Before Christmas BikeBiz.com revealed that the executive director of the Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BAGB) had written to Norman Baker, the UK transport minister, suggesting that a proposed EU rule change for electric bikes should be subject to a UK opt-out. Such a stance elicited a stinging response from the Belgium-based general secretary of the Two Wheel Retailers' Association (ETRA). CTC and Sustrans then sided with the Bicycle Association.
Now, the British Electric Bicycle Association has sided with ETRA. BEBA chairman David Miall has written an open letter, standing up for throttles on e-bikes.
Throttles allow for "faster and safer starts," said Miall. "The use of a throttle will help get a bike moving quickly, reducing wobble during take off, particularly when at the front of a queue at traffic lights, on hills or crossing busy roads. Being able to simply twist a throttle to add boost is far safer than trying to stand up on the pedals to get the bike moving to a safe speed."
It's just such a position that's opposed by the Bicycle Association - a long-established organisation that has previously run e-bike seminars for its members - which is worried that throttle-controlled bicycles will "muddle the clear distinction between pedal cycles and all other road vehicles." The Bicycle Association wants the Department for Transport to reject any EU rule changes that don't "make a clear distinction between a bicycle and any form of scooter, moped or motor-cycle."
Phillip Darnton, executive director of the Bicycle Association, said:
"The last amended draft from the IMCO Commission of the EU has introduced two features of the definition which are of serious concern, namely: that the power-rating maximum of 250 watts should be relaxed to include motors up to 1kw; and that the bicycle does not need to be pedalled for the motor to engage i.e. “twist and go” throttles are to be allowed.
"Not only would such a regulation blur the distinction between what is/is not a bicycle, but also presents considerable risks for road safety, especially in terms of continuous speed as well as acceleration. It is not stated whether there would be any minimum age limit on the riders of these 25 kph electric vehicles, or where their use would be proscribed, eg whether allowed in cycle lanes.
"The proposed amendment to the Motor Cycle Framework Regulation COM 542 has been very actively promoted by the European motor cycling lobby group (ETRA); it would in our view, be irresponsible if this special pleading were to influence new regulation without challenge.
"Such changes would effectively constitute a ‘back-door’ route to deregulate entry-level motor cycles, making them available to a much younger group and removing essential safety standards."
David Miall, chairman of the British Electric Bicycle Association, disputes this and his letter is given in full below.
BEBA has been monitoring the recent opinions of ETRA and various other bicycle groups regarding the proposed changes to the Motor Cycles Framework Regulation COM (2010) 542 by the IMCO Commission of the European Parliament with great interest.
BEBA represents the interests of members who predominantly specialise in the manufacture and distribution of electrically assisted bicycles. We believe we have a balanced and complete understanding of the regulations and rules governing the use of electric bicycles in both the UK and Europe. Because our members are predominantly electric bike specialists we probably have the best understanding of the needs and wants of the UK electric bicycle buying public.
It is our opinion that the changes proposed by ETRA are not only good for the industry but will also encourage an increasing number of people away from their cars and vans and onto electrically assisted pedal cycles and tricycles. Which is beneficial to the whole cycle industry. To try and create differences between what is acceptable in the UK and in Europe can only be harmful, driving up prices in the UK and perpetuating the confusion between what is acceptable in the UK and the rest of Europe.
It is important to understand that the proposed changes to the wattage of the motor will not effect acceleration or top speed. Through electronic regulation bikes will still have to be within the parameters of the existing European standard EN15194. Higher wattage motors may increase the weight of a bicycle but by no more than 1kg. Although the detail is not clear it seems that most manufacturers will have to reduce the weight of their bicycles to meet the new 25kg maximum weight limit if they want to retain a full throttle. Consequently any extra power will simply be used to enable electrically assisted bicycles to negotiate steeper inclines or carry heavier loads. This in turn will allow older people, those with health issues and some delivery services such as the post office to use electrically assisted bicycles instead of conventional vehicles associated with road congestion and pollution.
The issue of “twist and go” throttles in our opinion is reasonably straightforward. They are legally fitted to more than 80% of all electric bikes currently in use in the UK without any issues as far as we can ascertain. We understand from recent consultation with electric bike riders in the UK that the twist and go throttle is considered a huge benefit in terms of safety and usability. In the experience of riders in the UK the throttle is an invaluable asset for the riders safety in the following real world conditions: Stability. When riding on sand, snow or ice, a throttle provides enhanced stability. A rider can stop pedalling and lower their centre of gravity whilst still slowly moving forward.
Keeping clear of heavy traffic. Riders find they are able to ride much closer to the kerb when forced to do so by other traffic, the danger of catching a pedal on the kerb is reduced to becoming almost insignificant.
Faster and safer starts. The use of a throttle will help get a bike moving quickly, reducing wobble during take off, particularly when at the front of a queue at traffic lights, on hills or crossing busy roads. Being able to simply twist a throttle to add boost is far safer than trying to stand up on the pedals to get the bike moving to a safe speed.
Speed control. Riders can move slowly yet steadily on busy cycle paths and avoid situations where they are in too high a gear and can't easily maintain forward motion. Speed boost. Being able to accelerate at a moments notice is valuable for getting out of the way of motorists in dangerous situations.
We must stress that we do not approve of electric bikes exceeding the 15.5mph limit being used on the public highway or cycle paths. Whilst most non-electric riders could live without a throttle there does not seem to be any good reason to remove its use from future electric bicycles.
From a recent study of electric bikes owners preferences we have discovered that of those who have the benefit of twist and go throttle in the UK;
7% never use the throttle.24% use throttle on start up to help get going and for safety reasons.28% use the throttle occasionally to rest legs/heart/lungs.41% always use the throttle.
Electric bicycles are not normally associated with young and fit individuals who ride a pedal cycle for pleasure or a few miles to and from their place of work. They are predominantly purchased by those who would not normally consider a bicycle at all and others who appreciate assistance on a long commute and would prefer to arrive at their destination without needing a shower.
Electric bicycles remain a key growth area in the UK cycle market however manufacturers, distributors and cycling organisations must take note of the consumers needs.
BEBA are fully supportive of making cycling more available to everyone, including less abled riders, offering them the freedom that so many of us already take for granted. We strongly believe that the proposed changes to the current legislation will further open cycling to all.