Making Space for E-Bikes on the Streets and in the Law

Photo: Washington Bikes
Photo: Washington Bikes

Electric bicycles are growing in popularity. But the laws regulating e-bike use have to catch up. In many places there’s ambiguity about the types of e-bikes that are allowed, and where people can ride them.

An extreme case is New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD are exploiting confusing laws to enforce an all-out ban on e-bike operation, mainly targeting immigrant delivery workers.

In Washington state, advocates are working with state legislators to clarify the rules for e-bike operation on streets and trails. Some e-bikes are more powerful than others, and move too fast for bike lanes shared with slower cyclists. But overall, the goal of the advocacy group Washington Bikes has been to improve access to a healthy, low-emissions way to get around. Here’s the framework of the legislation, which replicates e-bike rules that other states have enacted:

EbikesTable

Washington Bikes‘ Alex Alston explains why the organization is campaigning for this bill:

An 85-year-old with diabetes; a woman who suffered a stroke; a young family living car-free. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the growing availability and improved technology of electric-assist bicycles. Now, Washington Bikes is leading efforts in Olympia to ensure people like them will be able to use their e-bikes on trails and on-street bike lanes.

The e-bike industry has taken off in recent years, with e-bike sales up more than 450% since 2013, according to The NPD Group. As the e-bike industry has been fast to innovate and grow, current state law pertaining to e-bikes is outdated. SB 6434/HB 2782 will update Washington state e-bike laws to national standards and provide certainty for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. Arkansas, California, Colorado and others have already implemented this legislative update.

This legislation will ensure e-bike users can ride their bikes in safe and connected places. E-bikes are important for older adults, family biking, people with disabilities and people who want to ride, but may feel intimidated by a traditional bike. By flattening hills and allowing for ease of pedaling, e-bikes increase accessibility to getting around by bicycle and the health benefits that come with!

More recommended reading today: According to Sky News, a top police official in the UK says motorists should be fined for exceeding the speed limit by 1 mph. And Seattle Transit Blog discusses how to make the region’s suburbs more walkable and transit-oriented as they prepare for the arrival of light rail.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Unfortunately it looks like the 20 MPH limit is not even being discussed. A 15 MPH assist limit would fit existing infrastructure much more smoothly. Yes, a few existing cyclists exceed that speed now but the impact is limited by the power needed to accelerate to and sustain that speed.

    The same arguments for lower speed limits for urban driving apply here, in that unsafe and unrealistic top speeds move product but degrade the commons without really affecting individual travel times. Note that the comparable limit in Europe seems to be 25 KPH (15 MPH).

  • Altered Beast

    holy shit. some dude was going 22mph and almost hit me on his ebike then almost got killed by a car when he ran a red light all the while dangling his feet. I’m sorry but we need to ban the ebikes. It sounds good in theory like communism but in practice it’s a nightmare.only pedal bikes and if we have to have ebikes we should set the speed limit to 12mph.

  • Asher Of LA

    E-bikes need bikeshare to maximize their promise.

    For one, if you already own a car and a bicycle, spending a couple grand on an e-bike can seem like an extravagant choice. And money aside, you may only want to use an e-bike for one leg of a trip, or bike theft may be a problem.

    Also, having e-bikes shared will make them much easier to regulate. You could have shared bikes cap speeds in certain areas, or not operate at all. Much of the lawlessness around driving comes from the fact that people own and are thus wedded to their multi-thousand dollar vehicle, and vote to privilege their choices.

    Adoption of new technology is muuuuch faster when you can pay $2 instead of $2000 to use it (JUMP bikeshare vs cost of a new e-bike). Which is what you want when it comes to e-bikes replacing cars and cabs.

    Of course, contra de Blasio, we should be careful to apply the same standards to cars as we do e-bikes.

  • Asher Of LA

    >The same arguments for lower speed limits for urban driving apply here

    Cars are much bigger and more protective of their inhabitants, so drivers have less ‘skin in the game.’ And people can and do speed in them, while e-bikes have hard speed caps. So it’s not the same. Your general point does have merit otherwise.

