E-Bikes Have Potential, But Limited By NYS Law

To The Reader’s Forum:

Have you ever ridden an electric-assisted bicycle, or e-bike? E-bikes look and function like traditional bicycles. Each bike has a small, silent electric motor that provides a boost upon request, but only while the operator is pedaling. The motor shuts off if the bike reaches 20 mph, or when the operator stops pedaling.

I tried out an e-bike last week, and it was great! E-bikes are a terrific option for anyone who would like to ride a bicycle for transportation, recreation, or fitness but is limited by arthritis or other conditions that make it painful to pedal a bicycle for long distances or up our local hills.

Low-speed pedal-assist e-bikes are a sustainable transportation option. Studies show that they provide important health and exercise benefits, especially for people who were previously sedentary. E-bikes sales are the fastest growing sector of the bike industry and the bikes are beloved by aging baby boomers who want to stay active.

E-bikes are currently in a grey area of NYS law. They are defined in federal law, so the bikes are legal to sell, but not yet defined nor regulated in state law. New York City’s Department of Transportation just concluded a rulemaking process that will allow low-speed pedal-assist e-bikes to be used on NYC streets. This is a step forward for New York City where food delivery workers depend on e-bikes to make a living, and where NYC’s bikeshare system, Citibike and new dockless bikeshare companies are planning to incorporate low-speed pedal-assist e-bikes into their fleets as early as this summer — enhancing transportation networks in the city for more users.

People with disabilities, adults trying to become active again, folks who can’t afford a vehicle but need a transportation option that gets them to work, and those who are young-at-heart but old-in-the-knees: all would benefit from legislation that accepts and regulates e-bikes to allow their safe use.

It’s time for e-bikes to be defined and regulated across the rest of New York State. There are pending bills in the state legislature that would do just that, including A7791B/S6029B which closely aligns with the NYC rule. The NYS legislature should act this year so the rest of our state isn’t left behind.


Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller

New York Bicycling Coalition board member