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  • Conventional Wisdom States That E-bikes are Too Fast and Dangerous. E-bike Safety Facts and Findings Suggest Otherwise
Posted by Gregory Maassen on December 6, 2021 - Latest revision January 22, 2022  Reading time: minutes remaining

Conventional Wisdom States That E-bikes are Too Fast and Dangerous. E-bike Safety Facts and Findings Suggest Otherwise

We get the occasional middle finger and a verbal sign of discontent from a traditional road cyclist in full gear at E-bike Lovers when we responsibly pass the athlete on a hill.

With an e-bike, you have a few hundred watts of extra power extra under your belt, making it easier to navigate hills and mountains. It is like having a Tour the France rider built into your bike. Losing a race is never fun. E-bikes win on the hills from conventional bicycles unless you are a Tour the France pro.

On average, Tour the France riders produce 350 to 375 watts when climbing the Col du Tourmalet. The average e-bike provides 250 watts of nominal power in addition to some 100 watts of power from the e-biker. It is no wonder that an e-bike can go faster uphill with the extra power from the motor than a regular road cyclist.

That is why e-bikes are popular with those whose knees and legs are too weak to climb hills. The little extra assist from the motor makes an enormous difference and is worth being yelled at and “middle-fingered” occasionally.


Tour the France Pro’s

Average Road Cyclist

Average E-biker

Average Speed on Flat Terrain

25 to 28 mph

17 to 18 mph

12 to 15 mph

Average Cobblestone Speed

22 to 24 mph

14 to 16 mph

10-12 mph

Maximum Sprint Power

1,200 to 1,400 watts

600 to 800 watts

350-400 watts

Climb the Col du Tourmalet

350 to 375 watts

175 to 200 watts

350 to 400 watts

Number of Legs Shaved

Two legs shaved

Two legs, hairy

Two legs, hairy

Number of Sandwiches Consumed

~30 sandwiches

1 to 3 sandwiches

One sandwich and cookies

Sources Bicycling/E-bike Lovers.


Does the Extra Assist Make an E-bike More Dangerous?

The average speed of a leg-shaved, ~30-sandwiches-consuming Tour the France professional on flat terrain is 25 to 28 mph. This is an impressive accomplishment and equals the maximum speed of a class 3 e-bike. The top speed of class 1 or class 2 e-bikes is 20 mph. Does this mean that e-bikes are more dangerous as they can go as fast as a Tour the France rider?

The little extra assist from the motor makes an enormous difference and is worth being yelled at and “middle-fingered” occasionally.

e-bike lovers

Washington DC

E-bike Lovers’ Experience

Our experience biking with hundreds of e-bikers over tens of thousands of miles suggests that e-bikers are not speed-loving individuals. They like to cruise at average speeds between 12-15 mph, well within the speed limits of most cycling trails. They frequently stop to enjoy nature, and they like to visit restrooms and restaurants.

EBike Lovers exploring the DMV area business cards

They tend not to be in a hurry. E-bikers typically follow traffic laws and are respectful of others on multi-use trails. They have a bell on the handlebar, lights installed, and use disk brakes. E-bikers appear not to yell at others when passed on the trail.

They seem to have no desire to go full speed through stop signs, but they do not appear to wait for a stop sign when no cars are present. They prefer the Idaho Stop when a stop sign is a yield sign.

We have no evidence that the average e-biker shaves legs, but we have anecdotal evidence that they like cookies.

This is empirical evidence and possibly not representative of a larger population of e-bike riders.

Academic Research and E-bike Safety Profiles

We have reviewed recent academic literature to understand more about the risk profile of an e-biker. We define a regular e-cyclist as someone who uses a bicycle for recreational purposes, commute, and run errands. We are not talking about road cycling enthusiasts who are serious, committed, and regular riders who quickly bike 50-100 miles in a day and thousands of miles monthly.

E-bike Safety in the Netherlands

Schepers et al. (2020) collected data through a survey in 2016 by the Dutch Consumer and Safety Institute among cyclists treated for severe injuries, after a crash, in 13 Dutch hospitals. A total of 2,383 casualties over 16 years of age responded. The results were controlled for bicycle use, age, gender, and health status.

E-bike users had poorer health than conventional bike users, but they were not more likely to be involved in a crash or sustain more severe injuries. However, older female cyclists did have an elevated risk on e-bikes and sustained more severe injuries.

