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We Build Alaska

E-bike baloney

There has been a constant commercial push in Alaska and elsewhere to populate our byways with “electric bicycles,” or “e-bikes” as they have been affectionately dubbed. Everyone is heard to love e-bikes, which are a blessing for the disabled and the environmentally concerned. Unfortunately, as with so much commercial speech (commercial speech used to be called “puffing” or “puffery” because it was so outrageously inaccurate and misleading), the claims made stray from the truth.

The Federal Government, faced with the rise of e-bike use in Europe, decided as a matter of consumer protection to adopt a statute defining a low speed e-bike that could be treated in the same way as a bicycle (i. e., not as a motor vehicle) in 2002. The statute still says that, “For the purpose of this section, the term “low-speed electric bicycle” means a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 hp), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.” At present, by way of comparison, the EU limits e-bikes to 250 watts continuous power and a top speed of 15.5 mph.

This means any two or three wheeled vehicle that produces 750 watts (or can go on the level at 20 mph) is illegal on all federal lands (that includes Campbell Tract, and all National forests and Parks). While the Secretary of the Interior has authorized Interior agencies to adopt e-bike rules, none of those rules can in any way exceed the limits set in federal statute.

Soon after the federal action, Bafang Motors, a Chinese firm specializing in “mobility solutions” saw the opportunity to push electric bicycles into the U.S., and they, apparently misreading the federal statute, started producing bicycle motors that were labeled “750 watts” that Bafang said could be used in building low speed e-bikes for sale in the U.S. As noted, no bike with a 750 watt motor is legal as a low speed e-bike under Federal law (and the Federal law “shall supersede any State law or requirement with respect to low-speed electric bicycles to the extent that such State law or requirement is more stringent than the Federal law or requirements referred to in subsection (a).” In other words, no one may offer a low speed e-bike of 750 watts, anywhere in the U.S.

Of course, what became immediately apparent to (almost) everyone is that none of these “750 watt” motors were actually 750 watt motors. Wattage is the product of volts times amps, and even the least powerful of these motors were running 20 amp controllers with 48 volt batteries (and current options for “750 watt” motors run 25 amp controllers and 52 volt batteries or more). Indeed, a third party industry arose to allow users to tweak any e-bike controls to produce max wattages far beyond that identified in the product labeling. This is now essentially an industry embarrassment.

In 2011, the Municipality of Anchorage decided to get in the act because vendors wanted to sell e-bikes in Alaska. At the time, the ordinance complied with Federal law. But in 2016, Municipal personnel involved in promoting and adopting an ordinance promoting e-bike sales changed the ordinance to include 750 watt bikes as low-speed e-bikes, contrary to the provisions of the Federal statute. Of course, as we saw above, it is likely that every e-bike sold in Anchorage as “750 watts” actually exceeds the limits even set by ordinance, rendering them illegal as a practical matter anyway.

The Alaska Legislature then got in the act with Senator Scott Kawasaki (D – Fairbanks) and Representative Ashley Carrick (D – Fairbanks) introducing similar bills (at the request, per the senator, of those promoting e-bike sales in Fairbanks). The Legislature eventually passed House Bill 8 (Carrick’s bill), but not before Representative Carrick’s aide repeatedly lied to Senator Kawasaki’s State Affairs Committee, claiming, among other things, that HB8 was identical to the Federal statute. Unfortunately, as with the Anchorage ordinance, that is simply not the case. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska), though it is not quite clear why, vetoed HB8.

Now we have ‘e-bikes’ that will do 4,500 watts (~40 mph) but which claim that they are legal low-speed e-bikes (see, e.g., the Ristretto 512 A24 | Arctic a “street-legal electric bike that does not require a license, insurance or registration). And arguably, the sky is the limit. But the truth has always been that what the EU has authorized is more than adequate for all uses, so the varied claims about why we need to legalize motor vehicles on our sidewalks and trails is, well, puffery.

Moreover, as I noted to the Legislature (before they almost unanimously approved HB8), the Municipality of Anchorage has now made it possible for someone who has lost their license to ride a motorcycle without a license on our roads! And the facts of the matter are that allowing speed differentials of 20+ mph on narrow sidewalks and trails is going to get people hurt.

