Compared to Europe’s strictly regulated electric bicycle market, the US has fewer restrictions on e-bikes. Bosch, one of the leading electric bicycle drive system manufacturers in Europe, hopes to see that change through the implementation of tighter safety regulations.
The US market isn’t quite the wild west, but it’s much closer to that end of the spectrum than Europe’s tightly-regulated electric bike market.
Compared to the weaker, throttle-less 15 mph (25 km/h) electric bicycles in Europe, the US is home to a wide range of e-bikes with everything from low power assist motors to high power motorcycle-like designs.
Hundreds of large and small e-bike companies and e-bike drive system manufacturers compete for their own sliver of the growing pie that is the US e-bike market, whereas the European market is dominated by a few larger players.
Bosch is perhaps the biggest, with its complete e-bike drive systems found on many of the most popular e-bikes in Europe.
Claudia Wasko, the general manager of Bosch E-bike Systems Americas, recently spoke to Bicycle Retailer about Bosch’s desire to see increased federal oversight of electric bicycles in the US.
Wasko explained that Europe uses several standards for e-bikes and their batteries, including EN 15194 that covers common hazards and hazardous events related to e-bikes.
In the US on the other hand – the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – only recommends voluntary standards from organizations including ASTM, ANSI and UL, but the CPSC does not use Europe’s EN standards.
As Wasko explained, Bosch would like to see that changed so that the CPSC also covered e-bike safety standards in a more effective way, similar to the manner they have approached other products like hoverboards:
With e-bikes becoming more important in the U.S., Bosch would appreciate the CPSC becoming more involved in the topic of e-bike safety standards.
In 2018, the agency issued a letter that “urged” manufacturers and distributors of self-balancing scooters (hoverboards) to sell only products that comply with voluntary safety standards like UL 2272, which is a standard for electrical systems for personal e-mobility devices. Bosch would appreciate a similar approach for e-bikes.
Bosch also supports US e-bike safety regulations covering the entire e-bike system as opposed to just an individual part like the battery.
Most e-bikes sold in the US market use a combination of e-bike drive components from various suppliers; the motor might come from one supplier, while the battery and controller come from other suppliers. In Europe, it is more common for e-bikes to use a single unified supplier like Bosch to produce all components of the e-bike drive system.
Standards such as UL 2849 exist to cover broader e-bike systems including the drivetrain, battery, and charger. It’s a standard that Bosch would like to see applied to e-bikes in the US.
As Wasko continued:
UL 2849 has robust functional safety requirements for battery packs and battery management systems, and it also addresses risks associated with the other components of an e-bike system. Certification includes a detailed evaluation and testing of the drive unit, display unit, interconnecting cables and connectors, electrical accessories, battery system and charger system combinations.
Standards such as UL 2849 are essential to ensure safety through the thousands of cycles of charges and discharges. Testing and validating the safety of battery packs and battery management systems is needed to minimize the risk of fire and electric shock.
Getting certified to this system standard requires an investment of both time and money. Consequently, only a limited number of suppliers has taken these efforts.
The expense of these broader certifications makes it harder for new and smaller electric bicycle companies and component suppliers to compete against established industry giants like Bosch.
This would result in e-bike manufacturers having fewer choices for drivetrain components, with the remaining options likely consisting of larger companies like Bosch that can afford the certifications.
That’s a point that Wasko also made clear, though pointed to the safety benefits as Bosch’s rational for supporting complete system certification:
A system certification could decrease sourcing options for bicycle manufacturers who prefer to purchase e-bike components separately. But brands could undertake the efforts to comply with UL 2849. From the Bosch perspective, only complete-system standards can ensure the highest level of safety.
When discussing the difference between the EU and US markets for e-bikes, Wasko described the US e-bike market as lacking maturity compared to Europe’s e-bike market. In the US, it is common to order e-bikes online from direct-to-consumer companies. In Europe, most e-bikes are sold in bike shops that serve as middlemen between manufacturers and customers.
For many reasons including their perception, e-bikes in the U.S. have not reached the maturity level of the European market. The electrification rate in the U.S. is around 8%, compared to an average of 23% in Europe, with established countries reaching even 40-50%.
The issue of increased e-bike regulations in the US is a touchy one.
Top comment by Johnny
Bosch is on glue. We need higher limits here because we often have to ride with traffic. Europe has exactly 1 billion times better cycling infrastructure than the US. Until we get anywhere near the quality of Europe's infrastructure, ebikes will need much more power to compete with autos.
American e-bike riders enjoy the benefits of looser restrictions that allow higher speeds and power levels. In Europe, it’s common for e-bike riders in bike lanes to be passed by pedal cyclists that traveling much faster than the e-bike’s 25 km/h (15 mph) speed limit.
In the US, e-bikes are often used on larger roads and outside of bike lanes, where higher power and speed limits help e-bikes keep up with US traffic levels.
Even if the issues of speed and power are put aside, safety regulations still create a massive point of contention. Few would object to the importance of safety regulations, but those that unfairly prevent smaller e-bike companies from competing or are crafted to benefit certain suppliers of complete e-bike systems could quickly draw accusations of bias.
While complete e-bike system regulations could certainly increase the safety of e-bikes, focusing on specific components – such as batteries – might be the most prudent choice in the short term. Batteries provide the most risk of any component on an e-bike, so they seem like the right place to start. And UL-rated batteries can of course be purchased by any manufacturer.
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