New York has been a frustration to the electric bike industry for many years now. While electric bicycles are marketed to those living in large cities as a way to make larger distances and longer commutes a possibility, New York State’s ban on electric bikes in 2004 has made it hard to expand the cycling community past those who are already physically fit or who have short commutes.
The reasoning behind the ban was that the motorized e-bikes move much faster than the standard pedal power cycles that we’ve been familiar with for the last century, which means that when small infractions of bike lane and traffic laws are made the cost is much higher.
However, in places like NYC it’s nearly impossible to work a full-time bicycle delivery job because of the physical strain of it. Pedal assist and small electric motors are incredible ways to cut back on this strain, but maintain the “green” eco-friendly impact of cycling.
In 2002 there was federal legislation passed stating that any electric bike with a top speed of 20mph was to be legally classified in the same group as a non-motorized bicycle. In 2004 New York answered with a state ban on electric bikes being used on any roadways, parking lots, side walks, etc., and also placed a requirement for registration on owning them. This means that, while it’s still legal for the bikes to be purchased under federal law, it’s effectively illegal to ride them in the state.
However, the gray area is pedal assist bikes, and bikes with an option to turn off the motor source and use them as a standard bike. Some interpretations of the law say that you can use a pedal assist bike since it’s technically a bicycle according to federal law, and others feel that it’s acceptable to use the ebike you purchased for your uncle’s back field on the roads as long as the motor is switched off.
But the big news is that it’s beginning to look as though state legislation is going to change. With states like California, Uta, Colorado, Nebraska, Alabama, and Kentucky clarifying their laws to regulate the bikes sensibly, we all hope that New York will quickly follow suit.
In order to do so, they need to adopt a classification system that separates pedal assist motors (which only work when the pedals are in motion to add momentum to the human power) and fully motorized cycles. From there they would be able to educate their enforcers as to what type of e-bike is legal where. Lower traffic areas of the cities could allow commuters to use the fully motorized bicycles while the downtown and large city areas could either maintain a ban or choose how to regulate which bikes are legal options for delivery drivers and commuters.
Once these things are established, I believe that the ebike industry could single handily exponentially grow the cycling community.
But the core problem for places like NYC is their failure to accommodate cyclists. The mayor currently has plans to inflate the cycling community and cut back on the number of motor vehicles in the city. However, until there are bike lanes that can accommodate those numbers, as well as motor vehicle and pedestrian fines for obstructing them, it’s hard to imagine cyclists staying out of the roadways and enjoying an influx of new riders.
While the ebike “crack downs” are almost always because ebikes cause accidents, these accidents seem to mostly occur because of a lack of available, legal pathways for riding.
So, as always, we need to work together as a cycling community to safely and respectfully work inside the laws to show that we are a community worth growing. While riding in “gray” legal areas may not get you ticketed, it isn’t going to help the laws change.
So put on your helmet, use the bike lanes (as long as they aren’t obstructed!), and stay fit!