When the road is too steep, the load too heavy or the gear ratio too high, that's it; at some point you can't pedal any more. With a fully loaded cargo bike, even a hill start at traffic lights can become a problem. For this reason, the German Cycle Logistics Association (RLVD) sees a need for action. Chairman Tom Assmann states: “Modern cargo bikes for business and logistics as well as serial hybrid drives quickly reach their limits in hilly cities and on steep driveways, for example in underground car parks. There, a safe hill start must always be ensured for cargo bikes also when loaded. We need solutions for them.” He calls for more powerful motors than the 250 watts previously permitted on e-bikes. The problem: With more powerful motors, cargo bikes would lose their current legal status as bicycles and with it coveted privileges, such as their use without a driving licence, without number plates, without insurance, without helmets as well as the right to use cycle paths.
More powerful motors for 650-kg bikes
For this reason, Assmann looks for another solution: “As an association, we are open to a new, additional bicycle class for heavy duty cargo bikes with more motor power at the same speed. We consider 1,000 watts, as discussed at EU level, to be conceivable. Our aim is not to ride faster, but to ensure safe riding. The speed remains at 25 kilometres per hour. The current e-bike class for cargo bikes should remain.” The new vehicle class is a clever demand to push through the 1,000 watt motor because changing the e-bike standard would be difficult. E-bike manufacturers fear that the legal classification of e-bikes as bicycles, which is so crucial for sales, would then be at risk. A new category in the road traffic licensing regulations for heavy duty bikes avoids this possible discussion.
An e-bike must remain a bicycle
Within the industry, there is a heated discussion about cargo bikes with increasingly heavy loads. It’s about the legal status of e-bikes, i.e. the industry's cash cow. Some see a veritable Damocles axe of strife looming if all e-bikes became subject to stricter regulations due to cargo bike trouble. The consequences of type approval, driving licence, number plate and cycle path bans would be severe; many leading bicycle experts insist on utmost sensitivity.
The operational risk increases with the weight
Dirk Zedler, Managing Director of the Zedler test institute warned urgently against increasingly heavy cargo bikes as early as in March 2021: “A cargo bike with a total weight of more than 300 kg is no longer a bicycle to me.” Though parking large, heavy bikes on the pavement is legal, this may cause conflicts. “And for cargo bikes weighing up to 800 kg there is no place on the cycle path, because accidents with them are much more dangerous than with bicycles. It seems to me that it is only a matter of time until the so-called operational risk will be discussed by lawyers.” The operational risk increases with mass and speed. In this connection, cyclists are rated low, usually directly above the pedestrian. However, the heavier bicycles become, the higher the classification of our operational risk by the judiciary. “If things go really bad, we will no longer be classified as vulnerable road users, but as those who are dangerous. This would change jurisdiction to the detriment of cyclists. And there are powerful groups who would like to see the e-bike classified as a motor vehicle, such as insurers. And so would presumably also some car manufacturers”, fears Zedler.
Author: Tillman Lambert