Electric bikes pose bike path danger


To the Editor:

Bicycles powered by electric motors, commonly known as ebikes, pose an enormous threat to the safety of users of Martha’s Vineyard’s bike paths, and a misinterpretation of the laws of the commonwealth has allowed them to mix with conventional pedaled bikes, runners, and pedestrians on most of the already crowded paths. The major danger is the potential for great speed, even when ridden by inexperienced riders.

The Massachusetts standards for ebikes that do not need to be registered as motor vehicles specify that the motor cannot exceed 750 watts, the bike cannot travel faster than 20 mph without pedaling, and no limit when boosted during pedaling. This is much faster than the majority of pedaled bikes using the Island’s bike paths. More troubling is that a lot of ebike riders, especially those who might rent an ebike, do not have the experience to handle a bike at those speeds. A typical cyclist who can pedal and maintain speeds over 20 mph has logged many hours in the saddle, and learned how a bike handles at 15 mph, 16 mph, etc.

The commonwealth has all banned motorized bikes from bike paths (General Laws, Part I, Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 1B): “Motorized bicycles may be operated on bicycle lanes adjacent to the various ways [streets and roads], but shall be excluded from off-street recreational bicycle paths.” Unfortunately, this has been misinterpreted on the Vineyard to exclude most of the Island’s paths where they run parallel to roads, but they are indeed bike paths, which are “route[s] for the exclusive use of bicycles separated by grade or other physical barrier from motor traffic.” But a bike lane as defined in Massachusetts law is “a lane on a street restricted to bicycles and so designated by means of painted lines, pavement coloring or other appropriate markings,” common in cities, but not on the Island.

Legitimate users of the Vineyard’s lovely bike paths will be well served when ebikes are legitimately excluded.


Robert Brennan



  1. You’re right. MGL Chapter 90E Section 1 provides the following definition: ”Bike path”, a route for the exclusive use of bicycles separated by grade or other physical barrier from motor traffic.

  2. It was simple when we only had normal bicycles and internal combustion motor vehicles using the bike paths and roadways respectively. Now we have bikes that go too fast on the bike paths and golf carts that go too slow on the roadways – joining the moped which used to be our principle PIA.

  3. It seems obvious to me that if you put a motor on a bicycle it is still a bicycle.
    Sort of like putting lipstick on a pig–
    Given the obvious facts that there are some people driving cars without having a clue as to how to drive, I would rather have e bikes on the bike path, where accidents may happen between e bike and bike, or pedestrian but with less severe consequences than having accidents with e bikes and vehicles.
    So I ask you , Robert, if we put inexperienced e bikers on the road, and they die as a result of that, will you feel ok that the inexperienced e biker did not hit a pedestrian on the bike path and possibly fracture a bone ?

    • What I’ve witnessed of e-bike riders suggests road awareness much closer to mopeds (not good) than for regular bike riders. Apologies to hanleyclifford, I’m siding with you on this one.

  4. No, Don – when you put a motor on a cycle you have a motorcycle. E bikes and mopeds are alike in that they have become a hybrid for which our infrastructure is not convenient.

  5. My fave is the guy who was riding his ebike on the shared use path on County Road, and yelling at the pedestrians like myself, who could not hear him approaching.

  6. I am an experienced bike rider. I ride my bike all over Vineyard Haven, to OB, etc.
    I tried out one of the electric bikes this spring. I thought: Great idea! But I didn’t like it. I felt distinctly insecure and out of control on the bike. It seemed to speed up kind of arbitrarily. Perhaps this feeling of not being in control of the ebike stemmed from my being so used to riding a regular bike.
    Anyhow, I decided that these bikes were not safe for me.

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