Is EU type-approval dangerous for speed-pedelec riders?

252 days ago

min read

Early February, LEVA-EU, together with the project partners of 365SNEL, organized a European symposium on the legal status and market position of the speed-pedelec. In this symposium, attended by the European Commission, several manufacturers testified about the great difficulties they are having to get their vehicles approved. Furthermore, from the results of the 365SNEL research, it can be deduced that this type approval creates risks for speed-pedelec riders.

365SNEL is a project subsidized by the Environment Department to investigate the potential of speed-pedelecs for commuting in Flanders. It is one of the (very) few projects in the context of the European Clean Power for Transport (CPT) that focusses on light vehicles rather than on electric cars or other heavy means of transport. It is no coincidence that this project is being carried out in Flanders. That is the only constant growth market for speed-pedelecs in the EU. In 2017, more than 4,500 speed-pedelecs were registered in Flanders, in 2018 that was over 8,500 and last year the 12,000 milestone was achieved. Interesting comparison: in 2019 only half as many electric cars were registered.

45 km / h?

In the 365SNEL project, a test fleet of approximately 15 speed-pedelecs was deployed at 10 companies and organizations, varying in size (from small company to international group) and in nature (from educational institution to hospital). The call for test drivers was consistently answered enthusiastically. No fewer than 520 candidates applied. Among them, 106 test riders were selected, who were invited to commute with the speed-pedelec for three consecutive weeks.

That group was interviewed before and after the test rides to determine the most important motivations and obstacles and which shifts in all this the effective use of the speed-pedelecs caused. In addition, the vehicle itself was also examined. Several findings are particularly relevant for the industry and the government.

The main motivation for testing was speed. Most of the candidate test riders were under the assumption that they would be able to ride a constant speed of 45 km/h with a speed-pedelec and that they would therefore save a lot of time. None of the test vehicles was able to meet that expectation. The speed-pedelecs with a 350W motor offered a cruise speed of 30 to 35 km/h, those with a 500W motor of 35 to 40 km/h.

Speed-​​pedelec = moped

The test riders quickly overcame the disappointing speed performance of their vehicle because they experienced other benefits. In particular, the predictability of travel time and the positive effect on their mental health was a huge boost for many. Only, there is something special going on in Belgium, which explains why the speed-pedelec is a success there and not in the rest of the EU.

In the technical regulation (Regulation 168/2013), the European Union has categorized the speed-pedelec as a moped. And so, all Member States have slavishly copied that category in their traffic codes; all Member States except Belgium. Thanks to some visionary civil servants, the speed-pedelec in the Belgian traffic code is not put aside as a moped “full stop”, instead a separate category has been created: Moped Class P – Speed ​Pedelec. This made it possible to develop adapted traffic rules with new traffic signs which, by using the letter P, allow or exclude speed-pedelecs.

Moreover, this separate categorization made it possible to subject the speed-pedelec to the same financial incentives as traditional (e)-bikes. In Belgium, you can enjoy a tax-free allowance of up to € 0.24 if you commute by bicycle, electric bicycle or speed-pedelec. The test riders of 365SNEL covered an average of 21.6 km a day. This can result in more than € 1,300 extra this year, tax-free. Sales are further boosted by advantageous leasing formulas through employers.

Road safety was an important obstacle before testing. But that concern faded quickly. The test riders felt at ease because of the choice between road and cycle path, which the Belgian traffic code offers. The general rule is that if the speed limit on the road is 50 km/h, the speed-pedelec rider can choose between road or cycle path. If on the road the speed limit is higher than 50 km/h, they are obliged to use the cycle path.

New means of transport

During the symposium, Jakob Luksch, CEO of Stromer, confirmed that the adapted traffic code is a crucial element in the Belgian success of speed-pedelecs. In other countries, speed-pedelecs are banned from cycle paths and they must be used on the road. However, if those speed-pedelecs, with a 350W motor, can only handle 30 to 35 km/h on average, then that is a particularly dangerous speed difference with the cars and trucks that you have to ride with. That explains the civil disobedience of some speed-pedelec riders in the Netherlands. If they find it safer on the cycle path, they take their number plate off and put it back on when they are on the road. So far, speed-pedelecs can hardly be recognized anyhow.

The essence of the regulatory problem is that a speed-pedelec is a new type of vehicle that cannot be squeezed into the old concepts’ corset. It is not a bicycle, it is not a moped, it is a new means of transport. And yet, governments are stubbornly trying to subject the speed-pedelec to outdated rules.

Mortal danger

The European technical regulations for speed-pedelecs were originally written for conventional mopeds. This type-approval is an extremely complex, inadequate and extremely expensive affair. Speed ​​pedelecs come under legislation that consists of 1,036 pages of text, which is largely about limiting emissions and about safety features that do not concern speed-pedelecs.

