Tampering with electric bicycles: about the heart of the matter

1130 days ago

4 minutes

In recent weeks, the Belgian, Dutch and German press in particular have been full of spectacular news about tampering with electric bicycles. The articles consisted mainly of loud allegations about large numbers of electric bicycles that are being transformed into dangerously fast machines. One Belgian newspaper even stated: “An electric bicycle that is tampered with is like a Lada that flies“. The most grotesque claims were made public, whilst politicians, police representatives, insurance people and spokespersons of professional organizations were stumbling over one another to warn off all those terribly, terribly dangerous and irresponsible dealers and electric cyclists.

The spokesperson for the Dutch BOVAG, which represents (e)bike dealers said it in no uncertain terms: anyone who helps tampering is cutting their own throat.  And he added: “(…) an e-bike is  technically not designed for high speeds because the frame and the brakes are not designed for that.” This was the ultimate statement, the statement that made me put pen to paper, a statement that is manifestly wrong.

I can provide all further technical details to those who wish to learn more, but in short an electric bike 25 km/h-250W is subject to the strictest frame and brake tests that exist on paper. The frame of a speed pedelec, with assistance up to 45 km/h, is in the best case legally subject to tests for conventional bicycles and in the worst case to very general construction requirements that have actually been written for conventional mopeds. In other words, one can only conclude,  that according to the law, an electric bicycle of originally 25 km/h but tampered with is better equipped for higher speeds than a legal speed pedelec.

I have lost you? That is exactly my point. Among all those loud shouters, no-one has bothered to find the heart of the matter. Yes, it is true, people are tampering with the speed of their electric bicycle and dealers are lending a hand. The question is however: why people do that? Just because they want more speed like with mopeds? If you are after pure speed, you will not purchase an electric bicycle with pedal assistance. You will tamper with it so that it can be propelled by the motor alone, without having to pedal. Or you will buy a moped tampered with or why not a motorcycle or a car that are allowed by law to be able to go 200 km/hour.

Electric cyclists, like me, just want a little bit more. If your legs are spinning well and the motor suddenly stops at 27 km/h, that is not a pleasant experience. You want a little more, somewhere around 30 km/hour with a margin of 10%. And yet, you don’t buy a speed pedelec because you find  45 km/h too fast or because that speed pedelec is too expensive compared to your 25 km/h or above all because you don’t want the hassle of a helmet, a number plate, a driver’s license, uncertainty as to where you are allowed to ride, etc.

People tamper with electric bicycles because the entire regulations, both technical and traffic rules, simply make no sense whatsoever. Manufacturers are developing tampering devices, because this is a simple solution to avoid type-approval for speed pedelecs. Type-approval is ridiculously expensive, totally inaccurate and ultimately saddles you with an electric bicycle that is not a bicycle but a moped. Moreover, a growing peloton of electric cyclists does not want 45 km/h but 30 km/h or maybe even 33 km/h. But this peloton is totally ignored because manufacturers do not wish to endure the agony of type-approval for 30 km/h which, moreover, results just as well in an electric bicycle that is not a bicycle but a moped.

It is particularly lamentable that all these screaming journalists, politicians, police and insurance people and spokespersons of professional organizations do not make any effort to really understand the problem, to look for real solutions. After all, it is much easier to reduce everything to “same situations as with the mopeds” and to blame dealers and consumers.

However, I am hopeful that the peloton of civil disobedient electric cyclists will continue to grow until there is no choice left but to adjust the regulations. Perhaps the civil disobedient electric cyclists can form a coalition with the green truants and the yellow vests.

Annick Roetynck,
expressing a personal opinion

Annick Roetynck

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

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