Most bicycle laws in Ohio date from the 1990s, well before the era of low-speed electric bikes. Making this technology legally acceptable is increasingly important as more and more cyclists, especially those who due to age or limited physical capacity, use the eBike alternative to continue to enjoy riding.
PeopleforBikes, a national bicycling advocacy group, is leading the movement to update Ohio’s regulations, and the board of FLMSP unanimously endorsed this effort at its October meeting.
Ron Gorley, FLMSP president, observed: "This field has changed so much recently. It wasn't long ago that the thought of eBikes conjured up visions of high speed mopeds that didn't blend very well with other cyclists or pedestrians. Low speed electric bikes are different. FLMSP looks toward a future where these low speed eBikes have the same privileges and responsibilities as traditional bicycles."
The federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines a low-speed electric bicycle as “a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph (32km/h) and an electric motor that produces less than 750W (1.01 hp).” Current Ohio law makes it technically illegal to ride an eBike on the Little Miami Trail and similar bike paths across the state. Amending the law will not override the authority of local jurisdictions to pass and enforce their own bicycle regulations, but changes at the state level will provide a model for upgrades to local bicycle regulations as well as provide for eBike access on state-owned roads and trails.
Safety is an issue for all bicyclists. Research published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, shows that eBike riders travel at speeds significantly slower than regular bike riders on shared-use (greenway) paths; riders of regular bicycles violate traffic signals at a slightly higher rate than those on eBikes; and that overall "eBike riders exhibit nearly identical safety behavior as regular bike riders." Consequently, over 20 states now define low speed eBikes as bicycles.
As the miles of bike lanes, sharrows, and dedicated trails increase across Ohio, FLMSP is in the vanguard for providing legal access to them for eBike riders. Ron Gorley summed up the Friends' position: "The Little Miami Trail is excellent for all sorts of recreation, including cycling, walking, running, rollerblading, horseback riding and others. The FLMSP welcomes the opportunity to include low-speed eBikes to this mix on the trail."
Phil Obermiller enjoying an early November ride on the trail