Mention e-bikes and someone will shout ‘they’re not bikes, they’re motorbikes’. Then someone else will patiently try and explain that providing they are restricted to 25km/h and are of the pedal assist variety, they’re not motorbikes under UK law.
Indeed, e-bikes are increasingly being seen as an environmentally friendly solution to getting people out of their cars and reducing air pollution, and the Northern Ireland Assembly was no exception, as it published its ‘Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland’ in 2015 and included ‘promoting e-bikes’ within the ways of encouraging more people to choose bikes as a form of transport. Two years on, and someone has noticed that, rather embarrassingly for Assembly officials, e-bikes are in fact classed as motorbikes under Northern Ireland law.
It turns out it’s probably an administrative oversight rather than official incitement of anarchy and rule breaking. Transport policy is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it seems that the regulations weren’t carried over to Northern Ireland Law. Usually, this could be sorted quite quickly, however the political situation there means that no legislation is currently being passed in Northern Ireland, so for the time being e-bike owners there should be being treated as motorbike riders.
Cycling Industry News reported on this issue, detailing guidance issued by the Bicycle Association to retailers. While it’s not illegal to sell these bikes, people buying them need to be made aware that technically speaking, they are breaking the law if they’re not insured, licensed and helmeted just like a motorbike rider would be.
Apparently the UK Government and Assembly officials are now aware of the issue and the intention is there to rectify the situation. Presumably then there won’t be a big police operation to catch and prosecute e-bike users, although from an insurance perspective you might be on very dodgy ground if you were caught up in an accident while riding an e-bike.