The legal situation with regard to electric bicycles has become quite confused. This is the current situation as far as we know. Please do get in touch if you have been told anything else!
The Department for Transport has finally agreed to sort the mess out and carried out a public consultation. The change to wattage is merely a techicality, as 250 watt machines are already on sale in the UK. Similarly, changes to weight limits are of little importance. The most important change is that European law includes a requirement to pedal before the motor engages. This will be a big change, but note that the DfT is talking in the vaguest of terms about when the actual legislation would be introduced ("EAPCs manufactured from a certain future date may only supply power assistance only when the rider is pedalling... "), and it would not reply retrospectively to older machines. However, if you feel strongly that UK riders should have the freedom to pedal or not, as they see fit, it's well worth making your point while you can.
The UK Department for Transport confirms that two, three or four wheeled electric cycles will not be treated as motor vehicles provided they conform with the European Directive below. Crucially, this is not deemed to cover machines where power is delivered without the rider pedalling, but according to the DfT, "... our understanding is that the appropriate authorities (i.e. Trading Standards) are unlikely to take action to prevent the sale of these vehicles simply on the ground that they have neither a CoC or MAC..." In other words, the legality of such electric bikes remains ambiguous until tested in law. However, as the majority of electric bicycles in use at the present time are of this type, conflict is bound to arrise sooner or later. This peculiarly British 'muddle through' obviously applies only in the UK.
It appears the UK Department for Transport is now clearly stating that electric bicycles can supply power without being pedalled. Is this the end? Not quite. The legal position of bikes caught between the UK limit of 200 watts output and the European limit of 250 watts output is still ambiguous. Our advise is to ignore this purely technical detail.
We understand that the UK Department for Transport has legal advice that their interpretation of the electric bicycle legislative tangle is wrong and would be unsupportable in a court of law. If this is so - and we have no written confirmation - the law will return to its previous British form. In short this means that the requirement to pedal before power can be applied will be dropped! More soon, meanwhile, the complex paragraphs below may still be relevent.
Many of the new breed of cheap electric cycles are designed for the Chinese domestic market and styled like motorscooters. Apart from causing confusion on the road, we can see no reason why these machines should not be ridden as electric bicycles, provided they conform to the regulations below and, of course, are fitted with useable pedals. This may change should the machines be outlawed in a future test-case!
Under Europe-wide type approval legislation passed in June 1999, electric bicycles that did NOT need to be pedalled for the motor to operate were banned, with manufacturers being given three years to comply (June 2003). This has now been extended to 9th Novemenr 2003. To remain exempt from motor vehicle legislation, an electric bicycle must comply with the following:
Rule 2. is new and applies to bikes manufactured after June 2003. However, the exact standards covering the way power is cut off when the pedals stop turning has not yet been written and will probably not be produced until the end of 2004. To further confuse matters, the former UK legislation (almost identical, but with a 200 watt power limit and no requirement for the motor to stop when you stop pedalling) will remain in force, bringing UK law head to head with newer EU law. This older legislation will apply to self-built vehicles and those from small importers that are not covered by the type approval legislation. To summarise:
If you're still confused, you're not alone. Recent clarification of the rules has raised almost as many questions as it has answered. Some hybrids, such as the Powabyke Euro range, can be switched between the two modes of operation - it is not clear whether these will remain legal or will need the switch disabled. And how small will a manufacturer/importer need to be to skip the regulations all together? And no-one seems quite sure whether the new rules will apply to kits fitted to conventional bikes. The Department for Transport is currently unable to answer these questions and has now suggested that it will be for the courts to clarify the law. The legal profession suggests the ball is firmly in the Department's court.
Electric and petrol-powered micro-scooters are not, and never have been, road legal in the UK. Recent court rulings have imposed heavy penalties on users, treating the machines as small motorcycles in law. Thus, riding an electric scooter in a public place (a public road, footpath or cyclepath) can result in prosecution for riding without insurance, MOT, tax, and a BS-standard motorcycle helmet, resulting in hefty fines and (according to a number of recent cases) points on your driving licence. Consequently, we are unable to recommend an electric scooter. The electric bicycles below are treated as conventional bicycles, but riders must be over 14 years of age. Our advice is not to buy any of these machines.