Belfast Telegraph

Halfords suspends sale of e-bikes in Northern Ireland due to 'confusing' legislation

Poll: Northern Ireland E-bike riders need licence - but should all cyclists have to take test?

By Jonathan Bell

Cyclists using electric bikes have to undergo testing, have insurance and a motorcycle licence - but only in Northern Ireland, it's been revealed.

The Northern Ireland Executive never got around to changing legislation when battery-powered bikes became popular, meaning they are classified as motor vehicles in the eyes of the law and those behind the handlebars must have the proper credentials before hitting the road.

They also need to wear a motorbike helmet, protective clothing like leathers and pass both a theory and practical test.

Police have said those caught using them without the proper licence or insurance face being hit with six penalty points or a £1,000 fine.  In the rest of the UK anyone over 14 can ride one without a licence, tax or insurance.

Electric-powered cycles have become more popular as they offer the chance for people to get on a bike and improve their fitness while also offering a little assistance.

Staff at retailer Halfords have said the difference in the law between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was causing "bedlam" with people buying the road vehicles thinking they needed nothing more than a bit of puff to get up a hill.

They have since "temporarily suspended" the sale of e-bikes in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman said: “Legislation in Northern Ireland currently states that electric bikes need to be licensed and insured in order to be ridden on public roads. However, at this stage, the DVLA do not have a working system in place which allows e-bike owners to do this.

"Although it's not illegal to sell e-bikes, we believe the current status is confusing for our customers and therefore we have temporarily suspended the sale of e-bikes in Northern Ireland until this matter has been fully resolved.

"We are also happy to offer existing customers who have bought an e-bike from Halfords in Northern Ireland a refund”.

The difference in the law was exposed by Stephen Nolan on his BBC Radio Ulster mid-morning show. The presenter said he was intent on buying an electric bike to help him get back in the saddle but was put off when he learned of the trouble they pose for people legally.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said a "massive error" had been made by the Executive. He said police and Secretary of State James Brokenshire should move quickly to remedy situation.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew described it as "incredible" which could be resolved "quickly" with a working Executive.

Work on changing the legislation started in 2016, but the collapse of the political institutions mean the vital sign-off for a minister never happened and is unlikely to in the near future.

A police spokeswoman said: "Northern Ireland does not yet have the necessary regulations in place to define electric cycles and give them their place in the legislative framework. The Primary legislation is already but the regulations referred to are not yet made.

"Police understand that the Department for Infrastructure is in the process of remedying this situation but, in the meantime, have advised us that until defined in law, an electric cycle should be regarded as a motor vehicle and hence requires insurance, tax, etc."

The Department of Infrastructure and Halfords have been asked for a comment. The law on electric bikes can be found here.

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