There’s also something a little bit nonsensical about having pedal power available on a bike with an engine ten times more powerful than the rider. 300 watts is already well over what all but the strongest humans can consistently deliver. If you have a 1500 watt engine, what is really the point of pedaling? Exercise? You’d have an equivalent machine in which your pedaling was simply impeded by friction like on a wind-trainer, and all of the motive power provided by the engine. In fact, for the purposes of exercise it would be better because the engine would not be interfering with how much resistance you were fighting.
Which is not the craziest idea ever. If people want to pedal a wind trainer whilst commuting, far be it from me to say they should not. I think this is sort of how cycling purists see e-bikers. It’s not really a bike. It’s a bike like form of exercise that you can do on a motorbike.
ETA: And as such, it is not so prey to geography the way normal pushbiking is. In Auckland on a pushbike I'm not really in control of how hard I have to work. On a wind-trainer, it's calibrated.
We've kind of passed through this space one time before, too. E-bikes are not the first powered pushbikes, nor are they the strongest. Mopeds are literally the petrol analog to e-bikes. Putting a little petrol engine on is something that's been done for as long as there have been motorbikes. Naturally petrol engines can range from super-weak powers in the mere hundreds of watts, to several kilowatts. Beyond that, they become pretty clearly motorbikes sized.
Faced with this kind of power range the dangers were obvious. A 3 kilowatt engine could snap a pushbike chain easily, sending it swinging a high speed. With that kind of easy power available it could be tempting to do high miles on the bike which would wear out all the parts far faster than you'd expect on a pushbike. Police have basically no tolerance for anyone they see riding one of these, even though at the low end they are effectively the same as e-bikes, just noisier, and with effectively unlimited range, since you can buy the $5 of petrol to fill them up at a servo.
I guess there will come a point where the batteries are strong enough and the motors have become miniaturized enough that it will be hard to tell an e-bike apart from something as powerful as a high end moped. If that happens then it's hard to think that we'd just let them slip through without regulation.
And would such moves be desirable?
So, in conclusion, that's a tough one. They sit in a strange space between lots of issues. For starters, if you're serious about safety then a bike that's effectively as powerful as a scooter should require a motorbike helmet. But this kills the whole idea of you powering it yourself, because you'd get far too hot.
On the issue of the increased danger, you could certainly argue that pushbikes are already pretty damned dangerous, and so the policy should probably be the same, but there is the issue that e-bikes may be more dangerous to people who are not the passenger than a pushbike is. I don't know of any serious evidence about this though, and I'm not optimistic about public policy being really guided by evidence, since it didn't seem to be on helmeting laws. It's more likely to be some high profile accident in which a pedestrian is seriously injured by an e-bike that turns out to be overpowered, and then there will be a moral panic. But probably nothing will actually be done, for all the reasons already given pertaining to the practical problems of e-bikes.
And lastly, of course, speed limits are a very blunt instrument too. While going 40km/h on an e-bike on the flat indicates an unusually powerful bike, I routinely go 50km/h on a normal pushbike going downhill. When I recently saw a guy coming up New North Rd to Kingsland and was clearly travelling at around 30km/h, he wasn't fooling me by pedaling hard. He was clearly riding an e-bike that was several times more powerful than anything I've ever been on.
Also worth noting too. When the power of a vehicle is in the hundreds of kilowatts, and the weight is in thousands of kilograms, then differences in the weight of the passengers count for almost nothing. But on a bike, the weight of the rider makes a very big difference to the speeds that the power can deliver. I've had goes on lots of e-scooters that would make an acceptable form of transport for a person less than 70kg, and were utterly worthless for me, could not even go uphill at all.
Yes, that's the law, but I think proving an e-bike was over 300 watts would be quite difficult for an officer on the side of the road. I actually registered a 300 watt e-bike I had and they were all bemused at the testing station. No idea what do do with it - in the end they pretty much had to just slap the approval on it, because they had no official tests to do. The guy made a show of testing the indicators and brakes, but it was not tested on any kind of machine because there is no law saying that it had to be. This was one of those cargo bike style ones. They certainly had no way at a testing station of checking the wattage, so you can be damned sure no traffic cop on the side of the road does.
This kind of testing is usually done by the manufacturer, but there is no mandating of any official way of even reporting the wattage rating of a motor, so there would be no law against removing/scratching off any markings that identify the manufacturer's claims of the wattage.
Furthermore there are ways of increasing the wattage. Any electric motor can be rewound either by DIY or by a professional armature winder. E-bike DIY types have been doing this for decades.
All of which makes it very difficult to actually enforce any real power limits on e-bikes unless specific testing and official stamping become law.
Read like a fair review to me. If any bias was shown due to getting paid it was simply that you probably otherwise would not have reviewed that bike.
It's pretty rich to expect that no one can ever be paid for their opinion, because that might take away the purity somehow.
Some of Russell’s blogs are long and always (almost..) interesting. To get to the bottom and to find that it was advertising copy is a crock.
Looking around for announcements like that is pretty much the first thing I do when reading any review of a commercial product. It didn't take more than a few seconds to see it in this case, after which I read the review in light of it.
This isn't some horribly unusual thing to do, to get paid to review something, and it can be interesting in its own right, as it was in this case.
There will be times when it’s more fun to nip around on the light bike, surely. Work up a sweat. Must do that.
Yes, also there may be times when you anticipate the fear of theft as greater than the fear of sweat. Like if you have to leave the bike overnight somewhere. I would not leave a flash bike chained up overnight at University. But many is the time that riding home lacked appeal for whatever reason - weather, drunk, feeling lazy, got a lift, batteries flat in the headlight, etc.
A quick look at stackexchange suggests it’s not very useful (search and maybe 10% extra range in hilly Auckland and an answer with more links)
Whereas squeezing 10% more into batteries pretty much involves having 10% more batteries, simple to manufacture, simple to control. Much better returns from better battery technology.
Also, on a good e-bike the range is good enough that who cares about getting 10% more. If you're intent on riding that far, maybe just give the electrics a bit of a rest 10% more of the time. If you're doing really big km and pedaling the whole time, essentially treating it as more of a sport than a form of transport, then you'd probably just be better off getting a very good road bike.
Not that we won't always demand more and more. But it's pretty clear e-bikes crossed a threshold into serious practicality in the last ten years as a form of commuter transport.