The VanMoof V E-Bike Can Go 31 MPH. It Shouldn't.

E-bikes should be bikes with a boost, and 20 is plenty.

Van Moof V

Van Moof 

In Europe, e-bikes that can be ridden in bike lanes without licensing are limited to 15 mph. In the U.S., where there are rules, Class 1 and II pedelecs are limited to 20 mph and Class III to 28 mph. Now Van Moof is joining BMW in trying to push the rules with their new Van Moof V, which can go 31 mph, or twice the European limit.

Ties Carlier, Co-Founder of VanMoof, doesn't like the Euro limit and thinks it is too slow. This bike is a sort of in-your-face challenge to the regulations.

"We’re calling for policies designed around people, rethinking how public spaces can be used if not occupied by cars. I am getting very excited thinking about what a city could look like in the near future, and we are very proud to be part of the change by building the right tools for the transition.”
Van Moof V

Van Moof

Carlier explained in an earlier post why "it's time to update Europe's outdated e-bike speed limits," which class any vehicle going over 15 mph (25 km/hr) to be a moped, which is subject to different rules. He thinks this is limiting the uptake of e-bikes.

"Lower average speed is already seen as a limitation by many people when considering that change. A 25km/h limit means it is harder for e-bikes to compete with cars, especially for those with commutes of more than 10km. And these are the areas where e-bikes can make the biggest impact on quality of life."

Carlier describes what e-bikes were like when the rules were written in the '90s: "The bikes themselves were clunky and the technology rudimentary. A heavy battery pack retrofitted onto the back of an even heavier modified bike. At the time they were used mostly by elderly people as an assistive mobility device." Now he thinks they have evolved, and are "a high tech, mass appeal mobility option, especially for those living in cities with a commute problem to solve."

But many cities with a commute problem are going in the other direction. This goes against the trend to lower speed limits. In a world where entire cities are saying "twenty is plenty" and dropping speed limits, why should a bike go 30 mph? Urbanists agree:

The problem is that e-bikes are supposed to be bikes and play nicely with regular bikes. This is why I have always thought the U.S. 20 mph standard was probably too high and that the Euro standard was just fine although I will admit that my Gazelle goes 20 mph and I have become comfortable with it, and if I am in a pack of slower people on bikes I go more slowly.

Higher speeds are also more dangerous for everyone. A 30 mph limit is going to increase the number of people walking who get hit because there is that much less time to stop and it takes a longer distance. It will increase the seriousness of injuries to both the person walking and cycling. It is just going to raise the level of tensions and could damage the acceptance of e-bikes as transportation and attract more regulations, not less. As a commenter noted in my post on the BMW bike:

"Here in Denmark we have a lot of bike lanes with mixed users. Mostly adult males and females, some old old folks and some kids too. Even going 15 mph on the e-bike weighting some 40 pounds with rider of 160 pounds demands a lot of attention in case of crash. I should add that on some lanes during rush hours you can ride with a hundred or so bikers in confined space. Bikes going above 30 mph belong to car lanes."
VanMoof V

Van Moof

Carlier thinks the current regulations are causing people to drive instead of bike. In their VanMoof V introduction, they write about e-bikes that can go faster:

"Now more than ever, VanMoof co-founders Ties and Taco Carlier, are calling on lawmakers and city governments to urgently update e-bike regulations to advance the further adoption of this category. During the development of the VanMoof V, VanMoof intends to work with city governments to explore solutions from geofencing to revised speed regulations."

BMW also proposed geofencing to ensure that the bikes traveled at appropriate speeds. It's a wonderful idea; I wish geofencing was applied to every car. But it is not fine-grained enough to distinguish between a bike lane and a car lane.

Van Moof V from rear

Van Moof

Ties and Taco Carlier know their e-bikes, and they know their market. No doubt there is a big market for an e-bike that makes all those whooshy lines when it goes by. I can only speak from personal experience of a few short years as an older rider of e-bikes in a different milieu, so I asked Chris Bruntlett of Modacity, who moved from Canada to the Netherlands and who with Melissa Bruntlett, "strive to communicate the benefits of sustainable transport and inspire happier, healthier, more human-scale cities." He responded:

"With this announcement, it's clear VanMoof are now thinking far beyond the Netherlands market. There is a very serious movement here to restrict all traffic (including bikes) within built-up areas to 30 km/h, which could become a reality in the next few years. As it stands, electric bikes capable of exceeding 25 km/h are considered a different class of vehicle: a "speed pedelec". With that classification comes additional regulatory requirements, including licensing (they must display a plate), insurance, helmet mandates, and an inability to use the segregated cycling infrastructure. For that reason, they remain fairly niche on the streets, with the vast majority of e-bikes sold being the 25 km/h pedal-assist kind. Every jurisdiction around the world will regulate differently, but I would suggest the Dutch approach is a good place to start; as the most balanced and safe."

I remain convinced that you don't want people riding bikes of radically different speeds and powers in the same lanes, and if you want to expand the e-bike market, then people, both riders of e-bikes and everyone around them have to feel comfortable and safe. I certainly concur with Chris.

Perhaps the Euro limit of 15 mph for e-bikes is too low. But twenty is plenty.