  • qrt145

    Why is it that people who are “almost hit” by bikes always seem to be equipped with highly accurate speed guns?

  • Elizabeth F

    Just set a speed limit and enforce it. Why are e-bikes the only vehicle where we feel their top speed must match the speed limit on some or another piece of infrastructure? E-bikes work just fine at 20mph on long, lightly used segments of NYC bike path.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    To me, this seems quite premature. You will note that although we have speed limits for cars, we don’t have speed limiters for cars. The highest posted speed limit in california is 70 MPH, but my car will do 155 MPH. It is not classified as a “type 3 car” and forbidden from driving in school zones.

    These restrictions on e-bikes force users to make an unfortunate choice: they can either buy a bike that can actually replace their car, a type 3 bike, _or_ they can choose one that can be used on bikeways but can’t actually replace their car because it doesn’t save enough time.

    You’re not supposed to exceed 15 MPH on mixed bike-ped trails and that is the relevant rule here. They shouldn’t divide the bikes into fast and slow categories.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s also really important for the bike advocacy community to remember that the point of an electric bike is to get drivers to use them, not to get bicyclists to use them!

  • Elizabeth F

    This barely counts as a story, in the sense that there is nothing new it is reporting on. But to correct a few points:

    1. The law is NOT confusing. NYC law is very clear that throttle-based e-bikes are illegal, and pedal-assist e-bikes are not. That distinction has routinely been held up in court. The only possible confusion is that NYC law allows pedal assist e-bikes, whereas NY State law currently bans all e-bikes. This is not the only place where NYC and NYS law differer: NYC has its own traffic laws that supercede NYS laws. That is why turn on red is illegal in NYC but not NYS; and why riding not-in-a-bike-lane is legal in NYC but not in NYS.

    2. DeBlasio indicated, at a meeting in December THAT WAS COVERED BY STREETSBLOG, that pedal-assist e-bikes would NOT be targeted in the current “crackdown,” which would be illegal police overreach in any case. So far, the NYPD crackdown photos I’ve seen show ZERO e-bikes that are clearly pedal-assist. Please somebody, find a pedal assist e-bike that was wrongly confiscated in this crackdown. Because so far we have no evidence this is happening.

    3. Existing throttle-based e-bikes can be converted to pedal assist simply by disabling or removing the throttle. A piece of duct tape, cutting the wire, a dab of epoxy, that’s really all it takes. Everyone with a throttle-based e-bike should be seriously considering that action.

    4. Advocates have tried FOR THREE YEARS to enact a three-class system of e-bikes in NY state. With no success, because there is a LOT of political will against it in NYC. Advocates are no longer trying that approach, since experience shows it is an obvious losing strategy. Advocates today are working on a bill that would legalize only pedal-assist e-bikes in NY State, bringing NY State to parity with existing NYC law. That bill is much more likely to succeed. Explaining the three-class system in Streetsblog, AGAIN, is unlikely to change anyone’s mind in New York.

    5. Please consider carefully why you would spend political capital campaigning for a 3-class e-bike bill, rather than pedal-assist only. Consider:

    a) Class 3 e-bike is basically a class B moped, but 2mph slower and not needing registration. You can already buy and register an electric class B mopeds if you like, it is cheap and easy. HOWEVER, they are not allowed to use NYC bicycle infrastructure (unless the motor is turned off and you pedal), although they are welcome to cross bridges in the vehicle lanes if you like. A class 1 e-bike or manual bike in the bike lane is a safer and more useful tool for many purposes in NYC. Which is why we see so few mopeds in NYC.

    b) Class 2 e-bikes have the same physical characteristics as class 1, except they are controlled with a throttle. They have the same weight, same top speed and same acceleration. So… why would ANYONE waste political capital on throttles, if the public clearly doesn’t like them? Just use class 1, it’s not a problem.

