Notwithstanding the fact that the new type-approval became definitely effective for e-bikes on 1 January 2016 there is a transition period. That will last up to 31 December 2016. During this year manufacturers and e-bike suppliers are allowed to choose between the 2002 system and the new system.
The first exclusion of electric bicycles from the type-approval legislation happened in 2002, in Directive 2002/24/EC. When this Directive was being prepared, attempts were made to obtain exclusion of all electric bicycles irrespective of their maximum speed and motor power. This would have allowed for a general exclusion of electric bicycles from type-approval legislation and it would have paved the way for appropriate and accurate regulations in concertation with the business concerned. However, at that time the European authorities decided only to exclude bicycles with pedal assistance up to 25 km/h and maximum continuous rated power of 250 W. Those were the specifications of the vehicles on the market at that time. Arguments that one day vehicles with different specifications would come on the market fell on deaf ears, but came true a decade later.
Vehicle AND component type-approval
For regular 250W/25 km/h e-bikes there’s technical regulation by means of the European standard EN 15194. That technical framework is much simpler than type-approval. Type-approval is a whole different framework altogether. Following this legislation, the manufacturer has to have a type of his vehicle tested by a ‘technical service’. This is an organisation or a body accredited by the type-approval authority of a Member State as a testing laboratory, which is entitled to carry out the tests prescribed by the type-approval legislation in order to establish that the type complies with the law. What’s more, the type-approval does not only concern the vehicle as a whole but also many of its components. Consequently, if the manufacturer changes a component, which is regulated by type-approval by a different component, the approval of the original type is no longer valid and the manufacturer has to go through type-approval again. Also, retailers are not entitled to replace type-approved by non-type-approved or different components. They may only use identical type-approved components.
2 categories in type-approval
In the new type-approval, there are 2 categories that can accommodate electric bikes. L1e-A is for “powered cycles” with a maximum speed of 25 km/h and maximum 1 kW of power. L1e-B is for “mopeds” with maximum 45 km/h and 4 kW. So-called speed pedelecs up to 45 km/h come under this category.
It is unclear how the member states will rule on the conditions for use of these vehicles. Some ministries still seem totally unaware of the issue of electric bikes in type-approval. Others have started up a decision process. The German and Dutch ministers seem to be in favour of a moped helmet. The Belgian minister has been advised that a bicycle helmet should do the job. All this concerns so-called speed pedelecs (45 km/h). So far, nobody seems to be aware of the L1e-A category. No statements have been made so far about helmet obligations for this category. In the meantime, some helmet manufacturers are ready for possible moped helmet obligations on speed pedelecs. Both Cratoni and Abus have developed a pedelec model that complies with standard ECE 22.05.
The details of the type-approval have been elaborated by the European Commission and laid down in 4 separate Regulations. They deal with environmental and propulsion performance, vehicle construction, functional safety and with administrative requirements. Whereas the framework Regulation is difficult to change, these Regulations can be quite easily modified. That is why the Commission is continuously talking to the Members States and the stakeholders in the Motorcycle Working Group on necessary corrections, amendments, etc.
In that framework, there are still quite a few issues on the agenda for electric bicycles. One of which is the categorization of electric bikes that have a so-called throttle. The Member States have asked for clear guidelines. It seems that the Commission is willing to exclude pedal assisted bikes with throttles up to 25 km/h – 250 W. All other throttle operated bikes would come under L1e-A and require type-approval. A second, very important issue is the categorization of so-called speed pedelecs that do not comply with factor 4 (ratio of auxiliary propulsion power and actual pedal power). In the Regulation on vehicle safety requirements, there is a mention of “cycles designed to pedal” including a reference to factor 4. The question is whether the s0-called speed pedelecs that do not comply with factor 4 can be type-approved as L1e-B, whilst falling outside the scope of the mention on cycles designed to pedal. The Commission has not yet given a final opinion on this.