Opinion: The problem with e-bikes

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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Remember when electric cars were violating the law because they didn’t have exhaust pipes?

    This is another case where the law needs to catch up: If it looks like a scooter and goes as fast as a scooter, it should be treated exactly like a scooter and require a licence and a plate.

  2. The focus here is on the bad guys. What about the thousands of e-bike (electrically assisted bicycles) ridden sensibly ridden. I am older (77j and don’t drive due to injuries from the past. The e-bike allows me the freedom to remain mobile. Not everyone that rides these bikes are a**holes. Most are not.

    • The emphasis in on the e-bikes that look like small motorcycles and their riders not behaving properly, not people riding electrically assisted push-bikes. Some of those e-bikes have pedals, but they resemble mopeds more than push-bikes, so the “bad guys” are more easily recognizable, so don’t take it personally.

    • “Not everyone that rides these bikes are a**holes.” Yes they are.

      And drunk!

      Not certain what you guys are talking about, but around me there are billions of these things that look like ugly Groms, all with ‘plates’ that announce E-BIKE. The stores that sell these are usually in sketchy areas, close to the Brewer’s Retail stores (oddly enough). To see one in action, just go to the Beer Store or Elsie at opening time. There one shall spot Canada’s captains of industry stocking up on the cut-rate beer or wine to get a head start on their sobriety. Gotta face that daytime TV with confidence.

      Around here, it is always folk that long ago drank away their right to operate something with a licence.

  3. In BC, the supreme court sensibly ruled these are not “motor assisted cycles” and require license, registration and insurance. Since those are not available, they are effectively illegal to operate.

    Referring to how these bikes try to dodge the law by including useless pedals:
    “If a piece of legislation defines ‘cat’ as ‘a small four-legged furry mammal that purrs,’ we would not expect that definition to include a dog fitted with a loudspeaker that plays a purring sound,” he said.

    As far as I know, this has not been enforced to any degree yet though.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/e-bikes-motorcycles-b-c-court-decision-1.5928169

  4. Dustin and the respondents here should all take a big step back and read everything from the perspective of a non-motorcyclist complaining about motorcyclists. It all sounds too familiar as a motorcyclist, particularly an off-road rider. Its always the minority of bad apples that get the attention.

    While I agree that e-things need better regulation on the roads, be careful of sweeping generalizations about ebike riders, lest your comments be used against you one day.

  5. There are e-bikes in the Toronto area that resemble small 250 cc – 400 cc sport bikes. I see many this year and they ride on the road with traffic like a motorcycle or then however they want. And as far a e-bikes in general, it’s out of control as most riders ride out of control. I always thought they were being allowed because of environmentally conscious reasons but really they are wheels for drunks, degenerates and misfits most of time. I figure most of these “Made in China” scooters eventually fail. Stop selling new ones and watch them all disappear. I would make the importation and sale illegal.

    I also see gas powered bicycles and the most ghetto, dirt bike gangs starting up. Dudes riding down the middle of traffic on XR200 with no gear, helmet, plates (and I assume license or insurance/ownership).

    Hey, if they can filter in traffic, why can’t motorcycles who abide by the rules laid out in the Highway Traffic Act? Doesn’t make any sense.

  6. Just step to their right side as they go by on the pedestrian path and slap the front brake lever.

    Will end their ride with a thud over the bars.

    Or wait for the police/government to stop them.

  7. What are the Europeans doing? IMO, e-bike should be treated the same as a 50cc scooter. You need a car licence, insurance and registration, end of story.

    A little off-topic, Germany has a motorcycle law where a person can ride a 125cc motorcycle with just a car licence and an exam, but not a road test if they have been driving for a few years. I have mixed feelings about that, but I’d like to see more people commuting on small motorcycles than in cars.

  8. You’re right.

    I see these clowns wearing bicycle helmets, which are little protection. No gloves, no jacket, no proper protection. Dragging their feet as they ride, ignoring all the traffic laws.

    The government wrote the electric bike law very badly. They failed to block the crappy e-scooters and “nearly motorcycles” that were not what was intended as a “electric assist” pedalled bicycle. Now they have vendors peddling the problem vehicles who are making enough money to make sure that the law doesn’t get changed anytime soon.

    And what can the cops do, really? Sure, they could pull over these idiots, but they can’t put them in jail because the legal penalties don’t allow for that. They can’t be fined because they won’t pay and don’t have any money. They can’t lose their license because they already lost it. They won’t change their behaviour because they are anti-social a**holes. All they are going to do is puke, sh*t and p*ss all over the back of the cruiser to make the traffic officer’s life difficult. There’s literally nothing the cops can really do.

    Best way to handle (IMHO) this is to require a registration license for all e-bikes, and require at least an “M with condition L” license (moped) for any power-assisted motorcycle, whether electric or moped. Allow the cops to immediately confiscate any vehicle improperly operated, whether for a week or so, or permanently. That would make it far more difficult for these clowns to keep riding and they would have to behave so as not to attract law enforcement attention.

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