UPDATED: Bike Europe has now issued a response.
The Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BA) and The Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) have issued a statement following concern that consumers and suppliers may be confused by a recent “Whitepaper” summary of European regulations, and associated article, recently published by the cycle trade publication Bike Europe.
This notes that electric bikes intended for off-road use can avoid the requirement to be type approved before sale, even if they fall outside the strict limits on continuous rated power (250 W) and motor cut-out speed (25 km/h) for an electric bike in the UK to be treated in law as a bicycle, not a motorbike.
This, warns the organisations, is not the full story for UK consumers and suppliers. There are in fact additional strict regulations which mean that to enjoy the same off-road access and status as a normal bicycle, an electric-assist mountain bike absolutely must be within the 250 W power and 25 km/h cut-off limits.
As well as the EU type approval regulations which Bike Europe has summarised (which apply to the sale of new bikes), there are also strict national regulations which control the legal use of motor vehicles. In the UK, only electric bikes with power assist rating of 250 W or less, cutting out at or below 25 km/h, are treated in national law4 as “not motor vehicles”.
For any electric bike which does not meet these limits, UK motor vehicle regulations apply. These include requirements for registration (for which type approval is required), tax, insurance, driving licence and the need to wear a motorcycle helmet. These apply to any vehicle intended to be used “on the public highway”, which includes tracks, bridleways, paths and common land, both on or off road.
It is only vehicles which are only ever intended to be used away from the public highway (i.e. exclusively on private land not open to the public, with the landowner’s permission) which are not subject to type approval before they can legally be used in the UK, if they exceed the 250 W and 25 km/h limits. Such vehicles must still comply with CE marking requirements, which includes compliance with the Machinery Directive. But these vehicles cannot legally be used at all on the public highway (roads, tracks, on common land or cycle paths, be they on of off road).
The organisations have previously issued guidance on this topic, warning that there is “no grey area” when it comes to type approval.