Public Health & Recreation

Rhode Island on Path to Allow Some E-Bikes on State Bike Paths

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The state is on the way to allowing certain types of e-bikes to be used on state-owned bicycle paths. (istock)

PROVIDENCE — The House has passed a bill allowing certain types of e-bikes on Rhode Island bike paths and other property managed by the state.

The measure, H7713, was introduced on behalf of and supported by the state Department of Environmental Management, according to DEM director Terry Gray.

E-bikes were previously banned from state property, a policy Gray called “inconsistent” with other state policies, including a state-sponsored rebate program designed to increase usage of electric bicycles.

“These changes will have the effect of expanding the legal use of e-bikes in Rhode Island while ensuring that appropriate safety protections are in effect,” Gray said.

E-bikes are bicycles that come equipped with an electric motor — although they aren’t actually motors like those powered by gas — that help propel the bike when riding. The e-bike industry, following the lead of the U.S. Department of Transportation, classifies them into three distinct classes based on how the motor assists the rider and the maximum speed a bike can go:

Class 1 e-bikes have pedal-assist, which means the engine only helps propel the rider while pedaling, and the function stops when the bike reaches a maximum speed of 20 mph.

Class 2 e-bikes come with throttle-assistance. Similar to motorcycles, the electric motor is activated by twisting a throttle on the handlebar. These bicycles are also capped at a maximum speed of 20 mph.

Class 3 e-bikes are similar to Class 1, in that they rely on pedal-assistance to activate the electric motor’s assistance, but can reach a greater maximum speed of 28 mph.

The legislation adopts those definitions and would allow Class 1 e-bikes to be used on state bike paths and properties and allows DEM to make the decision about whether other classes of e-bikes would be allowed on state property.

“It is DEM’s intention to determine on a case-by-case basis which properties will allow e-bike usage and which classes of e-bikes will be allowed,” Gray said.

Judy Byrnes, a Bristol resident who spoke against a similar bill that didn’t pass last year, said of this year’s bill, “It is a plus that DEM is publicly taking ownership of the issue of e-bikes on bike paths.”

Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence, one of the 2024 bill’s sponsors who also had introduced similar legislation the past two years, said, “It’s good to have some clarity about our bike paths. I look forward to clarifying that e-bikes are bicycles on our roads in the future.”

During a hearing on last year’s bill, Kislak told members of the House Corporations Committee that she originally thought of e-bikes as “cheating” and did not understand the benefits they provide.

“I went for a ride with a friend who has a mobility impairment, and I couldn’t have gone on a bike ride with her without it,” Kislak said. “It was amazing.”

Not everyone shares that view. In written testimony in 2023, several East Bay residents expressed concern over allowing e-bikes on bike paths, citing an instance in 2022 when a Bristol man was struck by an e-bike user while riding his bicycle on the East Bay Bike Path.

“Trying to make motorized bikes equivalent to human powered bicycles on bike paths is a recipe for disaster,” Brynes wrote in testimony to the committee.

Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition (RIBC) president Kathleen Gannon said there is misinformation about e-bikes that prompt negative presumptions.

“People don’t often understand what e-bikes are,” Gannon told ecoRI News.

E-bike batteries are located inside the bike, and on average have a range of 30-60 miles on a single charge, although a select few models come with the ability to mount a second external battery on the chassis to increase mileage.

Advocates say the electric motor is a game-changer for everyone, especially people who may have disabilities or medical conditions that prevent them from riding a traditional bicycle. The motor allows people to ride up hills they wouldn’t be able to normally under their own pedaling power, and to travel for longer distances.

Rhode Island joins 40 other states that have passed the 3-class system as laid out by the federal government and the e-bike industry.

Gannon disputed the safety concerns some people have about e-bikes, noting maximum speed limits prevent them from being less safe than traditional bicycles, which can exceed 20 mph downhill. Gannon said most people probably couldn’t tell the difference between an e-bike and a traditional bicycle without examining it up close.

“That’s just what these are,” she said. “They’re bicycles.”

A companion bill, S2829, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, was held for further study.

The new law would take effect July 1.

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  1. I am a cyclist and have been for many years. My concern with E-bikes is the class 3 bike which can go up to 28 mph. Combine that speed with a heavier bike, plus lack of bike path etiquette, and it will result in people getting hurt. I biked on a public bike trail in Florida this winter where a pedestrian got hit and was killed. I don’t think the bike laws have kept up with the speed, and hazards, of the newer E-bikes.

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