Rules and regs
When electric bikes first rose to popularity, they were a versatile solution to travelling both on road and by mountain trail. E mountain bikes provided a way to navigate off-road trails with motor assistance, allowing e bike riders to reach greater heights and climb steeper hills than regular pedal bike riders.
Even better, e bikes are not classed as motorised vehicles, and so don’t need any registration, license plate or insurance in order to ride them legally so long as you’re over the age of 14. You don’t need a driving license to ride one, and you don’t need to wear a crash helmet – although we always advise wearing a bicycle helmet to protect your skull from any falls. They can be used on any cycle paths and anywhere pedal bikes are allowed. They are a great way of travelling around without needing to pass a test or paying extra fees.
E Mountain Bikers Crippled by UK Law
But changes to the law in recent years has seen a blow to e mountain bike users. In April 2015, UK law regarding e bikes changed to match the rest of the EU, with caps being put on e bike speed and power. These rules laid down by the EAPC (the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle regulations) could change with Brexit, but at the moment the UK Government webpage on “Electric bikes: licensing, tax and insurance” says the following about e bikes:
“Its electric motor: must have a maximum power output of 250 watts should not be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph The bike must also be type approved if either: it doesn’t meet the EAPC rules it can be propelled without pedalling (a ‘twist and go’ EAPC)”
If your e bike does not follow these rules, it may qualify as a motorised vehicle in the same category as motorbikes and mopeds. It will need to be registered, taxed, and you will require a driving license to ride it.
Power and Speed Caps for All E Bikes
Previously, there was no maximum power or speed cap for e bikes, meaning e mountain bikes could be equipped with the power needed to traverse any mountain trail. Now with the 250 watts and 15.5mph caps in place, e mountain biking has taken a blow and is no longer as easy as it was before.
But that doesn’t mean e mountain biking is impossible; far from it. E mountain bike manufacturers have implemented the use of features such as good suspension, long chainstays, and high grip tyres in their UK law-compliant bikes to provide that e mountain bike experience. Rocks n Roost suggest five law-compliant e mountain bike models to check out in their blog post: https://www.rocksnroost.com/2018/02/27/top-5-electric-mountain-bikes-buy-2018/
Twist and Go Approval
E bikes fitted with ”Twist and Go” throttles can be propelled without pedalling by flicking a switch. Previously, these were fantastic for elderly or fitness challenged family members to accompany a regular e mountain bike rider on the trail. But these have been hit by the changes in law too. Previously there was no limit on throttle assistance; now the only legal throttles allowed in the UK are those that assist the rider without pedalling up to a maximum speed of 3.7 mph (6 km/h). This is enough for starting assistance only; only if the rider begins to pedal then the throttle can assist up to the usual maximum speed of 15.5 mph.
Currently, Twist and Gos must be ‘type approved’ by the government to ensure they follow UK guidelines. This would’ve been done by the manufacturer before you purchase it, so double check the e bike has a type approval number displayed on its plate before purchasing.
Sadly, the strict regulations on Twist and Gos seem to spell trouble for less fit e bikers. Juicy Bike, the online e bike retailer, argues that “For many less-abled cyclists, twist-and-go e-bikes have proven to be an indispensable aid and will be sorely missed”, but they add that they “look forward to there being a clear route to twist-and-go Type Approval in the UK, and the signs coming from the DFT are certainly reassuring.”
Rules in Northern Ireland
For riders in Northern Ireland, the rules are different. You must have a moped license to ride any kind of electric bike, which also has to be registered, taxed and insured. You must also wear a helmet, and your e bike isn’t allowed on normal cycle paths.
Conclusion: Is E Mountain Biking at its End?
With such strict rules in place, does this mean mountain bikers should retire their e bikes forever? Absolutely not. It’s clear that you can keep within the legal guidelines and still embrace the e mountain biking experience through the use of specialised e mountain bike models. Although it’s disappointing that the law on Twist and Go models is so restrictive, it’s our hope in the future that they’ll be better embraced by the government as e bikes become more widespread, so that e bikers can once again take their family members on nature outings.