The controversial topic of eBikes (electric bicycles) has long been debated — but nowhere more so than New York, a city of 500,000 bike riders and 250 miles of bike lanes. The rules and the very definition of this mode of transportation have been murkier than the East River after a spring deluge.
And these days, there are plenty of folks from the pedal community discussing benefits, safety, legality and what constitutes a bike being an “eBike.” Much of the storm has been created by the fact that the federal, state and city laws that applied to eBikes were all different. And lawmakers didn’t always know exactly what enthusiasts in New York were equipping their bikes with.
This week, Bosch, the German-based engineering and electronics company known best for well-made auto parts, appliances and power tools, is in Manhattan, spreading the word about the Bosch eBike Systems, which are pedal-assisted, and very much legal in New York — both state and city. As May is National Bike Month, Bosch is actively getting the word out, specifically on the Scott SUB Evo Commuter, the Cannondale Mavaro Commuter and the Electra Townie Go!
In the overall scope, electric bikes make sense. Bikes make sense. Of course, there’s the obvious benefits of health, limiting dependency on fossil fuels and reducing carbon pollution, but anyone who has ever sat in crawling traffic in downtown Manhattan (at 2 a.m.) understands that every vehicle taken off the road in that city is a step in the right direction.
“Just put it in perspective. You have a person who weighs, lets say, 200 pounds. Does it make sense to have them in a 2,000-pound car? A 50-pound bicycle is far more efficient,” says Chris Nolte, owner of Propel Bikes in Brooklyn, a vocal proponent of traditional and pedal-assisted bicycles, who has actually been tapped for his input on legislation. “The key to getting more people on bikes to make an effective difference, is the city providing infrastructure, so I’ve just wanted people to grasp exactly what electric bikes are.”
The positives are obvious, but to let any maniac trick-out his 10-speed to do 70 mph in the bike lane might also be opening the door to some safety issues. When does it change from being a bicycle with a motor to a motorcycle?
The key to the whole debate is the pedal-assist. In 2002, the federal government declared that electric bikes, generally run on rechargeable batteries, were legal.
Then in 2004, NYC banned any bikes that couldn’t be operated without human power. If it has a motor, it has to be registered. Bosch’s eBikes, or the dozen brands that Nolte carries at Propel, are pedal assist, meaning you have to use your own energy to start moving the bike. From there, an electric motor amplifies your input, by up to 300 percent. A bike with a throttle is illegal.
“The NYC law has been misrepresented. The state has existing legislation, but that can be trumped by the city law. The threat to eBikes right now is the confusion,” explains Nolte.
The law was targeted primarily at commercial usage, but recently, even commuters have been targeted. Nolte was fined $25,000 by the city for selling pedal-assist bikes in his shop, which was later thrown out because his bikes are all legal.
These bikes offer similar workouts to traditional bikes, but allow the cyclist to go farther, higher and faster on the terrain. Bosch also builds the motors for top brands like Cannondale, Trek, Scott, Felt, Haibike, Emotion and Cube. The eBike drive system consists of a drive unit (motor and transmission), a battery and a smart and intuitive cycle computer.
“There’s so much potential for improving the city with electric bike share program bikes,” says Nolte, “But at any time, NYC could say pedal-assist bikes are illegal, so I’ve just wanted to bring some clarity to the issue.”
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