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7 January, 2012

Australian e-bike laws are out of step with the rest of the world, but that may soon change. Emma Clark investigates.

E-bikes are classified legally as bikes if they have the ability to be pedalled (unlike a scooter) and have a maximum power output of 200 watts. The motor supplying the power doesn’t have to be electric, and throttle-only power is allowed, meaning you can stop pedalling and use the bike’s motor as the sole means of propulsion.

Under the current legislation, bikes with a power output above 200 watts are classified as a motorbike, so they must be registered and a license is required to ride them.

About two years ago, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority headed a proposal by various state and independent bike and transport groups, which was submitted to the Australian Transport Council, the association of the Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic ministers. The submission investigated the legislation surrounding e-bikes, with the intention of bringing the laws in line with the European standard.

The legislative change we are most likely to see will increase the allowed motor output to 250 watts, which will bring the laws in line with Europe, Japan and, as of June this year, China.

The submission also calls for e-bikes to be operated in power-assist mode only, so you won’t be able to stop pedalling and rely on the the throttle for propulsion. In addition, pedal-assist would have to cut off once a speed of 25km/h is reached.

The submission seems to have disappeared into the bureaucratic ether and there is no indication of when a decision will be made. Pressure from some existing electric bike manufacturers – who may find their bikes classified as illegal under the legislative changes – may be dragging out the decision.

It is probable that if a new regulation is introduced, some provision will be made so that e-bikes already purchased will be exempt.

Dan Leavy from the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority told Ride On that he believes the submission is currently with the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport. “We have done all the work of researching what the changes should be and the proposal is fully supported by the bike industry, so it is just a matter of it being approved.”

In June this year, China revised their e-bike laws to adopt the same European standard that is likely to be mandated as an Australian standard. China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of e-bikes and feared its market would diminish unless it aligned with the common standard.

The Chinese government wants all e-bikes made in the country to meet EU standards. Factories whose products do not meet the standards will be asked to close. China made 27 million electric bicycles in 2010, with an estimated 700,000 units going for export.

The delay is preventing many of the major e-bike manufacturers, including Trek and Giant, from releasing their latest models to the Australian market.

Major bike manufacturers Trek, Shimano and Giant have all released electric bikes and components, most of which aren’t available to be sold in Australia due to the restricted power outputs.

Our previous coverage of Australian e-bike regulations.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. stolennomenclature permalink
    30 March, 2012 2:55 pm

    It looks likely that the European Union may well revise their electric bicycle laws, significantly upping the power. It will quite an irony if we eventually adopt the current European legislation only months before they change it.
    It beggars belief that such simple legislation as a minor change to electric bicycle laws can take so long. Have any of the people involved got a brain? How hard can it be? Any sane reasonably intelligent person could figure it out in an afternoon. I guess the real problem for these people is how to encourage electric bicycle use on the one hand and still keep the gravy train of registration and license revenues flowing – the real business of the legislators – making money.


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