Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: It pays to check the law before saddling yourself with an e-bike


By Malachi O'Doherty

Stephen Nolan wanted to get a bicycle. And since he is overweight and perhaps not ready for the greater exertion of riding unaided, he thought he would get an e-bike.

These are battery-assisted machines. As you pedal along the easier flat roads or downhill, you charge the battery and the battery repays you by giving you a little help uphill.

Those of us who ride without battery assistance may sneer at these bikes, but they are getting lighter and trimmer as technology and design improve, and it's getting to the stage where you can hardly tell the difference between the two, at first glance at least.

The e-bike suits two kinds of people; those like Stephen who want to ease themselves gently into sterner exercise, and those who might have to be on a bike all day, like couriers and some police officers, though currently I don't see either of them resorting to this technology.

They are mostly for the less fit, people with disabilities, perhaps heart problems or asthma, the overweight, and those who want to cycle further than their legs would normally carry them.

These are people who need exercise for their health, and it is in everyone's interest to help them get it, for it is more expensive to treat them when they get ill than to encourage them to stay well.

And since the Government is committed to promoting cycling for our health and to ease congestion on the roads, you would expect that legislation would facilitate rather than inhibit the use of the e-bike.

Given that Belfast is in a valley and that every route home to the suburbs is uphill, you might suppose that the e-bike is the answer to everyone's commuting needs. More so in Derry.

But no.

In Northern Ireland, the battery-assisted bike is legally a moped. Therefore you can not use it on cycle lanes.

You have to wear a motorcycling helmet and protective clothing, and you have to tax and insure it. You have to take a driving test to ride one without an L-plate, and the test includes the theory test.

Which is daft. Our local Executive understands that and has indeed already been mulling over legislative change, but it doesn't currently sit and therefore leaves us with outdated and difficult laws.

More shocking still is that no one seems to have known the law around e-bikes until yesterday's Nolan Show revealed that the police were willing to impose up to six penalty points on anyone caught riding one illegally.

Bicycle dealers have been selling them on the blithe assumption that they were as legal to ride as an ordinary bicycle since they don't go any faster - about 15mph - or take up any more space.

If your bicycle doesn't have battery assistance on hills you can legally ride the cycle lanes and greenways or the roads without any tax or insurance or helmet.

However, if for the sake of your health or diminished fitness you need battery assistance, then you have to pass a test and ride on the road.

Belfast Telegraph


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