e-bikes take to Martha’s Vineyard roads and bike paths

Electric bicycles are now available at several Island rental outlets. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Bicycles with electric motors, also known as e-bikes, are the newest form of rental transportation to appear on Martha’s Vineyard roads and bike paths. E-bike rental agents promote the bikes as a safe, green alternative to controversial mopeds.

Depending on the brand, e-bikes can exceed speeds of 30 miles per hour, although state law prohibits travelling faster than 25 mph.

E-bikes operate as normal 7-speed bikes but have a lithium-ion battery that provides an optional “pedal-assist function” with four settings. Using low, medium, or high settings, riders can get one, two, or three extra pedals for each human pedal. The fourth option is to exclusively use the throttle, which involves no pedalling. The battery is good for about 20 miles on the throttle, and much longer when only the pedal-assist function is engaged.

AA Auto Rentals began offering e-bikes on July 6 through a company offshoot called Island Electric Bike. The company offers 20 Aviva brand rental e-bikes boasting maximum speeds of 19 mph.

“They are a safe, eco, green alternate to the moped and you can ride them on bike paths,” owner Bryan Nelson said in a conversation with The Times from his Vineyard location adjacent to Five Corners. “We only rent during the day, but they’re equipped with lights. I’m only renting them to 18-year-olds and up, 16 and up with parental consent, and I’m requiring a helmet, because I want to sleep at night. Everyone also has to watch a four-minute safety video before they hit the road.”

The charge is $39 for a half day and $69 for full-day rentals.

Diagonally across Five Corners, Robert Breth, owner of the Martha’s Bike Rentals, said he plans to stock e-bikes. “I haven’t placed an order yet but we will be getting involved,” he said in a conversation with The Times at his store. “There’s demand.”

Tisbury administrative assistant Aase Jones said electric bicycles are not subject to any town bylaws. “We do not issue permits for electric bicycles,” she said in a telephone conversation with The Times. “They are treated like regular pedal bikes, but mopeds are definitely regulated by bylaws. A business does not have to come to us before renting out electric bikes the same way they don’t need a permit to rent normal bikes.”

Edgartown police officer Joel DeRoche said that the department has not received any complaints concerning electric bicycles. “Nothing’s drawn my attention to e-bikes,” he said in a telephone conversation with The Times. “Most of what we get are calls about mopeds on bike paths.”

State law does not allow children under 16 years of age to operate e-bikes and requires both a helmet and either a driver’s license or a learner’s permit, according to Executive Office of Public Safety spokesman Charles McDonald in an email to The Times. The fines for noncompliance are $25 for the first offense, $25-50 for the second, and $100 for subsequent violations. E-bikes are permitted on bike lanes adjacent to roads but may not be used on off-street recreational paths, meaning that e-bikes may not travel on bike paths passing through the State Forest.