Always an Audi? This bike able to do 80 km/h isn't exactly the common e-bike in NZ - but it shows that the limits of what an electric bike is are... speeding up.
“It’s always an Audi…”? This 2012 prototype, which can do 80 km/h, isn’t exactly the common e-bike in NZ and wouldn’t be legal – but it shows that the practical limits of what an electric bike can be are… speeding up.

NZTA is currently running a survey on what New Zealanders think about e-bikes and e-bike riders (as well as other low-powered vehicles, including Segways and hoverboards).

This is partly a response to the recommendations from the Cycle Safety Panel, with government now looking at updating laws and regulations around cycling.

At this stage, it’s not clear what regulations are being considered, but general discussion around the subject has homed in on potential restrictions for e-bikes, such as:

  • maximum wattage / torque (i.e. how powerful the motor can be)
  • maximum speed assist (i.e. if the bike is going faster than, say 25 km/h, the motor stops helping)
  • and throttles could be banned (i.e. the motor will only assist when you pedal, and always at a certain set level)

We know some people have expressed concern about some or all of these possibilities – while others consider there are good reasons to look at whether the regulations need updating.

The existing regulations for e-bikes, as noted on the NZTA website, boil down to this:

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.

Under current rules, an e-bike is still a bike, and if you’re riding one, you still have to follow the laws that apply to cycling. Also, you may not exceed the posted speed limit even if you can. (A survey of international laws around e-bikes is here.)

There are a number of points for and against regulatory changes, some of which we have listed below – without judgement on their merits. We suggest reading through these lists before you respond to the survey. We’d also love to hear your thoughts, as we’re bound to have missed some things.

Some arguments AGAINST regulations to limit maximum wattage and/or speed of e-bikes (and possibly ban throttles)

  • E-bikes help get more people into cycling, and cycling more often, including the elderly. Restricting the range of options could harm that, and thus reduce cycling growth overall
  • It’s not clear that faster or stronger e-bikes are a real issue – so why limit something ‘just because’?
  • Regulations will be hard to enforce, especially with imported vehicles – and even harder/impossible to check ‘out in the wild’
  • At the same time, having regulations unique to NZ (especially if they are different from overseas) will make it harder to get a good (legally) imported range of e-bikes
  • Stronger e-bike motors may be necessary for cargo bikes carrying cargo –  or for tackling some of our city hills – and especially in combination
  • Throttles can be handy for riders re-acclimatizing to city cycling, and looking to not get sweaty en route to meetings – and if e-bike share schemes take off, this may be a consideration. (Irony: we understand many of the bikes used in council fleets and NZTA’s own fleet have the throttle option).
  • Throttles are very useful for accelerating faster, which can give you a head-start at intersections to get out ahead of cars, and is also helpful if you’re starting a heavy cargo bike (or a bakfiets with children in it) from a standing start.
  • Full-assist (i.e. relying on the throttle, no pedalling necessary) is a useful function for the elderly or infirm
  • Yes, some people might be rude and careless when speeding – but that applies to all road users, whether in cars, on e-bikes, or normal bikes (address the user, not the tool)
  • Let’s not damage a good thing growing here (more people on bikes) by wrapping it up in red tape

Some arguments FOR regulations to limit maximum wattage and/or speed of e-bikes (and possibly ban throttles)

