Legislation and speed of electric bicycles in the city: what developments?

Faced with the ecological emergency, mobility must find the perfect cocktail to replace polluting modes of transport. Ebikes, scooters and scooters are now part of the answer, but how to increase their potential? The debate is open on regulations and in particular the speed limit, which could boost the use of light electric vehicles by the majority of people.

Different perceptions of e-bike legislation

The key players in the cycle industry are cautious about changing the legal status of the cycle, while the car industry sees a great opportunity to reinvent itself, as the role of the car is bound to be reduced in tomorrow’s urban projects.

For the cycle industry, losing the legal status of bicycles would increase the regulatory burden and hinder the growth of the sector. Lifting the barriers linked to speed and, more generally, to the regulation of bicycles would mean taking the risk that the big names in the automobile industry would take over the market and standardize to the extreme uniform bicycles, without the design nuances of the various manufacturers that enrich the market today.

It is impossible to deny the strong innovations coming to the electric mobility market. With the Adaptive Mobility and the “i Vision AMBY” concept, BMW offers a new kind of vehicle with three speeds, 25, 45 and 60 km/h. An innovation that opens the door to new vehicle categories. We are also thinking of Canyon with the velomobile, previously the Podbike from Eldepal in Norway, or simply the speedbike segment and other derivatives. Mobility is reinventing itself, and legislation must keep pace with innovations, not the other way around.

As the electric bicycle market reaches maturity, it is important to give it a perspective on its scale. The automotive players will inevitably have a role to play and the collaboration between the two sectors is only now being confirmed, which implies certain developments. Once the nature of the players has been taken into account, there remains a very important territorial factor which again marks a real divide, with local and national policies being more or less favourable to a redistribution of roles and vehicle categories.

What speed for e-bikes?

At the heart of the debate about the speed of ECVs in the city, there are two opposing schools of thought. Some are in favour of raising the speed standard from 25km/h (15.5mph) to 30 or 32km/h (20mph) or even faster, while others see this as a major threat to the cycle industry.

E-bikes at the same speed as other road users?

The main argument in favour of this change would be to convince more users to travel by electric bicycle, which is faster and therefore better adapted to their expectations and uses.

Concerning the speed increase, some think that it is only a step because the demand will be to align with the speed of cars in city centres. Studies have shown that it is more dangerous to drive at 32km/h on the right-hand side of the road reserved for cars than to drive at the same speed as cars.

Markus Riese (Riese & Müller) believes that the limits in force should reflect the available infrastructure. “30km/h is fine on a cycle network with wide lanes, but it is not preferable in European conditions. It is too fast on narrow and congested cycle paths, and too slow to integrate fully into car traffic. It is better to ride at the same speed as cars in the middle of the road. Cars are allowed to go fast on motorways and slow in cities; the same should apply to bikes.”

It has also been noted that there are abuses of bicycle engines to “unbolt” them with devices that are harmful to the safety and reputation of EABs. An increase in speed would significantly reduce temptations in this area, and many stakeholders would therefore prefer to take the lead on this issue.

Dangerous speed increase for e-bikes

In favour of keeping the speed at 25km/h, the configuration and condition of cycle paths and roads in urban areas (especially in Europe) would not allow for safe cycling at a higher speed. Furthermore, the increase in speed would be a real danger for average cyclists, who do not have sufficient capacity and reaction time to ensure their safety. All the stakeholders also agreed that legislation should be kept light and that the use of Ebikes should not be made more complex by imposing rules that are too strict, which would then act as a brake on use and purchase (licences, insurance, safety equipment, etc.).

Electric mobility: what if the speed of ECVs was not the issue?

One might ask whether the debate should not rather focus on the integration of electric bikes into urban mobility. Namely, if there are still speed differences between bikes and cars, the lanes should be well separated. In shared spaces, bicycles should be able to adapt to a higher speed in order to make traffic flow more smoothly and to ensure the safety of users. What if we thought of the opposite? Following the example of the city of Paris where the vast majority of streets are now limited to 30km/h for motorists. More safety, less noise pollution and a better balance for soft mobility with the development of cycle lanes. At 30km/h for cars, the gap is significantly reduced to favour light electric vehicles.

If we take a step back, the challenge is to achieve decarbonised mobility by abandoning polluting vehicles in favour of sustainable transport for daily journeys. Beyond the environmental aspects, the arguments that work to transform mobility remain cost, safety and travel time. Changes in regulations will therefore probably be inevitable. To be continued!