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E-bike cheats threaten path safety

Hot-rodded e-bikes are looming as a threat to the safety of bike riders and pedestrians on bike trails around Australia.

The illegally modified bikes are increasingly found skimming past riders on busy trails at up to twice the permitted 25kmh.

Sometimes the riders are commuters, but they want the speed of a motor bike while in a walking and cycling environment.

Other are simply thrill seekers, uninterested in riding for commuting or exercise, and unconcerned that their deliberate risk-taking is threatening the safety of other path users.

Regular bike riders are becoming concerned at the trend, reporting risky behaviours and manoeuvres by souped up e-bikes on busy trails.

E-bikes are regulated to a maximum of 250 watts power that is supposed to cut out once the bike exceeds 25kmh.

The 25kmh upper limit was chosen as it is within the speed envelope of an everyday bike rider—a range of 16-25kmh.

This means that there would be no speed disparity between the e-bike and the normal bike on the same path, optimising safety.

It also works for pedestrians and runners on shared paths where e-bikes might be present.

But by tampering with the equipment, riders have been able to defeat these controls and modify the bikes to exceed the regulated power cut-off at 25kph.

Fortunately, there is there is a solution—tamper-proof electronic controls for e-bikes.

Europe—where the pedelec e-bike standard was first formulated—has already moved to require e-bikes to have firmware that prevents modification.

Regrettably, Australia still has not upgraded our regulations, meaning that easily hot-rodded e-bikes are still for sale.

Not only that, but manufacturers and their dealers would be well aware that their bikes are being tampered with, and in some cases, cheat-sheets are stealthily provided to customers to assist with the process.

It gets worse. Some brands have been fitting motors labelled as 250 watts, but actually two, three or even four times more powerful.

There has already been a death related to one of these overpowered bikes that has resulted in a prison sentence for the rider.

The response of the Australian bike sector to these problems has so far been discouraging.

Rather than pushing the government to include tamper-proof controls in the regulations, Bike Industries Australia is pushing to have the power cut-out lifted from the current 25 to 32kmh, so that speeding would be legal.

This means e-bikes would no longer be regulated to be within the speed envelope of normal riders, and there would be, as a consequence, a designed-in and unsafe speed disparity between the two classes of rider.

An e-bike is already heavy, and likely to do damage to anything it collides with.

But if we increase speed, we also increase the amount of kinetic energy that can be released in a crash. For example, if we take a 23 kilogram e-bike and increase its speed from 25 to 32 kmh, the amount of kinetic energy increases by 64%. Ouch!

It is past time our e-bike regulations were updated to make them tamper-proof. At the same time State Governments should uniformly ban throttle grips on e-bikes (disabled riders excepted), a loophole in the current regulations.

For riders who want the thrill of speed without increasing their heart rate, electric motor bikes will be available. With a motorbike licence, registration, helmet and insurance you’ll be good to go. On the road.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.