  • http://www.calbike.org/e_bikes

    I’ve used JUMP bikes in SF, and like them. They are powerful, but are limited to 20 mph, and they don’t go ANYWHERE unless you pedal. California Type 1. So far as I know, AB 1096 is working well in California and would be a good model for other states.

  • Elizabeth F

    28mph is a LOT faster than 20mph, in terms of kinetic energy and the damage it will do to you in a crash. Remember that kinetic energy is the SQUARE of the speed, so 28mph has 2x the kinetic energy as 20mph. That’s why most pedestrians survive crashes with cars a 20mph, but survivability falls off rapidly as speed increases beyond that.

    Wind resistance is also the SQUARE of the speed. So at 28mph on level ground, you will need 2x the power to keep going. If you were supplying 50% of the power required to maintain 20mph on a class 1 e-bike, you are now just supplying 25% of the power. At higher speeds, one must really question how useable the pedals really are.

    Fuel economy, and hence range, falls off sharply as you go faster. So at 28mph, you will need double the size battery to go the same distance. So everything must get bigger and heavier. The battery, the frame, the motor, the brakes, the wheels.

    Pretty soon you are riding a moped. Go buy an electric class B moped, and enjoy. See GenZe 2.0, it can be registered in NY State.

  • Elizabeth F

    The e-bike industry wants to sell as many e-bikes as they can. So they want AB 1096 and are pushing lobbying efforts in other states. But it is not likely to ever pass in NY State. NY is not CA.

    Still, give me NY any day over CA. CA claims to be progressive about bikes; but as soon as you try to use the bike to get anywhere in Silicon Valley or LA, you find yourself on a six-lane highway with no shoulder.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    #3 is not right. You can’t simply rip the throttle off a throttle-operated e-bike and get anything sensible. You’d just get a manual bike with an inoperable motor that weighs fifty pounds. You have to add a pedal torque sensor and the associated motor controller.

  • Please note that this is Streetsblog USA, not Streetsblog NYC. You are attacking an article that is of use to other places.

  • Elizabeth F

    Most e-bikes with throttles are also pedal assist. Importantly, that is true for the Arrow e-bike, the most common delivery e-bike in NYC, and central to all the drama. I depend on an Arrow e-bike, I disabled my throttle last March, and it works just fine.

  • Altered Beast

    umm because I bike everyday and I know my speed so when someone bikes against me I can gauge it? It’s like when you drive 50 and someone goes 60, you know it. Can you not feel this?

  • Elizabeth F

    Thank you, I had not realized that. As you might imagine, the situation in NYC is incredibly frustrating. Pedal-assist is legal but people think it isn’t. Politicians claim “e-bikes are illegal” when they are not really, and the law doesn’t even define “e-bike.” Most New Yorkers think e-bikes are only good for delivering Chinese takeout. There’s a lot of racism and classism too, centered on the restaurant delivery situation. “Advocates” routinely insist that the laws must be changed, and yet aren’t interested in trying to comply with existing laws (which isn’t very hard). Many/most of them in NYC don’t seem to realize that lobbying for a 3-class system has been a consistent failure in Albany, or how the e-bike industry is involved.

    And on it goes… This all makes it harder to have a rational conversation on e-bikes in New York. So far, Streetsblog has not had a particularly good record at setting the record straight, or advocating for realistic measures. I’m hoping that will change in the future.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    And my car burns a gallon or fuel per mile when it goes 155 MPH, but I never drive it that fast. Range management is my business, not yours. It happens that my bike (a Specialized Turbo) has the range I need (about 40 miles) and the speed I need, at a good weight: 49 pounds, light enough that I can still use the bike racks on trains and buses. It is bicycle-shaped, bicycle-sized, and should be considered “a bike”.

    I don’t think it’s relevant that the input-output ratio might be 1:3 or what. What’s relevant, and what makes a pedal-assist bike safe to operate is that it’s proportional and linear, so it can easily be ridden at low speeds. If you want to talk about an e-bike regulation I would actually get behind, it would be outlawing bikes with nonlinear controls, like buttons or sensors that just kick in the motor whenever the pedals turn.

