Electric bikes, or e-bikes, allow people to enjoy the outdoors even if they can’t pedal up large hills or cycle long distances. The motorized bikes’ popularity also creates new challenges for municipal law enforcement agencies.
Most problems involve riders traveling at unsafe speeds or using e-bikes that reach speeds faster than are allowed on trails or bike paths.
Marquette, Mich., has dealt with both issues, especially on trails used by multiple types of users such as cyclists, walkers and dog walkers, said Chief Ryan Grim of the Marquette Police Department. Located on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the community has miles of scenic bike paths that attract large numbers of cyclists, including locals and visitors from out of town.
Complaints about speeding e-bike riders have grown more common the past couple of years, Grim said. Marquette’s pathways also allow only Class 1 e-bikes, and police have received some reports of riders using Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes on them.
Class 1 e-bikes provide motorized assistance when the rider is pedaling, but only until the rider reaches 20 mph. Class 2 e-bikes offer pedal assistance up to 20 mph but also allow the rider to use a throttle that powers the bike without the rider pedaling. Class 3 e-bikes provide motorized assistance only while the rider pedals, but the motor continues assistance until the bike reaches 28 mph.
Marquette police have had success reducing e-bike and other problems through use of a bike patrol.
“A lot of times, just being out there, my officers are kind of visible and more of a presence,” Grim noted, noting bike patrol officers can go places police cruisers can’t travel. The officers, who have ridden e-bikes since 2017, don’t write a lot of tickets for bicycle or e-bike violations. “It’s more of an educational tool,” he added.
The department tries to make out-of-town visitors aware of local cycling regulations through the department’s Facebook page and bike patrol.
“We have a pretty good-size following on our Facebook page,” Grim said. “We hope that people see messages there. Then we also have the (bike) patrol. … A lot of times people from out of town will stop us and talk to us because they’re not used to seeing police on e-bikes. It’s one of the ways we can get out into the public and be a little more interactive.”
Marquette doesn’t have speed limits on its bike paths, but the community is looking at possible options.
For now, “basically, we just remind people to ride at a safe and prudent speed and not necessarily a miles-per-hour limit,” Grim said.
In the town of Greenwich, Conn., the police department posted an announcement on its Facebook page this past August urging parents to review safety rules with children following an increase in the number of youngsters operating e-bikes, motor-driven cycles and electric foot scooters on town roads. The announcement reminded parents that Connecticut law prevents children ages 15 and younger from riding Class 3 e-bikes on a public road. Children ages 15 and younger also must wear helmets while riding Class 1 or Class 2 e-bikes.
During a phone interview, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo offered this advice to other communities regarding e-bikes: “I think they are terrific as far as the environment goes, and there is an exercise component to them. But because of the increased speeds that they’re able to do, just make sure that there are some regulations in place and that there’s enough education for the people out there to know that, with the convenience that they bring to everybody’s lives, there’s also added responsibility.”
Other communities regulate both e-bike riders’ speed and the class of e-bike they can ride in certain areas.
The city of Hot Springs, Ark., for example, limits e-bike use in parks and on trails to Class 1 e-bikes and to top speeds of 20 mph. Ordinances in Park City, Utah, outlaw use of e-bikes on single-track trails and natural-surface trails less than 5 feet wide. The city allows Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on multiuse trails and soft-surface trails more than 5 feet wide, but riders must limit their speed to 15 mph on multiuse trails. Class 3 e-bikes can be ridden only on roadways.
In Hermosa Beach, Calif., city regulations restrict riders on e-bikes, scooters and skateboards from traveling faster than 8 mph on The Strand, a popular pathway along the beachfront. E-bike riders also can’t use motorized assistance on The Strand and must walk their bikes through a congested section of the pathway.
To ensure safety, the Hermosa Beach Police Department has set up operations to catch and issue citations to e-bike riders and others who violate the safety regulations. Hermosa Beach Police also have worked closely with the local school district and other partners on a public awareness campaign to educate students about e-bike rules and safety. With e-bike use likely to continue growing in the future, regulations and public education will remain important tools municipalities can use to ensure safety for e-bike riders and people around them.