Today there are more styles of bikes than ever, those with fatter or skinnier tires, better shock-absorption, high-tech construction materials and more complex shifting systems.
But essentially, with every bike, no matter how fancy, you still just sit on the seat, lean over the handle bars and pedal.
There’s been no need to alter the laws of operation as to where one can legally ride a bike because fundamentally, bikes are still the same as they always were.
But a new generation of bicycles — which contain electronics that allow the bicyclist to pedal with greater ease or to rest while the bike does some of the work — is gradually becoming more popular. And New York state law must keep up with the changing times.
Several bicycling groups are pushing state lawmakers to update the law to allow e-bikes, as they’re called, to be allowed to legally operate on state roadways and other public places, just like traditional bikes can do.
One piece of legislation, A7059/S2282, would create a definition for low-speed electric bikes and change the state Vehicle & Traffic law to classify them as bicycles, not motor vehicles or motorcycles.
The bill limits the size of the electronic motor and the speed at which the motor can carry the bicycle to a reasonable 20 mph. The motor would be limited to 750 watts, equal to about 1 horsepower, or about the same power used to operate a high-speed blender.
Requiring that these particular bikes be manually pedaled in order to trigger the electronic assist ensures that any higher speed, would be generated and controlled by the rider.
In places where such low-speed bikes are popular, there has been no marked increase in bicycle collisions, conflicts with bike trail users and litigation due to the operation of the bikes, according to the bill memo.
This type of e-bike can reasonably and safely be operated alongside traditional bicycles, and those who ride them should be treated as if they’re riding regular bikes. Lawmakers should feel confident in expanding the use of this type of bike.
Where more research and consideration is needed is with other types of e-bikes, particularly those that don’t require the operator to be pedaling them in order to trigger the electronics and those that allow the bicycle to accelerate beyond the speed of traditional pedal-assist e-bikes.
Lawmakers should be hesitant to open the door to high-speed electric bikes that behave more like motorcycles or mopeds than traditional bicycles. If they’re going to allow them to be ridden on roadways and bike paths, they might need to consider special registration safety requirements — such as age limits or special helmets — and or other limitations on their access and use.
Legislators shouldn’t shut the door on these types of bikes, but they must give them more consideration than they would for the low-speed electric bikes that require the rider to do the pedaling.
As the technology advances, state legislators need to begin thinking about the new generation of bikes and about updating our state laws to accommodate them.