  • Numerous countries already limit e-bikes in these ways
  • This also means that (unless our regulations end up very different), there will still be lots of brands that can be legally imported
  • A deluge of faster riders overtaking slower riders on narrow paths or narrow bike lanes will be intimidating and less safe – and this, too, could harm the growth of everyday biking numbers
  • Even our newer paths and protected cycle lanes may not always be wide enough to handle great numbers of fast riders overtaking slow ones (even the Dutch paths struggle with it at times)
  • Yes, some riders already go fast, even without an e-bike. But access to un-dampened e-bikes means that many more riders than previously will regularly travel at 30-40 km/h
  • If fast/strong e-bikes become typical, this could make normal (and younger) riders ‘second class citizens’ on our cycle infrastructure, expected to have to get out of the way of the ‘fast crowd’
  • Fast bikes are particularly intimidating for pedestrians – and with so many shared paths still around, this could harm the call for more cycling funding
  • We are still struggling to get cycle infrastructure separated from cars and pedestrians. Will cities make space for paths and cycle lanes wide enough to deal with fast e-bikes?
  • We can’t put speed limits on bike paths – our police aren’t even enforcing them on the roads!
  • With great power comes great responsibility… but that’s hard enough to remember behind the wheel of a car
  • If e-bike share schemes take off as they may well do in Auckland, anything that can help keep people safer is a good thing
  • No one is proposing to ban e-bikes, or render them useless. The debate is likely to concentrate on top speeds and leave most current applications of e-bikes relatively untouched
Janette Sadik-Khan enjoys Auckland hills with an e-bike.
Janette Sadik-Khan enjoys Auckland hills with a little boost from an e-bike. Hard to argue against more of this (and indeed, many Aucklanders are voting with their wallets on this one).

Bike Auckland does not have a formal policy as such on these matters – although we probably lean towards the argument that some upper limits are good (otherwise, why not allow motor bikes and mopeds on bike lanes and shared paths too, if the only difference is that they are fossil-fuelled?).

But how far should the regulations go? Please sound off in the comments – what pros or cons do you see? What’s missing from our lists above?

And again, here’s the link to the survey. By all means add your voice. 

PS One last thought. E-bikes are a global trend. Across the world, they’re outselling electric cars by 70 to 1. Last year, 35% of all bikes sold by independent bike dealers in the Netherlands were e-bikes. (One bike shop we spoke with in Auckland said that every single bike they sold in July was electric!)

So, we wonder what detailed research is being done into the NZ demographics of e-bikes. Amongst the Dutch, for example, they’re catching on among school kids, and were first adopted by older riders. Would knowing these details change the kind of debate we’re having about regulation?

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31 responses to “To limit or not – the case for and against e-bike regulation

  1. It was an ebike that brought me back to riding a bike. I stopped riding when the helmet laws were introduced and then later on I when I looked at bikes again, I had issues with a bad knee that caused problems riding. The ebike, with a throttle, allowed me to ride again and helped me get my knee used to riding. When it caused issues though I could revert back to throttle to allow me to continue or get home. I can now ride normal bikes again for shorter distances but there are times when I still need the ebike.

    My experience and talking to others has led me to believe that throttles should be allowed as ebikes are a great way to get people with health or mobility issues back on a bike as they can’t always pedal, even with assistance. They also allow for faster starts when moving off in traffic which can be beneficial.

    I think New Zealand needs to look at what is appropriate for its own conditions. Yes, 300W for a fit and healthy rider on a reasonable bike with good gearing can be quite fine but not all riders or bikes are equal. Different countries have different power limits and this even occurs in Europe. Countries like Austria(600W), Switzerland(500W or 1000W for speed ebikes), U.S.(750W-1000W) and Canada(500W) have higher power limits. We have hills like these countries, one of the highest levels of obesity so moving weight can be an issue and with a move towards more use of cargo bikes, having more power to climb our hills would be beneficial.

    Speed limits can also vary by country or state, generally being in the order of 25, 32, 45 or 52km/h while New Zealand currently has no limit. Having access to a higher speed limit is not as important as useful power or a throttle for getting people on bikes but for those that use a bike for longer commutes or moving with the traffic on roads without bike infrastructure, a higher limit may prove useful. Use on shared paths can be an issue whether powered or not but common sense and courtesy around other users tends to be the norm.

