A new bill that passed unanimously in the state Senate this week would allow riders of pedal-assist electric bicycles to drive their vehicles in the streets.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny/Washington), would legalize e-bikes under the state vehicle code.
“We’ve seen in Western Pennsylvania a lot of e-bike users being pulled over by their local police departments because there is a misconception that it might be a moped or some other mechanized form of travel when in fact these are really essentially bicycles,” Smith said.
The bill defines e-bikes as bicycles with operable pedals, an electric motor 750 watts or less, weighing 100 pounds or less and capable of a maximum speed no greater than 20 mph, according to Smith. Riders must also be at least 16 years old.
E-bikes are used primarily by people with mobility issues, ranging from bad knees to multiple sclerosis, Smith said.
“What the e-bike would allow them to do is navigate that hilly terrain with essentially a shot, almost like giving the bicycle a shot of adrenaline up the hill,” Smith said. “Then it just converts into a regular bicycle.”
In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for the bicycles. Worldwide sales of e-bikes will grow from 30.6 million units annually in 2013 to 37.9 million units in 2020, according to a 2013 report from Navigant Research.
If Smith’s bill passes the House, it could have a positive effect on a number of small businesses in the state, he said, as e-bike vendors are popping up all across Pennsylvania.
“I’m fortunate enough to have an e-bike distributor right in my Senate district,” Smith said. “This would catalyze that economic development and assist those small businesses who are really specializing in the sale of e-bikes.”