Many believe the speed pedelec is the future of urban transport

Are speed pedelecs the next revolution in urban transport?

The speed pedelec market has not yet taken hold in the UK, in part due to the restrictive legislation around high-powered e-bikes, but many believe they could be the next revolution in urban transport. Rebecca Bland dives into this evolving market

This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Across Europe, particularly in Belgium,  Switzerland and the Netherlands, there’s a  movement of faster-paced electric bikes that  are helping to enable people to choose bikes over car  ownership.

It’s not cargo bikes, but the perhaps lesser  known category of speed pedelecs, or S-pedelecs.  

These types of electric bikes can provide assistance up  to 45km/h, and be equipped with a motor that can provide  more than the usual 250W of continuous power. 

While you still need to pedal to operate these bikes, the extra speed  can provide benefits for those who perhaps feel an EAPC  (electrically-assisted pedal cycle) e-bike isn’t quite up to  the task – for example, those with longer commutes, or on busy roads where something a bit faster would make riders feel safer mixing with traffic. 

But while this part of the e-mobility revolution  continues in parts of Europe, the UK is desperately lagging behind, with uptake and awareness stuck behind miles of red tape and confusing legislation. 

To legally ride a speed pedelec in the UK, consumers need to have  an applicable driving licence and go through a time consuming registration, taxation and insurance process,  arrange an MoT for the bike after three years, and wear a  motorcycle helmet when riding it.

S-pedelecs are classed as mopeds in the UK

Why? Because the UK classes S-pedelecs as e-mopeds. Because of this classification, it also limits where customers can ride their S-pedelecs.

Essentially, any shared-use paths or cycle lanes are out of  the question, including some bus lanes – depending on the local authority.  

To gather a bit more insight into how the UK could position S-pedelecs, what needs to change to make them  more attractive to consumers and how retailers can make the most of the tight legislation currently enforced in  the UK, BikeBiz spoke to Mathis Gelens, sales manager of Swiss  S-pedelec brand, Stromer, and David Flynn, head of marketing for their UK distributor, Hotlines.  

The biggest difference
Working largely in Europe, the Stromer brand has grown  in popularity as one of the early adopters of S-pedelecs,  alongside brands like Riese und Müller.

Their key markets are currently Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands,  with Germany also making swift progress in terms of  accepting the S-pedelec. 

The biggest barrier to increasing the awareness, and of course, sales, of S-pedelecs lies in  the legislation countries adopt, and in particular, the way  these types of e-bikes are classified, as Gelens explains: “I  think the biggest difference in respect to the regulations  is that in those countries, there is a specific category for  speed countries. 

“In most countries, you have the e-bike,  which doesn’t have to be registered, and then you have the  e-moped, which as we all know you sit on and use your  hands to propel it forward, not pedal.

“But in the key markets, you have the specific category  of speed pedelec. And as soon as this category has been  created, the registration of a speed pedelec becomes much easier than in other countries.

“Every time that you enter  the market with a speed pedelec in a country where it is  not known, first of all, people don’t know what it is. They  think, ‘Hey it’s an e-moped but with pedals, how is this possible?’ So it takes some time. 

“But in countries where the process is smooth and  efficient, it’s much more attractive to customers and  retailers, and makes it easier to register and start driving  the speed pedelec.” 

The right regulation
As mentioned above, the UK uses the e-moped  classification for S-pedelecs. While there’s not much  debate in favour of placing S-pedelecs in the same  category as slower e-bikes – they’re much faster and do  need some regulation of sorts – if the Government is  serious about encouraging more people to ditch their cars,  the S-pedelec does present a more viable option for many  than something that’s restricted to assisting to 15.5mph.

The way Stromer thinks the question of safety could  be tackled is by variable speed limits for S-pedelec  users, and by utilising technologies such as geo-fencing  which is already highly used by shared transport  e-scooter schemes.

Mathis Gelens

“A very important aspect of regulations is identifying  where the speed pedelec can drive,” continued Gelens.

“So in the UK, for example, you’re only allowed to drive them on the road, which brings the speed pedelec  between the cars and doesn’t always give the safest  feeling to the person driving. In the key markets, they are allowed to drive in the cycling lanes.

“However, we  often get comments like, ‘A normal e-bike goes 25km/h, a speed pedelec goes 45km/h, aren’t they a danger to  other cyclists?’

“We do agree, but we also don’t, because you have to see  the speed pedelec from the perspective of a car. In some places, it will not be  a danger to drive at  45km/h, but if you go  into the city, where  it’s more crowded and there are more people and bicycles, then a speed  pedelec should also adapt. 

“So we are also a big supporter  of having adapted speed signs for the speed pedelec. 

“Depending on where you’re driving, you have to adapt to  regulations. You now see it with e-scooters, with geo fencing, restricting where they can ride.

“Our bikes are fully connected like I think most speed  pedelecs on the market are, which means geo-fencing  would be possible to use. So if you’re driving, for example,  out of the city centre, it will go 45km/h, but whenever you  enter the city centre it will be down to 25km/h.”

S-pedelecs are not there to replace e-bikes per se,  instead, they’re an excellent tool to be ridden alongside  slower bikes. But with sharing the same space as other  road users, comes a collective responsibility – much like  how car drivers should look out for cyclists, cyclists for  pedestrians, etc.