  2. Very good points above, and thank you for presenting them for and against. It’s good to understand both. This discussion will probably not only apply to e-bikes, but also segways, e-unicycles, hoverboards, and any other vehicles that could potentially be used on roads and… …footpaths! I think that the simple rule should be: the least powerful person is the most important, thus putting pedestrians first, then foot powered vehicles, then electric ones. And why not apply these to footpath as well as road? It simply means that if you want to go faster than the pedestrians, you go on-road. If you feel (or your parents) feel that road is unsafe, then riding footpath is cool, but adjust to the least powerful user at the time. And lastly, drivers exiting driveways will need a solid educational campaign to slow down or even stop to be 100% sure there’s absolutely no one on the footpath before they cross it. The only thing I would ask to completely ban is combustion engines stay on roads only, zero tolerance. Some big changes coming up. I hope it will not be wrapped up with red-tape, but simple rules like these above, future-proofed.

  3. Hello everyone! I’m leading the research and I just want to assure everyone that right now we are in the preliminary literature review phase. We are gathering opinions and studying what other countries do. We are directly interviewing key stakeholders, including NZ and AU industry leaders / manufacturers / importers. The survey, interviews and literature review are not the entire scope of work – we are also conducting a review of safety data, researching the size of the market, estimating future market size, etc. We are also aiming to clarify both perceived and actual issues. We have enough budget to hold one workshop on each island where we hope to bring people together face-to-face for discussions of the pros and cons of various options. Finally, I am an e-bike rider myself (as well as a former national champion road cyclist and bike shop owner). I’ve been cycling for forty years in many countries, and I’m also a pedestrian advocate and an advocate for people with disabilities. I hope this helps assuage some worry I can see in some of the comments. Feel free to contact me directly: or (021) 226 2929.

  4. This is quite possibly the second-most profound transportation innovation/invention of this time (autonomous vehicles being #1). I hope we collectively can help @johnlieswyn:disqus in his quest to provide enlightened thinking to the planning authorities. In short: Let’s not stuff this up!

  5. Riding a bike really wasn’t possible for me until I built my ebike. If any laws are going to be changed I hope it’s for a higher power limit. I sometimes see people riding horses along the road and wonder why I’m only allowed to ride something that has less than half a horsepower. My bike doesn’t have a mind of it’s own, pretty sure it’s safer than a horse. Heavy guys like myself could definitely benefit from more power, especially with the hills I have around my house. With regard to throttles, I use mine all the time to get started pedalling. I find the throttle is more handy in many ways than pedal assist as I can quickly equal out terrain with a bit of throttle.

    1. Paul – you make good points being echoed in many quarters, e.g. power limits considered unsuitable for our hills. Just a quick question – Have you tried a good torque sensor e-bike? I am wondering if the support for throttles is coming from people who haven’t tried a modern torque sensor equipped e-bike, and whose only experience of non-throttle bikes is the poor quality crank rotation sensor type. A disadvantage to either the EU or UK approaches to throttles is that the majority (but not all) of good torque sensor e-bikes are European standard, with a 25 km/h limit – a speed that may not be sufficient in a road environment more similar to the United States than to Europe. There is also a conflict between those wanting higher speeds than allowed under the EU standard and being able to still call it a bicycle – and those who are concerned that such capability will be abused on shared paths. We will be recording all viewpoints in order to present an objective assessment for the client. Clues as to what my e-bike is can be found in my 2WalkandCycle conference paper 🙂

      1. Most torque sensor bikes need a couple of rotations (at a high enough cadence) before using the torque sensor. This is so the bike doesn’t shoot off when stepping on a pedal. I believe the european regulations mandate this type of behaviour.

        When starting a bike in high gear or a heavy bike on a hill the cadence isn’t high enough to engage the torque sensor.

        I wrote some reasons why a throttle can be useful on Twitter (I’m sure you’ve read them but if not they’re here: and a torque sensor doesn’t help much with any of them.

        1. Thank you for this, Michael – we’ll add these points to the Part 1 report if they weren’t in your survey response.

          Perhaps my e-bike is somewhat unique then. I have a Bion-X system with both throttle and torque sensor. Bion-X sells their system in Europe (although without the throttle). The response time for the torque sensor is user adjustable in the settings. I have it set to minimum and it starts to assist right away, regardless of how much cargo I’m carrying or what gear I’m in. I haven’t ridden a European mid-drive bike, so I really don’t know if this is just a particular advantage of Bion-X or not.

