Saturday, July 29, 2017

Electric Bicycles on Trails

Image: Wikipedia
We're seeing more electric bikes these days on our local trails. One day this week in a short stretch of the W&OD Trail I was passed by 4 electric bikes going much faster than my 12 mph. The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece that discusses some of the issues surrounding electric bikes on trails in the DC Metro area. The title gives you an idea of the author's position: Let's keep motors off our bike trails.

FABB has not taken a formal position on electric bikes (see previous FABB blog posts that mention electric bicycles). We've discussed their use and opinions vary about whether they should be permitted on trails in the county.

I personally know several people who use electric bikes for different reasons. One experienced cyclist commutes long distances and his bike allows him to more easily get around without using a car. Another person is an avid cyclist who developed a health condition that affected his ability to ride. Now he is able to continue riding with his electric bike.

As far as I know, electric bicycles are not prohibited on the W&OD Trail. There is no mention of them in the Trail Guidelines.

According to Virginia code, 46.2-100 an electric bike is defined accordingly:
"Electric power-assisted bicycle" means a vehicle that travels on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground and is equipped with (i) pedals that allow propulsion by human power and (ii) an electric motor with an input of no more than 1,000 watts that reduces the pedal effort required of the rider.
Electric power-assisted bicycles are treated the same as regular bicycles in the current VA code, 46.2-904.

1,000 watts is a lot of power.  In Europe the standard for electric bicycles states that the motor cannot exceed 250 watts and the motor cuts off if the bike is going 25km/hr (15.5 mi/hr) if the cyclist stops pedaling. a 1,000 watt bicycle could easily reach speeds of 30+ mph.

My concern with electric bikes is excessive speed, especially when used by an inexperienced cyclist. I personally think we should be using the European standard and that electric bikes should not be allowed to travel above a certain speed (15mph?) on our local trails. What do you think?

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As for being prohibited on the W&OD, the third point under "W&OD Trail Rules and Guidelines" states:

"No mopeds or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail."

I believe this is also stated on the posted signs on the trail, though could be wrong.

Thanks for that info. I was trying to find that page of rules and guidelines and couldn't. The link I pointed to is a slightly different set of guides. I think this has been a gray area for the W&OD trail folks. While the rule you referenced is pretty clear about no motorized vehicles it isn't enforced for ebikes as far as I know. Maybe the proliferation of ebikes will force the issue.
Whew...I wasn't's a pic of the old sign.

It comes down to the definition of "motorized vehicle". Virginia law is clear that an e-bike is not considered a motorized vehicle, but rather an electric power-assisted bicycle.

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