A separated e-bike lane in the Netherlands. Despite the excellent infrastructure, accidents happen.

Conclusion: Most groups of e-bike users in the study were not more likely than conventional bike users to be involved in a crash for which treatment at an E.R. is needed or to sustain more severe injuries if involved in a collision.

E-bike Sharing

Langford et al. (2015) conducted a GPS-based safety study between regular bicycle (i.e., standard bicycle) and e-bike riders in the context of a unique bike-sharing system. They focused on rider safety behavior under four situations:

  • Riding in the correct direction on directional roadway segments;
  • Speed on on-road and shared-use paths;
  • Stopping behavior at stop-controlled intersections; and
  • Stopping behavior at signalized intersections.

The researchers found that, with few exceptions, riders of e-bikes behave very similarly to riders of bicycles. Violation rates were extremely high for both vehicles in the context of a bike-sharing system. The average on-road speeds of e-bike riders (8.26 mph) were higher than regular bicyclists (6.46 mph), but shared-use path (greenway) speeds of e-bike riders (6.84 mph) were lower than regular bicyclists (7.83 mph).

Conclusion: E-bike riders exhibit nearly identical safety behavior as regular bike riders and should be regulated similarly. Regular cyclists biked faster than e-bikers on shared-use paths.

E-biking in the U.S. vs. Europe

Cherry and MacArthur (2019) reviewed empirical European and North American research on e-bike safety for a white paper commissioned by Peoples for Bikes. The authors’ findings are interesting as they find that Class 3 e-bikes have the same crash risk as Class 1 e-bikes, but injury severity is slightly higher when they crash.

They also find that Class 1 e-bikes are marginally faster than conventional bicycles (1.86 mph). Class 3 e-bikes travel substantially faster than conventional bicycles, about twice the speed on average. Still, the authors conclude that there “is little specific evidence (in crash or injury databases) that Class 3 e-bikes are overrepresented in injury databases.”

Conclusion: “There is no definitive answer whether e-bikes are more or less safe than conventional bicycling and under which circumstances.”

E-biking in Israel

Siman-Tov et al. (2018) researched electric bike casualties in Israel and how they differ from conventional mechanical bicycles. During the study period, 1,733 e-bikers and 7,259 regular bikers were hospitalized, and the hospitalization rate per 1,000 vehicles was lower for e-bikers. In contrast to regular bikers, e-bikers have a lower casualty rate, but e-bike casualties are more severely injured and utilize more hospital resources.

A Court Case to Keep E-Bikers Out of National Parks

The academic evidence and conventional wisdom about the safety of e-biking seem not to deter plaintiffs from making the argument that e-bikes are dangerous and have no place on trails in national parks where traditional bicycles are allowed.

E-bike use in the National Park System creates qualitatively new risks, such as high speeds, increased likelihood of collisions compared to non-motorized bicycles, and the startling and disturbance of hikers, runners, and horse and traditional bicycle riders. Their use also causes environmental impacts such as increased noise, trail damage, and disturbance of wildlife.

plaintiffs

Although the court case has perhaps more to do with the administrative procedures allowing e-bikers to use trails in national parks than e-bikers’ actual access to national parks, the plaintiffs argue that e-bikes are too dangerous and fast. What do you think? Let us know.

Our Conclusion

Based on our own experience biking with hundreds of e-bikers over thousands of miles and reviewing recent academic literature, e-bikers are not necessarily more dangerous than conventional cyclists. They have more in common than they differ.

E-bike riders exhibit nearly identical safety behavior as regular bike riders.

Class 3 e-bikes go faster than class 1 e-bikes which is not a surprise, and they are designed for faster speeds. No academic research appears to have found that class 3 e-bikers are worse at following the law and sticking to speed limits than other classes of e-bikers or conventional cyclists. 

Even on high-speed -28 mph class 3 e-bikes, riders appear to have the same general risk profile as other e-bikers and conventional cyclists. They are equally involved in crashes and generally display equally poor behavior in traffic.

E-bikers and conventional bikers should be treated equally under the law. Traffic laws do not distinguish between the capacity of car motors when someone is cited for speeding. It doesn’t matter what car you drive, and if you speed, you get a ticket.

Why can't the same be true for e-bike users? 

Round Logo of E-bike Lovers with an electric bicycle and name of group

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