Yes, highly regulated permitting of strictly limited e-bikes may increase mobility of the disabled, and yes, they may also help to reduce automobile use. But that can be accomplished rationally and deliberately without letting motor vehicles loose on our trails and sidewalks under a scheme which makes enforcement impossible. In fact, one option is to require registration of e-bikes, use that registration to enforce strict limitations on where and how e-bikes can be used, and make lanes available on our roads for bicycles and 250 watt e-bikes.

And yes, our Anchorage Assembly members are all aware of the situation, but they were too busy ignoring the chief of police’s testimony about bike safety to take any notice.

Marc Grober has been a member of the Alaska Bar since 1977, held a Professional Teaching Certificate, provided IT services to federal and state agencies, worked as a field engineer on an atomic power plant, subsistence fished, and run dogs. He currently spends his days on Anchorage trails, on Anchorage roads, and in Anchorage parks walking Bernie, fatbiking, road biking, and skiing.

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rod
7 months ago

E-bikes, e-skateboards, e-one wheels, etc. have become MUCH more prevalent on ANC trails over the last, say, 2-3 years, and they all go too fast. On the coastal trail, you’ll also find Segues in the summer, another electric conveyance. Muscle-powered bicycles, skates and skateboards might already be in the minority, but, if not already, soon will be. Earbuds and earphones are also quite prevalent. Add the unleashed dogs and loosely-monitored toddlers–present before the rise of e-conveyances–and the trails, or at least the TK Coastal, have become more dangerous. E-conveyances on our trails do nothing to lessen fossil fueled traffic on… Read more »

Marc Grober
7 months ago
Reply to  rod

I have observed a variety of electric moor vehicles zipping down east side 3′ wide sidewalks at ~20 mph. In the meantime we have arterials that have 45 mph speed limits and road design that in fact promote death and injury. Efforts by the Northeast Community Council to bring some sense to this situation with the Muldoon Town Center Plan were essentially sabotaged “planners” in order to maintain the current insanity.

Actual credentialed journalist (retired)
7 months ago

My gut feeling is that a fully physically able person using an e-bike is exactly like a fully physically able person using a wheelchair.

Fewer cars on the road seems like an indisputably good thing, but an e-bike going 25+ doesn’t seem like it should be on the bike path.

Marc Grober
7 months ago

And yet Lee Hart of the Alaska Outdoor Alliance and others testified for the provisions of HB8, without amendment, as did staff of the Fairbanks municipal planning organization. One has to wonder whether these health and safety warriors even bothered to read and reflect on the actual provisions of the proffered bills? And to underscore this one more time, while every member of the legislature was afforded access to the material demonstrating the mendacity of the sponsor, only two legislators votoed against the bill, and there were no substantive amendments offered to address any of the issues raised. Indeed, when… Read more »

Carol
7 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

Lee Hart also testified that Speedway Cycles was a supporter of the bill but when I asked them about it, they had no knowledge of the bill and were very concerned about it. In fact, they have exactly one ebike in their entire store of regular bikes. This is why people need to be under oath when they testify.

Marc Grober
7 months ago

As the landmine does not do footnotes, here are the URLs to support the article:
Public Law 107-319. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-107publ319/pdf/PLAW-107publ319.pdf
15 USC 2085. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/2085
Guide to PEV & Electric Bicycle Laws in Europe https://www.webbikeworld.com/pev-and-electric-bicycle-laws-in-europe/DOI ORDER NO. 3376: Increasing Recreational Opportunities through the use of Electric Bikes. https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/elips/documents/so_3376_-_increasing_recreational_opportunities_through_the_use_of_electric_bikes_-508_0.pdf
AO 2011-113(S). https://library.municode.com/ak/anchorage/ordinances/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=510931 
AO 2016-67. https://library.municode.com/ak/anchorage/ordinances/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=777025 
Document prepared for the Alaska Legislature outlining the misrepresentations made by Rep. Carrick’s Aide to Senator Kawasaki’s Committee regarding HB8 with time stamps for committee video and providing URLs for the specifics laws, ordinances, and guidance referenced:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zaGFmL-Oqpok1r2OBzb-zulADFYN4NsnBOKpLsX45bY/edit?usp=sharing 

Connor
7 months ago

I like e-bikes and e-fat bikes. They are for everyone and do belong on the anchorage trail system. The trails are much safer for kids than on-road with 2-ton vehicles even with e-bike users. Some level of improved sight lines and licensure would help with safety and etiquette/rules of the road/trail.

