Electric bicycle, moped or motorcycle? Can you tell your e-bike from your elbow?

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Just because it looks like a bicycle.....

Dave Luscombe is the MCIA's campaign manager for alternatively powered motorcycles and mopeds. He has been working with the Bicycle Association of Great Britain to simplify the terminology used around e-bikes, so that customers and dealers don't fall foul of the law!

Dave writes....
Sales of electric e-bikes are booming across the globe.  In China, where many are manufactured, over 200 million e-bikes take to the streets every day.  In Europe, estimates suggest around 500,000 e-bikes have now been sold and the market is growing in excess of 10% every year.  No one has any doubt that in most European markets, e-bikes will be an important part of a greener transport mix.

The picture in the UK is just as healthy, with big brands like Raleigh seeing e-bikes as having major appeal to all sectors of the cycle market.

Terry Blackwood of Raleigh UK endorsed this recently in an interview with online magazine Bike Europe in saying that "Electric bikes will be the biggest growth area in the immediate future in the UK market."  But the growth in the e-bike market is not without its challenges, and one of the key issues that the UK cycle industry is grappling with is the growth in higher powered electric bikes that are technically electric mopeds or even electric motorcycles.


UK law - keeping it simple
In the UK, pedal cycles with electrical assistance can be legally ridden by anyone over the age of 14 without any of the regulations of a motorcycle (insurance, registration, licence etc.) if they produce no more than 250 watts of power (continuously rated) which cuts out at 15.5mph. This output is measured by the manufacturer as part of the bike's compliance with CE marking requirements and the bike is labelled accordingly.  More than 250 watts of continuously rated power and the electric bicycle ceases to be an electric bicycle and becomes, in the eyes of the law, an electric moped.  

Indeed, if the power is over 4kW it becomes an electric motorcycle.

To boldly go - or not
An electric moped (our e-bike with more than 250 watts of continuously rated power) is no different to its petrol powered cousin.  To use it requires training, a driving licence, L-plates, third party insurance, a full sized number plate and a motorcycle helmet.  Once you have sorted all that, you can use your electric moped on the road, and only on the road, or on private land with permission.  Don't be fooled into thinking that you will be OK off road.  You will not.  You are riding a motor vehicle and are subject to the same rules as someone riding a conventional motocross bike.  

Trial parks, cycle paths, cycle trails are all for bicycles, not electric mopeds.

To inform or not to inform, that is the question
An understanding of the categorisation of e-bikes is critical to the future of the sector in the UK.  For the dealers, not informing the customer about the true nature of what they are selling, including the law pertaining to use of the e-bikes is misselling.  There are clear penalties for those who take this route and not understanding the regulations is no excuse for a dealer.  

The impact for the customer is no less severe if caught riding an electric moped anywhere other than on private land.  As with a car, a moped is governed by the Road Traffic Act and riding an electric moped without the necessary documentation as outlined above is a breach of multiple traffic laws and regulations.  It could lead to a conviction and penalty points on a driving licence - potentially a driving ban in certain circumstances!

Clarity is the key to success
The Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) and the Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BA) are the two trade associations responsible for the growing e-bike sector. The growth in the e-bike sector is bringing valuable new business opportunities to motorcycle and cycle dealers and the continued growth will hinge on the public continuing to embrace this new sector.  

Misselling by a small segment of the industry, which may lead to significant legal problems for some customers, has the potential to derail the e-bicycle sector and has wider implications for conventional cycling.  

The apparent confusion amongst both dealers and customers about what is legal and what is not has led to an agreement to encourage everyone in the sector to embrace the correct terminology when referring to e-bikes with different power outputs.  

In publicity materials produced by the MCIA and the BA, the following terminology will be used:  
  • E-bikes - a generic term referring to all electric powered 2 wheelers
  • Electric bicycles - referring to e-bikes of 250W and below
  • Electric mopeds - referring to e-bikes over 250W up to 4kW
  • Electric motorcycles - referring to e-bikes producing 4kW or more
Using this terminology will go a long way to help customers and dealers understand what an electric bicycle is and what their legal obligation is when their e-bike is actually a moped or motorcycle.