  • Joshua Putnam

    Many shared-use paths don’t have any speed limits — Seattle has no speed limits on any of its regional bike trails, for example.

    This really reflects an intersection of three separate concerns:

    * How fast can the bike actually go?
    * What’s the safe design speed of the facility?
    * What’s the legal speed limit on the facility?

    At the moment, in Washington, those three don’t align at all. Cities are free to use design speeds as low as 10 mph (e.g., parts of the Westlake cycletrack), which is much slower than non-athletic adults on upright bikes, let alone 20 mph e-bikes that are currently legal under state law, or 28 mph e-bikes that are illegal in Washington but widely available. Meanwhile there’s no legal speed limit for any class of users.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Obviously the best outcome is if people just proceed at a sensible speed without any kind of laws. Is there evidence that people are out there riding e-bikes at excessive speeds on mixed trails with low design speeds? As you say, any bike will easily go 20 MPH on level ground, so …

  • Jeffrey Baker

    You ride an Arrow and you’re giving _me_ a hard time? That’s a bike with a 1000W motor that is not torque-porportional, it has a pedal speed sensor which is not the same thing! I actually think those half-baked chinese jobs should be outlawed. Sorry.

    My bike has a 250W motor and its assist is proportional to pedal torque. IMHO that’s a far safer configuration.

  • Joshua Putnam

    It’s not clear under state law that cities *can* “just set a speed limit and enforce it” on bicycle facilities. Seattle DOT has discussed this in explaining why there are no speed limits on Seattle’s trails.

    1. Bicycle facilities are “highways” as defined in state law.
    2. State law limits when and how cities can set speed limits lower than 25 mph on arterials and 20 mph on non-arterial highways.
    3. Taking current law strictly, cities can’t set speed limits lower than 20 mph on bicycle paths/trails without expensive engineering studies specific to the location of the lower speed limit.

    If you look at King County, it *posts* a 15 mph speed limit on trails, but it doesn’t actually have a 15 mph speed limit in county code. Instead, there’s this:

    “No person shall travel on a trail at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event, speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with others who are complying with the law and using reasonable care. Travel at speeds in excess of 15 miles per hour shall constitute in evidence a prima facie presumption that the person violated this section.”

    That’s not a rigidly-enforceable 15 mph speed limit. Riding 20 mph creates a presumption that you were riding unsafely, but you can rebut that by presenting the trail conditions, the number of other users, etc.

    That’s one reason King County simply bans *all* e-bikes on all the regional trails it manages.

  • Joshua Putnam

    Excellent question. Unfortunately, since bike trail crashes aren’t tracked like other vehicle crashes, there’s little objective evidence either way.

    Anecdotally, there are plenty of reckless e-bike commuters who pass in blind corners when human-powered riders are slowed going uphill. That’s probably already illegal under existing rules requiring safe and prudent speed, but “safe and prudent” isn’t nearly as clear-cut as a speed limit.

    Before there were speed limits on streets, motorists had the Basic Rule, “No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.”

    That rule sounds good in theory; in practice, people are lousy at judging risk, so numerical speed limits were added for motorists on streets.

    As going fast on a bicycle becomes easier, we’ll probably need actual speed limits for bicycle facilities, too. The proposed law at least requires speedometers on e-bikes, so that riders will be able to obey numerical speed limits when they follow in the future.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    In California we already have the 15 MPH limit for off-street bikeways that are shared with pedestrians. At the state level a class 3 e-bike is forbidden from such trails, although some local accommodations have been made, such as the Bay Trail in the vicinity of Sunnyvale and Mountain View, where the trail is an important commuter route and the local major employer has a huge fleet of type 3 e-bikes.

  • Elizabeth F

    The worst safety offenders I see in NYC are recreational cyclists in spandex.

