After the tremendous success of the past ten years, we as an industry are entitled to some pride. Electric bicycles were originally seen as mobility aids for pensioners, and criticized for their poor reliability and short useful life. Since then, e-bikes have matured and become a respectable option for all user groups and categories, from the enduringly popular low-entry or unisex bike to cargo bikes and sporty full-suspension enduro models. Industry association Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (ZIV) says that in Germany alone 2.2 million of the bikes sold in 2022 came with electric support. That amounts to almost half of all the bicycles sold that year. The margin is highest in the mountain bike category, where 90 % of all bikes sold have a motor.
So, everything is fine then? Not quite, because a lot of manufacturers are not on top of all the new tasks electrification has wrought. Some deficits are enormous. This can – and often does – lead to sales bans imposed by the authorities and penalties of sometimes tens of thousands of euros.
‘e-’ turns a bicycle into a machine
Market surveillance authorities cannot and must not be complacent in the face of the success of our industry. The statutory framework throughout the whole European Union clearly states that the authorities must ensure a uniform, continent-wide safety level. Wherever in the EU a product with a mandatory CE marking is sold, the customer must be sure it is safe. No ifs or buts — e-bikes must meet all applicable directives and laws. This is meant to prevent unsafe products from reaching customers, but also to ward off market players trying to gain unfair advantages through lower safety benchmarks for reduced production costs and prices.
Other countries have instituted nearly identical requirements for e-bikes, such as Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Such (safety) requirements are by no means unchartered territory. Power tools and household appliances are sectors where transparent conformity procedures and knowledge of the Machinery Directive (one of the applicable legislative acts) have been par for the course for more than 20 years. The cycling industry merely needs to come to terms with the fact that electric motors have changed the legal landscape and that external observers have the right and duty to investigate the manufacturers’ safety measures.
For non-electric bicycles, nothing changes. The courts will only take a look when something has gone awry, i.e. in cases of accidents with severe consequences. But with electric bicycles, an authority may request to see and check the documentation if there is even just a ‘slight initial suspicion’. Even worse, if the regulations are not met, the authority can and must ban distribution until further notice.
Examples of temporary sales bans
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