Electric Bikes and the law

The law in the UK

In order to qualify as an electric bike the motor must cut out at 15.5 mph (25 kph) and the motor must be no more than 250 watts.

With effect from April 6 2015, the UK came into line with the rest of Europe. The changes made to the Traffic Act 1983 are:

  1. The weight restriction has been removed. This means that electric bikes can be used for making deliveries.
  2. The bikes can have 2 or more wheels. This is also for the purpose of deliveries.
  3. The maximum speed that the motor can assist to has been increased from 15 mph to 15.5 mph.
  4. The continuous output for the motor has been increased from 200 to 250 watts.

These changes were well overdue and now that this inconsistency has been removed and the legal position has been clarified there will be a benefit to the sector, which upto now has arguably been held back by the confusion.

A further change has been made starting from 1 January 2016 concerning throttles, or ‘twist and go’ bikes. In the UK these were allowed without the need of pedalling at all. The regulations have now been brought into line with the rest of Europe. The affect of this is that bikes can still have a throttle, but beyond 4 mph the throttle can only be used in combination with the pedals. As long as the pedals are moving round, even if very slowly, then the throttle can be used to take the bike up to 15.5 mph. This legislation is not retrospective so if you have a bike with a throttle that does not require pedalling at all it is still legal if it was bought before 1 January 2016, provided that it complies in all other respects, of course.

Bikes which do not comply with the EU law, or which have been ‘tuned’ so that the restrictions on speed put in place by the manufacturer have been removed, can only be ridden on private land with the direct permission of the landowner. Private land does not mean common land, public rights of way, bridle paths or places such as disused railway lines. There are certain areas that Borough councils will permit the riding of these bikes – but these places tend to be few and far between. To be clear: we do not sell bikes that do not qualify as electric bikes; we do not tune bikes to remove the restrictions and we will not service bikes that have been derestricted. If you do have the bike derestricted you will invalidate the warranty. It is easy to identify if the bike has been rerestriced by using diagnostic software. You are also putting the motor at more risk if it is unrestricted. The motors are rated at 250 watts, which means that it can run continuously at 250 watts but can peak at higher levels. By derestricting the motor it is likely to run at more than 250 watts for more time and is therefore at risk of burning out; the warranty will be invalidated and the replacement cost of the motor will be many hundreds of pounds. Similarly by running the bike harder you will not only reduce the range of the battery but you will shorten its life. Again the warranty is invalid and the replacement cost of a Bosch battery is £750.

Bikes which do not qualify as electric bikes can only be ridden on the roads or non-private land if they carry number plate, have a valid MOT and the rider has a full driving license. In some countries, such as Germany a special class for these type of bikes has been created – ‘Speed Pedelecs.’ Now that the UK has come into line with Europe on the basic speed and power output of the motors the UK needs to get on board with speed pedelecs. A lot of people will not want to commute – more than say five miles – if they are restricted to 15.5 mph. If the speed is increased this will attract many other users. This will have the desired affect of getting people out of their cars and onto bikes. If we want to take cycling seriously in this country and follow the lead of Paris we need to do this.

There is one further anomaly in the UK, which is that the user must be 14 or over. Other countries in Europe have different age restrictions or indeed none at all. I am not aware of an upper age limit!