Actual credentialed journalist (retired)
7 months ago
Reply to  Connor

I could definitely support licensing and registering e-bikes. But the comparison between kids riding on the trails around e-bikes vs on the road around cars confuses me – why not just have kids (and all of us) riding on the trails *without* e-bikes around?

Connor
7 months ago

Not the bikes – the riders.
Crash on an ebike should equal points.

For road vs trails – I was drawing attention to the mass of a vehicle vs a bike/pedestrian. Much higher potential for serious injury and death on a road/bike lane/sidewalk than on the trail system.

Marc Grober
7 months ago
Reply to  Connor

Sight lines are a function as a safety matter of vehicular speed. Our sight lines are fine – it is our speeds that are at issue 🙂 If you want to do 20 mph you should have a protected cycletrack or a bike highway – we have neither. Yet the MoA Traffic Department stated it was safe for an unattended 7 year old to cross a road where the 85%ile speed is over 35 in the dark in the muddle of winter. If the kid can cross and arterial on his own at 7 … Yes, putting children in the… Read more »

Stevens Montooth
7 months ago

After witnessing a 30+ MPH E-bike running a grandmother and 7 year old child off the coastal trail I have to protest allowing a vehicle exceeding a safe speed regardless of power source. After seeing this occur I can easily see a death or serious injury reoccurring. The impossibility of enforcing a speed limit on the trail means there needs to be other ways to reduce speed and potential speed. This has to occur on the sales level where it is accurately describing the power in wattage as related to speed. On the sales level it appears there needs to… Read more »

Marc Grober
7 months ago

The only action the Assembly has taken in years is the adoption of an ordinance which most agree will have little or no impact on bicycle safety in Anchorage 🙁

The proposed NACTO resolution has been sidetracked again, requests by bicycle registration ignored, demands for ASE laughed at.

In the meantime requests to amend MoA ordinances to at a minimum comply with federal law, and maybe even meet EU standards and get rendered enforceable are going nowhere (our state delegation vited for HB8 despite the fact they were shown Carrick was lying….

Scott
7 months ago

What we need is a new law. Lots of new laws. Then more laws to make sure new laws are followed to the letter of the law.

Can’t we just pass a law that requires a new law be made everytime somone is bothered that a law isn’t a good enough law?

Allen
7 months ago
Reply to  Scott

E-bikes run on public property and compete with other users, so there has to be a thoughtful approach to managing (regulating) the competing users. There was no need for traffic laws until people started getting run over by cars and trucks and killed.

Ted
7 months ago

not clear why Dunleavy vetoed Carricks bill? How is that not clear? He vetoed her bill because she is a dumbass who just had to jump up and speak and vote against anythign he put forth (such as his pick for UA Chancellor).

Marc Grober
7 months ago
Reply to  Ted

No
Dunleavy vetoed the bill because he hadnt a clue what it represented…. See the resoinse from his office to that very question

Marc Grober
7 months ago

This just in from Döst (whose Drop ebikes are being hustled to MoA consumers as legal here in southcentral by vendors who should know better; our “750 watt” Drop ebike is a 1200 watt motor vehicle. Begin forwarded message: From: Henry Hoang Date: October 4, 2023 at 8:42:47 AM AKDT To: marc Subject: DOST Bikes Hey Marc! It appears our platform we use to manage our emails, Zendesk, was not sending out our emails, here is the response I sent to you on Sept 27th, sorry about that Our bikes come with a standard 750w motor, that peaks out at… Read more »

Watchman
7 months ago
Reply to  Marc Grober

Imagine if you directed your rage, time, and attention to something that may actually benefit your community.

Carol
7 months ago
Reply to  Watchman

In what way are his efforts not on behalf of our community? Has he not put great personal effort into exposing lying and negligence by politicians and lobbyists in an effort to dangerously profit from our non-motorized trails?

Could you please explain what you mean by your statement?

