s a journey. Enjoy the ride!

…( ) / ( ) 

Thanks for visiting.




One response

17 11 2010
Tom Armstrong

As a bike shop guy, I “get” the e-bike thing a bit differently.

I see the e-bike phenomenon as useful for, as an example, the business person who wants to ride to work, but doesn’t have a place for changing clothes (never mind my opinion on that issue). (S)He can ride to work on the motor, then pedal home and get a couple minutes of exercise. I also see it as useful for someone with far less strength or other medical issues, as a way to get up the steep hills without injury or excess fatigue, allowing them to pedal the rest of the time.

Sure, as with any technology, some will misuse it. Folks will buy speed instead of earning it through muscle development.

People will think it green instead of thinking about the coal that gets burned to generate the electricity to recharge the battery.

I don’t have a real problem with treating e-bikes like bikes in general, as long as bikes in general are treated like vehicles instead of toys and cyclists are treated as legitimate road users instead of second-class citizens. Of course, while it should go without saying that the right to use the road carries with it the concomitant responsibility to behave according to the rules of the road, too many people ignore the link between rights and responsibilities.

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