Every activity imaginable comes with some risks. That includes biking, even biking on e-bikes. Electric bikes are incredibly popular, and increasingly so because they’re fun, versatile, economical, efficient, accessible, and helpful. E-bikes are also safe as long as riders pay attention to some common sense factors relating to the road, their equipment, and themselves. We’ll break down the factors that affect Electric bike safety, and provide a checklist of tips on how to ensure you’re safe on your electric bike.
Electric Bike Safety Considerations for the Road
With speeds up to 30 mph, e-bikes are faster than most cyclists on most bicycles, certainly faster than most cyclists on streets about town. Having said that, they don’t approach the speeds of a motorcycle or car. E-bikes are also more substantial than bicycles, especially road bikes, due to the battery, charging system, and the like. But, of course, they don’t approach the weight of even a small motorcycle. Municipalities around the world have designed their traffic systems and thoroughfares for motorized vehicles such as cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
Many countries have designed or retrofit their traffic systems with bicycles in mind, some much more carefully than others. No one has planned their traffic systems, signals, or even rules with electric bikes in mind. E-bikes fall in an awkward place between bicycles, motorcycles, and cars—not to mention scooters! Keeping the unique characteristics of e-bikes in mind—as well as their differences from other forms of transportation that traffic systems were built for—will help you understand road-related safety considerations.
Here are four essential rules for staying safe on the roads:
- When riding an e-bike, whether or not you’re using electric assist, you are not a pedestrian. Stay off of sidewalks and pedestrian-only trails and paths
- When riding an e-bike, you’re not a bicycle unless you’re only pedaling and not using any electric assist. If you’re pedaling exclusively and using no electric assistance, do not use the bike lanes designed for slower-moving bicycles.
- Learn turn signals used by the best and most prudent cyclists and, most importantly, use them
- When in doubt, follow the bike signals. It can, because most traffic systems were not designed for electric bikes, be unclear which lights, signals, and signs apply to e-bikes. As a general rule, assume that any sign that refers to bicycle applies to you while riding your electric bike
Electric Bike Safety Consideration for the Equipment
To understand the safety-related consideration unique to your equipment, let’s break down the category: electric and bike. But let’s do it in reverse. Never forget that your e-bike is a bike, albeit a unique one. Plus, since it’s electric, that changes the game a bit. But electric bike safety considerations related to your equipment means you need to consider both elements.
The United States Department of Transportation has an extensive set of recommendations for ensuring bicycle safety. They also provide links to resources on cycling generally. No, those recommendations don’t relate directly to e-bikes but don’t forget your e-bike is a bike, too.
One of the best ways you can enjoy your electric bike safely is to do a pre-trip inspection. Yes, you should do a pre-trip inspection every time. Even if you don’t inspect it every time, get into the habit of doing a pre-trip inspection as frequently as possible. A look at each system of your electric bike regularly will alert you to any safety risks that need to be addressed to keep your jaunts drama-free. Here’s an example of an extensive pre-trip inspection checklist. Here are the nine categories you should cover in your pre-trip checklist:
- Tires and tire pressure, especially considering the extra weight of an electric bike
- Saddle—height, angle, and connection
- Reflectors and light
- Cables generally
- Battery charge and connections—since we are talking about an electric bike
If going through the whole inspection is too much for every time you go out, and it should not be too much, then cover the essentials with the A-B-C rule: air, brakes, and chain. Every time you go out, check your air (tires and pressure), brakes (levers, cables, and pads/discs), and chain. To ‘chain,’ we’ll add charger (battery, connections, and charge). Develop good electric bike safety habits. Know your ABCs every time.
What makes an e-bike an e-bike? The battery and charging system. Batteries used on electric bikes—whether lead or lithium-ion batteries—are safe when shipped, handled, stored, charged, and maintained properly. Abusing an electric bike battery will lead to unsafe conditions, even the possibility of a fire. While fires are possible, they are avoidable, and batteries can be used with complete safety as long as you follow all manufacturer’s instructions and some essential safety precautions. Here are ten critical rules to keep in mind.
- Unless you’re an electrical engineer with battery-related expertise, and not even then, do not build your own batteries and do not modify your e-bike’s battery and charging systems.
- Purchase batteries explicitly designed for e-bikes according to your e-bike manufacturer’s specifications and from reputable dealers.
- Charge your battery only when the temperature is above freezing. In some locations and seasons, this may mean charging only indoors.
Charge your bike in dry conditions, one that is a well-sheltered area protected from rain, if not indoors.
Don’t store your batteries in an area that may experience extreme temperatures. The sweet spot is extensive but essential. Store your batteries somewhere where the temperature stays between 32F and 77F.
If you’re going to be off your electric bike for a while, charge the battery fully, then remove the battery and put it away in an appropriate place. Every three months or so, if you’re off the road that long, top off the battery if the charge has dropped.
Carry your batteries in a protective metal box while riding.
Use your electric bike’s battery management system.
Read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions when charging your battery, including the instructions to charge your battery fully when you first get a new e-bike.
Don’t mix and match chargers and batteries. When charging a battery, use the charger specifically designed for that particular battery and no other.
Electric Bike Safety Considerations for You
Someone who is well-prepared and alert is just as safe while riding an electric bike as they are while riding a traditional bicycle. Here are the vital guidelines that you need to follow to enjoy your e-bike safely:
Wear a helmet if you ever like and use your head and brain for anything. Period.
Accessorize your e-bike with a bell or a horn, and use it.
Accessorize your e-bike with mirrors. Don’t count on being able to hear vehicles behind and around you. With mirrors, you’ll know what’s happening behind and around you without having to contort your body.
Be visible by accessorizing your electric bike with lights and reflectors, especially if you’ll ride in dim lighting conditions. Do not remove lights and reflectors from your electric bike.
Wear bright and reflective clothing or, at minimum, an outfit with reflective elements. If you’ve driven a car, you know how hard it can be to see a cyclist in certain conditions. Make it easier to keep yourself safe.
Don’t wear clothes that might get tangled in spokes, wheels, pedals, gears, cables, and the like.
Wear proper footwear, which means wearing shoes. Don’t ride barefoot, and don’t ride in flip flops.
If you’re ill or impaired, then walk.
Don’t use your mobile while riding your Electric Bike
Electric bikes can present different challenges for riders that are 65 and older, mostly related to the bike’s extra weight and higher speeds. Older riders generally have slower reflexes and diminishing physical strength. Age-related factors aren’t unique to electric bike safety. The same considerations apply to traditional bicycles, and to motorcycles for that matter. Older riders purchasing an electric bike should, though, pay particular attention to choosing a model that suits them best. If buying an e-bike for someone else, let your dealer or vendor know the age and physical characteristics of the person you are shopping for so that they can keep safety in mind at all times.
The Bottom Line for Electric Bike Safety1. Even more, than you do as a pedestrian or on a traditional bike, pay attention to all forms of traffic.