New legislation to clarify rules for electric bicycles

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The hills of Pennsylvania have long remained the crux of despair for bicyclists, causing many to give up on the pedaling sport for good.

To keep them riding, shops selling pedal-assist electric bicycles have popped up across the state in the past few years.

These new bicycles, typically priced at about $1,800, have become especially popular among senior citizens and those with disabilities. The bikes are operated by pedals but have an electric motor to assist the rider when climbing hills.

They can go 30 to 40 miles on a full electric charge and can be plugged into a traditional 110-volt outlet found in most homes.

Questions have arisen, however, about how these bikes should be classified.

State Sen. Matt Smith announced legislation last month that would clarify the rules for the pedal-assist electric bicycles in the state vehicle code.

Senate Bill 997 would treat electric bicycles the same as regular bicycles, meaning riders would not be required to have insurance or register the two-wheeler. The legislation states that the electric bicycles can't be capable of a speed of more than 20 mph on a level surface when powered by the motor.

The need for an explanation arose when police officers began citing those driving pedal-assist electric bicycles, believing that riders should adhere to motor scooter rules that require insurance and registration, said Mr. Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon.

State police at Pittsburgh did not have any comment on the matter, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation does not comment on pending legislation.

Mr. Smith said the electric bicycles have a twofold benefit -- they help those who are not in the best shape stay active, and they help new businesses that sell the two-wheelers.

Most states already have similar laws in place, he said.

"This is really about making sure Pennsylvania laws are reflective of today's world," Mr. Smith said.

The legislation is under discussion in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Mr. Smith first learned about electric bikes a few years ago when Adam Rossi talked to him about them during a town hall meeting. Mr. Rossi is opening a pedal-assist bike shop in South Fayette. Mr. Rossi said he has talked to many individuals over the years who have expressed interest in the electric bicycles, so he decided to open a shop called Adam Solar Rides.

Gary DiVincenzo has been selling the pedal-assist electric bicycles for about four years.

Mr. DiVincenzo, the founder and owner of Hybrid Cycles in West Chester, said the biggest demand he has seen is from senior citizens looking for an easy way to stay active. But he said he also sees a lot of young people looking for a cheap way to commute to work.

"I really enjoy using my bicycle," Mr. DiVincenzo said.

neigh_north

Jessica Tully: jtully@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1159 and on Twitter: @jessalynn4.


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