  • Elizabeth F

    > That’s a bike with a 1000W motor

    Try 350W. Read the e-bike forums, and how it’s been panned for being weak. And no matter how big the motor is, top speed is still 20mph. A 250W mid-drive will generally perform better on hills.

    > it has a pedal speed sensor which is not the same thing

    I agree. But given the politics in NYC, you’ll be hard-pressed to base a law on such a technical splitting of hairs. People can (hopefully) grasp throttle vs. no throttle, and enforce it on the streets. Only e-bike nerds understand the difference between torque and cadence sensor.

    If torque sensor were required by law, then enforcement would need to shift to the bike shops (since there’s no good way to police that difference on the streets). So far, NYC has been completely ineffective at enforcing its ban on selling throttle-based e-bikes. The shops sell them with impunity, and see the occasional $1000 fine as the cost of doing business. Unless fundamental changes are made (eg criminal penalties), I don’t see how banning cadence sensor would make nay difference.

    BTW, I’m in the process of buying a 250W mid-drive cargo e-bike. It costs about 3x as much as the Arrow. Last week my brakes were stolen off my Arrow ($250), and I’m reluctant to park a multi-$1000 bike in Manhattan. But there are now decent mid-drive e-bikes for under $2000. In a perfect world I agree, it would be best, one way or another, if they became the go-to standard.

  • Arelsan

    Ah, so is it the feet dangling part that means e-bikes should be banned? If he was on a normal bike with his feet planted, would we also have to ban normal bikes? Or would it have been ok because he scared you and broke the law using pure muscle power?

  • You’re not supposed to exceed 15 MPH on mixed bike-ped trails and that is the relevant rule here. They shouldn’t divide the bikes into fast and slow categories.

    There are no speed limits on almost any trails and there’s really a question of if they can actually even be valid since trails generally aren’t defined as a “highway” and speed limits only apply on “highways”. Additionally, the design speed for Class I trails in CA is at least 20 MPH and is supposed to be 30 MPH in areas that allow mopeds. Most trails just ban mopeds.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I agree that the jurisprudence doesn’t exist to support the speed limit, but it is nevertheless the case that many jurisdictions have nothing better to do (apparently) than give speeding tickets to bicyclists.

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2016/04/this-bay-area-bike-trail-is-enforcing-the-speed-limit/477363/

    http://www.mountainview.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=14282

    etc.

  • As cities (gradually) lower speed limits to 20 mph on many streets, the Class 1/Type 1 20 mph speed matches that nicely. I can imagine that bikes going the same speed as cars would cause some people to dump their car and get an e-bike, re Jeffrey Baker’s comment below about getting drivers to switch.

  • Isaac B

    How can a police officer readily tell if a bicycle is an e-bike or not? And if a city decides to crack down on them, doesn’t that create opportunities for bad interactions between citizens and police? What happens when a cop stops someone they believe to be e-biking and the person pulled over gets distraught? Or if a cop thinks that the person is reaching for a weapon?

  • Ethan

    This article isn’t just about NYC, but nationally. “Existing infrastructure” isn’t the same in every city and every part of every city. 15 mph is 25% slower than 20 mph, and 40% slower than 25 mph. People mostly want to get to their destination quickly. In places where cars are averaging 25, slowing bikes down will keep some people driving.

  • Joe R.

    Which might be OK if the limit was something reasonably high which only very athletic cyclists might exceed. We should be aiming for ~30 mph design speeds on bike trails. That makes numerical speed limits pretty much moot for 99% of the trail users.

  • Joe R.

    You can get around the power issue with streamlining:

    http://velomobiles.ca/MilanSL-speed.html

    For example, with this velomobile model you only need 185 watts to maintain 60 km/h. You can’t streamline an upright bike this much but you could probably reduce the power requirements needed to maintain 28 mph. Right now to maintain 28 mph you need anywhere from perhaps 400 watts (racing bike, aero bars) to 800 watts (mountain bike). With delivery type e-bikes the figure is probably closer to the latter. With a streamlined front end and tailbox you might get that under 400 watts. For comparison purposes, an unstreamlined delivery-type e-bike probably needs 250 to 300 watts to maintain 20 mph.

