Rhode Island needs to pass a law regulating electric bicycles and their use on bike paths. A bill before the General Assembly would do that, but the current version is flawed and potentially …
Rhode Island needs to pass a law regulating electric bicycles and their use on bike paths. A bill before the General Assembly would do that, but the current version is flawed and potentially dangerous to the vast majority of bike path users.
The reasons for regulation are obvious. At present, e-bikes bring a dose of confusion to the state’s bike paths. The supervisory authority is the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which says they are “motorized vehicles” and therefore not allowed on the paths.
State law, however, says they are not “motorized vehicles.” Therefore police have few options to restrict or regulate them.
The bill under consideration identifies the three dominant classes of electric bicycles in use across the country. Class 1 bikes assist riders only when they are pedaling, and they stop assisting when the bike reaches 20 miles per hour. That’s fast, but no faster than some of the hard-core cyclists pedal every day on traditional bikes.
Class 3 bikes are the same as Class 1 — the rider must pedal in order to engage the motor — but there is 40% more speed potential, with the motor working all the way up to 28 miles per hour. That is extremely fast, though not necessarily unsafe in all situations. The risks depend on the riders, the design of the path and the level of activity at the time.
Most problematic are the Class 2 e-bikes, which include a motorcycle-like throttle that can allow a rider to simply rest and ride, no pedaling necessary. When being pedaled, their motors also top out at 20 miles per hour.
In an effort to understand these bikes better, two members of our team test-rode Class 1 and Class 2 bicycles. We came away feeling that there are no inherent dangers in Class 1 e-bikes. They make riding easier, and potentially more fun, and they go no faster than traditional bikes that are cruising the East Bay Bike Path every day.
We felt differently about the Class 2 e-bikes. They can feel more like mopeds, allowing riders to accelerate quickly, reach top speeds with less effort and ride more aggressively and potentially more distracted than they would otherwise.
A House committee has already approved the e-bikes bill and sent it for consideration by the full House of Representatives, so there may not be an opportunity to amend the legislation. If there were, we suggestion a couple of changes.
First, do not allow Class 2 e-bikes on bike paths. They are potentially too dangerous, opening up top speeds to riders who would not be capable otherwise. Secondly, allow DEM to determine where Class 3 e-bikes can be ridden safely on the state’s bike paths, which may vary depending on the width of the path, intersections and topography.
All of these bikes should be allowed on our roadways, and all are great replacements for motor vehicles if conditions allow. Yet not all are safe on the sometimes narrow, often congested bike paths enjoyed by thousands of people daily.