Worldwide uniform laws for pedal electric technology.

11 01 2010

OK, this is one of my stranger blog posts, and I want lots of feedback on this, because I think these are good ideas.

I had an idea once which I shared on my hardly every read blog “The Great Distraction” and it is a half reasonable idea, but one I don’t have the energy to pursue. It was about replacing our current broken systems of so-called “democracy” with a system based on Bugzilla, where instead of using it for software development we, the people of the world, write legislation. And the end result is that we end up with uniform laws across multiple jurisdictions with best practice to enable technology not to be hampered by stupid legislative obstacles. For instance I wouldn’t even be able to ride my beautiful bicycle in New York State according to the wikipedia page on bicycle laws.

The laws are all over the place. Maximum power of a bike could be 200W, or 250W, 300W, 500W, 1000W or 1 hp. Maximum speed is 25km/hr, or 30km/hr, or 10mph or 35mph. Some don’t have maximum speeds. Some places need you to be pedalling for the motor to kick in, and turn off when you’re not. Some have a maximum weight, and some need engine sizes of no more than 50cc. Some call them bicycles, others motorised bicycles, some motorcycles, some mopeds. It needs standardisation, to enable manufacturers to target more than one market, and aid in mass production, and to let pedal electric bikes, trikes and velomobiles take over the world.

Now here’s another thought, remember back to the olden days of 2009 when the world went to Copenhagen not to ride bicycles, but to pontificate and ultimately achieve nothing about decarbonising our economy. This might jog your memory:

There was a bit of excitement in New Zealand at the time (well to be honest it was probably limited to within the Beehive, the NZ parliament, the building in the middle of this piccie):

Excitement because in one of the side deals, an apparently important conference was set up for Wellington in the not too distant future to talk about agricultural research groups in various countries linking up their research on climate and agriculture. You know cows’ farts and what not. I thought at the time it was a good enough idea, but how come there isn’t international research cooperation into what is really sorely needed in the 21st century to combat climate change, urban transport? There’s so little research done anyways and there is hardly any international cooperation. There should be university departments all about de-automobiling our cities, and replacing cars with bicycles. I had the thought that there should be a global conference for the world’s transport ministers to attend, where not only do they get to learn about bicycle technology and bicycle infrastructure, but they get to try out all the bikes. So I think I’m going to do it. I have no authority to do it, but I am going to invite the world not to Wellington (as it’s too boring) but to Palmerston North (Remember Palmerston North is cool) . In February 2012. Some diplomats and transport ministry people I’m sure will fill out the details of the conference and invite all the invitees. It’ll be the world’s transport ministers, and all the manufacturers of electric bikes and trikes and the like, a smattering of world leaders and lots and lots of cyclists. Here’s a picture of Palmie on a not too sunny day.

There will be a few different things scheduled for the Feb 2012 conference:

1. The New Zealand Prime Minister will formally open the New Zealand National Cycleway from Cape Reinga to Bluff, which will be freshly finished.

2. The standardised laws for pedal electric technologies will be debated and ratified and then taken back to every state, provincial and national parliament for adoption into local laws. (Really they’re just going to copy my ideas as modified by all the comments that this post is going to bring). Manufacturers will have models available that meet the standards for all the delegates to see how cool it is.

3. There’ll be a similar kind of process, not for standardised laws of bicycle infrastructure, but to develop guidelines (or a pattern language if you like) for pedal and pedal electric infrastructure that can be taken back and given to every urban planner and highway planner in the world.

4. A huge fair of pedal electric and related technologies with manufacturers from around the world invited with lots of room for everyone to ride around on the bikes and trikes on show.

Initial ideas for global uniform bicycle laws

A child/children
– different places have different definitions on when a person is old enough to ride an electric bike, 10, 14, 16, 18 and even 21. I cannot understand why a teenager shouldn’t be riding on an e-bike. Even a 10 year old could ride an electric bike safely. Small children of course can hardly ride real bikes, but if a kid is big enough for a 10-speed (I’m old school) then they are big enough for an e-bike. Many places let kids up to a certain age, like 12 ride on the footpath. So I’m going to pick an arbitary number and say children are up to 12 years old.

Youth – 13 to 17. Prone to more accidents from little experience of riding on the road.

Adult – 18+

Bike Paths – Bike Lanes

Bike paths are dedicated paths away from roads (but may parallel them) where there is no risk of being hit by any motorised traffic losing control on any road. Bike paths may be used by pedestrians.

Bike lanes are marked lanes on the same road surface as a road carrying vehicular traffic. Bike lanes may not be used by pedestrians, other than to cross at 90 degrees from the direction of road traffic.

There are times when helmets are not needed when riding a bicycle. They discourage cycling, and their safety claims are at best dubious. One place they’re not needed is in the city and suburbs. This is especially true for city-wide cycle hire schemes. Sometimes there is a need for a helmet. I know I’ll be shot down in flames for this, but here goes:

Children should wear a helmet when riding a bike.
Youths should wear helmets when riding a bike of any kind, except for city-wide hire schemes.
Adults should have the choice to wear a helmet on any pedal bike that they won’t ride faster than 30km/hr. All pedal electrics require a helmet.

All helmets to be worn when riding a bike, or trike or velomobile are the bicyclist style with a chinstrap, not the full face motorcyclist style.

