Mate Bike has been hit with a fine and their bikes have been recalled. The reason for this is simple, the bikes being recalled do not match the UK’s legal definition of an electric bike. To be considered an electric bike in the UK a bike must have a top speed of 15.5mph or less and a motor up to 250W. Tests done by the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency (DVSA) showed the bikes tripled the maximum power and reached speeds of 32mph. Mate must pay a fine of £3,864, recall all of the bikes for a further loss and receive a criminal conviction.
Rather than an electric bike Mate’s product is legally considered an S-pedelec. As such owning and riding one requires a licence, insurance and a number plate.
This all seems very cut and dry but there is a complication in the story. Mate’s defence is based on the fact that these bikes were not intended for public road use. Rather these bikes were for use on private property where the same standards do not apply. Or at least the extras that come with being an S-pedelec aren’t needed.
Unfortunately for Mate the DVSA have decided that the marketing and design of the bike do not match this intended use. They say that the design is the same as lower powered bikes that are designed for the road. The marketing also seemed to favour the use of the bikes in public rather than in private. This was enough ammunition to consider the bikes designed for road use.
What Can Be Done?
Whether you think Mate’s defence is valid or not this decision is important to the industry. Many companies sell bikes with motors exceeding 250W power. If the intended use is for private grounds or public roads doesn’t matter. At least not if there is a doubt about it.
Companies selling bikes in the UK will need to keep this in mind when designing bikes. There is now a precedent for deciding and that represents a risk. You can not just put a bigger motor on the same design and change the intended use. Doing so can open you up to the argument that the design is a road bike design.
Equally marketing needs to be looked at. Your intended design might be for private grounds but does your imagery show that or does it show a rider on a picturesque country road? Marketing needs to be very clear that bikes over 250W are ONLY for use in private areas without the necessary licence, number plate, safety gear, insurance etc.. Your copy and photography can be used against you.
Honestly that will probably affect the sale of such bikes. Consumers tend to like more powerful bikes and looking at the hoops they need to jump through in order to make it road legal might put them off. But that’s a much smaller problem than having your bikes recalled and a criminal conviction.
Not The End Of The World
I don’t want to paint DVSA’s decision in a draconian light. This isn’t some horrible news that’s going to kill the industry. All it means is that companies need to pay attention to what they are saying they are selling versus what they are actually selling. Rather than using a 1000W motor as a selling point in a road bike, companies need to be honest about 250W being the legal limit. It all comes down to transparency.
This is true whether or not you agree with current regulations. And there are definitely arguments to be made against the cut off points. Right now they are just that though, arguments. There are the current regulations though. Marketing and design need to bear them in mind to keep companies safe from legal problems. It’s important that electric bikes stay classified as bikes. But it’s also important make sure that electric bikes meet regulations to stay on the market.