When does an e-bike become a motorcycle?


The European Parliament has voted to separate regulation on motorised and non-motorised bicycles, a move two-wheeler associations say will safeguard investment in cycling.

In the plenary session, European lawmakers decided on Tuesday (20 November) that any electronically power assisted cycle (EPAC) under 250 watts and a maximum speed of 25 kilometres per hour would remain a bicycle.

Anything more powerful is considered a motorbike, in line with the European Commission’s original proposal.

Ceri Woolsgrove, road safety officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), said: “We need a clear border line between what a bicycle is and what exceeds the definition of a ‘bicycle’.”

“This is important for clear decisions on the use of infrastructure and facilities for bicycles that authorities have to make on the international, national, regional and local level.”

A total of 643 MEPs voted in favour, with 16 against and 18 abstentions. A decision in the other direction would have subjected cyclists to a host of motorbike-style regulations, such as mandatory helmets, vehicle licence fees and compulsory insurance.

“You don’t want to damage the reputation of cycling, and lose all the wonderful benefits that cyclists’ have,” Woolsgrove said.

The Council of Ministers, representing the 27 EU member states, still needs to ratify the proposal, but this is considered a formality following months of debate.

Under current legislation e-bikes, also known as pedelecs, have seen remarkable success in Europe, with over 700,000 units sold in 2011. There are already one million e-bikes in use in Germany alone, with 310,000 sold last year. The figures for electric cars pale in comparison, with just 11,500 vehicles sold in Western Europe last year despite large subsidies.

There have been calls for pedelecs of any power output to be exempt from so-called Type Approval, the procedure which ascertains whether a motorised vehicle meets minimum regulatory, technical and safety requirements.

Some countries subject bicycles to legislation, such as Australia where it is illegal to ride without a helmet. Earlier this year, British cyclist Bradley Wiggins backed calls for similar legislation in the UK, following the death of a cyclist in a collision with a bus in central London.

“Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you ain't got a helmet on, then how can you kind of argue,” he said.

Brussels-based bicycle and accessories manufacturer associations COLIBI and COLIPED said in a joint statement: "This positive vote will enhance further investments and developments in the industry and will support the European EPAC manufacturers in their continuous effort to bring high-end and above all safe products on the market."

The European Commission's Green Paper on urban mobility in 2007 suggested that cycling should become an integral part of urban transport policies.

On several occasions, the then-transport commissioner, Antonio Tajani, said that he would introduce measures to promote bicycling in Europe’s cities in the EU’s Urban Mobility action plan of 2009.

However, when it arrived, there were none. To encourage safe cycling, the EU is funding cycling infrastructure, via its Structural and Cohesion Funds. In the period 2007-2013, an estimated budget of €600 million was allotted for investments in cycling infrastructure across the bloc.

Subscribe to our newsletters