E-bikes a way for New York to go
You take one long look up that enormous hill and you know you're not going to make it. Or you got a little too ambitious with the morning loop, and now you're exhausted, miles from home and you can't pedal another inch. Or you just want to conserve some energy, sit back and enjoy the scenery.
Well, modern science has just the thing for you: electric bikes, or 'e-bikes.'
They're really just regular bikes with little rechargeable motors that can provide riders with a boost or a rest when needed. Supporters believe e-bikes will encourage more people to enjoy the healthy activity of bike-riding because they afford casual riders a break from the toughest challenges.
In addition to the health benefits, e-bikes have the potential to provide retail and manufacturing jobs for New York. Business is already researching the manufacture of rechargeable batteries and solar-powered motors. Locally, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recently awarded $325,000 to Alta Planning + Design in Saratoga Springs to work on the technology. And while a typical e-bike now sells for around $1,600 and up, the price will come down as they become more popular.
The problem, as with most anything, is state government. The federal government already has simple, logical guidelines for e-bikes under HR727, the Federal Electric Bicycle Law. Under the law, e-bikes can only propel a rider up to 20 mph, the pedals have to function, and the motors can only generate 750 watts, or 1 hp, of power. Those limits keep e-bikes in line with existing parameters of pedal-driven bikes. They also keep the e-bikes from being classified as motor vehicles, which would then make them subject to licensing, access restrictions and equipment requirements like helmets.
For a nanny state overwhelmed with laws, New York has no laws regulating e-bikes. That's because lawmakers can't agree on how much regulation to include.
Some lawmakers want more safety requirements than standard bikes; others say they're not needed and would only discourage people from using e-bikes. Some say the bikes should have to be pedaled to generate power; some say the motors can do all the work. Some would require riders to be licensed, wear helmets and be governed under motor vehicle laws like motorcycles are; others would apply existing bike laws to the e-bikes. Regulations in other states are all over the place, so they're no help.
To encourage the development and use of e-bikes, New York should adopt the federal legislation. It's simple, reasonable, safe and enforceable. And it would give the e-bike industry a boost, improving our health, our environment and our economy.