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State lawmakers vote to regulate e-bikes

(January 24, 2018) — Ohio is one of just 20 states that doesn’t regulate electric bicycles, but that might be changing with new legislation.

House Bill 250, introduced by Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, would regulate electric bicycles, also called e-bikes, and hold them to many of the same standards as normal bicycles.

It passed the Ohio House on Wednesday with a 90-0 vote.

Brinkman said the bill, and the allowance of e-bikes on bike and shared paths, would give “freedom” to people who are elderly or need a little help to ride bicycles on their own. He said e-bikes help people stay active later in life.

“This new technology in e-bikes will allow more Ohioans to use our wonderful trail network, longer and later in life,” Brinkman said.

The bill would classify e-bikes into three categories based on their speed, and require manufacturers to label their bicycles accordingly. People who modify their own e-bikes would have to change the label as well.

Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes, which are slower than Class 3, can go about 20 miles per hour with a mild pedal assist. Under the regulations, they would be permitted on bicycle-only and shared-use paths. But faster e-bikes would be prohibited on those paths. To operate a Class 3 e-bicycle, which can go up to 28 miles per hour when aided by light pedaling, the cyclist would be required to wear a helmet and be at least 16 years old.

Brinkman said many paths do not allow any motorized vehicles, and some even include electric bikes as motorized vehicles. Under the new bill, these bans would be invalidated for lower-powered electric bikes; mopeds and motorcycles still would be banned from bike paths.

E-bikes would not be allowed on trails or any natural-surface path that has traditionally been for non-motorized use, according to the analysis of the bill. Additionally, e-bikes would be allowed on sidewalks only if their motor isn’t engaged.

Electric bicycles can help people who need some assistance pedaling a bicycle or just want a more leisurely ride, said Patricia Kovacs, a board member of the Ohio Bicycle Federation.

Kovacs said some in the cycling community are concerned about the speed of the e-bikes, but said regulations and standards for e-bike use would make them safer.

Tom Bennett, owner of Orbit City Bikes in the Clintonville area, which sells electric bicycles, said he’s glad that e-bikes are finally being recognized by Ohio legislators. Bennett said Ohio law is currently unclear on how to regulate the bicycles.

“The (state Bureau of Motor Vehicles) has been calling them mopeds, which they’re not,” Bennett said. “It needs to somehow be defined.”

The bill has the support of several large cycling groups that represent both cyclists and bicycle manufacturers. At a hearing in October, Morgan Lommele, the e-bikes campaign manager for PeopleForBikes, a national bicycle-advocacy group, and also representing the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, the primary trade association for bicycle suppliers, spoke in support of the bill.

“At PeopleForBikes we believe that electric bicycles, or e-bikes, have the potential to expand bike riding to new segments of our population, and keep people riding bikes for more of their lives,” Lommele said. “However, e-bikes are an emerging technology, and need clear rules to regulate their use and create stability in the marketplace.”

The bill now will go to the Senate for further consideration.