E-bike suppliers in the UK – and most of Europe – fall into two distinct camps. Long-standing bicycle suppliers, such as Trek, Giant and others, supply mainly UK and EU compliant pedelecs not twist and go e-bikes. Many e-bike specific companies offer a variety of models, including some with throttles.
Those companies which supply e-bikes with throttles are opposed to the Bicycle Association’s view that twist and go e-bikes are akin to mopeds.
So opposed, in fact, that some set up their own organisation, BEBA, the British Electric Bicycle Association.
Ultramotor and Wisper are the lead voices in BEBA.
Ultramotor issued a statement saying it disagreed with BA’s Phillip Darnton’s view that twist and go bikes were akin to mopeds.
"There is in actual fact a huge difference between e-bikes and mopeds: an e-bike travels at 15.5mph, compared to scooters at 30mph+. If you look at commuters on road bikes in the city through rush hour you could record some of them at 30mph under their rider’s own steam. If a normal bike can reach scooter speeds without a throttle then what is the problem with a throttle up to half that speed? You’ll also notice all e-bikes have pedals which scooters don’t.
"Whether a bicycle gets to its maximum assisted speed through throttle or pedal assist is not important. It is still a bicycle, under 40kgs. I don’t know of any mainstream scooters that can do 30mph and is under 40kgs?
In a review handed to the UK Department for Transport, Ultramotor proposed two categories:
"Pedal assist to harmonise with Europe" and "Power on demand, similar to the US laws and this may negate this category from using a cycle path."
Ultramotor said: "Throttle’s are very important to consumers in the market now and the BA is out of touch with what the consumer wants. As an industry we have to embrace new technology.
"In the UK the biggest e-bike market is for non-cyclists and the BA are out of touch with this consumer and what their requirements are. There of course will be cyclists looking to buy pedal assist, but the majority will want throttle for many different reasons.
"An e-bike is a different category to normal bicycles and may actually protect non-electric cyclists. E-bikes are more likely to be an ‘easy target’ to pin these rules on and we as an industry will fight any changes.
"At the moment it is a ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ scenario, yet we all have the same goal; more people on two wheelers. Let’s not get so precious over the throttle and just accept that this is what the consumers want."
David Miall of Wisper also disagrees with the Bicycle Association’s stance on twist and go electric bikes.
"I can’t imagine that Phillip Darnton and BAGB, with all their experience, have not read or do not understand the European standard EN15194. Especially as this is the standard that according to the DfT is very likely to become adopted by the UK this year. I do wonder however, why they are so dramatically opposed to the twist grip power regulator, it is such a perfect solution?
"The EU regulations are not at all complex or ambiguous, nowhere in EN15194 is the use of a twist throttle outlawed, one may just as well say the use of a torque or cadence sensor is not permitted.
"I am not saying the unrestricted use of twist and go up to 25kph is within the scope of EN15194. I am simply stating that the twist throttle can be used to obtain start up assistance to 6kph (very useful away from traffic lights and on steep hills) and then be used as a means of regulating the amount of assistance available from the motor up to a top speed of 25kph as long as the rider is pedalling or turning the pedals forwards."
But Miall agrees that there’s marketplace confusion over e-bike rules and regulations.
He said: "Some suppliers are working to the current UK regulations that do not specify whether a throttle can or cannot be used, it is of course assumed they can be. Some are working to the EU regulations above, which certainly permit independent assistance use up to 6kph and then assistance up to 25kph as long as the pedals are turning forward. Others are working to a mixture of both. Until there is clear direction from DfT this state of slight confusion will continue.
"Having met a representative from the DfT at the British Electric Bicycle Association’s parliamentary electric bicycle day at Westminster, I can confirm they are very aware of the situation and will be clarifying as early as possible this year. They have also advised that any changes to the current UK regulations will not be retrospective. Therefore even if the full throttle is being used on electric bicycles (legal under the current UK regulations), bicycles made, sold or imported (I am not certain which they will agree) prior to the date the new regulations are enforced will not become illegal.
"My advice to anyone wanting the undoubted benefit of having a full throttle buy their bicycle before the rules are changed."
"The primary difference between a non-powered bicycle and an electrically assisted bicycle, I would have thought was obvious, it is the addition of an electric motor and not how that power is delivered. If the Bicycle Assocation were arguing that EPACs are not desirable at all, that would perhaps be understandable however this is obviously not the case, but to state that one EPAC is OK and another is "not recommended" simply because assistance being supplied from a twist throttle on one and what is arguably a foot throttle on another is to say the least confusing and muddling the issue.
"Why has the BAGB taken a stance against the twist throttle as a means to supply this assistance? It simply makes no sense unless there is an ulterior motive that has not come to light yet?
"I absolutely disagree that the twist throttle makes an EPAC more akin to a moped."
Miall believes the Bicycle Association’s views on throttles could be evidence for traditional bicycle suppliers trying to squeeze out the newcomers:
"There may be pressure from some large manufacturers and associations within Europe to find a way to try discredit the smaller businesses who have built the electric bicycle market in the UK over the last few years.
"We should all try and understand the regulations in more depth and not be drawn into petty squabbling and scare mongering. There are certainly many excellent, high quality EPACs available both in the UK and all over the world with a twist and go throttle.
"If we as an industry want to attract more people out of their cars and onto bicycles, let’s get together and lobby for the choice and freedom within the overall parameters of the legislation. Let’s together open and de-restrict the market as far as possible and get behind the electric bicycle revolution."