Monday, May 9, 2011

E-bike ban

Here's an interesting one: the NCC is considering banning e-bikes from the multi-use paths. (E-bikes, as I found myself explaining to a friend yesterday, are those little mini-scooters that use an electric motor. I find there's an increasing number of them on the paths, and I've been startled by them more than once, because although they have a motor, they're virtually silent.) Here's the Government of Ontario's FAQ on e-bikes, for a definition.

I can kind of see it. E-bikes fall into this muddy area between motor vehicles and bikes. According to the Highway Traffic Act they are considered "motor assisted bicycles."* They have pedals but no one uses them: well, once I saw a guy pedaling an e-bike, on those teeny-tiny vestigial pedals. I assume the bike had run out of juice. It was a pretty funny thing to watch, I have to admit. I probably would have got off and walked the bike, myself.

They can get up to around 30 kph - the bike paths' ostensible speed limit is 20 - and after a few years of dodging small children, clotheslining dog leashes and/or the dogs themselves on the MUPs, I can see why a speed limit is a good idea. And a small, selfish bit of me thinks, "oh, get a real bike," when one of them zips by on the path or - heaven forfend - on the sidewalk where they really shouldn't be. But I know that bit of my brain is in the wrong. Motor-assisted bikes are great for people that want to bike but for whatever reason can't. Say you have a physical disability or something. They're also great for people that don't want to bike, and don't really feel the need to get their pulse up on their way around town, but also don't want to have a car or burn gas. Valid reasons to have one of these bikes.

But are they motorized or not? That's really at the heart of this, I think. They're too slow to be motorcycles, and they have those little pedals making them 'bicycles,' and so they're a new kind of beast. I also have to say that their sheer silence makes them spooky for me, when trying to share the path with them. I won't hear one coming up behind me to pass, or approaching an intersection, and then woop! there it is.

So, I'm not yet certain what I think about banning them from the paths. They're another green form of transport, which is good, but there's just something about how people think about and use the paths that isn't really compatible with a motorized vehicle. . . yet, what about one of those electric-assist bikes with the generator for climbing hills? would they also be banned? Where's the line?

I'll keep watching. Maybe I'll figure out where I stand as the NCC mulls it over.

*Want the official description? (quoted from the HTA):
“motor assisted bicycle” means a bicycle,
(a) that is fitted with pedals that are operable at all times to propel the bicycle,
(b) that weighs not more than fifty-five kilograms,
(c) that has no hand or foot operated clutch or gearbox driven by the motor and transferring power to the driven wheel,
(d) that has an attached motor driven by electricity or having a piston displacement of not more than fifty cubic centimetres, and
(e) that does not have sufficient power to enable the bicycle to attain a speed greater than 50 kilometres per hour on level ground within a distance of 2 kilometres from a standing start.


  1. You are missing one category of the e-Bikes, which is a traditional-style bike that can and is pedaled, but has an electric motor to assist (especially uphill). I have a 15km commute each direction to an office with no shower facilities. I have been considering dropping the car in the summer and adding power-assist to my bike. The ability to get the speed up without so much sweat, but still a bit of exercise while reducing my environmental footprint is a big bonus to me.

    Of course, if we mandated office shower access, I would likely just foot it the whole way! :)

  2. That was the kind of bike I meant by the "electric-assist" bikes with the motor for hills. And as far as I know those are still going to be allowed on the paths. Which is where I start wondering how they make the call on what gets allowed and what doesn't...

  3. Truthfully I haven't seen many but I think this year will be the changeover for e-bikes both assisted and non-assisted. When I say assisted I mean with pedals in addition to manufactured or add-on battery assist. When I non-assisted it's basically an electric scooter and that's what they should be calling them no matter what the speed limit. Artificial governors to limit speed can always be circumvented.

    Anyway back to not seeing them. I've only seen assisted ones, usually add-on's to a previously non-electric bike. I've seen a few motorized scooters, with gas engines which I know are banned but still seem to think they can use the path.

    I toil between allowing the assisted ones or not but I think I'd rather have people using the pathways and not in a car. If I see a lot of scooters zooming by then I might start complaining, but I doubt that's going to happen in the short term.

  4. As someone who just got a job delivering sunflower sprouts by bicycle, I am suddenly considering the merits of an electric bike. Especially since routes get planned around Vancouver's many hills. And especially since on farmer's market days, I will be pulling not one, but a train of 3 trailers laden with coolers and a table and a tent. A engineering friend told me that it takes more fossill fuels to grow the calories I will need to eat to provide human power then it would to recharge the electric bike he could build me. Which is all interesting, and is causing me to pay more attention to the electric bike phenomenon.

    But their silence and does catch me by surprise on the paths. What if they were required to attach some kind of noisemaker (I'm thinking of the ones kids sometimes put between their spokes so they sound like a motorcycle)so then if you heard that sound you knew it would be an e bike, and could expect it to come whizzing by.

  5. I approve of the way the rules are written. If it is the form factor of a bike, looks and behaves like a bike it is still allowed. It is only the larger non-bike looking vehicles they are intending to ban.

