It wasn’t so long ago that an electric bike was a rare sight, and a novel one at that. Fast forward to present day and just about every major manufacturer on the planet has thrown their hat in the electric bicycle ring. And we mean everyone.
Naturally, you can pick up an electric bike from big names in the cycling industry like Specialized, Cannondale, or Trek, but even luxury car brands like Porsche, Lamborghini, and Mercedes Benz will now sell you their own special take on the electric two-wheeler (for a premium, of course).
Electric bikes are convenient and fun to ride, but recent studies have shown they’re much more dangerous than traditional bicycles. So much so, in fact, that many feel eBikes are more dangerous than motorcycles themselves. In the article below, we’ll take a look at a few of the factors that could make electric bikes more dangerous than motorcycles, and what eBike riders can do to increase their own bike safety.
Motorcyclists and bicyclists have long shared a common problem: Visibility in traffic.
As you may have read in our previous article, the odds are against us when we hit public roads on two wheels. Between distracted driving (especially cell phone use), LBFTS (Look But Fail To See) accidents, and the huge knowledge gap on general cycling etiquette, the deck is stacked high against bike safety.
Combine those already long odds with the extra speed and power of modern pedal assist systems, and you’ll start to see what we mean: Drivers have much more time to notice and react to a bicycle entering an intersection at 10mph than they do to an eBike zooming along at 20mph+.
While electric bikes average higher speeds and much faster acceleration than traditional motorcycles, most state laws implement a “three-tier” system that regulates how fast an eBike travels. Most electric bicycles fall into either the “Class 1” or “Class 2” designation, both of which require the bike’s electric motor to stop providing assistance once it reaches 20mph.
20mph is more than enough for your typical city traffic, especially during heavy commuting hours, but outside of rush hour speeds often double that number. That’s not a problem for motorcyclists, who have no issue matching the speed of traffic (or far exceeding it) at just about any pace.
EBikes, on the other hand, often find themselves in dangerous situations when impatient drivers go to pass them at high rates of speed. Dedicated bike lanes help alleviate this problem, but there aren’t nearly enough of them, which brings us to our next point.
Some cities are packed end-to-end with generous bike lanes, often completely separated from the flow of automobile traffic. Indeed places like Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco can seem like an electric bicycle commuter’s paradise with their miles upon miles of bike lanes, many of which are completely shielded by protective concrete barriers. Other cities, however, don’t fare so well.
That’s why many electric bikes are faced with a decision motorcyclists don’t have to worry about: Should they hug the curb to stay out of the way of traffic, take up the entire lane to keep dangerous passes to a minimum, or try their luck on the sidewalk?
Without a dedicated bike lane (and the heightened awareness of drivers that comes along with it), many electric bike riders find themselves at risk every time they commute to and from work. The power, speed, and efficiency of electric bikes grow every year, while the costly and time-consuming project of developing bike safety infrastructure takes decades to implement.
Compare the average urban commute on a motorcycle to one on an electric bike: Both machines spend a fair amount of time sitting at stoplights or crawling between them at relatively low speeds. Some days taking your bicycle to work actually gets you there faster than the latest 200-horsepower superbike, especially if your town has the kind of bike-friendly streets described above.
Now, compare the average safety gear you see on a cyclist wears with your typical motorcyclist.
99% of the bicyclists we see out on the road wear little to nothing in terms of safety gear. Even the most cautious cyclists typically wear little more than an open-face helmet and some reflective clothing, and sadly many don’t even do that.
Motorcyclists on the other hand? Although they’re traveling at essentially the same speeds on the same roads, they’re much better protected. At minimum your average motorcycle rider has a full-face helmet that’s undergone rigorous safety testing as well as highly-protective footwear.
Most even go a step further and incorporate a riding jacket (which includes elbow, shoulder, and back protection) as well as highly abrasion-resistant clothing made from materials like leather, Kevlar, and Cordura. Which would you rather be wearing in an accident?
When it comes to eBike safety, we’ve got a few recommendations. Knowing what to wear and how to ride in traffic are your bare minimum requirements here, but there’s actually another step electric bike owners should take that we’ll share below as well.
Start with the basics: Never ride your electric bike without a helmet and clothing that is both highly visible (fluorescent colors are your friend) and highly reflective (especially important at night). If you do ride at night, you should have lights and reflectors mounted to both the front and rear of your bicycle.
Once you’ve got basic safety gear checked off your list, you should familiarize yourself with the rules of the road. In terms of right of way, eBikes should follow the exact same guidelines as standard bicycles. That means you need to yield to both pedestrians and all other vehicles on the road. There are no exceptions here, so don’t make the mistake of assuming you’re at the top of the pecking order because you’re not in a vehicle. Always ride in the same direction as traffic, and make an effort to match the flow of traffic as closely as possible.
Of course that doesn’t mean you should be pedaling full blast everywhere you go if it’s not safe to do so. Knowing your limits and keeping your bike under control at all times plays a huge role in bike safety. Keep one finger on the brakes at all times, and leave yourself as much room as possible front and rear for emergency stops.
Make it a point to make intentional eye contact with drivers on the road, especially at intersections. It’s your job to make sure you’re seen before pulling out into traffic, even when you have the right of way.
The idea is to ride as predictably as possible. Again, cyclists are already at a disadvantage due to visibility and the tendency of drivers to fail to perceive us out on the road. Don’t make any sudden moves in traffic like erratic lane changes or abrupt stops. When you do need to change lanes or make a turn, make sure to use hand signals early and often.
If you’re not familiar with cycling hand signals, good news: There are only three you really need to know (left turn, right turn, and slow/stop), and you do them all with your left hand.
To signal a left hand turn or left hand lane change, simply extend your left arm fully out to your left side. You’ll want to signal your turns early, so it’s recommended to begin signaling at least 100 feet before making a turn or lane change.
For right hand turns or right hand lane changes, extend your left arm to your left, but bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle as if you were waving to someone directly in front of you. Some states also allow a fully extended right arm as a signal, but we recommend sticking with left hand signals whenever possible as they’re the most common and most likely to be recognized.
To signal a stop/slowing, you’ll once again extend your left arm with a 90-degree bend, but this time your open hand should be pointing down to the ground, essentially a mirror image of a right turn hand signal.
Yes, motorcyclists wear higher quality and more protective safety gear than cyclists, but there’s a reason for that: They don’t have to pedal their bikes to get from A to B. Cyclists, on the other hand, need to prioritize mobility and breathability (even pedaling an eBike can be sweaty work), and that’s where the Riderbag comes into play.
We designed the Riderbag with cyclists in mind as a one-stop-shop to improve every aspect of bike safety. The Riderbag is highly visible thanks to its bright color options, and also comes with plenty of highly reflective panels to dramatically increase your visibility at night.
The icing on the cake here though is that the Riderbag gives electric bike riders access to motorcycle-level protection without impacting their mobility. That’s because every Riderbag features built-in compatibility with a CE-level-2 spine protector that greatly reduces the force of impacts transmitted to your spine in the event of a crash.
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Want to learn more about ebikes? Check out #TeamRiderbag on YouTube:
Ebike Fan: https://www.youtube.com/c/ebikefansfo
Rusty Roads: https://www.youtube.com/c/RustyRoads
High-vis commuter backpacks are a no-brainer for anyone traveling the streets on two wheels. Their bright fluorescent fabrics reflect more than twice the light of conventional colors, forcing drivers to take notice of the motorcyclists and bicyclists who wear them.
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