As roadways become more congested and parking spaces harder to find, commuters in many major cities around the world are leaving their automobiles at home and bicycling to work. Bicycles not only provide their riders with physical exercise, they require less road space and are environmentally-preferable to conventional means of transportation. Of course, for commuters who must travel long distances, bicycles with some form of power may provide a more suitable alternative.
E-bicycles, also known as pedelecs (short for pedal electric cycles) or EPACs (electric power assisted cycles), represent an increasingly popular variation on the traditional bicycle. E-bicycles feature a small electric motor that provides power to the bicycle’s drive mechanisms, reducing or eliminating altogether the physical energy normally required. As such, they are particularly useful for long bicycle trips, or for traveling over difficult terrains.
However, despite their potentially broad appeal, e-bicycles are subject to a number of regulatory requirements in global jurisdictions. These regulatory requirements often vary based on an e-bicycle’s configuration and power, and demonstrating compliance can include testing and certification by an independent testing laboratory. In this article, we’ll provide a brief summary of the requirements applicable in the European Union (EU), where e-bicycles are tightly regulated and subject to stringent requirements.
The demand for e-bicycles
E-bicycles represent a small but rapidly growing portion of the overall global market. According to Pike Research, the worldwide market for e-bicycles will grow to between 47 and 51 million units by 2018, up from just 30 million units in 2012. These trends are reportedly being driven by the rapid growth of urban areas and the need for low-cost methods of transportation in developing countries.
China is expected to account for about 89% of the projected 2018 market for e-bicycles. But Western Europe will experience significant gains as well, with 2018 projected sales of 1.5 million units, an 11.8% annual growth rate. The growth of e-bicycles in North America will be more modest, with annual sales projections of under 350,000 units by 2018.
Importantly, according to Pike Research, the average cost of e-bicycles in Europe is over $1500 per unit, compared with $815 in the North America and just $167 in China. The widespread differences are reportedly attributable to the use of sealed lead acid batteries in e-bicycles sold in China, compared with more advanced (and safer) battery technologies such as lithium-ion used in bicycles sold in Europe and North America. This makes the European market for e-bicycles economically attractive for manufacturers despite the difference in market size.
Categories of e-bicycles
In the EU, the term e-bicycle is broadly used in connection with two different types of cycles. The first category of e-bicycles, usually referred to as pedelecs, are equipped with a small motor intended to assist the cyclist when pedaling. By design, the motor will work only when the cyclist is actively pedaling the bicycle, and will not operate independently. Further, pedelec motors will generally cease operation once the bicycle has reached a speed of 25 kilometers per hour (about 15.5 miles per hour).
The second category, usually referred to as either e-bikes or s-pedelecs, incorporate a motor that can independently propel the bicycle without the assistance of the rider. E-bike motors are also sufficiently powerful to propel e-bikes at speeds in excess of 25 kilometers per hour. In that way, e-bikes operate like motorcycles, mopeds and other motorized two and three-wheeled vehicles.
For owners and operators of e-bicycles, the distinctions between these two categories are important. Pedelecs are considered bicycles and are not subject to vehicle registration or insurance requirements, and pedelec operators do not require licenses or any specialized equipment. E-bikes and s-pedelecs, on the other hand, must be registered with national vehicular authorities and bear a license plate similar to an automobile. And, just like automobile operators, E-bike operators must contract for property and liability insurance. E-bike operators are also required to hold a valid driver’s license and wear a helmet while using an e-bike.
EU regulations applicable to e-bicycles
In the EU, manufacturers of pedelecs and e-bikes are also subject to different regulatory schemes and requirements. Both pedelecs and e-bikes must comply with the essential safety requirements of the EU’s Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC) and the Electrical Safety Directive (2006/95/EC). Pedelecs and e-bikes must also meet the essential requirements of the EU’s EMC Directive (2004/108/EC) which limits potential electromagnetic interference from electrical and electronic devices. Manufacturers must verify compliance with these essential requirements before they are legally permitted to affix the CE mark to their products and market them in the EU.
However, the verification process for pedelecs is different from that which applies to e-bikes and s-pedelecs. Pedelec manufacturers can issue of Declaration of Conformity (DoC) attesting to their products’ compliance with the applicable requirements. Actual proof of compliance is usually determined by testing conducted by an independent testing laboratory. However, self-testing is also permitted if a manufacturer is equipped to conduct the required testing. In either case, a formal test report is required to document compliance in support of the DoC.
Unlike pedelecs, e-bikes and s-pedelecs are subject to type testing according to the requirements detailed in EU Directive 2002/24/EC. Type testing is conducted by testing laboratories authorized by EU member states, and self-testing and certification is not permitted. E-bikes which successful pass type testing are issued a type approval certificate by the testing lab. E-bikes awarded type approval must affix specified type approval marking to their vehicle.
European standard EN 15194, Cycles – Electrically power assisted cycles –EPAC Bicycles, addresses most of the technical requirements related to the electrical components of e-bicycles. However, EN 15194 is not currently a harmonized standard under any of the EU directives applicable to pedelecs and e-bikes. This means that compliance with the requirements of the standard does not automatically signify compliance with the essential requirements of EU directives. For this reason, pedelec manufacturers are encouraged to seek the assistance of an independent testing laboratory in developing and executing a comprehensive testing plan that clearly demonstrates compliance with all applicable requirements.
The market for e-bicycles is expected to dramatically increase in the coming years as consumers seek safe and convenient options to traditional motorized vehicles. In the EU, e-bicycle manufacturers are rapidly adopting advanced power and drive train technologies to better meet the requirements and expectations of this emerging demand. However, the regulatory landscape for e-bicycles is complex and can be confusing, especially to first-time market entrants. Accordingly, e-bicycle manufacturers should consult with a qualified testing organization early in the product design and development process to minimize risk and to ensure timely market access.
 “Electric Bicycles,” a report by Pike Research, press release issued 27 March 2012. http://www.navigantresearch.com/newsroom/annual-sales-of-electric-bicycles-will-surpass-47-million-by-2018-2 (last accessed on 5/1/2014).