    I personally think part of the future of e-bikes will be e-velomobiles. The 350 watt motor on your Arrow would, with proper gearing, be able to achieve perhaps 50 mph powering a Milan SL velomobile.

    I’m not really sure if just top speed should be a factor in deciding whether or not a very light vehicle like a e-bike needs to require some type of license to operate. After all, regular bikes can exceed the 28 mph class 3 speed with a strong rider (or a weaker rider on a downgrade). Velomobiles are considered bicycles for legal purposes, and yet with a strong rider they can exceed 50 mph.

    If people would just ride at a speed appropriate for conditions, regardless of the type of vehicle they’re using, all this obsession with top speeds would be moot.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree top speed shouldn’t be a factor. After all, regular bikes can achieve in excess of 60 mph on long, steep downgrades. I hit 65 mph once myself in NJ. The key is a light vehicle like a bike is generally harmless to motor vehicles regardless of top speed. It can harm pedestrians, but lots of streets don’t have all that many pedestrians. If need be, post and enforce speed limits in pedestrian-heavy areas but let bike-like vehicles run at any speed they’re capable of elsewhere. Basically, if it weighs under maybe 75 pounds, legally it should be considered a bicycle, whether it has a motor or not. Remember the weight limit alone is what will keep powered bikes from reaching crazy high top speeds. A 75 pound limit will probably mean anything with usable range won’t be able to maintain much over 30 mph for very long. That’s no faster than a strong cyclist with aero bars can go.

  • Joe R.

    Keep in mind because of the much lower mass of bicycles a good argument can be made for allowing them a higher legal speed than motor vehicles. The safety argument for slowing down bikes goes right out the window when you look at the crash data. A pedestrian-motor vehicle crash is generally considered highly survivable without serious injuries by the pedestrian if the motor vehicle is going 20 mph or less. In such a crash, due to the weight of the motor vehicle, the pedestrian suffers most of the change in momentum. In a bike-pedestrian crash, the change in momentum is about equal. This implies a bicycle hitting a pedestrian at 35 to 40 mph would cause similar injuries as a motor vehicle hitting them at 20 mph. Therefore, you can use this rationale to set bicycle speed limits perhaps 50% to 75% higher than motor vehicle speed limits. In practice though this is moot. Even a lowish 20 mph motor vehicle speed limit would have an “equivalent” bicycle speed limit of 30 to 35 mph. Other than on downgrades, few cyclists are going to reach these speeds anyway.

    Bottom line, I’m not seeing a good safety argument for a 15 mph, or even 20 mph, speed limit. Point of fact, the 28 mph top speed of class 3 e-bikes is still lower than speeds likely to cause anything more than minor injury if you look at the momentum change the pedestrian would suffer. We routinely let multi-ton motor vehicles tool through residential streets in this country at 40 or 50 mph, but then get all bent out of shape if a bike exceeds 15 or 20 mph.

  • Elizabeth F

    > How can a police officer readily tell if a bicycle is an e-bike or not?

    Most e-bikes are easy to spot, due to their battery, controller box and motor. Yes, there are stealth e-bike systems used to cheat in bicycle races. They are not a serious concern for the e-bike police; and they don’t have a big enough battery to be really useful anyway.

    The more serious problem will be getting NYC cops to tell the difference between class 1 and class 2/3 e-bikes.

    > And if a city decides to crack down on them, doesn’t that create opportunities for bad interactions between citizens and police?

    Do you really think NYPD cares?

  • Elizabeth F

    Regardless of speed limits, congestion makes e-bikes as fast or faster than cars for a large number of practical trips in and around NYC. That has not result in a run on e-bikes.

