As electric-assist bikes take over more and more of the global bicycle market, they’re growing in the United States and Portland too.
Last year, Portland snagged its third and fourth e-bike specialty stores. Next month, we’ll host the Electric Bike Expo for the first time. And this week, Portland State University is sharing some of the only modern academic research on the domestic e-bike market.
It’ll be presented in a free online presentation by John MacArthur of the Transportation Research and Education Center at PSU. Back in 2013, PSU scored funding for a pilot project that connected local commuters with folding e-bikes.
The results of that and related research has been gradually trickling out of MacArthur’s office. Thursday’s seminar will offer the latest insights on how e-bikes fit (or are currently failing to fit) into the lives of real commuters.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
In Oregon, a big issue for ebike commuters is the lack of legal sidewalk riding. It is illegal, statewide, to ride an electric-assist bicycle on the sidewalk. This little prohibition, tucked away in ORS 814.410(1)(e), is a big difference in the law between fully manual bicycles and electric-assist bicycles and most electric-assist riders are unaware of its existence.
I don’t ride on the sidewalk often, but when I do it is because of a dangerous or difficult situation in the road. Oregon law essentially strips a class of bicycle operator from the ability to get around those situations legally.
Not to bash e-bikes, I’m glad they’ll be available when I need one in another 20 or so years, but they are motorized vehicles and most can easily reach speeds which most bicycle riders can’t even come close to unless rolling down the steeper slopes of the West Hills or the east side buttes. I’m not convinced that they should be allowed on sidewalks. (I got no problem with them on MUPS or bike paths).
Besides, for over 20 years I’ve ridden my bicycle all over downtown on the sidewalks at times, even past bicycle cops and have never even gotten a warning. As long as you were riding them responsibly on the sidewalks, I doubt you’d ever have a problem. But there should be some way to enforce and prosecute those that might not ride on the sidewalk responsibly. Which is why I doubt the sidewalk riding ban downtown will ever go away, it will just be selectively enforced (and likely the same with the e-bike sidewalk ban).
Of course, that assumes the police officers are aware of the regulations to begin with, which I suspect the vast majority aren’t. And the fact that even fewer can likely tell the difference between an e-bike and bicycle as long as the e-bikes speed was in check.
In Oregon, electric bicycles are limited to 20mph under power. They are governed so they don’t go over that while the motor is in use.
I think you mean to be classified as an e-bike the motor must be limited to 20 MPH because there are many bikes with electric motors (some gas) flying around this city at speeds greater than 20 mph. I live on N Williams, North of Killingsworth, and I see them fly by almost every night.
While I agree e-bikes offer great opportunities to people who would be otherwise unable to ride bikes, I feel they are a nuisance and a determent when in the hands of able-body people. Bike riding in urban areas is a skill. Putting an e-bike that can go 20 mph in the hands of someone that does not have the skill/experience to make a bike go that speed under their own power is dangerous to them and others around them. Riding a bike safely in an urban environment is hard and takes effort. E-bikes remove the effort and so allows people without the necessary skills to move quickly along surface streets. I see no upside to that. Providing e-bikes to individuals who can show a medical reason makes sense to me. Treating someone who cruises along at 20mph without pedaling like a bicycle does not.
The inference has been made that e-bikes get more people “riding” which will provide the impetus for more bike infrastructure. The logic of this escapes me. Unless there is a correlation between numbers of bikes and revenue to build infrastructure that I am unaware of.
It is a bit vague about whether operating without assist is allowed. It’s also a class D violation, so I would hope you get a ticket only after everyone driving 10mph over the posted speed.
That restriction should be replaced with a simple 10mph (when pedestrians are present) sidewalk biking speed limit. Problem solved. (Except for that thing where the first 10mph over posted speed are not enforced.)
just turn off the electric assist for the few minutes you’re on the sidewalk… you shouldn’t be going very fast anyway…
…actually slower given the weight of the e-bike…unless it is near the Civic Stadium.
It has a motor. It is a moped. It is not a bike. It does not belong anywhere, but the road. I think motorized vehicles are fine, but it is not a bicycle if it has a motor. Call it whatever you want. It is a moped.
Except that it isn’t a moped:
Moped means a vehicle, including any bicycle equipped with a power source, other than an electric assisted bicycle as defined in ORS 801.258 (Electric assisted bicycle)
That’s not the legal definition in this state, but I guess you are free to believe whatever you want.
Electric assisted bicycle
Electric assisted bicycle means a vehicle that:
(1) Is designed to be operated on the ground on wheels;
(2) Has a seat or saddle for use of the rider;
(3) Is designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contact with the ground;
(4) Has both fully operative pedals for human propulsion and an electric motor; and
(5) Is equipped with an electric motor that:
(a) Has a power output of not more than 1,000 watts; and
(b) Is incapable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of greater than 20 miles per hour on level ground. [1997 c.400 §2; 1999 c.59 §233]
HPL, thanks for pointing that out. I was unaware of that restriction.
