Electric bikes jolt into summer

The popular bike prompts Island-wide discussion.

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Updated July 13

Electric bikes have become a popular mode of transportation around the Island this summer, prompting some discussion of how to regulate the hot wheels.

The Times even took one out for a spin to see how much electric bikes actually differ from a standard seven-speed variety.

Electric bikes work by giving riders a pedal assist. While pedaling, an electric motor on the bike kicks in and gives the bike extra speed. Riders can adjust the level from no-boost to turbo. Once the rider stops pedaling, the assisted speed stops too.

Under Massachusetts law, a person must be at least 16 to operate an electric bike. Electric bikes are also allowed to use any public way — including bike paths — according to a Massachusetts by-law.

Hans Selvog, the owner of the rental side of Edgartown Bicycles, went before Edgartown selectmen Monday to request that the town lift a ban on the rental of electric bikes to allow the popular bikes to be rented in town. Other towns, such as Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, allow electric bike rental.

Selvog said he has not found statistics or facts that electric bikes are any more dangerous than normal bikes. He said electric bikes are popular among the elderly population, and are a great alternative to mopeds.

“If you rode one, I think you’d see they’re not as unsafe as you think,” Selvog said.

Selectman Arthur Smadbeck told Selvog the original 2014 ban on electric bike rentals was due to a town bylaw that does not allow for the rental of motor-assisted vehicles.

Electric bikes have always been allowed to be sold which, Smadbeck said, makes all the difference. “Renting is a problem, because people don’t know how to ride them,” he said. “Owning is different, because they know how to use them.”

Edgartown Bikes isn’t the only bike shop on Island embracing electric bikes. Wheel Happy, another bike shop in Edgartown, sells electric bikes — a lot of them. Owner Phil Hughes said people just need to learn more about electric bikes and see the benefits they offer. “There’s got to be education,” he said.

Martha’s Bike general manager Nick Kleidon, who is allowed to sell and rent electric bikes in his Vineyard Haven shop, said electric bikes are popular item among his customers — especially the elderly. “It allows them to see the Island,” he said.

While people rent and buy electric bikes for recreational use, some even use them to run their business. In a Times article last week, Popcycle founder Noah Goldberg spoke about how she uses electric bikes to deliver ice cream to customers.

Rob Davis, a regular bicyclist on the Island, said he was concerned that the electric bikes could go almost as fast as mopeds, but with quiet electric motors that can’t be heard.

Electric bike accidents, however, are uncommon.

Each police department on-Island told the Times there have been no complaints of electric bikes. Aquinnah Police Chief Rhandi Belain said his department has been looking to purchase a new bike, and will most likely upgrade to an electric bike next year, citing the numerous hills in town as a reason pedal assistance might come in handy.

“In general, they have not been an issue, no major accidents,” Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said of electric bikes in Oak Bluffs.

Unlike Aquinnah, Chief Blake said he was not looking to get electric bikes for his officers. “If they can’t ride from [the police station] to Pocasset Avenue, we should probably talk about their fitness level,” he joked.

Tisbury Police Lt. Eerik Meisner told the Times there had been no electric bike issues “so far,” but that didn’t mean they may not have them in the future as they become more popular.

Issues with electric bikes have not been a major concern for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room, either. Emergency room nurse manager Mike Spiro told the Times he had not seen anything out of the ordinary concerning bikes — regular or electric.

Edgartown resident Richard Cloninger, who attended the same selectmen’s meeting as Selvog, spoke up about the new trend. “We need to move toward a safer infrastructure, a safer culture,” he said. “Electric bikes are the future.”

Updated to correct Nick Kleidon’s title. -Ed.

3 COMMENTS

  1. We see so many visitors here on rented bicycles who clearly don’t use them often and/or have not done so for a long time. The concern is that with electric assist a marginal biker could travel beyond his/her physical ability, have a dead battery, and be stranded.

    • Oh my— what would happen if they had a flat tire, or their chain came off and they were mechanically challenged ?
      What if moped riders run out of gas ?
      Besides, it they get “stranded” we have coast guard helicopters nearby to rescue them.

      • Most bikes these days have a pump to handle a flat and even tourists and snowflakes can figure out how to re-set a chain, but only you donx3 are wired enough to recharge the battery – and gaseous enough to run an empty moped back to the barn.