Hi eBike fans!
Now we’ve got the introduction out of the way, I can stop talking about myself (phew! I hear you say). This week I want to talk a little about the reg’s. This topic has been covered quite a lot by various publishers (a simple Google search will reveal plenty of articles), so I want to add things you may not already be aware of.
UK eBike regulations have been steadily changing over the past few years, but seem to be settling down now and falling in line with most European regulations. There is huge variation throughout the world though, and even some foggy areas within UK law – which I’ll get to….
Personally, I think the most important thing to note about pedal-assist or “ped-elec” eBikes in the UK is that, in the eyes of the law and the Highways code – they are classed and regulated under the same rules as bicycles. That means quite a few things. Most obviously it means things like exemption from tax, registration, identification, and requirement of a driving license or insurance, but it also means that a helmet is not mandatory (which I personally applaud, but that’s a different story that I may do an article on later in the year). The only difference to bicycle regulations that I’m aware of is there is an age minimum for eBikes of 14 years. The access rules are the same too – you can legally ride an eBike, anywhere you can legally ride a standard bike.
Ok, so let’s start with some of the nitty-gritty about the UK reg’s….
The main 3 rules which legally define an eBike as no requiring “type approval” by the DVLA (other than really obvious things like fitment of pedals which propel the bike) are Nominal Wattage; Maximum speed assistance; and lack of throttle.
The nominal wattage maximum allowed on a legal eBike currently stands at 250 watts, as set out in the January 2013 legislation, changed from the originally ignored 200 watts UK-only law. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I’m not an electrical genius, or have any specific academic electrical training or qualification, so I tend to keep things fairly simple – for my own sake!
I find the term “nominal” a little misleading in the context it’s generally used with regards to eBikes. The word definition according to Google is “a role or status existing in name only“, (Source) so my own understanding in the context of eBikes is:
“The wattage at which eBikes are designed and intended to run at in the majority of situations“.
This also equates to a roughly uniform 600 watts at maximum output for “legal” eBikes in the UK from the likes of Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano and Impulse. To me, this maximum wattage number seems easier to understand.
It’s worth mentioning here, that quite a few European countries allow a special “S Ped-elec” or “Speed 45” category of eBikes, whereby the bike’s motor runs at 350 watts nominal and restricted to a higher 45kph. As I understand it, it’s basically like a sub-scooter category, but bikes must adhere to additional regulations such as certain brake types, lights, a number plate and government registration. I’ve heard rumours that this category may come to the UK as soon as March this year, but we’ll see.
Interestingly, as far as I’m aware there are no hardware differences in the motor or battery between standard and S45 eBikes – it’s just a software difference. Also, the Bosch S45 eBikes all use a Performance (60Nm torque) motor, not the higher torque Performance CX (75Nm) motor. I don’t know why this is.
Maximum speed assistance
Under current reg’s the maximum speed at which an eBike can assist the rider up to in the UK is 25kph (15.9mph). The only small print attached to that is “+/-10%”, allowing for dependencies/variations of tyre brand and wear. So you can, in theory, legally ride assisted at about 17.5mph at a push. And from comparing eBike displayed speeds, to GPS speeds on the various eBikes I’ve ridden, brands do actually seem to run with this.
Possibly the main category of discussion where grey areas persist is throttles, AKA “Twist and go’s”. As I understand it, throttles were banned in a regulations update issued January 2016 on all new eBikes produced in the EU or purchased by shops for stock. However, retailers could legally sell any legacy stock they had already bought. This obviously allows some “descression” to manufacturers making such throttled eBikes (ahem!)
Put it this way, I’ve seen them on sale today, that clearly weren’t made before Jan 2016. In fact, there were even brands exhibiting them at the Birmingham Cycle Show in September 2016.
eBike registration with the DVLA
As it stands, there is no way to register an eBike with the DVLA unless they are type approved as a “motor vehicle”.
What all of this regulation boils down to is: if an eBike does not comply with the law, it is an illegal motorbike. There is currently no legal machine that is somehow between eBike and motorbike – it’s one or the other, or it’s illegal, as described by the DVLA’s type approval requirements
Technically, if ANY changes are made to a product that has been given specific “type approval”, it then fails to be type approved and the modifier becomes the manufacturer in the eyes of the law. It gets a little big foggy here, because obviously some things on an eBike need replacing after wear and tear, like tyres and brake pads, so “consumables” are allowed exceptions, but surely everything on a bike is subject to wear and tear to some degree? Even a handle bar has a usable lifetime. Plus some parts may be required to be swapped out early on, in order for the bike to suit it’s owner, like stem length for example.
OK, onto what really is the Elephant in the room: max speed de-restricters, commonly known as “Dongles”. There are various ways to de-restrict a pedal assist eBike, but the most common system is to somehow trick the bikes computer into registering a slower speed than it is actually going. However the restriction is changed, removed or tampered with – the law is clear and dongles ARE illegal and void any manufacturer’s warranty. It’s also not possible to make a de-restricted eBike legal – it can’t be registered as a scooter and it is not subject to the freedoms of bicycles.
The rumours are, that the Police are increasingly becoming aware of dongle’d eBikes and have started checking for them in London. That said, the problem really isn’t simply “getting caught” with an illegal eBike – because chances of that happening, are fairly low. The much bigger problem is litigation in the event of an accident involving an illegal eBike and the consequences on the individuals involved, plus the wider impact this could have.
Let’s imagine a simple and relatively likely situation, in fact, I’ll use the recent real story of an MTB instructor being sued as a parallel story, as covered by MBR here. Imagine now that an illegal eBike was involved. It’s the same as being crashed into while drunk in a car – it doesn’t matter who drove into who, if one party is over the alcohol limit, it is a pretty simple case as to who is at fault in the eyes of the law….
I’ll be honest, I’m not a total kill-joy and I have tried quite a few illegal eBikes briefly, mostly ones that were illegal from factory, usually with a throttle. What they all have in common to me is, yeah they are impressively fast, but why not just get an actual, legal motorbike? It’s just so blatantly obvious that the bike I was on was illegal and I felt very exposed, even when just on an industrial estate or carpark. And as for S45’s or dongle’d pedelecs, yeah I’ve tried them too, but these are the most pointless really, because if you take them on MTB trails, you don’t actually go any faster. Even on a legal e-MTB you rarely reach the bike’s maximum 15.9mph going up an offroad trail and going downhill, most of the riding is gravity fed and doesn’t really involve all that much pedaling anyway.
I ended up with the conclusion that there just isn’t much to be gained going up or down.
Sorry for ending on a bum note! See you next week hopefully!