“… This little prohibition, tucked away in ORS 814.410(1)(e), is a big difference in the law between fully manual bicycles and electric-assist bicycles…” human powered law
Not a surprise that many people riding e-bikes may not be aware of this Oregon statute prohibiting use of e-bikes on sidewalks. There’s little motivation for them to read and learn of this law.
Another provision, (1)(d) of this particular statute poses other, perhaps bigger problems for people using the sidewalk on foot, than does provision (1)(e). It refers to operating “…the bicycle at a speed greater than an ordinary walk…”, in proximity to intersections with streets, driveways, pedestrian ramps, curb cuts…
…but neglects to specify maintaining the speed of an ordinary walk or near to that speed when approaching people on foot from the opposite direction, or in passing them, traveling in the same direction as the person on foot is traveling.
That’s vagueness in the law that may lead some people riding to feel they can legally ride as fast as they feel like, as long as they feel they’re not riding “… in a careless manner…” with regards to other people near to them and using the sidewalk.
As for this law specifying as to the use of e-bikes on sidewalks, I don’t see any problem with a revision of the law that might allow their use on the sidewalk, consistent with the same requirements made of people riding exclusively muscle powered bikes…as long as the revision included some more specific reference to the speed people riding bikes should limit themselves to when near to other people riding and biking.
Correction: “…when near to other people walking and biking.”
e bikes hold a lot of promise to bring new cyclelists on to the road which helps make the case for bike infrastructure and makes things safer for all of us. But if we put too many on the road without upgrading our bike lanes and separation from traffic I fear increased carnage. I have seen many new and inexperienced e-bike riders zoom though risky areas at speeds that are normaly only attempted by experienced roadies and high mileage enthusiasts. A single cycle crash ( no car) that happens to a fit regular cyclist at 10 mph may incur only minor injuries but the same crash happening to a newbie on an e-bike at 20 mph could be tragic.
I’ve lived in inner neighborhoods for years, but my wife and I recently fell in love with some houses in Milwaukie. If we ever do actually move down there (for a bigger lot), I’ll ride the Springwater downtown for work. Since that’s a significantly longer ride (40-45 minutes vs 20-25 minutes) I would hope to get an e-bike. At faster speeds, and without wearing my racing kit, I could get to work in a reasonable amount of time!
…sounds like [e-bike] commuting until you qualify for a mortgage…a very Portland twist on the traditional suburban migration for more lot size per dollar in exchange for commute distance.
METRO really needs to buckle down and build those UK style bike highways.
We recently moved from ~60th & Powell to ~100th & Foster and I e-bike commute along the Springwater. The commute still takes a little longer than before, and I miss being able to stop for groceries etc. but dealing with aggressive drivers WAY less and experiencing the natural parts of the Springwater twice every day (albeit at speed) are really nice.
It’s worth it for us, but be realistic about how fast you’ll go, that not all of the ride is gorgeous, and how going almost 20 mph on a narrow, sometimes crowded path diminishes your experience of nature somewhat. There are quite a few stop signs, crosswalks, and stop lights in the Clackamas County portion of the path (and Johnson Creek Blvd. is kind of the opposite of scenic) plus the Sellwood “greenway” portion has stop signs almost every two blocks and one quite long wait for a bike/ped light at Milwaukie Blvd.
I’m just bummed I can’t afford a Varjas upgrade to my Wilier cross frame.
The folks going past my house on e-bikes are scorching compared to everyone else. I call them mo-peds.
E-bike threads make me want to purchase an e-bike and ride on the lawn of people who complain about e-bikes.
The sidewalk issue comes into play when there is a collision. One of my customers was pedaling along the sidewalk on Marine drive. Not using her electric – in fact the keys weren’t not even in it (her model required keys for operation)
She used to take the bike path, but after homless folks started camping along there, she no longer felt safe doing so.
A motorist backed out of his driveway at full speed without looking and hit her hard. She broke her back and spent a few weeks in the hospital.
His insurance company refused to pay her medical expenses because, from their point of view, she shouldn’t have been on the sidewalk.
I’m pretty skeptical about new fangled stuff like this.
It’s like treadmills. When I went to college I worked at Sears and the treadmills were near where I worked and I always joked that they ought to put hooks on hand rails of treadmills because it’s really just a $1000 coat rack.
Even with the best of intentions “IT’S EASIER TO BUY SOMETHING THAN IT IS TO DO SOMETHING!” and they are absolutely not the same thing. Go ahead and buy anything you want, but I suspect the E-bike won’t get you riding more. No matter what rationalizations you sold yourself before you bought it.
Now I bet that’s where the E-Bike ends up too. In the basement next to the treadmill you never used. Then somebody can pick up a treadmill and E Bike on Craigslist on the cheap.
See I told you I was skeptical.
