E-bikes are a hot trend in alternative transportation. They’re affordable, efficient and don’t require a licence or insurance. But who is policing them?
Teens and senior citizens alike struggle with how to travel in style without a car. How to get around quickly and easily with little money, no licence or insurance? An answer has emerged — electric bikes. They come in all shapes and sizes to help people of all shapes and sizes navigate Hamilton’s hilly terrain without breaking a sweat. And users need little more than a helmet to own and operate one.
They range from normal-looking bikes with a throttle and battery to scooter-style bikes that wouldn’t look out of place in any European capital.
E-bikes became available last year after Ontario passed a law allowing anyone over age 16 to drive the 32-km/h maximum speed bikes without a driver’s licence. According to local dealers, young folks, soccer moms, senior citizens, middle-aged men and people with disabilities are buying them.
“I sold 750 of them last year and I expect to double that number this year,” said Ken Betts, of dragonebikes.ca. “We are seeing huge interest from people, whether that be 80-year-old women or 17-year-old kids. “They’re a really neat option for all sorts of reasons and they fit a certain niche in the market that has never before existed.” And as the time-worn line goes, he is not only the work there, he’s also a client. “I love mine,” Betts said. “Before I had one I was never able to join my wife for her bike rides along the beach strip. My back surgery never allowed for that. “But with my e-bike I am out more than her.”
The price for these Chinese made two-wheelers? Between $800 and $2,000 will buy you anything ranging from an e-scooter to an e-tricycle. The e-scooter, many styled to look like traditional Vespa scooters, are for city commuting. The more versatile e-mountain bike has a removable lithium battery. On the higher end you can find e-tricycles, which feature storage and stability.
Terry Harley bought two tricycles, complete with back seats, and believes they are the “ultimate way” to get around. The former owner of Harley Furniture, in Ancaster, said: “I bought two $1,900 e-tricycles for my son-in-law and daughter to boot my granddaughters around in. And then I bought one for myself.
“They are amazing. We take them to the park, the kids love them.” But they are not just fun, says Jeremy Stadler, sales manager at Alota Cars, on Rymal Road. They are environmentally friendly, too. “Sales started at three a month and are now at 15 a month, I think people buy them for fun, but the fact that they provide transport without fumes is a huge plus.”
The bikes take about five hours to charge and can travel about 60 kilometres before they run out of battery life.
E-bikes must follow the same rules of the road as cyclists. The rules state that when going slower than the rest of traffic, cyclists should stay as close to the right edge of the road as is practicable. If using the right edge of the road becomes unsafe, riders are allowed to use the full lane. But police say not everyone uses e-bikes in the way they were intended.
Constable Claus Wagner says a variety of the rules are being contravened — from riders removing governors to allow for higher speeds to people removing the mandatory pedals, and the force is stepping up its response. “We are getting more complaints as e-bikes become more popular,” said Wagner. “I want to let people know that the rules are clear and adults and teenagers should know those rules or they could be surprised by a very big bill. “Once that bike exceeds 32 km/h it will be treated as a road vehicle that needs both a licence and insurance.” He said that e-bikes should not be used on sidewalks, must stop at red lights and cannot drive the wrong way on a one-way street.
E-bikes are also not to be used on trails or to get around drunk-driving laws because they are classed a motorized vehicle. Breaking bylaws can result in a ticket ranging from $85 for not wearing a helmet, to $5,000 for removing the governor and driving it without the appropriate papers. Wagner said although the police don’t keep records on how many of the tickets to cyclists are handed to e-bike riders specifically, in May alone the force dished out 107 penalties to cyclists — that is exactly half of the entire year’s total.
“We are urging parents to start reading the rules so that there is more awareness of what can and cannot be done with these bikes. “For example there is a reason 12-year-olds are not allowed to ride these vehicles. They’re simply not old enough to travel at 32 kilometres per hour.”
But overall those who buy the bikes follow the rules, according to Betts. “It doesn’t make sense to me because jacking up the speed would just kill your battery life, defeating the point of the bike. “If people want to go faster they should just get their motorbike licences and an e-motorcycle.” Those can get up to 80 km/h.
What you can get E-bikes can range anywhere from $800 to $2,000
Commuter-style scooter e-bikes range from $800 to $1,000, depending on storage space, passenger room and design.
Sporty mountain bikes with electric motors and batteries range from $800 to $1,300.
Roomy tricycles with stability and storage will run you between $1,700 and $1,900.
Folding e-bike for compact transport cost $1,200.
E-bikes are part of a bigger trend that shows people are accessing new and different modes of transport. Included in these are gas and electric mopeds, gas and electric scooters, electric motorcycles, although the laws and rules of the road are different for all sorts of vehicles. For the gas motor-assisted bicycles, including mopeds that travel up to 50 km or limited speed motorcycles, which include a Vespa style scooters, riders require an M style licence.
To say it is an odd feeling to ride a bike without pedaling is an understatement. When I first jumped on my e-mountain bike I was shocked at how quickly it moved after I first yanked on the throttle. But the feeling that I was travelling quickly soon wore off, and I wanted to go faster. Dismissing my own personal need for speed though, e-bikes seem to be the ultimate tool. When you need to get somewhere quickly you can do so without breaking a sweat.
And when you are looking for a leisurely ride along the beach or some off-road fun, all you have to do is slip out the battery and go. I would warn potential buyers though, riding a bike “the old fashioned way” seems a lot harder after you have experienced the motorized kind.
ANATOMY OF AN E-BIKE
Hornet: $995 delivered Requirements: E-bike riders must be above the age of 16 and wear a helmet. No insurance or licence is needed.
Seating – Provides legal space for two passengers with helmets. If the seat is lifted further storage is available.
Ignition – E-bikes come standard with two sets of keys and an alarm that functions even without battery power.
Batteries – Four acid gel batteries in the floor of the scooter require five hours of charging and power the bikes for approximately 60 km at 32 km/hour fully charged.
Motor – E-bikes cannot exceed 32 km/h. There is a governor built in to limit the speed. Tampering with the governor is illegal.
Pedals – Mandatory for all e-bikes. If removed, users can be fined $5,000 for driving a vehicle without insurance.
Rear storage – Plenty of room for helmet storage (30cm x 30 cm x 15cm).
RULES TO RIDE
E-bike must not weigh more than 120 kg.
E-bike must have two independent braking systems that apply force to each wheel.
No modifications can be made to the motor to allow it to exceed a power output greater than 500W and a speed greater than 32 km/h.
Operators and passengers must be at least 16 years of age.
Anyone on the e-bike must wear an approved bicycle or motorcycle helmet.
Operators don’t need a licence, written test, vehicle registration, plate or motor vehicle liability insurance.
For answers to frequently asked questions, visit mto.gov.on.ca.