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

2309 days ago

5 minutes

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

Annick Roetynck

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

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