  • Elizabeth F

    He’s talking about CA. In NY, there is no speed limit on the trails, and I don’t see one coming any time soon. And 15mph is a very reasonable speed limit for the protected bike lanes. People who want to ride faster than that can always use the rest of the street.

  • Elizabeth F

    > I hit 105 km/h once myself in NJ.

    You are suicidal.

    You think you were only endangering your own life, since it was not much of a threat to cars. But what if you had encountered another cyclist (or many cyclists) on the way?

    > Remember the weight limit alone is what will keep powered bikes from reaching crazy high top speeds.

    Not true at all. Look around on YouTube, you can see tons of custom e-bikes, not so different from any other e-bike, going up to 75mph. See here how that can be used for a death wish in Taiwan:

    As for range… my e-bike has a range of ~50 miles. If I tripled the energy consumption, it would still have a range of 15 miles, which is quite usable. Other e-bikes have bigger batteries still.

    Sorry, you can’t rely on physics to ensure that people don’t build crazy suicidal e-bikes.

  • Joe R.

    Keep in mind this was on a road with a 50 or 55 mph speed limit, visibility as far as the eye could see, and there was literally nothing in front of me. That was a speed record, nothing more. It was also a product of youthful bravado. I’ve only gone over 60 mph one, possible two, other times. One was descending the Queensboro Bridge with a strong tail wind in the mid 1980s (in the car lanes). I hit 61 mph, and that was more or less traffic speed. The other was when I accidentally got on a highway. I was lucky to be behind a large van which accelerated slowly enough so I could draft it. I saw 58 mph on the speedo but may have gone a little faster later on. I was more concerned with keeping my eyes on the road to stay alive than with how fast I was going.

    That said, I rarely go over 40 or 45, and most days perhaps only do one or two spurts to 30 to 35 mph. The poor condition of NYC streets is one reason I’ve been restraining myself. The second reason is my present ride has a carbon fork. I don’t trust them to fail gracefully like metal. If the fork fails at less than 35 or 40 mph, I have a reasonably good chance of coming out with only minor injuries (i.e. the pros fall all the time at speeds like this, usually getting just bad road rash). At 50 or 60 I’m pretty likely to be seriously hurt, perhaps killed.

    As for that 75 mph crotch rocket in the video, at least it has decent brakes. However, I’m not sure I’d ever trust my life on any bicycle at 75 mph. Frankly, 65 mph scared the shit out of me. I wouldn’t do those speeds again except in something designed for it, like a velomobile with a strong roll cage.

    Anyway, any e-bike which could hit 75 mph is going to dramatically reduce its range hitting that speed even once. It probably takes upwards of 20kW just to maintain 75 mph.

  • Joe R.

    Honestly, from what I’ve seen, anything above 15 mph on the Manhattan protected bike lanes is suicidal. Between the poor pavement, pedestrians, food carts, delivery trucks unloading, and cars turning those lanes aren’t designed for high-speed travel. As for using the rest of the street, that’s technically legal but the NYPD still gives tickets for it.

  • Frank Kotter

    I somehow missed your post to ban all automobiles based on your personal experiences. Can you point me to it?

