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 should be subject to a UK opt-out. Such a stance has elicited a stinging response from the Belgium-based general secretary of the Two Wheel Retailers' Association (ETRA).
Phillip Darnton said that a EU rule change, due to be finally decided upon early next year but likely to go in ETRA's favour, gave cause for "serious concern" and could "blur the distinction between what is/is not a bicycle." Further, Darnton said the EU rule change "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."
ETRA's members include companies such as Sram and Shimano and the Accell group (which makes electric bikes). The majority of members are involved with electric vehicles and include battery manufacturers; electric velomobile makers; Segway of the USA, the electric personal transporter; YikeBike, the New Zealand electric mini-farthing; and Going Electric, the Association for Electric Vehicles in Europe.
The Association of Cycle Traders, the UK bicycle retail organisation, used to be member of ETRA but let its membership lapse in 2005. One UK bike shop is a member of ETRA: Sidcup Cycles of Kent (the owner is a past president of ETRA).
Although it has just one member out of 2500 UK bicycle shops, ETRA claims to represent "some 5,000 independent bicycle, moped and motorcycle retailers" across Europe.
Annick Roetynck, Gent-based secretary general of ETRA, objected to the letter written to the UK Department for Transport by Phillip Darnton, executive director of BAGB. Roetynck took exception to ETRA being described as a "European motor cycling lobby group". In a blistering letter to the Bicycle Association, Roetynck expressed her obvious distaste at the UK organisation's position.
Her letter is published unedited below.
Dear Mr Darnton
We have read the extracts from your letter to transport minister Norman Baker on the Bikebiz website carefully. We have found yet another loud protest against the improvements of European legislation for electric bikes as proposed by ETRA, which is full of inaccuracies and which is overall intellectually unfair.
ETRA has been working on this issue for several years. This year, we have actually worked on the issue on a daily basis: innumerable meetings with Commission staff, MEPs, Permanent Representations as well as close consultation with both our effective and associated members.
All protest against our proposals we have come across so far consists of sporadic letters full of half- truths, distorted facts and factual mistakes. Time and time again, you and your fellow protestors prove that you have not read the texts: not the Commission’s proposal for the review of the type-approval, not ETRA’s proposal for improving the Commission’s proposal, nor the draft Parliamentary report or the amendments. You have only read each-others’ letters and repeated the same mistakes over and over again, resulting in the same emotional and incorrect appeal.
Do you, Mr Darnton and your fellow protestors, truly believe for one moment that ETRA would propose legislation that will jeopardise the safety of the customers of our members? Do you not know that there is a European law making it illegal to place products on the market which are not safe?
Consequently, if we were pleading for unsafe legislation, then our proposal in itself would be illegitimate.
Do you realise, Mr Darnton, how your proposal for not having any changes puts the safety of the customers of our members at risk? Without those changes, you will allow pedal assisted mountain bikes with assistance up to 45 km/h and a motor output of 4 kW to be excluded from the type-approval and to be placed on the market, being subject to virtually no rules whatsoever.
What is that going to do to the safety of the customers of our members? On the other hand, as a result of your and your fellow protestors’ position, a pedal assisted bike 25 km/h with 0.3 kW will be subject to technical requirements written for motorcycles. We are talking about for instance On Board Diagnostics, wheels that can rotate at different speed at any time for safe cornering and the type-approval of virtually all components, whilst those very same components can be used without type-approval on a 25 km/h – 0.25 kW or on a conventional bicycle. Would you like to explain that to our dealers, Mr Darnton?
And would you like to explain to them that this 25 km/h with 0.3 kW costs £ 3,000 instead of £ 1,500 because somebody has to pay for certification of vehicle and components by an accredited lab? We are working for regulations for electric bicycles, pedal assisted and open throttle, in both the 25 km/h and 45 km/h speed categories, that are made for electric bicycles, not for motorcycles. We are working for regulations that are relevant for the safety performance of the bikes, that are workable for the companies concerned, that are affordable and that do not obstruct the market.
We believe that the type-approval for motorcycles is not the appropriate regulatory framework for electric bicycles. Therefore, we want most of the 25 km/h vehicles out of that framework and into the framework of the Machinery and EMC Directive in combination with a European standard. Why are you so much against this idea? It works well for the pedal assisted bikes 25 km/h and 0.25 kW. Do you not share our faith in this regulatory framework?
And as for the 45 km/h, we do agree with a type-approval. Only, we do not agree with a motorcycle type-approval. We believe that electric bikes are important enough to have their own technical rules. We want to get rid of nonsense such as OBD or wheels that can rotate at different speeds at any time. Not you, Mr Darnton?
We work for the future of our members. Half of all car trips in the EU are less than 5 km. We believe that this offers an enormous potential to swap car trips by bike or electric bike trips. The current European regulations are standing in the way of those electric bikes. The European Union has decreed itself that no European law should stand in the way of market development.
We want our members to have electric bikes available that they can sell to postal services, pizza boys and girls, courier companies, real estate agents, emergency services, police forces, taxi companies, lawyers, politicians, commuters, … in other words to as many people as possible, no matter how much they weigh and what they want to transport and whether they live in the Peak District or in Lincolnshire.
In the Netherlands, 1 out of every 7 bikes sold by a dealers today is electric and has an average price of € 2,000. Do you want to go and tell these dealers that you want to stop this at some point?
What are you and your fellow protestors working for, Mr Darnton? You certainly speak a lot and with a loud voice about safety but when will it begin to dawn on you that the safety you are speaking about cannot be achieved through the review of the type-approval?
This proposal is about technical requirements and technical requirements only, not about helmets, not about road use, not about age limits and certainly not about speed limits on the road. All these issues are not a European but a national competence.
Therefore, we kindly recommend you to focus on the review of the UK traffic code rather than on the review of the European type-approval for motorcycles. Should you wish to continue to focus on the review of the European type-approval, then we kindly but urgently invite you to read the Commission’s proposal, ETRA’s proposal aimed at improving the Commission’s proposal, the draft Parliamentary report and the amendments, as well as to attend all relevant meetings.
Oh, and one last correction. ETRA stands for European Twowheel Retailers’ Association, not the “European motor cycling lobby group”. Please refer to us in a correct way in your future letters.We wish you a merry Christmas and a New Year in which you will find the time to read and digest all the above-mentioned documents.