L1e-A Category “powered cycles” impedes innovation and technological development of electric bicycles

In an article of 15 February, Bike Europe reports “Confusion on Categorization and Type-Approval”. LEVA-EU wants to make it clear that there is no confusion whatsoever. The L1e-A category in Regulation 168/2013 has been largely overlooked (ignored?) by the electric bike sector. It is true however that the majority of member states seem to be unaware of this category and have not taken any measures to accomodate it in their traffic code.

In my position as Secretary General of the European Two-Wheel Retailers’ Association (ETRA), I have fought very hard against this category when the current type-approval system was being prepared. It seems that the sector only now wakes up to realise that there is such a thing as L1e-A powered cycles. This category stands for electric bicycles with a maximum speed of 25 km/h and a motor output of more than 250 Watt.

When the European Commission was preparing the current type-approval, which was eventually laid down in Regulation 168/ 2013, ETRA proposed to exclude not only pedal assisted bicycles up to 250 W – 25 km/h, but all electric bicycles up to 25 km/h irrespective of their motor power.

Several parties were up in arms against this proposal, accusing ETRA of trying to get “ bolides”  with unbridled power on the road. With that, these parties were ignoring that the General Product Safety Directive would have come into effect, putting an obligation on manufacturers to put only safe products on the market. They also were completely indifferent to the argument that, no matter what power, the motor would always stop at 25 km/h.

The exclusion of all 25 km/h electric bicycles from type-approval would have allowed to include them in  the European standard EN 15194. The application of the European standard would have allowed for a regulatory framework, which was much better adapted to electric bicycles than the type-approval for mopeds and motorcycles. The application of the European standard would have allowed for self-certification, instead of the very complicated, long, ill-adapted and extremely expensive procedure of type approval.  

Perhaps the most important element: the application of the European standard would have allowed for a categorisation of these electric bicycles as bicycles.  Instead, several parties continued their opposition. At that time only electric bicycles with 250 W were on the market. Their objective was to prevent bicycles with higher motor output to become available. The argument that their position would stand in the way of innovation and technical development fell on deaf ears.

This is how electric bicycles of 25 km/h with more than 250 Watt ended up in the type- approval. When Regulation 168/2013 was implemented in the national legislation of member states, nobody paid attention because there were no such bicycles on the road. Nobody, except Belgium, which decided that despite the application of type approval, any L1e-A bicycle in Belgian traffic code would have the same status as a conventional bicycle and as a electric bicycle 25 km/h-250 Watt.

This was the ultimate proof of the absurdity of including these bicycles in the type-approval. In Belgium you can ride an electric bicycle 25 km/h with a motor power of 251 W to 1KW without a helmet, without a number plate, without a driving licence and wherever conventional bicycles ride. However,  the bike must be type-approved as soon as the motor power is 251 W.

So far, the problem hadn’t surfaced yet because nobody could see the use of going through type-approval for more motor power. However, the problem is now becoming an issue, mainly  due to the success of cargo bikes. A growing number of cargo bike manufacturers is expressing  dissatisfaction with the 250 W limit. This limit gets in the way of developing the best suited vehicles for their customers. Type-approval clearly stands in their way because the procedure is too expensive, too long, too complicated and by no means accurate.

The 250 watt limit was introduced in the 90s in a completely arbitrary way, when the Yamaha Pas was about the only electric bike on the market. It had … 250W. The 25 km/h was introduced because that was a speed limit known from mopeds. The standard limit was 45 km/h but some member states introduced a slower category of 25 km/h.

There is no scientific research whatsoever to support the idea that these limits would be required or best suited for any kind of safety reasons

When it became clear that electric bicycles with more than 250 W would remain in the type-approval, ETRA put in a great effort and succeeded to have the category excluded from unnecessary requirements and to have adapted requirements in other instances. Upon that, a discussion erupted as to whether L1e-A only allowed for electric bicycles with pedal assistance or also for electric bicycles which could be propelled by the motor itself.  ETRA could not see any reason to limit L1e-A to pedal assisted bicycles and fought long and hard for the category to also include electric bicycles that work without pedal assistance or electric bicycles with a mixed propulsion. ETRA eventually won that battle. If that would not have been execpted, than it would have become technically impossible for any electric bicycle 25 km/h with more than 25 W to come on the market!

So, today L1e-A covers electric bicycles with or without pedal assistance or with a mixed propulsion up to 25 km/h and over 250 Watt. The fact that there has been hardly any vehicles type-approved in this category shows that type-approval is not the right technical framework for these vehicles. LEVA-EU stands by the ETRA position that the current exclusion of electric bicycles from the type-approval needs to be broadened considerably in order to allow for innovation and technological development. Without such a broader exclusion, it will simply be impossible to tap on the full potential of electric bicycles created by sustainable mobility policies.

Annick Roetynck,
LEVA-EU Manager

9 thoughts on “L1e-A Category “powered cycles” impedes innovation and technological development of electric bicycles

  1. Good story Annick ! Maybe you could also stress that building according to a certain standard is not necessarily less safe than type approval. Self certification using a state-to-the art standard is a well-known practice for several product categories since the mid-eighties.
    In some countries outside the EU, e.g. USA, it is the common practice for virtually al consumer products, including road vehicles.

