Electric scooters: Opportunity or risk for the cycling industry?

With cities around the globe faced with the challenge of cramming more into lessening space, the electric scooter has emerged as a renegade in transport terms.

A grain of sand through the city funnel, where deployed, the e-Scooter has been embraced. That acceptance has come in particular by the app-savvy youth, many of which may already be carrying the relevant apps from associated bike share schemes.

Like bike share schemes, the rise of the electric scooter has reopened the debate as to whether the bike industry stands to benefit, (if legal to do so in your market) or lose out.

Before we continue, here are the current guidelines for the UK.

On the one hand, this slimline urban mobility trend is in its infancy, so could provide city specialists a new line of product diversity and access to the non-cyclist, but equally non-car market.

On the other there is an eye-rolling, seen-this-somewhere-before, stream of negative sentiment from both the usual suspects and even cycling folk; not to mention a not so grey area of illegality and lack of safe supporting infrastructure. Sound familiar?

The time has therefore come for the bike industry to decide whether it is comfortable sitting on the fence, or whether it wants to create a direly needed new wave to surf. For many, the skillsets to sell and service are pre-existing thanks to the electric bike wave on which metaphorical surfboards are riding high.

If the bike biz does see the opportunity, obstacles likely stand in the way. When it comes to classification of speed pedelecs, the bicycle industry’s efforts to solidify a regulatory framework in the UK that would give retailers the confidence to sell have been slow moving and by no fault of our own. Gaining the same rubber stamping for e-Scooters will undoubtedly be no different.

As discussed in CI.N’s most recent podcast with Chris Boardman, Will Norman, Ruth Cadbury MP and Brompton Boss Will Butler-Adams, the urban mobility picture is changing fast now. More often we are seeing cargo bike launches from non-specialist brands. Last mile and multi-modal transport is a hot topic. The scooter, by its very nature, ticks many of the boxes transport planners have open.

The BAGB view

For a long time electric scooters and hoverboards were believed to be skewing electric bike import data due to lack of regulatory clarity

With all this in mind, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain has felt the need to once again clarify the legality, (or lack of in the UK) having noted an uptick of mentions and indeed bike industry interest, particularly in Europe.

A statement on the subject offers: “The clear regulatory framework does not stifle innovation – quite the opposite. Within the simple e-bike rules, for example, the cycle industry has developed a huge range of increasingly sophisticated vehicles, with exciting technical developments still underway.

“So when it comes to e-Scooters, a new and fast-growing product category, the industry’s first priority is to stress the need for a similarly clearly regulatory framework for these vehicles, if their widespread use is to be permitted through changes to traffic regulations.”

In discussions with the to the Department for Transport, among other stakeholders, the BAGB has recommended a legal framework to include:

  • A clear definition, so that e.g. hoverboards or heavier, moped-like scooters are not inadvertently included if only e-Scooters are intended to be in the scope
  • Maximum speed at which the motor can propel the vehicle
  • Limits on either maximum motor power or acceleration
  • Control system requirements e.g. to specify that any throttle actuation must be maintained by the rider
  • Braking requirements
  • Lighting requirements
  • Marking requirements
  • Clarity on where exactly the may be used: roads, cycle paths, bridleways, pavements
  • Ride age restrictions

Meanwhile, the BA is also participating in the development CEN and ISO standards to cover such vehicles, though these talks are in their infancy.

“When a suitable framework for the legal use of e-Scooters is developed, we know that many companies within the cycle industry would relish the opportunity to compete within this new market, leveraging the cycle industry’s proven expertise in product safety,” acknowledges the BA. “A formidable network of local dealers already trained to handle e-Bikes means the industry is well placed to sell and maintain these vehicles.”

At the present time, electric scooter sales must come with a warning to the customer that they are not legal to use on public land, as outlined in the 1835 Highway Act. These warnings have seemingly often been ignored and with tragic, yet familiar consequence.

Meanwhile, on London’s Olympic Park a UK-first trial has been extended for a second time on the back of strong demand for the clean transport across the 560-acre plot.

With regulatory clearance, is this a wave your store would surf? With cycling infrastructure still vastly lacking across the UK, are we quite ready to introduce another form of personal mobility?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, or over on our our trade-locked discussion page, here.