Allowable pedal assist
One of the joys of using a cycle path is being out of the noise cone of traffic. This tranquility is ruined by 2 stroke engines, or any petrol engine, not to mention the breathing of filthy exhaust. So all forms of assistance to pedal power should be provided by electric motors. ie all 2 stroke and 4 stroke engine assists should be banned from classification as a bike. Preferably they are banned outright, but at the very least they should be classifed as mopeds or motorcycles and kept out of bike paths and bike lanes.

All pedal electric bicycles need pedals, except for the special case of bikes for the disabled and infirm. Segways and the like would breach that, but Segways have failed in the marketplace and need not be considered.

Max Speed
There should be no maximum speed defined for an electric bike. Maximum speeds as signposted for other vehicles may or may not be enforced as per local custom. If there is to be a maximum speed defined then it should be reasonable. 25km/hr is way too slow. 30 km/hr is also too slow. Regular (ie non electric) road bike users can routinely go 40km/hr. Some cyclists going downhill easily go past 50km/hr. Recumbant trikes are inherently more stable than bicycles and the speeds are both faster and safer than a normal bike. So if maximum speeds are set they should be set at different levels for bikes, trikes and velomobiles.  Any speed restriction for cutting out the electric motor relies on some way to assess the current speed which adds to the expense of the bike. It is better to limit the bike by its maximum power, rather than it’s maximum speed.

Max Power
200W and 300W does not give much speed advantage over regular cycling. California probably has the most liberal practical law here, and it limits the max power to 1000W. I don’t know if that is for one motor, or it is possible to have that on each of two motors. I would tend to suggest whatever makes a normal rider go at about 40km/hr is about right. Good riders could exceed that. More should be allowed for recumbent trikes due to their stability. Youths pedelecs should have a max power of whatever takes them up to about 30 km/hr.

Power Assistance
Power to the motors driving the wheels should not be limited to when the pedals are turning. When braking power to the motors should be removed. Regenerative braking is optional. Some form of charging the batteries when rolling down hills is also optional. Power should not be removed from the motor when a maximum speed is reached.

Bicycles in all forms should not require licensing, nor registration. Kids, youths and adults should be exposed to safety education campaigns, but there should be nothing formalised to stop the spur of the moment freedom to ride.

Where pedal electrics can be ridden and taken
Everywhere that a normal bicycle can be ridden, including bike paths and bike lanes, and on the road two abreast, including velomobiles. There is no reason why off road bicycle paths should be shut to pedal electrics like in Boulder, Colorado (which sounds like it had one of the lycra brigade be a bit snobby about pedelecs). On trains that carry bikes, there is no reason to disallow pedelec bikes (but trikes and velomboiles are another story).

Max weight
30kg for bikes, 40kg for recumbants and velomobiles. This rules out lots of heavy sealed lead acid batteries, but that is probably a good thing.

Anyway that’s my view of the world. What would you do differently?



4 responses

16 01 2010

While at the bike shop the other day I overheard a discussion between one of the sales/mechanic guys at the shop and a customer who was looking to buy a petrol engine powered bicycle.
There are a growing number of these around the streets of Darwin, apparently some of the riders are not practicing the skills of good roadmanship expected by other path users and there is a push to outlaw, or severely regulate these vehicles. I know it’s kind of daunting for pedestrians to have a bicycle zoom past them and apparently this is happening with the motorised version making pathways doubly hazardous… I’m ambivalent about the reactionary creation of laws for bicycles. On one hand we need to maintain safe cycle/roadways but on the other the options for responsible cyclists are going to be limited and potentially over regulated due to the behaviour of a very small minority.
I hope when it comes to legislation here in Australia the powers that be will engage some kind of objective analysis of the issues and options as you have identified rather than arbitrarily creating and enforcing draconian measures that are by design and intention…. anti cyclist.

16 01 2010

David, It’s easy to make laws against bikes with petrol motors without being anti bicycle. Define them as motorbikes. Electric motors on the other other hand are bicycles. If you observe, the petrol assisted riders don’t pedal, and the electrically assisted usually do. Electric is quiet. Petrol isn’t. Electric is clean. Petrol isn’t. I don’t even think it’s me and my pedantic semantics. I think there is a logical distinction there. An equivalent on the water is that a kayaking purist won’t readily diss a kayak with a sail, but they’ll want to scuttle a jetski. I don’t think it is for nothing that the book was called “Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance”. You can only be in a Zen state if the motorcycle is turned off and in pieces of the floor. On my pedelec I am in Zen after riding 50 kilometres, and a on a flat stretch near home, I stand on my pedals using the throttle to keep me going and I’m looking at all the pukekos in the paddocks. “Zen and the art of pedelec gliding”

18 01 2010

😉 Yes, yes… I agree of course. Any objective, intelligent, self aware, conscientious Public Servant would have to come to the same conclusion…
Are yours like that? No no just joking, of course we have decent public servents here but there is a definite lack of understanding of the virtues of bicycling and the difference between a bicycle or even 50cc scooters, (the latest annoyance to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike where I live.)

26 03 2010
Another Wellingtonian gets an electric bike « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] one of my longer posts I wax lyrical about what I think power assisted cycle standards should be. Craig, I hope […]

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