  • Stephen Simac

    12 mph depending on tire size and bike weight is actually the most efficient speed for pedaled two wheelers (not zero, but the most calorically efficient form of transportation on the planet, with the possible exception of the undulation of jellyfish). At that speed 90% of resistance is from road surface, above that wind resistance rises sharply, until 18mph when it reaches 90%. So a fully faired human powered transit system on a monorail, (gyroscopically balanced) would easily reach highway speeds with an electric assist for hills or overpasses. The CycleTrain! will be the most efficient, affordable, healthy mass transit in some utopia, somewhere.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, that would work beautifully. I’ve studied the problem of human-powered vehicles for a long time. It’s actually possible to dramatically reduce aero drag with fairings. If I remember the numbers correctly, the best HPVs only need about 1 HP to maintain 80 mph. Of course, this is well beyond what even the strongest humans can put out continually, but it gives us some idea of how much drag is aero and how much is tire drag. The total drag at 80 mph for these vehicles is about 5 pounds. If we assume a Crr of 0.005 and a total weight of 200 pounds then the aero drag is 4 pounds or so. Now if we put this on a monorail with steel wheels on steel rails, the rolling drag is reduced to essentially zero (i.e. 0.1 to 0.2 pounds). You still have the aero drag but that’s proportional to speed squared. If we reduce speed to 60 mph, the aero drag is about 2.25 pounds. Total drag is maybe 2.4 pounds. 2.4 pounds force @ 60 mph equals 0.4 HP, about what the strongest cyclists can maintain continually. The numbers at 50 mph would be ~0.25 HP (190 watts). A lot of cyclists can put out this much power for 15 minutes to an hour but let’s see what happens at even lower speeds. At 40 mph you only need ~90 watts to maintain speed. Nearly everyone can manage that, even a child. So this concept can in practice result in human-powered transportation with cruising speeds of 40 to 60 mph. With a little power assist, you can up that to perhaps 60 mph for everyone. The monorail means the vehicles are very safe, and hence no need for all sorts of crash protection which a road vehicle capable of similar speeds might need.

    If we put these in a train, the numbers would look better, perhaps even 80 mph cruising on the level, and some power assist to maintain speed on hills. Besides that, it would be lots of fun to ride.

  • thielges

    Sorry to hear you had a bad experience pedaling around Silicon Valley. Rest assured that there are better options. I criss-cross SV every week and never end up on highways with no shoulders, probably because I’m familiar with the routing options. SV is not yet a bicycling utopia. Though Mother Nature bestowed the area with a mild climate and flat terrain there is plenty left to be improved. One of the things we need to do better is to make it easier for newcomers to find the existing good routes.

  • John French

    Well… there is a shoulder… but they call it a “bike lane” and paint bike lane symbols on it even though it’s barely 3′ wide, has a seam down the middle between asphalt and concrete, and is full of storm drains and debris. No buffer between it and the 45mph+ travel lanes. Dumps you out into mixing zones at every cross street, often without so much as green paint or a sign to remind motorists that they must SAFELY MERGE with bike traffic.

  • Stephen Simac

    In a book about the history of cycling, there was a recreational pedaled train built or proposed, (saw it a few decades ago) I think it was in Chicago. On YouTube some Oregonists rigged up a method for cycling on railroad tracks, were moving at 50-60 mph (scary). The technology exists, instead we (Marin and Sonoma county) get an overpriced SMART train. I proposed a Cycletrain! instead in the local letters to editors before the bi county vote to raise the sales tax to fund this diesel train, even got a friend to draw a concept image, but imagination lacking among engineers and politicians. I also proposed one to a Tri-Rail board member/county commissioner from downtown Ft. Lauderdale to Broward College out west (to replace the bike path I’d lobbied the county for in 1977 that got paved over by I-585). She sent it to the area bicycle “coordinator” (Florida DOT), but he never responded. (most are useless-sorry if you’re one). Maybe in some leapfrogging shithole country they will do it..
    I think they could be individual pods, that hook up at stations to form pelotons for more power and less wind resistance.

  • Stephen Simac

    Have you seen the ELF? a more upright velomobile with electric motor assist, designed for comfort and utility, and a tadpole tricycle so more stable. Something like my concept for the New Improved SafetyCycle! (still in pipecleaner design phase). The major reasons people leave their bicycle in the garage, or out in the back yard instead of riding are fear of collisions with motor vehicle (reasonable, but far less likely than other crash causes), comfort=weather, hills, headwinds, seat and hands, and the need to carry stuff. These will solve those obstacles.

  • Stephen Simac

    I’ve seen idiots on e-bikes with a beer in one hand and flipflops on their feet, zooming along at 20mph. I know from experience that road rash at that speed is extremely painful. Head injuries probably fatal at that velocity. Tthey require training and some kind of insurance, because the predictable dangers will possibly stifle what could be a velorution in transportation.

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