  6. Anonymous: the problem with the "look like a conventional bike" clause in the NCC's proposed guidelines is that not all power-assist bicycles look like conventional bikes. Consider these bikes (or any of the others on the site), none of which look like traditional bikes and would technically be banned from the pathways. Or Cindy, who rides an adult tricycle with a power-assist motor around town with her husband because she can't pedal.

    Kate, you're complaining that the things are silent. Don't you realize that the reason motorized vehicles (e.g. mopeds) are prohibited from the pathways is because they are noisy??? "Conventional" bicycles are silent, too, and I don't see much of a difference between a 250 lb cyclist on a "conventional" bicycle booming along at 30kph and a 150 lb cyclist on one of these things, or a parent with a kid in a trailer or on a trail-a-bike.

    I think a lot of people area taking a knee-jerk reaction to them because they're different. People are used to motorized vehicles being banned from the pathways, but aren't actually considering the original reasons for that ban. The motorized-vehicle ban was instituted decades before power-assist bicycles came long. Those reasons were not to prevent these people from enjoying the pathways or to force people to do exercise to enjoy them (if that were the case, there wouldn't be parking lots along them), but to keep noisy and polluting vehicles off of them. These things are neither noisy nor polluting, and I'm not aware of a rash of incidents involving these vehicles.

    Some power-assist bicycle enthusiasts suggest that the regulations should specify the width of the bottom bracket (in other words, the horizontal distance between pedals) because if it's too wide it is impractical to pedal. That's fine if you want to ban these things, but they don't pollute, they get people out enjoying the pathways, and they might even get people out of their cars, so I don't see an overwhelming need to ban them. If they're driven dangerously, that's a different matter that applies to cyclists as well.

    Before asking if they should be allowed, first ask yourself "why not". This is definitely one of those Ottawa rules of "the city that fun forgot".

    - RG>

  7. The speed limit on the pathways is 20 kph - so there is no issue with these scooter style ebikes being too fast - most prople cycle that fast or more on the pathways. And as I cycle, I am silent but I have a nice bell to tell you I'm coming - which is also the case for these ebikes.

    Basically the issue is that there is a snobery in cycling against e-powered cycling in general and scooter style ebikes in particular. But please look outside and read the price of fuel this morning 1.35 a litre. We will be seeing hundreds or thousands of these ebikes coming and we should welcome them and we should expect out city to spend the money needed to accommodate our growing numbers...

    And BTW - there is nothing more dangerous on a pathway than a teenager in-line skating while listening to his/her IPOD...

  8. I have a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike (Xtracycle style longtail)- it must weigh more than 60 pounds before me and my gear. I ride it to work routinely and use the MUP's for a good part of my route. I get that bike to between 20 and 30 kph no problem. I am thinking of adding an electric assist motor, not because I am not strong enough to pedal it, but to help me out when I'm running late or just not feeling it on my way to work but I don't want to gice in and drive. It certainly doesn't look like a conventional bike and I pity the small animal that might dart under my wheel.

    IMO the NCC should be deferring to the rules of the road as implemented by Ontario & Quebec Ministries of Transportation.

  9. I saw a guy on a Vespa a few weeks ago along the QE pathway. Maybe he was confused on the rules. I find the e-bikes sneaky silent and while I appreciate that they may remove a car or two from the roads I am not really in favour of them on the paths. Mind you, pelatons of road racers are not so great either. Even if they ban them, when have you ever seen any path enforcement?

  10. I believe the ebikes should be banded from the pathways. You never hear them coming up behind you and many of them come to close to walkers. The top speed of an ebike is 32 and they go full speed. I have nearly been hit twice now.

  11. I have even seen ebikes on the side walks. And they don't move over for you.

  12. I believe that ebikes should be banned from the pathways. I walk the pathways a lot and they some way to close to me when they pass. Some so close that I feel the draft when they pass me. They never let anyone know they are going to pass someone. But then bikers don't 't ring a bell as well. But if an ebikes hits someone guess who will get hurt. These ebikes go at top speed and that is 32 k.

  13. Living outside of Ottawa, I had for years wanted to walk on the path along the Ottawa river below Parliament hill. So one day I brought my dog to do just that. What a surprise it was to find that instead of a peaceful stroll along the water, it was a dodge the bikes and runners game. The problem was the sheer numbers of speedier path users. On the way back from the Place du Portage bridge, I decided to walk along Wellington. It was WAY more peaceful.

    I now have an ebike. I do not sneak up on people. I do slow down passing people, skateboarders, rollerbladers, bicycles, runners or strollers. One of the reasons I love my ebike is because it is silent. I like to hear birds, people talking whatever. If they pass regulations that ebike must create noise polution, I will switch back to my car.

    In Europe, Germany in particular, sidewalks are shared by bicycles, ebikes, runners, strollers and everyone else. There is no issue, no one grumbles or complains. There are even paved laneway type 'sidewalk/roads', where cars get included in all this sharing. Even there, no one complains. Why can't we just relax and get along on these issues? It's so baby-ish!

  14. Oops! Hadn't realized how old this convo was!


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