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It is Time to Drop the Pedal Requirement


E-bikes looked like this 20 years ago


In my prior post I questioned just how "free" is the PEV market...


A competitive, well-regulated, free market is a good thing for start-ups and consumers, and in the long run, for the economy. Whereas an over-regulated market will stifle innovation and discourage competition, delivering consumers over-priced and/or deficient products, making our economy less efficient.


The U.S. market for PEV’s (Personal Electric Vehicles) is over-regulated thanks to an obsolete, over twenty-year-old law passed by Congress in 2002 (Public Law 107-319), stating that “low speed electric bicycles” were to be regulated as a consumer product under the Consumer Product Safety Act, and clarifying that they are not a “motor vehicle” such as a motorcycle, for which more restrictive laws and regulations would apply.


Here is what the law states:


SEC. 38. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, low-speed electric bicycles are consumer products within the meaning of section 3(a)(1) and shall be subject to the Commission regulations published at section 1500.18(a)(12) and part 1512 of title 16, Code of Federal Regulations. ‘‘(b) For the purpose of this section, the term ‘low-speed electric bicycle’ means a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.


Note the requirement for “fully operable pedals.”


At that time, the intention was to distinguish these new electric assisted bicycles from existing products such as gas-powered motorcycles and mopeds, thus the limitation of motor power and the requirement for pedals.  An understandable distinction for that time, without which the development and evolution of E-bikes would have been constrained. The law established that these “electric bicycles”, from a consumer safety point of view, were to be treated as a traditional bicycle.


Over twenty years later, with significant advancements in motor controller design and battery technology, this law is now doing more economic damage than good.  It is now stifling innovation.


As adopted by bike organizations, this obsolete federal definition of an “electric bicycle” has become entrenched in the definition of the three classes of “electric bicycles” that are in common usage today, by PEV manufactures and many local municipalities.


Why is this a problem? Because pedals on a modern PEV add cost, and the longer this unnecessary and obsolete regulation remains intact, the longer the PEV customers will be burdened with an unnecessary expense.


A bad deal unless you are a manufacturer of bicycle pedals and chains, or a manufacturer of an E-bike equipped with pedals that does not want to compete with some uppity lower-priced PEV without peddles. Then you are in favor of this unnecessary regulation.


This is the ancient economic practice of market protection, and in the long run this will be detrimental to the PEV community.


Here are the often repeated and tired arguments as to why E-bikes need pedals. As you read each one, ask yourself “does this apply to a Tesla?”:


  • More range in case the battery dies.

  • An opportunity to exercise.

  • You can manually charge the battery while riding.

  • Safer, without explaining why.


It would be hilarious, but there are many good reasons why Tesla’s do not have pedals.

Here are the reasons why a PEV does not need “fully operable pedals”:


  • Added cost.

  • No chains that catch pants.

  • No chains that rust and break.

  • No chains that leak grease.

  • Advances in motor controller and battery tech have extended the range.

  • All now have battery level monitors.

  • Smart throttle design controls initial acceleration.

  • If range is a problem, carry an extra battery in your backpack. Or purchase something like a range buster battery option for a Jackrabbit that more than doubles the range.


While I would not be surprised that some early throttle-only PEV’s had excessive start-up acceleration, with the advances in newer motor-controller design, we are well past that flaw.


This is what really makes PEV’s safe:


  • No added power above 20mph.

  • Control downhill speed.

  • Larger inflatable tires.

  • A seat.

  • UL certified test standards.

  • Wearing a helmet.

  • Using lights at night.

  • Announcing when passing.

  • Bike friendly communities.

  • Common sense when riding.


For how much longer will the bicycling community accept this decade’s old limitation on innovation?


Just how many safe, high-quality, lower cost, peddle-less PEV’s will have to be sold before this new reality is acknowledged, and the regulation is updated?


It is time to remove this unnecessary economic barrier, and let the consumer decide what PEV is best for them.


It would be unfortunate if this obsolete regulation were to define which PEV’s can be ridden in bike lanes. This would further entrench this unnecessary requirement, ensuring that consumers forever pay a premium for a pedal function that is no longer needed.



Eric Johnson, a San Diego resident, is the author of “What the Hell is an Economy?” (2022, published by Amazon Kindle). For more information, go to WTHisAnEconomy.com


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