Electric bike laws to bring on changes
The Australian Design Rules concerning electric bicycles have been changed, bringing them in line with European Union standards. The new rules increase the allowed power output of electric bikes to 250 watts.
Electric bicycles or 'e-bikes' are bicycles with motorised assistance. There are two types of e-bikes: pedal assist (pedalec) bikes that require the cyclist to pedal to sustain the electric assistance; and those with a handlebar throttle, which allow the cyclist to travel without pedallingi. Electric bikes can be charged at a standard building or home power pointii.
Changes in legislation
In May 2012, the Federal Government announced changes to the national vehicle safety standards in relation to power-assisted bicycles. The standards, detailed in the Australian Design Rules, have been changed to allow a power output of up to 250 watts, increased from 200 watts for pedalecs. However, powered speed remains restricted to 25km/h for these bicycles for safety reasonsiii. These new regulations in Australia reflect the standards set out by the European Union's Committee for Standardisationi.
These changes imply that any pedalec with a power output exceeding 250 watts in Australia will be classified as a motorbike, requiring registration and riders to hold a licencei. Currently, the Victoriaiv, ACTv, New South Walesvi, and Queenslandvii state governments have implemented these standards with other state and territory governments expected to followiii. Until the remaining governments implement these new rules, owners of e-bikes within those states or territory with a power output that exceeds 200 watts will not be able to ride their unregistered bikes on public roads.
The Federal Government has made these changes in correlation with the Austroads' National Cycling Strategy 2011-16, which aims to double the number of people riding bicycles by 2016iii. In March 2009, only 2% of people aged over 18 years cycled to work or full-time studyviii. This number is minimal considering that half of all Australian households had at least one working bicycle kept at their home in 2009, with two thirds of this number keeping two or more bicycles in working orderviii. The most common reason reported for not cycling to work or full-time study by people of every age group was that the distance was too far, with 45% stating thisviii.
With the introduction of these new standards, the market for electric bikes is expected to open up with more options available to Australia. This includes the huge range of e-bikes that are currently offered in Europei. These bikes, which were formerly only available online through foreign exporters or at niche custom-design bike stores, are expected to become more commoni.
More options for road users
Austroads' National Cycling Strategy aims to promote cycling as both a safe mode of transport and an enjoyable recreational activityix. The Government hopes that the new standards for electric bikes will entice more people to view cycling as a way to get aroundiii. Electric bikes provide more options for those wanting to have a reduced impact on the environment and save money. Since e-bikes only need to be charged at an electrical power point, they cost cents to runii. This makes them much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than petrol- or diesel-fuelled cars. The new standards will present benefits not just for the individual but also for the community. As more people take to the streets by bike, there can be cost savings on infrastructure and less congestion on the roadsx.
Health-wise, the e-bike is expected to make cycling more accessible to a greater range of people. The power assistance can make cycling easier for those wanting to travel further. They are also appealing for people with lower fitness levels who are looking for a way to insert physical exercise into their daily routines or for those who need a little help when conquering hills on their way to work.
While changes made to the Australian Design Rules by the Federal Government are still being discussed for implementation by state and territory governments, it is important to ask your local road authority whether you can ride your e-bike if it exceeds 200 watts. Otherwise, get on your regular bike to enjoy the health and environmental benefits of cycling!