The Netherlands, one of the places in the world where the use of bicycles as a means of transport is most widespread and encouraged, faces a new problem: the speed of electric bicycles.
In recent years, the number of electric bikes (or e-bikes) in circulation has increased significantly. At the same time, however, the number of souped-up electric bikes has also increased, which can reach speeds of more than 40km/h and have been involved in an increasing number of accidents in recent months, becoming a topic of discussion and concern for the municipal administrations, for the associations that deal with the safety of cyclists, for the police and for those who usually ride a bicycle.
Among these is Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union), an Amsterdam association which has for some time been calling for greater restrictions on electric bikes and “fat bikes”, off-road bikes with big wheels and extremely wide tires that are now often seen even in many cities. These bicycles should only move on cycle paths, at a speed of around 25 km/h. The problem is that they are designed to go faster than that, or are modified by the buyer to exceed that speed. For this reason, last June the Dutch parliamentarians voted on a measure to prohibit the modification of the factory settings of this type of bicycle.
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Recent research by the Dutch government has verified that electric bicycles typically travel at a speed of almost 24 km/h, about 3 km/h more than normal bicycles, but that around a quarter of cyclists who own electric bikes greatly exceed the limit, especially if they are young.
«The problem», explains Esther van Garderen, director of Fietsersbond «are not the normal electric bicycles, but the souped-up ones, which are practically illegal scooters». In the Netherlands, says Van Garderen, «to ride a moped you have to wear a helmet, and young people don’t like this. It is also necessary to be 16 years old and have a special licence, but illegal “fat bikes” are sold and there are children under 16 who use them on the road and go 40 km per hour, without a helmet”. For this reason Van Garderen and her association are calling for a rapid implementation of the ban on modifications voted in June, and a ban on fast electric bikes from riding on cycle paths..
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Her concerns are shared: Amsterdam city councilor Elise Moeskops, from the D66 party, says the latest research by the traffic police shows that accidents have increased and that electric bicycles have played a role in this increase. For this reason, the municipality is considering imposing the obligation to wear a helmet for those who ride an e-bike, and is considering setting a speed limit for cycle lanes, so that electric bicycles go on the road together with other vehicles of compatible speed.
The city of Amsterdam will reduce its speed limit from 50 to 30km/h on more than 500 roads this autumn and is researching ‘intelligent speed adaptation’ systems to warn cyclists going too fast or even force bikes electric bikes to slow down based on their position in the different areas of the city (as is already the case for some electric bicycle and scooter sharing services). Melanie van der Horst, councilor for traffic in the city, explains that “the increase in electric vehicles has meant that there are now significant differences in the speeds of those who travel on the cycle paths, and studies show that these differences create risks”. The debate is also having some effects on those who produce and sell electric bikes: some manufacturers are autonomously starting to adapt their software to the new speed limits.
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