As sure as death and taxes, it seems that cyclists and motorists are forever destined to be at odds with one another. Battling over riding etiquette, speed limits, lane placement, and dedicated bicycle lanes, it seems that the only thing everyone can agree on is their contempt for e-bikes.
I’m not talking about electric-assist bicycles, or the step-in electric kick scooters, I’m referring to the full-size models that resemble a scooter or motorcycle. Commonly referred to as DUI Bikes rather than E-Bikes in reference to the fact that a large percentage of their owners have lost their license or seem visibly intoxicated, a shockingly high number of riders seem to have zero respect for traffic laws or safety – their own, or anyone else’s.
The government classifies these vehicles by weight, output and maximum speed. It doesn’t seem to matter that the limiters can be removed, allowing them to go much faster. They can keep up with city traffic but don’t have to abide by the rules. Imagine the money we could all save?
I regularly witness them weaving through traffic on busy roads and holding up cyclists in bike lanes, but also riding on pathways and sidewalks. Out for a walk one evening last week to enjoy a nice cigar, my attention was drawn by the honking of horns. The rider of the electric scooter was likely in his late teens. He carelessly blasted through a red light on a four-lane road causing cars to nearly collide as they slammed on the brakes and swerved out of the way to miss him as he cruised through the intersection raising his middle finger.
No helmet, no plates, no lights. Moments later, the same rider was coming towards me on the sidewalk at what must have been close to 30 km/h. Simply raising my hands as if to say, “What in Sam Hell are you doing?” as I moved out of the way, he slammed on the brakes and removed his ear buds. Because, why wouldn’t he also be listening to music at the same time? Suggesting that perhaps he take his toy elsewhere, things escalated like a bottle rocket. He was clearly under the influence of something heavy.
Walking away to avoid the physical altercation he was demanding; the situation lead me to do something I’ve never done in my life. That’s right, I wrote a terse, angry email to the Ontario government. I demanded to know why these vehicles are classified as bikes, yet can be operated as motorized vehicles. Why aren’t riders required to register and insure them as we do our motorcycles? More than a week has gone by, and I have yet to receive a response from the ministry.
I also reached out to Toronto Police Services for comment on why the rules don’t seem to apply to this group. Again, no answer. It seems that these riders have found a loophole in the system – buy a cheap bike and ride wherever you want with complete immunity from consequence. The challenge with enforcement of course is that there is little recourse that would impact the rider. Police can’t confiscate or suspend their license, because they don’t have one.
I was drawn to another incident recently – again, by the sound of a honking car horn – to witness a rider cruising down the middle of a busy city street on an e-bike, holding up a long line of traffic. Again, no helmet, and visibly intoxicated. He was laughing and cackling as he yelled out, “Take down my plate number! I don’t have one! I can’t lose my license, I don’t have one, F**K YOU! HAHAHA!”
Riders claim that they are abiding by the rules, as they certainly aren’t enforced with any strictness or consistency. Toronto Police recently drew heat for doing a radar blitz, ticketing cyclists riding in a designated bike lane. And yet, e-bikes with a full fairing, working signals, and large saddle bags freely cruised on by uninterrupted.
While everyone can agree that they are a dangerous nuisance that raise havoc on our streets, nobody seems to have a clear solution to the problem. Here’s my practical proposition: Make owners purchase and register a plate. Think of all the added revenue each province is missing out on by not requiring any kind of registration or licensing whatsoever. The money collected can help pay for infrastructure that these bikes are using but not contributing towards. Not to mention the costs provinces pick up when unlicensed and uninsured motorists are involved in a collision on our roads.
If they don’t carry a valid plate – fine, confiscate, crush. Our city streets would be a whole lot safer. Until something is done, these riders are free and clear to ride wherever and however they please without any accountability whatsoever.