What grinds my gears: e-scooters in the bike lanes

What grinds my gears - e-scooters in the bike lanes

SLt M.X. Déry – Contributor

In this series of commentaries on bicycle safety, I want to address issues that cyclists face every day from motorists, pedestrians and even other cyclists. Most of what I will write about has happened to me personally and are things that constantly grind my gears.

I’ll be speaking with subject matter experts to back up my complaints and perhaps after I have vented my spleen, cycling to work will be safer for everyone.

First off, I have been riding a bicycle for three decades now. It has been my main mode of transportation for most of my life; I didn’t bother getting a driver’s licence until I was 30 years old.

For the last three years, I have been riding my motor-assisted cycle (MAC) to work and before you complain that it is not a real bicycle, allow me to explain what a MAC is, practically and legally.

Practically it means that it can provide extra force while riding, but even my 350 watt hub motor is not enough to get me up the hill outside the dockyard gate without me doing most of the work. On a flat surface, once I’ve got it moving, it can accelerate up to 32kph, the maximum allowed in B.C. according to the Motor Vehicle Act.

Legally, the motor must be electric, be no more than 500 watts, must cut out at 32kph and there must be functional pedals attached. If it meets all these requirements, the MAC does not require a licence, insurance or plates, unlike a Limited Speed Motorcycle (LSM), which requires all of the above.

Electric scooters therefore walk a thin line between MAC and LSM. They are sold in B.C. with detachable pedals, speed limiters than can be turned off and motors that are advertised as 500+W. Recently a fellow MAC rider, or so I thought, came up to me while I was locking up my MAC to show me his recently purchased e-scooter and to ask about my maximum range.

He told me he was achieving speeds of 60kph and that riding in the bicycle lane saves him loads of time during his commute. I expressed my doubt that his e-scooter was really a MAC, but he pointed to his “goose approved” sticker and “e-bike” licence plate as proof.

A quick online search of his e-scooter model revealed that it was purchased locally and that the manufacturer listed its power at 500+W. An examination of the battery shows the peak output is 1303W.

This is how his 107kg e-scooter can get up a hill without pedalling, while my 20kg MAC struggles to get up the same hill, despite the riders being of similar size.

Manufacturers get around the 500W max motor limit by citing the “constant” power without overheating versus the “peak” power the motor can produce. If no one is on the e-scooter and it is on level ground, the power required might be under 500W, but that is not the typical use case.

Three “MAC” riders have confessed to me in public in the past few months about having a motor well in excess of 500W and reaching speeds over 50kph. One even manages going over 70kph going up hills on his homemade contraption.

According to Capital Regional District staff, they receive complaints about inappropriate vehicles on the trails every year.

“Our operations and enforcement staff try to follow up in areas where regular issues are reported, and work closely with police on enforcing the rules around use of motor-assist bicycles on the regional trails.  People can call our main phone line at 250-478-3344 if they have complaints or observations to report,” said the CRD staff.

New signage was installed this spring at key locations to remind users of the rules regarding MACs.

Furthermore the CRD does not issue “goose approved” stickers, meaning that those stickers do not authorize e-scooters to be on the trails.

While MACs and e-scooters are green and save time, the limits on their speed are in place for everyone’s safety. While I’m willing to share the trail with most riders, a 100kg e-scooter going 60kph is not one of them. You might be able to go that fast, but that keeps you off the trails.

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