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“Hey MDC! E-Bikes are Bicycles, Too!”

Chester Kojro
Chester A. Kojro

According to the January 27 Rolla Daily News, page A6, “MDC proposes allowing bicycle use on conservation area service roads.”  Hey, great idea.  Missouri Department of Conservation is big into recreation related activities and seems to be jumping on the “bike riding is healthy and should be encouraged” bandwagon.  And why not?  Bicycling is not only healthy but also quiet and nonpolluting.  These access roads are low traffic and perfectly suited for bicycling, and unlike new multipurpose trails, this costs nothing as they already exist.  Win win! 

But then there is the sub headline:  “Proposal would allow expanded bicycle use on many areas while restricting access that could be unsafe or cause damage.”  Okay, we know that the Devil is always in the details.  Sure enough, there it was at the end of the third paragraph:  “The proposed change would not apply to electric or other motorized bicycles, which would not be allowed.” 

Oh, for Pete’s sake!  Once again, banning e-bikes.  WHY? 

Perhaps it’s all a misunderstanding, so let’s review words and meanings.  A low-speed “motor scooter” or “moped”, restricted to 30 mph and 50cc engine, is also called a “motorized bicycle”.   Essentially a small motorcycle, perhaps with pedals to start and assist up hills, it is clearly a motorized vehicle and has no place on mixed use paths with pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists. 

As electric cars, electric motorcycles and electric scooters are becoming mainstream, the term “electric bicycle” could be used for the battery-powered equivalent of a gas powered motor scooter, moped or motorized bicycle.  These, I agree, should not be allowed on multiuse trails. 

But then there is the “electric bicycle” or “E-bike”, probably the greatest advance in bicycling since the free wheel hub that allows a rider to coast without pedaling. 

An E-bike is nothing like a “motorcycle”.  It is a pedal bicycle with an added battery-operated motor assist.  The common e-bike requires the rider to pedal while an electric motor provides assistance, very handy when starting, climbing hills, carrying heavy loads, or struggling against headwinds.  Above a preset speed, typically 20 mph, the motor shuts off.  Like any pedal bicycle, it can go faster by hard pedaling or when coasting downhill, but without the motor’s assist. 

E-bikes are a blessing to riders who have physical limitations, reducing strain and allowing them to keep up with others.  They also reduce the effort of pedaling at higher speeds, meaning that you can travel faster and farther, especially uphill.  But at 20 mph, e-bikes are limited to common bicycle speeds, and that’s the key point.  Having an e-motor itself is not an unusual hazard.  E-bikes are a little heavier due to the battery and motor, but comparable with a similar bike carrying some cargo. 

Can e-bikes be ridden recklessly?  Of course, but so can regular bicycles.  Horses can be, too.  Any miscreant can ride too fast for conditions, stray off pathways onto sensitive restricted areas, act boorishly, litter, and even be a vandal, but those behaviors have nothing to do with e-bikes. 

Now if MDC wants to establish safe speed limits on access roads, have at it, and enforce them.  But the limits should always be on behavior and not the specific type of bicycle, just like we don’t ban cars simply because they are capable of exceeding established speed limits. 

According to the same RDN article, MDC invites public comment on the regulation changes March 2-31 online or by mail.  I will comment and hope that others do so, too. 

I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try.  Perhaps we’ll meet soon.  I’ll ring my bell!