WCC opens spaces to (some) eBikes

WCC eBike ban photo, Polhill Gully
WCC plan to open trails to some eBikes, but not all

When is an eBike not an eBike? When it’s in Wellington’s Open Spaces, and not speed limited to 25km/hr, according to the definition of an eBike in WCC’s draft Open Space Access Plan.

Overall, the Open Space Access Plan has much to recommend it. Wellington is fortunate in having reserves close to the CBD and easily accessible from all parts of the City. From my Aro Valley home I’m minutes from the CBD, but only a hundred metres from a track network that extends from the south coast to Johnsonville. The Plan’s vision of making the The Open Space Network accessible to all is a good one.

Up till now, WCC has regarded eBikes as motorised vehicles, and banned them from reserves, such as the popular Polhill Gully tracks. As part of opening up the Network, the plan will allow eBikes to be used on selected tracks where sightlines, width of path, etc mean that environmental impact and user conflict will be minimised. This is good news – many Wellingtonians are finding that eBikes are the answer to hills, wind, and failing joints. The proposed eBike routes provide a good mix of commuter and recreational riding – for example the Hataitai to City route will enable eBike commuters to go over the low saddle between Mt Victoria and Mt Alfred connecting Hataitai to Majoribanks St and the CBD.

The catch is that an “eBike” is defined as “a bicycle primarily pedal powered by human energy and may be assisted by a maximum continuous rated power of up to 300 watts of battery power, as well as limited to 25km/h”. Most eBikes on sale and in use comply with the NZTA definition “a power assisted cycle has an auxiliary electric motor with a maximum power not exceeding 300W and is designed to be primarily propelled by the muscular energy of the rider”. They aren’t mechanically limited to 25km/hr.

Some higher end eBikes (e.g. with the Bosch motor system) comply with the EU Pedelec standard EN 15194: limited to 250w of power, and speed limited to 25km/hr. So the proposed definition will limit access to those who can afford $4000-5000 for an eBike, rather than the more common $2000-3000 eBikes that comply with the NZTA definition.

Limiting speed on Open Space tracks seems like a good idea. However it’s unlikely that eBikes will reach 25km/hr under power on the Open Space Network. The tracks would not feel comfortable to most people at that speed. Most sections of the suggested tracks have significant gradients. Going uphill, it would be hard to reach 25km/hr with electric assist. Although it might be possible to reach 25km/hr going downhill, this would be through gravity rather than electric assist.

EBikes in general don’t go faster than a standard bike with a fit rider. An informal survey of bike speeds on Wellington shared paths found that on average eBikes were only 2.6km/hr faster than standard bikes, and the fastest bikes were standard bikes. If speed is found to be a problem, this is best addressed through education and track design.

When DOC faced this issue on the Otago Rail Trail, they decided to allow access to all eBikes complying with the NZTA definition, without requiring a mechanical speed limit.

If you’d like to see selected tracks open to eBikes, submit on the plan, saying (use your own words, of course) that you agree with the proposals, but that all eBikes complying with the NZTA definition should be allowed on the tracks, and that mechanically limiting the speed should not be required.Submissions close 13 July.

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