You better think twice about tuning your electric bicycle for more speed or power, at least if you live in France. That offense is now punishable by law, and you won’t believe what the maximum sentence can be.
If you tinker with your e-bike to tune it for higher speed, you could be looking at a maximum fine of up to €30,000 (US$34,000).
And don’t fool yourself in thinking that you’ll be alright if you’re rich and can pay the fine. Anyone running afoul of the new French law, known as French statutory provision L317-1, can also face up to one year in jail.
That’s right, you could do hard time for hot rodding your e-bike.
And on top of all of that, you could have your driver license suspended for up to three years.
But it isn’t just individuals, either. The law restricting speed and power enhancements on electric bicycles also applies to importers, distributors, and dealers as well. In fact, any company or person who imports, creates, or sells devices designed to derestrict e-bikes can receive the same maximum fine of up to €30,000 (US$34,000) but also face two years in jail.
The legal limit for e-bike power in France is 25 km/h (15.5 mph) for standard electric bicycles. A special class of electric bicycles known as Speed Pedelecs are permitted to reach speeds of 45 km/h (28 mph).
Very few e-bikes in France actually conform to the 250W regulation, largely because actual wattage (i.e., horsepower) is difficult to measure without laboratory equipment. A simple “250W” sticker can bring a 400W e-bike into compliance. But all e-bikes must conform to the regulated speed limits because it is easier to test e-bikes for speed conformity.
However, 25 km/h (15.5 mph) is fairly slow by bicycle standards (especially when e-bike riders routinely get passed by pedal bikes), and so some e-bike riders take it upon themselves to modify their e-bikes to go faster. This can be as simple as changing settings in the bike’s display, or can be more complicated through “chipping” bikes, or even making hardware modifications to trick speed sensors on the bikes.
Some e-bike companies are happy to let these modifications become open secrets, as it has previously allowed them to offer a compliant bike while letting customers take on the liability associated with improving the bike’s performance. Other companies have taken steps to curb such modifications. Bosch’s motors will actually lock the user out if he or she attempts to modify the speed limit of the bike, requiring a trip to a dealer to have the bike unlocked.
France has been known to take other harsh measures when regulating personal electric vehicles. New speed limits were enacted last year against scooters in certain areas of Paris, limiting speeds to as little as 8 km/h (5 mph).
While I do think there should be regulation to protect the public (including both e-bike riders and the pedestrians that can often be injured by irresponsible riders), this law and its extreme punishments seems a bit draconian.
To be honest, I’ve always felt that regulating e-bikes based on power and speed is ridiculous. We don’t limit cars this way. You can pretty much have whatever size engine you’d like, with power and speed largely limited by what manufacturers can realistically offer while maintaining a profit. Instead, cars are regulated by how they operate. If you drive dangerously or break the speed limit, you’ll be punished. That’s how e-bikes should be regulated as well.
On the other hand, I know that what lies at the crux of this issue is the debate about whether electric bicycles are bicycles or motorcycles. And how they are regulated depends highly on this distinction.
Another way to look at it is that a standard pedaling cyclist can easily exceed the e-bike limit of 25 km/h (15.5 mph), and the current law appears to be fine with that. It’s perfectly fine to ride your pedal bike as fast as you like. So why do we penalize a rider if the bike suddenly has a battery on it? Sure, the bike is heavier. But the bicycle weight is a fraction of the rider’s weight anyways, meaning it has very little effect on the outcome of a potential crash. And I’ve got news for you: A pedestrian is going to get hurt if they are hit by a bicycle and rider going 30 km/h (18 mph), regardless of whether the bike had an extra 5 kg (11 lb) of battery and motor on it.
All of these e-bike laws just feel like they are stifling the industry instead of finding better ways to actually regulate e-bikes and make them safer. And again, I’m not against regulations, laws, or punishments. I would gladly trade such restrictive e-bike manufacturing laws for more cops with radar guns cutting down on riders operating the bikes dangerously. I just think we need to treat the safe operation of e-bikes and even regular bicycles like vehicles in this case. A speeding car doesn’t get a ticket, the driver does. Let’s do the same thing for e-bikes. Enact speed limits based on operation, not based on the manufacturing of the e-bikes themselves.
FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.
Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.