During the symposium, there were extensive testimonies about the flaws of type-approval. Markus Riese, from Riese & Müller, stated in no uncertain terms that it is not wise for a company to venture into the speed-pedelec market. His company tries to persevere because they believe that speed-pedelecs can contribute to the fight against climate change. Riese & Müller are just about the only ones with a cargo speed-pedelec in their portfolio. The vehicle was part of the 365SNEL fleet and was greatly appreciated by the test riders. Markus Riese immediately pointed to the crux of the matter: “Factor 4 does not allow you to build cargo speed-pedelecs that allows to ride uphill in a safe way. Factor 4 barely allows to achieve 10 km/h and if you are then obliged, for example with 2 children in the front, to ride on the road, you risk their lives.

Factor 4

Factor 4 means that the motor may not deliver more than 4 times the power than the rider delivers himself. This assistance factor 4 itself is not mandatory, the speed-pedelec only needs to be tested for the assistance factor. If the power is higher than 4, this means that for instance the frame and forks of the speed-pedelec do not necessarily have to be tested according to the ISO standard for traditional bicycles. Furthermore, the speed-pedelec is no longer exempt from the electric range test. Don’t worry if you don’t understand this. The technical services accredited to approve speed-pedelecs don’t seem to know this either, they are convinced that factor 4 must be complied with and oblige their customers to do so.

During the symposium, Ianto Guy presented the TRL study on factor 4, which was carried out at the request of the European Commission to investigate the influence of factor 4 on vehicle safety. TRL concluded that due to a lack of accident statistics, it was impossible to determine whether factor 4 had a positive or negative impact on safety. But the researcher still had some interesting footnotes to that conclusion. He confirmed what was established in 365SNEL: “Unless you are Chris Hoy, it is impossible to reach a speed of 45 km/h with a factor of 4.

He added that torque is the most important factor in the controllability of the vehicle: “Rideability may have a bigger impact on safety than limiting power through a maximum assistance factor. Perhaps this group of vehicles sits very uncomfortably in the type-approval for L-category vehicles

Industry testifies

The proposition that torque is much more important than the assistance factor was repeated time and time again that day, including by Tomas Keppens who developed the Ellio through his Belgian start-up. He was one of the few participants who found type-approval a positive thing. He is currently going through type-approval with his vehicle at a technical service and had already taken numerous hurdles. The last one was the so-called steerability test. As described in the Functional Safety Regulation, the test for speed-pedelecs is physically impossible unless you position the pedals so high that the driving position becomes particularly uncomfortable.

Robbert Rutgrink from Santos had a clear proposal to improve the legislation. He argued for a regulation that would allow “real” speed-pedelecs, without assistance factor and with more powerful motors that allow for 45 km/h. He also argued for allowing a throttle so that “the entire 45 km/h landscape could be used by speed-pedelecs.

Finally, Arno Saladin brought the story of Rad Power Bikes. As far as we know, that is the only producer of powered cycles in L1e-A and a three-wheeled cargo speed-pedelec in L2e-U. Rad Power Bikes chose these categories because they found it impossible to create a pedal assisted vehicle that would function properly with a maximum continuous power of 250W.

Once they had ploughed through the type-approval, they still had to cope with another major struggle: explaining to the different Member States where and how they had to fit these vehicles into their traffic code. This only worked flawlessly in Belgium, where the government decided to put  1e-A vehicles completely on a par with conventional bicycles, so no helmet, no driver’s license, no license plate, … In all other countries, Rad Power Bike was confronted with insurmountable problems, which proved really insurmountable in Great Britain, preventing them from getting their vehicles on the road there.


Furthermore, the symposium was peppered with countless examples of major and minor obstacles in the type-approval for speed-pedelecs. For example, you must mount the brake levers exactly the  opposite way of what is common practice for bicycles. However, this is not allowed by the German traffic code. The most recent anomaly dates from January 1 this year, when the World Motorcycle Test Cycle 3 (WMTC) has become applicable. As a result, all vehicles in L1e-A and L1e-B must be submitted to an energy consumption test, which is technically impossible to perform on vehicles with pedal assistance. The original purpose of that test was to measure fuel consumption, with a view to monitoring the environmental performance of internal combustion engines. It was clearly never the intention to subject electric vehicles to this test. Unfortunately, their explicit exclusion was overlooked.

Instead of considering the principle, the current discussion with the Commission is about how the test can be turned and twisted so that it becomes feasible for pedal assisted vehicles. This will result in yet another goalless test at the expense of the producer, or rather at the expense of the consumer. 365SNEL clearly shows that the price of speed-pedelecs is an obstacle.

Steep prices

The European type-approval pushes the price of a speed-pedelec in the direction of a cheap car. That car is also subject to type-approval, but the procedure is specifically designed for cars, the manufacturer is used to it and he can sell approved types in series with at least five zeros. Speed ​​pedelecs come under an inadequate and very expensive system, in which in the best case one type will be sold in a circulation of a few thousand.