Willie J
7 months ago
Reply to  Carol

Really Carol? There are myriad problems and human crises in this town right now. E-bikes going too fast for the boomers isn’t in the top 50 ffs. Can any one of you pearl-clutching clowns point to an actual accident here locally? Not just some rumor or anectode? I see plenty of acoustic bikes going faster than most ebikes BTW. Again, with all of this free time there are far better and more impactful ways to spend your time helping the community.

Carol
7 months ago
Reply to  Willie J

Do you use the bike trails? These issues may not matter to you, but they matter to me and a lot of other people.

William Jodwalis
7 months ago
Reply to  Willie J

Instead of making fake accounts to name-fling and disrespectfully undermine sensible arguments in a comment room full of insiders, the author of this comment, Mr. ‘Willie J’, ought to talk to everyday people in Anchorage and open themselves up to the possibility that this law may exist in a flawed state. If they did that, they would find that there is real citizen concern regarding how this law is actually written. I am confident that the sponsors’ of this bill are already doing so, whether the bill is in a flawed state or not, as they are sensible people who… Read more »

Marc Grober
7 months ago

Unfortunately all but two legislators voted for the bill despite the fact that they were provided complete details of the numerous technical and practical issues it presented in no small part because they apparently could not parse the difference between “less than X” and “no more than X”, and frankly could care less, and they will try again with the same bill next session.

Allen
7 months ago
Reply to  Willie J

If this is such a non-issue why did you waste your time attacking and flinging insults? Like it or not, pedestrians using trails that were built for pedestrians (i.e., every trail in Alaska) don’t enjoy the increasing vehicular use and abuse: bicycles blowing by without a sound, unleashed dogs and now speeding lane-hogging ebikes. Other cities have recognized this and have separate pedestrian and bike trails. But in Alaska, pedestrians get lectured/insulted by the vehicle lobby and their motor head constituents, while Alaska politicians have thoughtlessly jumped on board the ebike fad, thinking it will get them more younger votes.

Marc Grober
7 months ago

We now know that the Governor vetoed the bill because he thought it would create greater bureaucracy, lol…. The man’s staff is clueless… “From: “Schoenheit, Victoria M (GOV)” Date: October 6, 2023 at 10:03:07 AM AKDT To: marc@interak.com Subject: HB 8 Good Morning Mr. Grober – The Governor vetoed HB 8 Electric-Assisted Bicycles because it would have created unnecessary bureaucracy by regulating a recreational activity. Victoria Schoenheit Assistant Legislative Director Office of Governor Mike Dunleavy Phone: (907) 465-3500 Email: victoria.schoenheit@alaska.gov CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This communication with its content and any attachments may contain confidential and/or legally privileged information. It is solely… Read more »

Patrick J McGarrity
7 months ago

If you like 250W ebikes, move to Europe and enjoy them there all you want. Even the Europeans are buying 750W ebikes as 250W is ridiculously underpowered. This is the USA and 1 horse is the limit for ebikes…your quibbling about whether 750W is 1 hp is silly…the difference (if there is one) is about 1/2 of 1%. My 750W ebike helps me take kids to school in a trailer behind the bike and haul groceries back from Costco. I limit my speed to 15 mph or less on multi-use trails (because that’s the regulation and just common courtesy…when approaching… Read more »

Tyler Renquist III
7 months ago

I posit giant lifted bro-dozers present a much greater safety risk to the public than a soccer mom driving her Explorer does, but go off.

Charlie
7 months ago

What I observe: on my quiet street Shore Drive, where everyone within a ~1 mile radius loves to walk, every E bike is ridden by a very healthy looking young male, going at a minimum 20-25mph.
In Canada recently, walking on a “no motorized vehicle” trail, a scooter zoomed by going uphill at ~15-20mph.
To me, if it’s got a motor, it’s a motor vehicle.
And I don’t see elderly or disabled people on scooters and E-bikes; quite the opposite.

Betty
6 months ago
Reply to  Charlie

Huh. I saw an elderly lady riding her e bike (slowly) on the side of the road today. She looked quite content.

Betty
6 months ago

I’ve never had any issues with e bikes anywhere, ever. This is such a nonsensical debate. Just let people recreate, it is hurting no one.