The Netherlands has the strongest market for e-bikes in the world. However, proposed new regulations for the “speed pedelec” category of e-bike could destroy the market for such fast machines, concludes a study by Grontmij, a Dutch urban design consultancy.
Pedal-assisted speed pedelecs are capable of reaching 30mph. However, in urban areas they travel at lower average speeds than this, and so should not be regulated out of existence, says Martijn van de Lindeloof of Grontmij.
From 1st January 2017, the Dutch vehicle classification system will be changed to meet the European standards, which classify the speed pedelec as a moped. This will mean speed pedelec riders will have to have moped driving licences, their bikes must be fitted with registration plates, they won’t be allowed on bicycle-only cycleways, and users will be forced to wear motorcycle-style helmets.
“These rules may result in a substantial disincentive to purchase and use speed pedelecs,” said a statement from Grontmij.
At the moment, speed pedelecs are classified as “light mopeds” in the Netherlands. These "Snorfiets" are limited to 15mph, and allowed on bicycle-only cycleways. It’s the higher potential velocities of speed pedelecs that has prompted the Dutch Government to reclassify them as regular mopeds. However, the study from Grontmij stresses that users of speed pedelecs are largely replacing car journeys, not bicycle ones, and so discouraging their use will lead to more traffic congestion.
The Grontmij study questioned 115 speed pedelec riders, and followed the journeys of 28 of them with the use of the Strava smartphone-app. It found that the average journey was 13 miles, and the average cruising speed was 21mph. However, within urban areas the average speed was lower.
“The riders temper their speed because – despite the electrical power – riding at 28mph demands a considerable effort,” said Lindeloof.
He added that the proposed classification change could mean that an “efficient, sustainable and healthy traffic concept” will be “killed prematurely”.
However, he recognises that the speed differential between bicycles and motorised bicycles can cause problems on cycleways.
“The introduction of speed pedelecs leads to higher speed differences in cycle lanes,” said Lindeloof. “On narrow cycle lanes in particular this increases the safety risk.”
He also sees problems with enforcement of the new rules.
“The visual difference between speed pedelecs, regular e-bikes and bicycles is often very small, especially without registration plates. Effective enforcement therefore is very hard, especially when regular e-bikes can be easily tuned up to speed pedelec velocity.”
His study – co-written with Ruben de Bruijne – recommends that the Dutch Government should reverse its decision.
“[We should] continue to permit speed pedelecs on cycle lanes within urban areas,” said Lindeloof. “The decision to treat them legally like mopeds disregards the considerable differences between these modes of transport and their users.
He also recommends that instead of mandating the use of motorcycle helmets the Ministry of Transport should instead enforce the use of cycle helmets.” There should also be an education campaign aimed at speed pedelec riders, “encouraging them to adjust their riding behaviour to take account of the people with whom they share the cycle lane.”
Banishing speed pedelec riders to the “main road and burdening them with a moped helmet harms them disproportionally,” Lindeloof told BikeBiz.com.
Speed pedelecs are not cheap – the ST1 from Swiss e-bike brand Stromer retails for £3800+.
The Grontmij study is available in Dutch and English from Martijn.vandeLindeloof@grontmij.nl