Some people will still have excuses to not become daily riders even with an e-bike, but it’s very different than the dusty old schwinn. I’ve had days I didn’t want to ride because of bad experiences in traffic or cold+wet weather, but the motor removes the worst layers of excuses — busy, sick, or lazy. Being able to adjust the amount of effort and time spent means I ride every day and for longer trips with more kids or heavier loads (I start to consider driving at 7-10 miles, modulo 2 kids and the many unpleasant connections in SW.) After 6 months of riding e-assist every day, you’re legs are stronger and you’ve figured out how adjust your gear to deal with weather.
It would be interesting to hear from people who quit riding an e-bike and why. Most of the ones on craigslist seem to be heavy old lead-acid direct-drive. Then, there’s this guy who got two: “I do not need the assist so I am selling it. My wife loves her bike.”
What does that have to do with anything? I bet there are proportionally more cool road and Mtn. bikes sitting in basements unused than there are ebikes.
My wife rides an ebike almost exclusively. For her, it has been the difference between riding and not riding. It’s not a “scooter”. If you couldn’t tell by looking you’d never even know it’s an ebike as you cycled past her on the street.
I added an electric assist last year when my arthritis pain threatened to end my bike-commuting. I’m 61, and have been a bike-commuter the majority of my working years. I still have non-electric bikes for fun, but the commute from the west side to close-in north Portland was just getting too uncomfortable. Now I can enjoy my commute again. I don’t feel too guilty about it.
We bought an electric assist Bullitt last year to replace a car. Its awesome because it allows me to ride with my son and cart groceries around at nearly the same pace I would be riding my bicycle. A cargo bike without e-assist is also quite fun but for a multi family tool the e-assist makes it more practical for year round riding fun.
So what’s the etiquette on drafting off of an e-bike (on the Springwater, for example)? Do you ask permission first?
Drafting is never okay outside of a bicycle race.
Never? What about on a group ride? Or as a way to assist someone who is struggling against the wind on their commute home? I have offered for people to “grab my wheel.” I have also grabbed other’s wheels and then switched off to make the commute down Walker Rd a little easier at 6am in the dark and rain.
If you prefer to not have someone drafting your wheel that is fine…why do you feel the need to make such a categorical statement?
If you are sure the E-bike rider rides a predictable ride, straight and at a consistent speed, that he will give advance warning of hazards or obstacles, and that he is a safe rider, then ask permission.
Is it possible that you want to draft because you don’t have the chops to ride at a good clip? Drafting won’t put you in that shape.
Better to ask for forgiveness later. Heck, sometimes I grab their seatpost or back fender for an even easier commute home.
That’s the answer I was looking for!
If you’re lucky to have a sub-30 minute bike commute in central Portland, then I can see why you might not see the need for an e-bike. But try to see beyond your own situation. Maybe for YOU an e-bike would become like that Sears treadmill, but they do make sense for a lot of people.
Like people with cargo bikes who ride a lot of hills. I see a lot of e-cargo bikes, and I think it’s a great option.
Like people who commute over big hills. When I lived in Portland I got pretty close to getting an e-bike myself. The 65-75 minute commute over the West Hills was getting pretty old, and an e-bike would have taken 20 minutes off the trip. It would have allowed me to ride more, not less.
I’ve had an e-assist cargo bike for 2 years. I would not be able to do my ride without the assist, as my daily ride takes me up 600′ in about a mile, and I’ve got two kids to carry every day. We use it for trips on the weekend as well.
This bike has kept me riding when I’d otherwise be in the car every day. The assist helps up to 20 mph, then it doesn’t “help” any more until you’re under 20mph again.
We are respectful of other road users and do not speed past others. I’d guess that for this small subset of the cycling population, this is the behavior you can expect from most e-bike users.
I think that if more people tried e-bikes, they would understand the benefits. For those that are not seasoned cyclists, this removes one of the main limiters (fitness/range). I see that as a good thing.
Seth I am not aware of a climb in Portland that fits that description. Can you tell me where it is so I can ride it?
SW Broadway and Grant to council crest?.
nope. takes 1.5 miles to hit 600 feet.
OK, ok, so it is more like 1.3 miles and 536 feet. I’d never actually researched the real numbers. Route is NW Johnson, Westover, Cumberland, Powhatan. If you want a bit more climbing and distance, take MacLeay to Hermosa, MonteVista, through the gate to Pittock.
Your route and the second one you described are both Category 3. NICE!
If you’re in a hurry to climb, SW Corbett from Nebraska to Texas and back 3-4 times (160ft, 0.2mi). Perhaps on a biketown bike with warm-up and cool-down along moody/landing or the river path. Repetitive, but good views of Mt. Hood, downtown, and Mt. Saint Helens.
Today, a lady I talked with was riding an e-bike, pedaling away with the bike’s e-assist. Said she had some medical issues, so the e-bike was helping her regain muscle strength she’d lost due to those issues. Has gradually been drawing back the e-assist rate setting as her strength returns. With the e-assist supplementing her pedaling, says she can climb hills like those on the Westside Trail south of Farmington Rd, no problem.
Nearly every day for almost 4 years I am thankful for my Surly Big Dummy w/ BionX.