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Survey: Perceptions of Electric Bikes

Earlier this summer I was riding my Trek Crockett across the Potomac River on a beautiful sunny day. I was spinning hard in my clipless pedals, pushing my bright blue skinny tires as fast as I felt comfortable on the 2-way multi-use path alongside the six lanes of vehicle traffic. In the distance I saw a man in full suit pedaling leisurely on an upright bicycle and began planning my pass.

But the pass never happened.

As hard as I pushed I only got close enough to figure out his secret — a small, discrete, battery pack integrated into his seat tube.

Electric bicycles are an amazing advancement. If you haven’t had your first encounter with one, or failed to realize it, then it’s likely to happen soon. While these bicycles are relatively new in America, they’ve been widely adopted in Europe, especially the northern European countries where many people use bicycles for daily transportation.

They’re undeniably part of the future of bicycling where bicycles are a common transportation solution for all types of people and an important solution to current environmental, health, and community development issues.

But, before they can realize their potential, states must adopt appropriate rules for them.

Since 2002 there has been a federal definition of a low-speed electric bicycle, but according to a recent report from Portland State University, most states still don’t recognize electric bicycles as unique vehicles — usually they’re treated like mopeds. This inconsistency means that electric bicycles may be held back in a variety of ways:

  • 28 states require an operator’s license to ride an electric bicycle.
  • 19 states require an operator of an electric bicycle to be 16 years old.
  • Some states, like Alaska, require a motorcycle license for the use of an electric bicycle.
  • Some states, like New York, effectively ban electric bicycles.

The state of electric bicycle laws must be addressed and we’re looking forward to those discussions. As we embark on these conversations and determine what policies are appropriate so that electric bicycles can contribute to a Bicycle Friendly America, we need to know what you think. As members of the League, or persons interested in bicycling, you have a wealth of bicycling experience that is important as we figure out how to integrate these new vehicles into our infrastructure and culture. Please help us by completing our survey and sharing your thoughts.

Photo of electric-assist bicycle in front of The Green Commuter bike shop by Megan Odett, founder of Kidical Mass DC.

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