SPEECH: Ride to Work Day

Today Mark spoke about Adelaide City Council's Ride to Work Day event which he attended, the need for more separated bikeways in the city and his view that the laws around e-bikes should be reviewed. 

Today was the annual Ride to Work Day, which despite the inclement weather saw hundreds of cyclists pass through the free breakfast that was sponsored by Adelaide City Council in Hindmarsh Square, or Mukata, to give it its Kaurna name. A number of the regular groups were there this year: Bike SA, the Bicycle Institute of South Australia, Cycling South Australia. Food was provided—a cooked breakfast—by the Rotary Club, and SAPOL was there in force as well. The Adelaide City Council was the key sponsor, and the cyclists were welcomed this morning by Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor.

One initiative this year which they have not done before was a pop-up separated bike lane installed on Pirie Street between Pulteney and Frome. It was only established for 12 hours, from 6am to 6pm. The council got rid of a small number of parallel car-parking spaces for that time and installed some temporary barriers, and this provided a protected cycling environment on both sides of Pirie Street. I have to say it was a joy to ride and not have to compete with cars even just for a few hundred metres.

According to the Adelaide City Council, this temporary stretch of protected bikeway is a Splash Adelaide initiative. Splash Adelaide is all about throwing away the rule book to test ideas, foster innovation and remove barriers to enable the community to deliver projects in the city. My feedback to the council is that this gets a big thumbs up from me. We need more separated bikeways in the city in addition to the Frome Street bikeway, which despite some redesign over the years is providing a safe north-south corridor for cyclists entering the city from the south in particular. We still need to do more in relation to other entry points to the city, but I think the political will is certainly there on the part of council to make Adelaide a more cycle-friendly city.

Another issue I think the parliament should look at is the rules surrounding electric bikes. They are becoming increasingly popular, and the technology is improving all the time. Some years ago in parliament we passed a bill effectively adopting the European standard for electric bikes, so-called pedelecs. The main restrictions before an electric-assisted bicycle can be used on roads in South Australia is that the maximum continuous power output of the motor must not exceed 250 watts; the rider must pedal to access the power, though the motor may operate without pedalling up to a speed of 6 km/h; and, thirdly, the power must cut out when the pedelec reaches 25 km/h or sooner if the operator stops pedalling.

I think at least two of these need to be reviewed. The capacity of the motor could be raised, especially in relation to cargo bikes or heavier vehicles. One suggestion from an expert in this field is that for standard on-road use without requiring registration or a driver's licence, 350 watts is a more sensible limit. There should also be much more powerful motors allowed for other uses, but these would effectively be electric motorbikes and therefore require registration and licensing.

Secondly, the maximum speed before the motor cuts out needs to be revised upwards. A fit rider can easily ride faster than 25 km/h for sustained periods under their own steam; a very fit rider can easily maintain 35 km/h, with up to 40 km/h on the flat. This is not to mention that just about anyone can easily reach over 50 km/h downhill just by rolling without pedalling, if the hill is big enough. So the question is: what is the point of a speed limit that can be broken by anyone on any bike?

I would also point out that there is not a lot of enforcement of these laws. That is not surprising because it is very difficult to detect modifications to electric bikes, and it is not illegal to sell more powerful bikes because they can be used legally off-road without having to comply with the restrictions I have referred to. Even with compliant e-bikes, bike sellers are legally able to disable the speed limiting devices and install throttles or more powerful motors if the buyer says they want to use the bike off-road on private property.

So what I think we need to do is listen to what e-bike riders are saying and what the industry is saying. The overwhelming opinion is that the laws need to be changed to allow users to get the maximum benefits from e-bikes. Rather than one size fits all, we could adopt a class system. My suggestion, for a standard class of electric bike that does not require a licence or registration, is 350 watts and a cut-off speed of 30 km/h. That would really improve e-bikes in South Australia.