CABO Opposes AB 2173 redefining some Electric Bikes.
The California Association of Bicycling Organizations, the association of California’s bicycle clubs, respectfully continues to oppose AB 2173. The April 22 amendment to increase the gross brake horsepower of a gas-powered motorized bicycle (or moped) defined in Vehicle Code §406(a) from 2 to 4 is only incidental to the bill’s primary purpose. The expected amendment to delete Section 2, which would currently permit low-speed electric bicycles on all bicycle paths and equestrian, hiking, or recreational trails, unless prohibited by local ordinance, would, however, remove one of our major concerns.
Electric bikes tend to attract an older demographic who are looking for recreation or local transportation, and a modicum of exercise, without excessive physical effort. They can help to expand the constituency for bicycle travel, and we would like to encourage their use. But even the definition that would remain in AB 2173 after the amendments raises a number of questions.
Under existing law, the type of motorized bicycle defined in §406(b) must have a power output of 1,000 watts or less, and must not be able to propel the bicycle faster than 20 mph on “ground level,” either by itself or with human-powered assistance. §24016 specifies that operators must be 16 years of age or older, must wear a helmet, and are exempt from insurance, driver license, and license plate requirements. That section also includes additional equipment requirements.
AB 2173 renames this device a “low-speed electric bicycle.” The power output is reduced from 1,000 watts to 750 watts (1 HP). The motor must now be incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour “on a paved level surface, when powered solely by a motor when ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds.” As in current law, the motor must be incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power is used to propel the device faster than 20 miles per hour. The weight would be limited to 80 pounds.
We would like to understand why this is the best definition. Federal law (23 U.S.C. §217(j)(2)) defines “electric bicycle” as “any bicycle or tricycle with a low-powered electric motor weighing under 100 pounds, with a top motor-powered speed not in excess of 20 miles per hour”—although that’s only for purposes of prohibiting them from federal-aid trails and pedestrian walkways, except where state or local regulations permit. Are different definitions in use in other jurisdictions? Consistency would be desirable.
Can a top speed of 20 mph “when powered solely by a motor when ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds” be verified empirically, either by the manufacturer or by a police officer? It seems unnecessarily complicated. What about aftermarket devices—how do they fit in?
Finally, the new definition replaces the old one., Where does this leave electric motorized bicycles that meet the old definition, but not the new low-speed one? (I understand that such devices do exist.) Do they now become the first type of moped, and how does this change the age, helmet, insurance, driver license, license plate, and equipment requirements currently applicable to them under §24016 (which the bill would transfer to the newly defined low-speed electric bicycle)? Or would they legally be some other type of device?
We would be glad to continue working on these questions, but enacting even the definitional changes prematurely could make operational regulations harder to agree on later on.