Electric bikes are all the rage. They are flying off shelves and the market is expected to continue to grow. Many see these bikes as a compromise between a slower traditional bike and an electric scooter. Electric bikes seem to fill a void left open by these other two modes of transportation. As with all new technology, there are pluses and minuses to these bikes. What is certain is that we will need to create an environment that fosters safety with these new bikes.

Electric Bikes Have Many Positives for People and For the Environment

Electric bikes were already popular before the pandemic lockdowns. As a result of lockdowns, we saw a large increase in the air quality. Moving toward reopening, city planners and the public at large have increasingly sought ways to return to commuting in a more conscientious way, continuing to use social distancing and continuing to pursue air quality gains. Bikes and e-bikes seem a natural alternative for commuters.

Bikes are good for the climate and provide a great way to get exercise and experience freedom during a long period of less social contact. E-bikes can also make even a long commute an easy and pleasurable experience. Those most likely to be purchasing these bikes right now include older, sedentary people looking for a way to stay active, commuters, and couples looking to do things together outside.

Varying Types of Electric Bikes

Electric bikes come in different types and speeds. Some have pedal assistance. Some have throttles. Some have a maximum speed of 20 mph. Others have a max speed of 28 or 30 mph.

In the United States, electric bikes fall into one of three categories, according to speed and how the motor is activated. 

  • Class 1: Pedal-assist bikes that can travel up to 20 MPH.
  • Class 2: Hand-throttle bikes that do not require pedaling to activate the motor. Can reach speeds of up to 20 MPH.
  • Class 3: Maximum speed 28 MPH.

The risks associated with electric bikes can be based, in part, on the class into which it falls.

The more power a bike has and the faster it can go – the more serious an accident and resulting injuries can be.

Potential Hazards of Electric Bikes

There are potential risks involved in electric bike use both for the rider and for others on the road. This mode of transportation is a middle ground between traditional bikes and motorized scooters.

These bikes are surprisingly heavy. A regular bike weighs approximately 20 lbs. A typical electric bike weighs more, somewhere between 45 to 75 lbs, on average. When this bike falls over, it can cause injuries. Surprisingly, many injuries with these bikes occur during the mounting and dismounting of these bikes. Other injuries occur when a rider picks up the bike to move it and being surprised by its weight, inadvertently drops it.

These bikes are also much faster than a traditional bike. Those models with a throttle can accelerate quickly. For a novice rider, this can mean a period of adjustment to the heightened speed. Novice riders should practice slowing and braking. Because of increased speeds, it can take longer for the bike to come to a full stop. It also means that a rider must always maintain awareness of pedestrians and other riders around them.

With increased speeds come increased injuries when an accident occurs. In a recent study, it was shown that e-bike riders are more likely to suffer internal injuries when an accident occurs. E-bike riders are also more likely to collide with pedestrians than are riders of a traditional bicycle.

Injuries increase among older riders, those over 65 years of age. For older riders, it is recommended that they choose a slower e-bike and get used to its mechanisms before taking it out into crowded areas.  Helmets are a must.

Electric Bikes and Bike Paths

Because these bikes represent a middle ground between traditional bikes and motorized scooters, riders are unsure where to ride and how to accommodate others on the streets. Many jurisdictions are beginning to develop rules and guidance regarding allowing electric bikes on traditional bike paths.

It is recommended that an electric bike rider check the rules for their particular jurisdiction.

In California for instance, class 1 and class 2 electric bikes are allowed wherever regular bikes are allowed unless there is a sign prohibiting them.

Electric bike riders tend to want to ride on bike paths alongside traditional bikes. But their unexpected speed can make it difficult to negotiate bike paths safely. When the electric bike has a throttle, the bike can accelerate quickly. E-bike riders must take extra precautions to ensure the safety of pedestrians and other bike riders.

It is a good idea to invest in a bell, rear mirrors, and reflectors. These enable the rider to be more aware of those around them and to warn pedestrians and slower-moving bikes of their approach.

A Final Word About Obeying All Traffic Laws and Road Signs

We all know that bicyclists must obey traffic laws and road signs. That means stopping at stop signs and knowing who always has the right of way. This is especially true when dealing with the increased speeds of an electric bike. Know the rules. Stay aware. Safety first.

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