Simon Cowell Did Not Fall Off an E-Bike

There is a difference between a bike and a motorcycle.

There is a difference between a bike and a motorcycle
There is a difference between a bike and a motorcycle.

 Getty Images

Stop the presses, here's a big issue: The safety of e-bikes splashed all over the front pages after someone famous, namely Simon Cowell, was injured in a fall. Serious and concerning questions are raised by ABC:

ABC news
ABC News.  Screen Capture

On USA Today, they decide to turn Cowell's fall into a teaching moment, and promise to tell all about e-bikes:

USA today
USA Todday.  Screen capture

There is only one problem with both of these headlines and stories: Simon Cowell wasn't riding an e-bike. He was riding a Swind EB-01. which is a very different thing – it is an electric motorcycle. Let's go back to first principles here. This is the USA Today's expert explanation:

So what exactly is an e-bike? And how does it differ from a standard bicycle or motorcycle? While an electric bicycle may look like a typical one, an e-bike has an electric motor to help riders move along with less pedaling effort, which is helpful for rocky or uphill rides. 

The vehicle that Cowell was riding does not look like a typical bike. Let me explain the difference with some other famous people in the photo at the start of the post.

On the right, we have Humphrey Bogart on a bicycle. It has a lightweight frame and is driven by pedals and goes about 15 miles per hour if you push it. On the left, we have Marlon Brando on a motorcycle. It has a huge motor and can go 100 miles per hour. Motorcycles are known to be extremely dangerous.

E-bike rules
E-bike rules.  California Vehicle Code

E-bikes are regulated in most of the United States, and fall into three classes; most are Class 1, have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour and a maximum engine power of 750 watts. They look like the bike Humphrey Bogart is riding, but with a little motor and a little battery. In Europe, where Cowell's electric motorcycle comes from, the limit is 15.5 miles per hour (20 km/hr) and 250 Watts, which I consider to be more than enough but American readers disagree.

Read the Manual

Swind EB-01
Swind EB-01.  Swind

The Swind EB-01 that Cowell was riding has a bigger motor. "The beating heart of this beast is an electrical motor with 15kW of power." that is 20 times the maximum allowed for e-bikes in North America, 60 times the limit in Europe. It has been called "the fastest bike on earth"– It can do 80 miles per hour, or four times the Class 1 or 2 limit in North America, five times the Euro standard. Made in the UK, the Swind website notes that it isn't even legal there:

We want to point out that the use of EB-01 isn´t allowed on UK public roads, because this electric bicycle exceeds the legal speed limit of 15.5mph and it has more than 250W of power for an electric bicycle allowed on UK public roads. It is only allowed to be used on private, closed areas, sporting activities or on designated routes.

According to the usually reliable Daily Mail, Cowell was "'surprised by the power' of the bike and knew immediately that he 'was in trouble'." After his surgery, Cowell tweeted: "Some good advice... If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time."

Let me reiterate: This is not a bike. It is a motorcycle. As Michelle Lewis of Electrek notes, "anyone who says this is an e-bike accident and not a motorcycle accident didn’t read the manual either."

Cowell fell off the bike because he did an unintentional wheelie, which could happen because it is so powerful. But as Carlton Reid notes, that is hard to do on an e-bike. He quotes the UK Bicycle Association:

The Bicycle Association, on behalf of the U.K. cycling industry, would stress that what are usually referred to as e-bikes for sale in U.K. cycle shops have almost nothing in common in technical or safety terms with the electric motorbike which was ridden by Simon Cowell at the time of his [incident].” The organization adds: “There is very little risk of any electric bike bought in the U.K. causing an unintentional wheelie.”

We Will Be Hearing About This for Years

Forbes Expert
Forbes Expert. Forbes screenshot

Even this "expert" professional on Forbes conflates e-bikes with electric motorcycles.

I know that e-bikes are relatively new to North America, but these journalists are doing the e-bike industry a huge disservice. For the next 10 years we are going to hear that e-bikes are dangerous, "look what happened to Simon Cowell." It's just nuts.


Much of the discussion in comments focus on the question of whether this can be called an e-bike. Those saying that it can point out that 1) it has pedals, and 2) the manufacturer calls it an electric bicycle. To summarize the points:

  1. E-bike is a defined term, and this doesn't meet the legal definitions. In the UK where this is made, the term is "electric motorbike" which requires licenses, insurance like a motorcycle.
  2. There are lots of electric scooters with pedals (to meet legal requirements) and nobody calls them bikes, they call them electric scooters.
  3. You can put pedals on anything. As e-mobility expert Horace Dediu tweets: