There is a contingent of people out there who go to the local police whenever a high-speed ebike video is released on youtube showing an ebike going over the speed limit on public roads. My guess is that it’s the same people who carefully follow my posts on Reddit only so they can downrate them (you know who you are). The ironic part about this whole cycle is that the cops listen to complaints, watch the video and then have a hearty laugh and do absolutely nothing about it. This article is about the real reason that the police generally (NYC excepted) ignore electric-powered bikes and why that is good news both for the industry and the future of the world.
Remember Motopeds, those super cool bicycles with a 4 stroke gas motor hooked into the drive train? Although Motoped is just one company, there are thousands of Americans who have thrown small two-stroke motors on their favorite bicycle so they can zoom around town. The reason you almost never see these things is that the police hate them and constantly pull them over and give them tickets even when they are driven in a law-abiding fashion under the ebike speed limits. What is the primary reason they focus their enforcement efforts on gas-powered bicycles and ignore high power ebikes? One word : Noise. Police work on a complaint based system and generally will ignore most things that don’t cause people to complain. Two-stroke motors are noisy and smell pretty bad and many of the people riding gas-powered bicycles are going faster than 20mph. You can get a heck of a lot of power out of a tiny motor (just ask any chainsaw) that can easily propel a normal bicycle to blistering speeds of over 35mph. Getting over 35mph on an ebike, however, is a little trickier.
The same could be said for gas-powered scooters. Although I’ve seen one or two over the years here in the Meth Capitol of New York (Cortland, NY), other than Burning Man I haven’t really seen gas-powered scooters anywhere else in the US. They are just too noisy and too fast to avoid the cops detection. One of the police’s biggest jobs is ‘protecting us from ourselves’, which is a real pet peeve of mine. If I want to strap myself to a 50mph electric scooter isn’t it my god given right to? Not in the eyes of the law. If something goes that fast then it presents a clear and present danger to myself and others and needs to be registered and insured. They are probably right, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
In NYC the police routinely confiscate ebikes and harass non-powered bicyclists as the mayor focuses on trying to make his ‘zero traffic fatality’ dream a reality. The problem is that is really isn’t working and the only thing that harassing NYC cyclists is accomplishing is getting fewer people to ride their bikes, which might actually be their primary goal. Ironically when I’m on a pedal-only bicycle I am hell on wheels, breaking traffic laws and yelling at cars, but when I’m on an electric bike I just hog up a lane and act like a motorcycle and cars tend to respect my space, as long as I can keep up with traffic. With a high-powered ebike it seems like traffic is annoying slow and I can out accelerate even most expensive sports cars. In a strange twist of irony NY’s finest tend to ignore the Motorsport Urban Delinquents that tool around in non-street legal dirtbikes and ATV’s. Ebikes tend to stop when the cops tell them to, whereas the gas-powered motard types just take off knowing that it’s unlikely that the cops will be able to catch them, since they can pretty much go anywhere much faster than they can.
Another issue is that if a policeman pulls you over they have to know the citation to actually write you a ticket for breaking that particular law. I would bet that most police have no idea what law prevents people from using ebikes or how to tell the difference between a street legal and not street legal ebike. I got several of the first batch of 1000W BBSHD’s which have 750W stamped on the bottom. The street legal maximum for ebikes is 750 Watts and I carry around a copy of HR 727 so I can educate any cop that tries to harass me. Am I being entirely honest since I’m running a 60 amp controller that puts over 2500 watts through the drive train? I don’t have to tell the cop about my Ludicrous controller, just show him the stamped 750W on the casing of the motor. Am I a horrible person? I would say yes.
In China, ebikes are called silent killers because so many people die on them in their overcrowded cities. Many large Chinese cities have banned ebikes which has caused great distress amongst the thousand or so ebike manufacturers in China. If you took all the ebikes in China and gave one to every US citizen you would still have some leftover, China has a lot of ebikes. This ruling by the government has mostly hurt the poor and is directly at odds with the government’s stated goal of supporting green energy. Why did they do it? With the proliferation of ebikes in recent years growing out of control and Chinese citizens having a poor regard for safety with these bikes the government felt like the had to do something. Ironically one of the main point that attracts people to ebikes, their nearly silent operation, is the same thing that has caused the government to view them as a public health issue. In 2001 before the ‘ebike craze’ there was only 34 ebike deaths, but by 2008 the number was over 3000 and by 2010 that number was almost 5000. The Chinese government caused the sweeping change without any public input and with significant public outcry. It’s interesting to see that NYC has tried to deal with ebikes in a similar way by using an outright ban. I visited China in 2004 and ebikes were just starting to take off. You could buy an ebike in almost any supermarket for just a few hundred dollars. Almost all of them were lead acid batteries and really took the density and power of Lithium batteries to take ebikes into the mainstream Chinese culture. Will the rest of the US cities follow NYC’s example as ebikes increase in power, speed and proliferate in the major US cities? Only time will tell.
In the meantime please feel free to contact the police departments and try to press charges every time a new video is released showing someone breaking the ebike speed limit. As of right now, they just don’t seem to care. As ebikes get more and more power and speed and become more of a nuisance then I’m sure that the powers at be will be forced to do something. The best thing you can do as an ebike advocate is simply to wear a helmet and to obey the laws as much as you can. I know it’s hard, but I believe you can do it.