When is an electric bicycle not a bicycle?
This story was first published on Next City, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world. Read the original article on Next City.
VanMoof, a super cool venture-backed company (essentially, the “Apple of Bikes”) recently unveiled a so-called “hyperbike” in an attempt to compete more closely with cars. According to the company, this electric bicycle is a “real car replacement” that can enable people to get around cities in a much more sustainable way.
As a city planner who promotes a broader understanding of new vehicles and services at the New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO), I should be thrilled with a product that promises to help people finally give up their cars. So why am I and many other planners not entirely happy?
The problem, in my opinion, is that the VanMoof “hyperbike” is not actually a bicycle.
Before, it was simple. For a hundred years, a bicycle was a two-wheeled vehicle, generally of the same size, propelled by the effort of its cyclist via pedals. We all went to bicycle shops and were able to identify a bicycle by looking at it. The bikes we used when we were young are basically the same as the bikes we bought a decade or so ago, minus a few brakes and more gears.
However, in recent years the question of how to define “a bicycle” has become a controversial topic. When you walk into a bicycle shop, you may be struck by the wide array of bikes you can get. Some have electric motors – some accelerator activated and some pedal activated.
Among this wide variety of electric bikes, there is something that comes close to the perfect vehicle: the pedal-assisted electric bicycle, a bicycle propelled by pedals but “helped” by an electric motor. These electric bikes have a top speed of around 20 miles per hour. Not only do they run at a safe speed, but they are also lightweight, take up little space in the right-of-way, are extremely low in emissions, pose no risk to others on the bike path or street, and are absolutely loved by them. who are starting to use them. This type of e-bike, like the rest of the VanMoof fleet sold today and which many other bike brands sell by the thousands, is probably the best thing that has happened to the transportation industry since … well, since the good old days bicycle some 200 years ago.
Enter the VanMoof V hyperbike. The company’s argument seems to be that by being faster than a typical electric bike, they can compete much better with cars and people will be more motivated to buy and use them, in turn driving improvements in performance. urban life and sustainability. While this may ring true, there are several reasons why we need to be careful with this approach. Allowing any two-wheeler to use the cycle path just because it has pedals is not a good idea. Anyone who does the math can understand why higher speeds in vehicles create a greater risk for others, and why we don’t want to accommodate a high-speed electric bike in a cycle lane designed for the safety of vulnerable users, including children and the elderly.
Make fast e-bikes part of the existing categories for e-bikes (which benefit from flexible regulation; unlike motorcycles, e-bike riders do not necessarily need to wear a helmet or obtain a driver’s license -Electric assist bikes appear to be part of a more dangerous category of vehicles and overall reduce the likelihood that cities will allow them on cycle lanes and other infrastructure for vulnerable users, as they will all appear too dangerous. A painful and recent example is where delivery workers in New York City were fined heavily for using small electric bikes to do their jobs.
By all means, hyperbikes can thrive in the market and should be promoted as a vehicle that will replace cars, but they are closer to mopeds and motorcycles and should be regulated as such. This means that cyclists must be licensed, bicycles must have plates, and they must not be allowed on cycle lanes as they exceed a risk threshold which requires the application of more stringent regulations. The two-wheeler industry might not like this idea because it lowers the likelihood of them being bought, but it is the way to go.
Allowing any two-wheeler to use the cycle path just because it has pedals is not a good idea.
We cannot escape this discussion. Just as electric scooters, automated vehicles, and other new types of vehicles that disrupt existing definitions of car, scooter, bicycle, etc., attempt to reclaim space within the existing right-of-way, so will hyperbikes. if we don’t. Use this opportunity well.
But there are other ways forward. Since it took decades for pedestrians and cyclists to finally get a thin section of the right-of-way for their safe driving and walking, we shouldn’t be invading this space with these hyperbikes, but rather fighting for more. space for cars.
As several others have said in recent years, we could promote common ground in order to generate greater adoption of smaller, lighter and cleaner vehicles that replace cars. An extensive network of “light tracks” would provide space for a large group of vehicles with a wider range of speeds, weights and dimensions; not just “hyperbikes”, but mopeds, electric scooters, tricycles, cargo bikes and other upcoming vehicles that fall under the category of “micromobility” because they are lightweight with slow speeds and minimal emissions or zero. Let’s move forward to get cities to adopt a new category of light vehicle lanes (which some have called “slow lanes”) where only smaller, lighter, cleaner, non-motor vehicles are allowed.
As we have learned in our work with NUMO, these disruptions in the footprint and definitions of vehicles occur more frequently, and in turn have disrupted regulations, prices, data requirements and basically everything. that we knew to be true about transportation policy. and even the street design. These difficult but crucial distinctions will help us set the stage for safe walking, riding and sleeping on the way to and from work and home while preserving the right of way for the most vulnerable users.