      2. John – No I haven’t tried a bike with torque sensor, but would like to give one a go. I sort of stepped into the ebike market as cheaply as I could by building my own bike. I am thinking now of building/buying another bike to commute 20km’s each way to work, so will look at torque sensors. I’m pretty sure I will still want a throttle though, it just makes so many things much easier, for instance getting through all the barriers that seem to be on every pathway linking roads in my neighbourhood.

  6. I think (and it may not be popular with some parts of the cycling fraternity?) that there’s some education to be done for fast cyclists (and I’m one of them… or at least try/want to be)…
    Just because you, or your bike, is capable of a certain speed… does not mean its a good idea, or safe, to ride at that speed… Self limiting your own speed… even when it’s below posted speed limits is expected of car drivers, and cyclists are no different….

    Any car you could purchase in the last 100 years was capable of breaking the “legal” and also “sensible, or prudent” maximum speed in given circumstances…. So car drivers are used to NOT going “as fast as I can, at any time”… they are used to following… well, maybe not the legal speed limit, but at least a certain community standard of what’s sensible and prudent for the circumstances…

    Many bike riders do not want to, or are not capable of, going dangerously fast…

    Some of us are capable of this… many more of us are/will-be as e-bikes become more predominant…

    But many people on bikes who have no hesitation to control the speed of their petroleum motorised vehicle, have trouble with the concept of controlling the speed of the one powered by their legs (or a battery and electrical motor in conjunction with their legs).

    It’s up to the faster riders amongst us, electrically assisted or not, to ride sensibly now… Ride with prudence now, amongst the slower riders and pedestrians… so that we can avoid future limitations (legally imposed on the roads/highway as speed limits, or mechanically imposed as regulations on what you are allowed to purchase) on our ability to ride faster when it’s safe to do so….

    I’m interested in an e-bike, but do not have one yet…. I commute daily on the N-W cycleway… some days with a headwind I can’t get up to 20 km/h…. and some days with a tail-wind I can exceed 40km/h… I’m quick-ish (and know others who are quicker) and I completely accept that as a fast commuter it’s entirely my responsibility to not hit anyone going slower than me (even when they are being stupid and meandering across the pathway oblivious of what’s behind them, frequently with headphones on so they cant hear my bell)…

    But there seems to be a certain subset, who believe it’s OK to ride as fast as they can, at any possible time or traffic/pedestrian conditions (possibly induced by the fact that without electrical assistance, as fast as they were able, was not actually dangerous 90% of the time)… and giving them the (electric) ability to go faster without impediment, seems fraught with the danger of inviting more restrictions on the rest of us?

    I like to go fast when I can, and it is safe…. e-bikes make the “when I can” a whole lot more frequent, but it’s the cyclist/public response to the “it is safe” conundrum that determines if we need to be placing impediments on the e-bikes themselves, or bike riders in general….

  7. I’m a long term cycle commuter and motorcyclist, and in the minority that I wouldn’t buy an electric bicycle, mainly because I love cycling in its analogue form. If I ever bought an electric bike it’d be an electric motorbike. I’d have access to all roads, and not be stymied by any future power laws, nor have to worry about sharing paths with peds, dogs, and children. I love the fact that e-bikes are getting more Aucklanders onto two wheels, although a little nervous for the new ‘unskilled’ riders on fast heavy bikes.

  8. Very interesting points here.
    I’m writing from Spain where there are currently 25Km/h speed and 250Wh power limits. If you want to ride higher speed or more powerfull electric bikes (up to 45km/h) then they are considered motorcycles and you need to register it, pay an insurance fee and wear a plate. In this case you are not allowed to use cycle lanes.
    I think this is too simplistic:
    1.Electric bicycles need to be considered as transportation vehicles, being a solid alternative for cars in many situations, not just as a leisure activity. So they should be potentiated as much as posible as they are far more ecological and efficient.
    2.You have the same limits if you are a child 7 years old, or an adult with a driving license.
    3.Currently there is not a 35Km/h category, probably the most usefull for real transportation purposes.
    4.Bicycles themselves should have a delimiter button so you can use it as a bycicle or as a motorcycle.