In the run-up to Regulation 168/2013, the European Commission assessed the impact of the then newly proposed rules. In that assessment, type-approval cost for speed-pedelecs was estimated at € 10,000. In reality, that cost is at least 4 times higher and with that, we are not taking into account the enormous development costs to be able to meet the type-approval.

Since its formation, LEVA-EU, the European professional association for companies in the light, electric vehicle sector, has been striving for a structural improvement of the rules for electric bicycles in general and speed-pedelecs in particular. The symposium was an excellent opportunity to submit a proposal for fundamental changes to the regulations to the Commission and to industry.

LEVA-EU proposes

Currently, only electric bikes with pedal assistance up to 25 km/h and 250W are excluded from the type-approval. Vehicles that are outside the scope of the type-approval automatically come under the Machinery Directive. This Directive contains general safety instructions for a wide range of products. However, the Machinery Directive allows a sector to develop a European safety standard for their specific product within CEN/CENELEC, the European standardization body. That is exactly what happened for the “conventional” electric bikes. As soon as they were excluded from the type-approval, the technical committee that is competent within CEN for bicycles started to write a standard for electric bicycles. This EN 15194 is an instrument for the industry to comply with the safety regulations of the Machinery Directive. Manufacturers may test and certify their products according to that standard themselves; they are not obliged to work with a technical service. This system is adequate, accessible and affordable for producers. In 2018, it is estimated that more than 2.7 million electric bicycles were put on the market under this legislation in Europe. The regulatory framework does not cause any significant safety issues.

That is why LEVA-EU proposes not only for electric vehicles, but for all zero-emission vehicles for individual transport up to a maximum speed and weight, to be determined in consultation with the industry, to be excluded from the type-approval for mopeds and motorcycles. This will allow for the abolishment of the L1e-A category, whilst the offer of vehicles will become much more varied. LEVA-EU considers it essential to delete the current power limit of 250W. It is much more important to control the acceleration instead of the power. The technological limitations (pedal assistance only) must also be removed from the law in order to make technological developments possible.

An electric bicycle with a motor assisting up to 25 km/h which, for example, has a throttle in addition to pedal assistance, may well considerably improve safety. Among other things, it allows drivers to start quickly when the lights go green and to obtain the necessary acceleration to escape from dangerous situations.

Technological and market development

Zero emission vehicles for the transport of passengers or goods up to a certain speed, to be determined in consultation with the industry, must also be excluded without a power limit from the type-approval for mopeds and motorcycles. Within CEN, a working group has recently been set up to write a standard for cargo bikes. The above-mentioned exclusion will offer that working group the opportunity to develop an accurate standard for well performing vehicles. Now the 250W is a huge obstacle to the technological and market development of e-cargo bikes, although that market offers fantastic prospects.

For zero emission vehicles up to 45 km/h with a maximum weight, to be determined in consultation with the industry, the European Commission should, according to LEVA-EU, carry out a new impact analysis to determine the best way forward. LEVA-EU believes that there are two solutions. Either, these vehicles could be excluded from the L category, which means that they automatically come under the Machinery Directive and it gives CEN the opportunity to write a standard. Or the Commission creates a totally new category, completely separate from the current L category, in which a type-approval is being developed, specifically for light zero emission vehicles up to 45 km/h with a maximum weight.

As a result of this, Member States would no longer slavishly categorize speed-pedelecs and other light zero-emission vehicles in the L category in the moped category of their traffic code. They would be forced to reflect on an adapted position of these vehicles in their traffic code and about adequate traffic rules and terms of use.

New study

Efren Sanchez-Galindo, who represented the Commission, followed the discussions during the symposium with great attention. At the end of the day, he acknowledged that there is a lot of room for improvement, but he added an ominous statement. He argued that further exclusions of electric bicycles and speed-pedelecs from the L category and associated type-approval were unlikely because several Member States had approached his unit with a clear question. They want the Commission to examine whether and how light, electric vehicles such as electric scooters and self-balancing vehicles can be included in the type-approval. The request originates from Member States who have quite a few problems at home to get the new mobility phenomena regulated.

The European Commission intends to order a study on this issue some time this year. If that study argues that, for example, e-scooters should be classed under the L category, all hell will be loose. In that case, there would be no arguments left to even keep conventional, electric bikes out of L-category. And the consequences of such a conclusion would be simply catastrophic!

Annick Roetynck,
LEVA-EU Manager

This article is also available in Dutch, contact Annick Roetynck for a copy, tel. +32 9 233 60 05 , email [email protected]

Annick Roetynck

Annick is the Manager of LEVA-EU, with decades of experience in two-wheeled and light electric mobility.

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