E-bikes

Jane Prell, of Lake Dalton, left, looks over a Magnum UIS E-Bike with the help of Crazy Lenny's E-Bikes employee Peggy Johnson. Electric bikes, or e-bikes, typically have a pedal-assist powered by a battery, which helps propel the cyclist along as they pedal.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers eliminated a widely flouted law banning e-bikes from bike paths, leaving it to local governments to regulate a rapidly growing number of pedal-assisted bikes.

For Madison riders, at least for now, the new law maintains the status quo.

“The City has been allowing e-bikes on the paths so the passage of the bill is welcome to allow them to legally be there,” said Renee Callaway, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, in an email.

The bill reclassifies e-bikes from being motorized vehicles — a designation that still applies to gas-powered bikes — to a new classification that applies only to electric bikes. It also removes a requirement for riders to hold an operator’s license.

Classifications include: bikes that engage electric motors only when pedaling, with the pedal assist topping out at 20 mph; bikes powered solely by a motor with a 20-mph limit; bikes that provide assistance when pedaling with a limit of 28 mph. For the 28-mph bikes, riders have to be at least 16 years old and the bikes are required to have a speedometer. 

BCycle, Madison’s Trek-owned bike share that went all-electric last summer, provides pedal assistance up to 17 mph.

The law is a nod to a rapidly changing bicycle landscape as e-bikes gain popularity. According to the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, e-bikes sales were up 83% nationwide for the first half of this year, making up 3% of bicycles sold. But because of their higher cost, they made up 10% of bicycle revenue. They’ve been credited with giving aged, infirm and simply out-of-shape people the ability to ride, and retailers report growing sales to younger riders.

The law was backed by industry as well as cities wanting to promote healthy lifestyles and get more cars off the road. But some critics fear e-bikes will lead to riders traveling on bike paths at unsafe speeds.

So far, the city hasn’t reported significant issues.

“At this time we are not currently planning any additional regulation or speed limits but will be continuing to monitor usage and issues,” Calaway said. “We will also continue to work on educating users on path etiquette and riding slowly in crowded areas regardless of the type of bike that a person is riding.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.