    In any case it is very difficult to control delimiting techniques once a bicycle has been sold.
    Probably it has more sense to limit their usage depending of the kind of road you are riding than limiting the vehicle itself.
    Congratulations for making this discussion public!!

  9. Agree with regulation in line with more bike “mature” countries like The Netherlands and Denmark. We need to take an enabling view (rather than a regulatory approach) for all users of public access ways including e and non e bike riders and pedestrians. Definitions such as assisted cycling as opposed to powered cycling is a step in the right direction for the bikes. The acceptance of cycling in a car dominated travel culture needs to be almost aggressively supported but not at the expense of safety to all being undermined. Clear rules of shared public access use must be defined, clearly conveyed and enforced. This includes all powered vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians on shared accessways, including roads.

  10. Other countries like the UK and USA are already selling powerful +1000w 46v electric scooters with seats for city dwellers capable of speeds up to 46 kph and more, so NZ could learn from them and stop holding back development and global trends. Why do they always bisect every little aspect, where as in most cases its purely the rule of common sense riders need apply? Let all electric bikes and scooters use the bike lane like push bikes and thats the end of that. With this type of mentality from NZ transport, things always tend to happen in NZ 25 years later than the rest of the developing countries!

  11. Probably a bit late in commenting here for any great benefit. Plus there is not much to add to most of the great ideas and concerns around bikes raised here. But I would like say that little consideration has been made about practicality and the future of ebikes. How can we regulate a technology in its infancy? I have a throttle ebike because, like others here, it is the only way I can seriously ride again after many knee surgeries. All the torque sensing ebikes I tried overly stressed my knees before getting any useful power and you’re dreaming if you think 300w is sufficient for Wellington. I’d have to kill my knees to make any progress up an average hill or into an average wind in Wellington wind on any 300w limited bike. Throttle bike is awesome…as soon as my knees begin to complain…I can instantly reduce the strain on them. The next aspect of health and practicality of power is that many people in NZ would kill a 300w bike in no time – because obesity is at pandemic levels. Limits will prevent the very people from getting on an ebike that should and would so enjoy one that is capable of moving them. Most ebikes suggest riders be under 100kg. Limits will also prevent ebikes from easily keeping up with the flow of traffic in 50km/hr areas. I feel the no limits aspect alone would significantly increase the uptake of ebikes and mean that motorists are more likely to integrate with cyclists. But the most important consideration is that if any limits are imposed on power, it will be an impediment to ebike development. The future always seems to be ignored in NZ and we just react to situations. Think access to forestry blocks, DOC rangers, SAR teams, farming, agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, seasonal workers, environmental monitoring, even fisheries officers. Ebikes can and will be tools of trades, commuting alternatives as well as recreational. The only limit should be posted speed limits…obey the speed limits, ride with consideration…and NZ could be the leader in ebike future development. Bikes will be flying vehicle soon…we should be thinking more about that! I do feel that maybe bikes should have some minimum standards though with regard to frame strength, headset construction and brakes for safety and batteries and enclosures for fire risk. But you can be absolutely certain government will do what the overseas manufacturers are requesting of them to ensure barriers preventing ingenious Kiwis from developing awesome ebike technology to take on the world. And of course there will be the typical imposition of limits, control and nanny state bureaucracy that will detract from ebike development and uptake.

