Madrid’s new electric bike scheme

Madrid’s new electric bike scheme


Madrid ebike share 2
The Madrid ebikes

UPDATE: This post may have become even more topical after the release of the ACT policy on cycle helmets yesterday. I personally think that is way too simplistic in its expected effect but it means that every political party now has a cycling policy – a big step up from past elections where it wasn’t even addressed.

Madrid has recently become the first city in the world to start an all electric bike share scheme. Its electric bikes look great and have lights hooked up to the battery.

Madrid follows the lead of Copenhagen which had an ebike share trial programme in October 2013.

I think this is a great idea (with reservations) for Auckland. As you may know, I am a big user and fan of electric bikes. Although I think hills are a weak excuse not to cycle (I’ll take a hill any day over a Christchurch Easterly head wind) I think they do have the ability to get the more reluctant riders and older riders out on their bikes.

I don’t fall into any of those categories, I just like them and they make riding more enjoyable. I don’t subscribe to the camp that cycling is the two wheeled equivalent of jogging, i.e. no pain no gain.

Copenhagen ebike hire
Copenhagen ebike hire

My reservation with this, and indeed any bike share scheme in New Zealand, is that the helmet law will be a major impediment. The experience in Australia, where both Melbourne and Brisbane have share schemes, has shown that helmets are a major obstacle.

People are reluctant to use a supplied helmet because of hygiene concerns and carrying around a helmet really defeats the purpose.

Spain has a very confused cycle helmet law which only requires helmets for children under 16 and for people outside urban areas. However, you don’t have to wear one if the weather is too hot (who decides that), on steep hills or if you are a professional cyclist. Pretty arbitrary rules and from my trip to Madrid in 2012, noone wears helmets in Madrid. A proposal to expand this to a universal law was recently defeated.

Tel Aviv bike share
Tel Aviv bike share

Israel is a country that recently repealed a adult cycle helmet law, at least partly because of concerns that the law would jeopardise a new bike share scheme in Tel Aviv, a scheme which has been a success. The new law in Israel is now similar to the situation in Spain.

Another place to recently downgrade its helmet law, to include only under 18 year old riders, is Dallas, Texas. Although not a place known for cycling, dallas is set to follow dozens of other American cities and start a bike share service. There were real fears that the helmet law would doom that service to failure:

Not many people looking to rent a bike just carry a helmet around. And though there are helmet rental stations that could pair with the bike rental stands, they are pricey. Some have also cringed at the thought of renting a sweaty helmet just used by another person..

So without a change to Dallas’ bike helmet ordinance, the rules would essentially be in conflict with the city’s latest amenities.

“This is a 20th century versus 21st century approach to the way we live in a city,” Kingston said. “In order to do bike share, we absolutely have to get rid of the helmet requirement.”



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