Denmark Allows Fast and Heavy "Speed Pedelecs" in the Bike Lanes. What Were They Thinking?

CC BY 2.0. Michelin Reifenwerke AG & Co. KGaA via Wikipedia

We always write "Learn from Denmark." We take it back.

For as long as this TreeHugger has been writing about e-bikes, there has been one consistent theme: Learn from Europe. Put real limits on the speed and the power. If e-bikes are going to play nice with regular bikes they can’t be bigger and faster and scarier. There are good reasons why the EU standard has 250 watt maximum motors that cut out at 25 km/hr (15.5 mph) and require you crank the pedals instead of flicking the throttle. Be like Denmark.

So what has Denmark gone and done? According to Jesper Berggreen of Clean Technica, they have changed the rules to allow “Speed Pedelecs” which can go up to 45 km/h (28 mph). It seems everyone is against it. According to Berggreen,

The Danish National Police, The Council for Safer Traffic, The Accident Investigation Board Denmark, The Danish Cyclists’ Federation, and The Danish Pedestrian Federation, have warned that with higher speeds more injuries will follow. This should come as no surprise, since it’s basic physics. So, obviously, the design of the bike lanes should also be taken into consideration, but that’s expensive and hence not mentioned in the law.

I asked the bike experts at Copenhagenize what they thought of this and they responded in a tweet:

So why did they do it? “Supposedly, to get more people to choose a small electric vehicle as opposed to a large fossil fuel burning car.” Berggreen, who has a long ride to work, uses a Speed Pedelec, but when he gets into the city he makes an active choice to slow down. Others will not. In an earlier post, Berggreen quotes the director of The Danish Cyclists’ Federation, Klaus Bondam:

“It is thoughtless, irresponsible, and extremely dangerous to let [Speed Pedelecs] use the bike paths. It will pose a huge security risk. If this happens, it will cost lives and many will stop cycling due to increased risk of accidents on the bike paths.

Bike helmet in Copenhagen

Even in Copenhagen, some people wear bike helmets; it's a choice/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

That is my emphasis above, because I believe that to some, getting people to stop cycling is a feature, not a bug. As Mikael Colville-Andersen notes regarding the use of bike helmets, inSomething Rotten in the State of Denmark, just as in North America, groups like the Danish car lobbies and the Danish Safety Road Council are trying to scare people off bikes. “The Safety Nannies started their bike helmet promotion in the early 1990s in Denmark. Since then, cycling levels have continued to fall, which is what we have seen in many regions around the world.” If you drive and don’t like bikes, it makes sense to make cycling seem like the scariest and most dangerous thing you can do. It has worked with helmets.

bikes in copenhagen

slow bikes, cargo bikes, baby bikes, all kinds of bikes/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I have ridden bikes in Copenhagen bike lanes many times. If I make the mistake of going out in rush hour, I am sometimes panic-stricken with how close other cyclists are and how fast they are going and how many of them there are. Obviously people who live there are used to it, but imagine throwing a big bike capable of going so fast into that mix; many people, especially older riders like me, might well be scared right off cycling.

Berggeen thinks that there might be some benefits: “Let’s hope that this spells the end of the stinking, noisy, and extremely polluting 2-stroke mopeds we have in abundance in this country.” But even as a rider of a Speed Pedelec, he thinks it is a bad idea, mixing such fast and heavy bikes in the bike lanes.

scooter in the bike lane

Scooter in the bike lane. He also had a really loud radio./CC BY 2.0

Just as I plead all the time to ban high powered bikes and scooters that terrorize people in bike lanes where I live in Toronto, I will plead now for cities not to be like Denmark. This is nuts.