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Should e-bikes be classed as motorcycles?

VALLKREE e-bike e-bikes
Vallkree e-bike
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The real boom in electric vehicles is in pedal-assisted e-bikes which are being used as commuters. But are they bicycles or motorcycles?

The question is now being asked by legislators, bicycle and motorcycle industry representatives.

In fact, the Union Cycliste Internationale and FIM are fighting over who can race in cycling and motorised categories as the distinction between the two is becoming blurred.

e-bike e-bikes
Black Trail BT is the world’s most expensive electric mountain bike at $80,000 ($A114,500)

We reckon they’re powered two-wheelers and as such should be included as motorcycles.

After all, early motorcycles were actually bicycles with an engine attached.

The pedals were either used to start the engine or to add some physical power to the weak engine output.

e-bike e-bikes
Early Harleys had pedals. Were they bicycles or motorcycles?


E-bikes boom

Motorcycle sales in Europe last year rose 7.2%, but it’s these electric bikes that are boosting the figures with a sales boom of a massive 49% in e-bikes.

Maybe our motorcycle industry figures wouldn’t look so bad if e-bikes were counted as motorcycles in the official sales figures.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries motorcycle spokesman Rhys Griffiths says it’s an “interesting” suggestion.

With brands such as Harley-Davidson, BMW and Ducati launching e-bikes, maybe it’s time to include e-bikes not only in the official industry sales figures but also on motorcycle dealership showroom floors.

Shane Covill of Smoked Garage custom motorcycle shop in Brisbane has Japanese-made Vallkree pedal-assisted electric bicycles on show.

VALLKREE e-bike e-bikes
Vallkree e-bike

The Vallkree, imported and assembled by a Byron Bay company, looks like early 20th century board tracker motorcycles.

“I’ve only sold a couple in eight months as they are very niche,” he says.

“But they should be very popular with commuters, mums and dads, younger people and hipsters.”

They cost from $3300 for the model restricted to 24km/h to $3800 for the “off-road-use-only” model that can reach 40km/h.VALLKREE e-bike e-bikes

Unlike electric motorcycles and cars, e-bikes have unlimited range as you keep topping up the battery by pedalling.

For anyone who has ridden these e-bikes, they are a revelation. With minimal pedalling effort, you can easily cruise to work filtering through the traffic.


However e-bikes present a licensing conundrum, according to emeritus professor of transport Marcus Wigan.

Currently (no pun intended), you can ride an e-bike with power up to 250W without a licence which makes it a “pedalec”.

Anything over 250W requires a motorcycle licence and the bike would be subject to Australian Design Rules with possible classification as a Learner Approved Motorcycle.

But we also get into what Marcus describes as a no-man’s land where it is neither a motorcycle nor a moped.

Australian Greens Cake electric motorcycle
Is the Cake an electric motorcycle or bicycle?

In Queensland and Western Australia, you can ride an e-bike with more than 250W on a car or RE licence.

But Marcus says it is easy to disguise a more powerful motor in an e-bike.

“It is an open secret that the aftermarket updating or fitment of more powerful motors is widespread as a direct result of the inadequacy of the licensing definition rammed through by bicycle interests,” Marcus says.

He believes e-bikes should be allowed up to 400W spec to appeal to more people and stop the “aftermarket black market”.

“The moment they tangle with the definition of an e-bike as motorcycle, there are problems with insurance, registration, ABS, linked brakes, etc that affect motorcycles.”

Lobby power

FUELL Fluid e-bike
Erik Buell’s Fluid e-bike

The growing number of powerful e-bikes will further blur the line between what is a bicycle and what is a powered two-wheeler.

It will also attract a lot more riders who will create a powerful political lobby group.

Wouldn’t we rather have them on our side than the cycling lobby?

Then governments might pay more attention to our needs for parking, rule exemptions, free tolls, etc.

  1. Sorry but I dispute some of the things in this story – they’re either not true, or are only applicable overseas. The rules in the US are very different to the ones here.

    In Australia an “e-bike” is a legally defined term that has to meet 3 criteria and if it does it is a bicycle under Australian law:

    – not more than 250w, and
    – only provides power when pedaling, and
    – does not provide power above 25kmh.

    If the bike does not meet all 3 criteria it is an “Electric Motorcycle” which is a motorcycle in the eyes of our law.

    …”But Marcus says it is easy to disguise a more powerful motor in an e-bike.”… True, but it’s illegal, like riding a 1000cc motorbike on L plates is possible but illegal.

    …”e-bikes have unlimited range as you keep topping up the battery by pedalling”… No they don’t and no you can’t. E-bikes (in Australia) have no regenerative capabilities at all. Pedalling an e-bike drains the battery as it only provides power when you are pedaling. Coasting down hills does not provide any regeneration either. Electric motorcycles can regenerate the battery, e-bikes can’t.

    …”you can easily cruise to work filtering through the traffic.”… This is deceptive because it implies the bike will provide power without you pedaling which it won’t, whereas they filter through traffic exactly the same as any push bike does (and yes I ride one 10km (each way) to work each day).

    The only difference between (a legal) e-bike and a push bike is when you come to a hill, there is no benefit or difference on the flat or down-hill, but an amazing difference up hill!

    So no, e-bikes should not be classed as motorbikes in Ausrtalia because the motor cuts out at 25kmh. The fact that some people are illegally fitting more powerful motors and hoping they don’t get caught (pretty low chance) should be irrelevant.

      1. An interesting article, & very informative response. Thanks Nigel.
        An e-bike could be the answer for my partner who’s not so keen to cycle with me these days.

  2. They’re all registered motor cycles that rely solely on an engine for propulsion ; The main difference between them is the engine.

  3. I commented earlier on e-bikes stupidly confusing e-bikes with EV bikes….oppsh :/
    If it’s a push bike with pedals & a restricted electric assistance (like my push bike) it’s a pushbike only.
    If it’s a Zero/Lightning etc motorcycle without pedals with an unrestricted electric motor, it’s clearly a motorcycle.
    Please forgive my lack of succinctness in my earlier composition.

  4. The way I look at it if it’s got a motor. And it runs on some kind of fuel. And they can go over 20 miles an hour in the United States is definitely most likely and the Motorcycle. You put electric motor on a bicycle and call it a e-bike. Good for the environment and for the pocket. But not for the insurance company that are not making that money off of it. But very good for the environment and the people who live in it. Change the the law call the e-bike a motorcycle and will never help the environment. That’s what’s good about it and they’re fun to ride. Without hurting our environment. Change the law on e-bikes. That’s what they do with everything. If the government is not making the money off of it it’s not worth it to them.

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