February 29, 2024


There’s a battle brewing about the laws affecting e-bikes, but here’s a story with some good news. For a variety of reasons, New York was forced to recognize some reasonable laws, and the Propel e-bike played a role. let’s see…

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Chris Nolte is the man who conquered New York. He started Propel Ebikes (click here), as a retail store for electric bicycles, since there are already many pedal bicycle shops around. I met Chris many years ago at the Interbike convention (click here), he may not remember me, but he made such an impression on me that I do remember him. I randomly interviewed every e-bike shop owner I could find to find out what customers were actually buying. (BH eMotion was very popular at the timealso click here).

Chris has a store in Long Beach, Southern California, but the controversy is centered on a store in Brooklyn, New York, just across the bridge from Manhattan. Electric bikes have long been under pressure in New York. I think part of it is aggressive food delivery riders who use e-bikes to zip between cars in heavy traffic.

Propel Ebikes, Brooklyn

Also, I have a theory that is not supported by evidence. I have visited Manhattan many times for a job. It’s ridiculously expensive to park there, and they don’t seem to want anyone driving their own car into town. I was working on the NJ border. When the weekend came, it was surprisingly cheap and convenient to park my rental car in a very secure guarded lot and take the train to the center of Manhattan.

The island of Manhattan is long and narrow. At its widest point, it was about ten blocks, which was an easy walk. If the average citizen (or tourist) wants to travel vertically, the subway system works well and is also affordable. It seems as if the fairly wealthy citizens there use taxis and limousines to travel around Manhattan (think stockbrokers and celebrities).

Remember the movie where Tom Hanks played the pilot Sullenberger? They took off from an airport next to Manhattan, and both engines died immediately (due to a flock of birds entering the air intake), so he had to land the plane in the river next to Manhattan. That’s how close the airport is to Manhattan, but… taxis from the airport to Manhattan were recently listed at $52. My point is… NYC is not kind to anything that grabs money from subways or taxis…maybe… e-bikes?

Rain or shine, taxis are NYC’s ‘money train’

“Always follow the money,” a wise investigator once wrote. New York City gets a lot of revenue from subways and taxis. This may sound like an offhand comment, but…it is very expensive to get a taxi license (called a medallion). In 2019, 16 medals were sold at auction, three of which sold for $137,000. That’s before you earn a dollar in cab fare. Thanks to Uber and Lyft’s “ride-sharing” programs, the number of taxis in New York has dropped to around 13,000 (not a typo). Now, I’m not a math genius (googling like crazy), but this means that NYC makes over a billion dollars a year just by granting “permits” for taxi operations (with a “B”).

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Covid-19 (Coronavirus Disease, 2019)

The Covid-19 virus has had a profound impact.New York eases restrictions on e-bikes starting March 2020 Specifically To meet the demand for more meal delivery services. Physically living in Manhattan would be prohibitively expensive for any worker, so most live within commuter train distance and ride to work every day. During the Covid-19 pandemic, with tourists staying home and fewer people going to restaurants (even though it is legal to do so), delivery orders from grocery stores and deli orders from restaurants have surged.

It made New York realize they were shooting themselves in the foot. A long-running battle has erupted between New York police officers and food delivery drivers, who ride their delivery bikes 12 hours a day on invisible electric bikes. Before the invention of electric bicycles, New York was the center of “stationary” culture. The name refers to fixed-gear bicycles (single-speed bicycles without a freewheel).

Manhattan is pretty flat, so bike delivery riders don’t need gears, and even if they had a few, a faulty derailleur could render the bike unusable. No gears, simple and reliable. Plus, leaving your bike outside is easy to steal, even if it has a lock. So a delivery bike is very simple and very light so it can be taken anywhere. Of course, as soon as e-bikes were invented, some delivery guys started experimenting with them…

A food delivery driver on an electric bike in New York

If a regular bike had a 20mph crash, that would be bad, but…if an e-bike had a 20mph crash? …Suddenly it becomes a public hazard. Laws passed and police cracked down. It would be bad enough if the police were harming food deliveries, but they even made the sale of e-bikes illegal. That’s just crazy. What if I want to buy one but take it to the Connecticut trails for the weekend? No, New York says, you can’t ride them here, you can’t even sell them here. Or… is it?

Chris already has an e-bike shop up and running, but he thinks a shop near Manhattan will eventually be in a good position to finally relax the rules to something more reasonable. This is risky. However, the actual law regarding e-bikes deals with the use of the hand throttle. European-style e-bikes rarely allow hand throttles, and their reasoning in the past was that the lack of a hand throttle would make the rider ready and able to apply the brakes with one or both hands.This means that e-bikes in EU format use pedal assist sensor, or PAS. The wheels get power only when the pedals are pressed at the same time.

However, an old friend said that if the police decide to arrest you… even if you later win in court, you can’t escape the journey to prison because you have free photos and fingerprints. Not long after opening the Propel store in Brooklyn, Chris was fined $25,000 (again, not a typo). It’s a great story, but Chris tells it even better, so watch this 13 minute video he just posted.

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By Ron/spinningmagnets, April 2021

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