UK adoption
In the UK, this type of conversation will only take place if the Government sees S-pedelecs as a useful e-mobility tool and consider changing the classification within which  they are currently registered, as Flynn explained: “There’s  some great progress being made on urban mobility topics  but undoubtedly, the Government needs to speed up the process to address environmental issues and make cycling, walking or public transport more appealing to the general public.

David Flynn

“On speed pedelecs, they are a great solution for  people needing to make longer journeys so anything which encourages people outside of cars and onto this type of vehicle should be promoted.

“There’s a  collective responsibility to use them legally and safely now  to demonstrate their purpose, value and relevance in the  mobility landscape.” 

So while the red tape is in place, and customers have  to go through an often month-long process that can cost  hundreds of pounds on top of the S-pedelec they have  already purchased, what can retailers do to incentivise  consumers to purchase one?

“A retailer will invariably stock regular E-bikes, and  speed-pedelecs,” continued Flynn. “If they speak to a  customer and the intended use clearly fits a regular e-bike,  sell that. If the customer would gain an advantage from  the speed, range and features of a speed-pedelec; sell its  attributes and begin the conversation of how to register and insure it. 

“If the benefits don’t outweigh the additional admin required to ride it legally, loop back to an e-bike.

“Speed pedelec customers throughout Europe are  purchasing to directly replace car, bus or train journeys.  Many European brands talk about speed pedelec ‘drivers’  in the knowledge they are utilitarian vehicles chosen  to get owners to their destination quickly and safely.

“Everyone is happy to insure and tax their second car or motorbike, or continually update that rail card: why should this task be that much more onerous than any other transport method? 

“If you’re selling it as a regular bicycle with additional admin, you’re underselling its functionality in someone’s lifestyle.

“There’s a huge topic to be investigated here around cycling culture, and  where the bicycle industry slots into the wider urban  mobility landscape, but keeping things simple: a retailer sells a speed-pedelec by articulating the benefit specific  to that customer’s lifestyle and intended use.” 

Identifying a bicycle as a way of getting from A to B rather than a hobby or fitness tool is key to  encouraging a wider acceptance of the S-pedelec, and  bicycles in general. 

Discussing the attitudes of society towards people on  bikes could warrant an essay in itself, but essentially,  by making it harder to get hold of an S-pedelec legally,  the government opens itself up to having unregistered,  more powerful e-bikes on the streets.  

Gelens added: “I think if we now look at the UK or  other new markets, there are two kinds of customers  here. The customer who buys a normal e-bike at 25km/h,  and tunes it so it goes faster than it’s supposed to go, and  it’s very hard to track down or detect.

“Then you have the  speed pedelec where you know it’s going 45km/h, but the  customer has two decisions.

“First of all, are you going to register it? This is often a hard process, and the moment  it is registered you have laws applied like where you can  drive, the requirement to wear a motorcycle helmet, etc.  and it means you’re now in the picture because there’s a licence plate on the back of it.  

“Or, you decide not to register it and it looks like a  normal e-bike, and you can drive in the cycle lanes. And  that’s the pain point in this whole setup.

“We try to lobby  it so that all the legislations in the EU and UK will be  the same, but it will take a couple of years before the UK  will reach this. But the good thing is that we’re all aware  that something has to change on the e-mobility side.

“And  the S-pedelec is the perfect tool to give more people the chance to take a bicycle  to go to work, to cover bigger distances which  they are not able to do with e-mopeds or normal  bicycle.”

Stromer ST1

Benefitting riders
There’s no doubt there are definite benefits  for certain people with an S-pedelec.

And that is what cycling  and e-mobility are all about – giving more people, more types of people from different backgrounds and fitness levels the freedom to leave their cars behind. 

While Stromer targets commuters in their key markets, they’re also seeing some other types of riders purchasing S-pedelecs.

Gelens said: “We have seen the people who are buying  bicycles, and they use them for commuting. However,  in emerging markets, we see that consumers also use it as a status symbol, or as a fun object to drive.

“But our philosophy or our vision is purely focusing on the commuting side.

“We have our slogan, ‘#HereToChange’,  where we focus on changing mobility, getting more  people out of their cars and putting them on bicycles or  S-pedelecs to go to a more sustainable, greener world.  Hopefully, the governments will also start pushing more  for these types of vehicles.”

Read more: Electric motorcycle brand Sur-Ron to offer commuter option in all models

And unfortunately, there is unlikely to be much more uptake in the UK until the Government does start  pushing for more types of e-bikes.

While retailers can  guide customers through the steps and ensure they’re  well aware of the legislation, there’s also no liability with  the retailer to make sure the customer does take out  insurance or register the S-pedelec, as Flynn discussed. 

Flynn added: “Speed-pedelecs will not replace e-bikes  in a store range, nor should they, but as an additional  category for the growing number of people looking for  alternative commuting methods, the speed pedelec has a  bright future – irrespective of the admin steps needed to  prepare it for life on the road.” 

Thus, the popularity of these types of bikes, and  encouraging more entrants to the market is unlikely  to prosper until a separate category is introduced.

But in the meantime, retailers can continue to point  the customer in the right direction, in terms of both registering an S-pedelec or choosing the right type of  e-bike for their needs.

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