The Chainlink

E-bike etiquette: Respect the rules of the road (and trail) with these tips

The pandemic has come with many disruptions — not all of them bad. One example is the spike in popularity of electric bicycles, which are like regular bicycles in every way but one: They are equipped with a battery and motor that allow riders to pedal with less effort. In the first half of 2021, sales of e-bikes were up 64 percent compared with the same period in 2020.

According to Megan Hottman, a.k.a. the Cyclist Lawyer, “e-bikes really are the future of transportation in so many ways.” They increase access to cycling, offer an environmentally friendly alternative to driving and provide mental and physical health benefits. Plus, “they’re so fun,” says Ash Lovell, electric bicycle policy and campaign director at People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit.

But there are also some serious safety drawbacks, and it’s important to be aware of them. E-bikes are much heavier and can travel faster than regular bikes, which can increase the potential for serious injury to the rider and to anyone that rider might collide with. As Peter Flucke, a Green Bay, Wis., pedestrian- and bike-safety expert and president of We Bike, etc., points out, the traditional paved trails shared by conventional cyclists and pedestrians weren’t designed with e-bikes in mind.

Riding on roads also has safety implications, however. According to Hottman, accidents can occur when drivers don’t expect e-bikes to travel as fast as they do. Consider what often happens when she finds herself in a bike lane next to a vehicle at a red light. When the light turns green, “the car next to me anticipates that I’m going to drop behind them as they accelerate, like someone on a normal bike would, and instead I stay side-by-side with them for longer than they expect,” she says. In that situation, a turning vehicle can spell disaster for the cyclist.

Recent research suggests that e-bike riders are not only more likely than traditional cyclists to collide with pedestrians, but they are also more likely to sustain serious injuries. Here’s what you need to know to make your next e-bike ride as safe and enjoyable as possible, both for yourself and those around you.

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