  2. All of us should be grateful to Yamaha for creating this market in Europe during the second half of the 90s. And for legislators to then find a way to allow these bikes on the roads. If that hadn’t happened, we would not have these kind of discussions today. At that time hardly any European bicycle manufacturer was interested in this new technology from Yamaha. Common sense created 250W and 25km/h restrictions. We even had maximum Power Assist support gradually tapering off from 250W at 20km/h to 0W at 25km/h.

    We should now be thankful for the L1e-A category. And apparently thankful to ETRA. Without it, for instance breakthroughs happening today in the field of City logistics, would not be possible. Certainly more liberate regulations can help accelerate development.

    I wonder why the article say that Type Approval is ‘very complicated, long, ill-adapted and extremely expensive’. Manufacturers are actually obtaining the L1e-A type approval today. Apparently it is achievable.

    It is a fact that a major part of the market will evolve to higher powered power assisted vehicles. Over 250W vehicles will even further reduce our dependency on fossil fuel burning vehicles. And with a smaller footprint than cars and vans, will keep cities liveable.

    1. Yes, of course we should be thankful to the pioneers. The point of the article is however that that was just a start, the beginning. From the 250W-25km/h many more developments could emerge. With that it would be wrong to cling to existing concepts such as pedal assistance or certain speed and power limits. What I wanted to explain in the article is that electric bicycles should never have been part of type-approval. Of course it is possible but is it accurate and useful? The purpose of technical regulations is to ensure safe vehicles. I am convinced that type-approval is not the most accurate, effective let alone cost-effective procedure to ensure safe electric bicycles. If we hadn’t lobbied for it, the type-approval wouldn’t have had any requirements for frames and forks, two essential parts when it comes to safety.
      Why would you need type-approval if a more accurate, effective and accesible (for all) technical regulatory procedure is available through standardization with self-certification? How to explain the absurdity of the fact that 25 km/h-250W is submitted to EN 15194:2017, whilst 25 km/h-251 is submitted to type-approval? Why would that 1 W require a procedure which is much longer, more complicated and expensive whilst being inaccurate?
      The EU authorities miss no opportunity to proclaim that SMEs are the backbone of EU economy and that legislation should not stand in the way of these SMEs. Type-approval for electric bicycles is one big, expensive and unnecessary stumbleblock for SMEs.

  3. In my humble opinion, the whole set of L-categories is a bit of a historical mess. It is based on the number of wheels and then some side boundaries like speed and power and then imposing ad-hoc rules related to safety or pollution if using an ICE. This has led to some strange design choices (e.g. because a 3-wheeler has less homologation requirements than a 4-wheeler). First of all, emissions should be separated from safety considerations. Secondly, the categories should have been based on safety considerations first of all (and not on the number of wheels). Essentially, this means executing a hazard and risk analysis (HARA) and then defining what safety measures are needed to reduce the safety risks to an acceptable level. Most industries work like that (aviation, railway, medical, process industry, …). In the case of vehicles, the important element is the kinetic energy (1/2*mass*velocity squared). The mass is essentially the driver’s or bystander’s mass of the vehicle, the velocity the one of the vehicle when something happens. Two issues: 1) a limit of 25 or 45 km/hr is arbitrary and annoying if most often the max. legal speed is 30 or 50 km/hr. Secondly, and this changes a lot with electric propulsion, not only the power is important but also the torgue. Hence, one can likely simplify things a lot if vehicle categories would be grouped according to mass and max. speed and not according to power/torque and number of wheels. Hence, no need even to discuss about the motor power or how the speed is obtained. A pedaled bi-tri-quad-cycle has the same safety issues as a non pedaled one. The difference is purely related to the functional need for e.g. safety measures that prevent e.g. an accidental motor runaway.

    1. Thank you very much for this great comment, Eric. As you know, we totally agree on this. Unfortunately, the current legislation was made in an era when the new vehicles and concepts that now suffer from the existing legislation were not on the market yet. LEVA-EU continues its efforts to achieve simpler, more accurate and cheaper legislation. As we have already discussed a few times, we fully share the idea of kinetic energy as opposed to other irrelevant elements.

      1. Thanks. I would like to point out that there is a category of “Voortbeweginstoestellen” in Belgium (speed limited to 18 km/hr) but almost no restrictions for which the law is based on it. Segway e.g. fall in the category but als wheelchairs. The Royal Decree (KB N. 2007 — 908 [C − 2007/14072] 13 Feb 2007) stipulates it this way. I quote (in Dutch) “Wat de gevoerde snelheid betreft, heeft het feit of het voortbewegingstoestel al dan niet gemotoriseerd is geen enkel belang. Er wordt uitgegaan van het principe dat voor dergelijke toestellen de snelheid zelf de bron van gevaar kan zijn en niet de technische kenmerken zoals het vermogen van de motor, het aantal wielen of de massa.” Of course, there is a logical mistake only to consider the velocity and not the mass, but it is a good start.

  4. In Finland L1e-A bikes need insurance but not registration or license. In the traffic they have all the same regulations as normal bicycle except the need of insurance. Self-built L1e-A bikes are freed from type approval in Finnish legislation so it’s possible to add afterwards a 1000W motor to a non-motorized cargo bike.

    1. Thanks for your clarification, Raine. However, it is impossible that L1e-A bikes are freed from type-approval in Finnish legislation. This category is part of European harmonized legislation, which means that all member states have a legal duty to implement and apply. Self-built L1e-A bikes must just as well comply. What is possible however, is that Finland offers individual type-approval.

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