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NY e-bike bill becomes law, but with some discrepancies

Published April 3, 2020

NEW YORK (BRAIN) — E-bikes and e-scooters officially became legal Thursday night when the state Assembly approved Gov. Andrew Cuomo's bill that was introduced in his executive budget in January.

The e-bike bill was approved by the state Senate earlier this week. Cuomo proposed a revised e-bike bill after vetoing a similar bill in December, with the main objections being a helmet requirement and different definition needed for Class 3 bikes. Cuomo's bill also gives local governments the right to establish additional regulations, including a lower maximum speed and banning e-bikes and e-scooters completely.

PeopleForBikes, which has worked to get e-bikes legalized in the state for six years, proposed changes to Cuomo's bill without getting most approved, said Morgan Lommele, PeopleForBikes director of state and local policy. She said it will introduce a standalone bill to "fix a few items this session. There's support for that within the legislatures," she said.

Relevant to the bike industry, Lommele detailed the pros of New York's e-bike law:

  • Defines Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes consistent with industry standards.
  • E-bikes have the same rights and duties as pedal-bike riders, and e-bikes are excluded from the definition of motor vehicle.
  • E-bikes can be ridden on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less, including bike lanes, and e-bikes might be able to ride on some bike paths that are connected with or adjacent to roads.
  • E-bike riders may carry passengers.

Cons, according to Lommele:

  • Defines Class 3 e-bikes inconsistent with industry standards, and Class 3 e-bikes with a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph would still be illegal.
  • The minimum user age is 16.
  • E-bikes can't be ridden on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less, and bike path rules are confusing (this is what PFB will seek clarity around).
  • Cities and towns have extensive local authority, including ability to prohibit e-bikes or require helmets and reflective clothing.
  • E-bike riders must ride single file (pedal bikes may ride two abreast).

New York will define Class 3 bikes as those with a throttle-activated motor (and allowed only in New York City) with a maximum speed of 25 mph before turning off. Helmets are required for anyone riding a Class 3 e-bike and for those ages 16-18 riding e-scooters and Class 1 and 2 e-bikes.

PeopleForBikes and Bicycle Product Suppliers Association developed the three-motor classification standard in 2014. It defines Class 3 bikes as those providing assistance only when pedaling and turning off when reaching 28 mph, and Class 2 bikes as those with a throttle-activated motor turning off when reaching 20 mph.

Before the e-bike bill passed, only Class 1 pedal-assist e-bikes with a maximum speed of 20 mph were allowed in New York City.

When e-bikes are legalized, suppliers say e-bike sales double or triple at the retail level, according to PeopleForBikes.

"It makes sense," Lommele told BRAIN in February. "If you walk into a store and you're uncertain if it's a bike or a motorcycle, and the laws are uncertain and you ask the shop guys, 'Where can I ride this thing?' three's really no clear answer, and that can impede the sale. Imagine trying to buy a car and not knowing if it was legal on every street?"

Bike Tarrytown, a bicycle advocacy group, said the new law makes e-bikes "practically illegal outside of New York City" and agrees with PeopleForBikes' criticisms.

Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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