  12. It is good to know a cyclist friendly group is lobbying those who think they are in charge.
    Unfortunately the process of red taping electric bikes is off to a good start already ( heavy sarcasm). Right from the start I suspect there was an unwarranted assumption that electric motors work the same as fuel motors. This is either brain dead ignorance, wilful ignorance for job preservation, or a huge sellout to vested interests that want to keep us killing ourselves with fossil fuel vehicles.
    A look at the torque curve of an electric motor shows maximum torque at start off, just the opposite of a fuel motor. As speed increases torque decreases making for a really safe way of limiting speed & acceleration of bicycles at higher speeds – say 30kph, which is the speed I used to travel on the road bike anyway.
    In fact to answer the obsession with speed as a possible excuse to regulate, the unassisted top speed of a 300W motor at 25 kph is only about 5 kph less than a 600W motor which the cycle industry has already said is a better cut off point for any bureaucratic interference, even using “safety” as an excuse.
    I realise the bureaucrats who “advise” the politicians must factor in the lowest common denominator of stupid to cover their ass, like when sharing a footpath or walkways. Without ranting too much my thoughts on cycles “sharing” the road with other vehicles in theory should be just that, but like always the 1% spoil it for everyone. A simple solution would be to allow cycles on existing footpaths that are hardly used anyway. The existing road code stipulates vehicles must stop & check the footpath is clear before moving to the road & doing the same thing, so wins all round & motorists can fulfill their death wish or end their miserable slave lives on the road.
    A simple message to ltsa – Stay the FFF away from electric bikes.

  13. So where has this reached / what is the progress ? It has been 9 months since this article ?

  14. I find the speed limit ridiculous, as some pros and most cons, especially the “Numerous countries already limit e-bikes in these ways” one.
    I have a 24-28km/h average cruising speed on flat ground so I regularly overtake slower bikers, and since I’m the one fast coming up from behind, I’m also the one moving to the side or off-road to overtake the “second class biker”, and not the 70 years old granny with the 7 years old grandson with the average cruising speed of, like, 10km/h. -and if I can’t overtake them, I slow down, maybe ask them if they’d be so kind to allow me passage.
    If I’m in a hurry, I can work with ~35km/h for a while.

    That, on a regular mountain bike.

    Now my question is, why would I even consider buying an e-bike, when my average cruising speed is about the same as the top speed of e-bikes? Sure it’s good for a granny with a bad knee, especially uphill, but grannies aren’t the vast majority of bikers. Relatively fit and healthy people are.
    Moreover, bikes are *transportation vehicles*, they’re meant to reduce time spent travelling from location ‘A’ to location ‘B’ (and good for workout/fun for others), so basically, the faster the better. Especially on the road, where cars have to overtake bikers because they go at least twice as fast.

    Moreover, the limitation of the actual power of the engine is beyond ridiculous. I’m a solid 67kg, whereas my father, for example, is near twice as heavy. The same bike that would boost me up to 25 would struggle to get my father moving, especially uphill.

    Instead of this nonsense, limiting the speed at which bikers can travel would be a better idea, and that should be based on location. Crowdy street with lots of pedestrians? 15km/h. Long-ass road with no intersections? 45 because why not. Anyone speeding and thus endangering the well-being, dare I say ‘life’ of other bikers/pedestrians? There you have a reason for fines. But the flat out speed/power limits are just ridiculous.

    Shaving off a good 20-50% of travelling time would be the reason I’d buy an e-bike but as it stands, I’m a customer lost.

    1. Yes. You ‘regularly overtake slow bikes’. Really? Do you ring a bell? Yell out? Do you wait for a safe passing lane and then move to the right of the cyclist you are about to overtake? No, you don’t. You just swerve silently out and around the cyclist and back in front of them. E-bikes need their own lanes or they need to stay out and hold their own against cars and motorbikes. They aren’t bikes – they are powered motor vehicles.

      1. Do me a solid and stick that attitude up your ass, will you?

        Yes I actually ring a bell to let people know I’m there and coming, otherwise they could accidentally cut me off and cause us both to fall. Happened a couple of times before I started using it when I was a kid, it wasn’t funny. Bell works wonders, mate.

        And yes, they are bikes, hardly any different, but they are oh so very different from a 200kg motorbike. You know, momentum and stuff?

        Now, if you could sit down and think before you open that mouth of yours again, that’d be appreciated. Thanks, pumpkin.

  15. There should also be an option to have a maximum of 300w cycling which doesn’t have pedals i.e. it is solely powered by the electric motor (which is probably about the same power level as your average rider), maybe have a age rating like you have to be older than 15 yrs to ride one.

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