Cheating VanMoof e-bikes will be slowed outside the US

VanMoof is the latest e-bike maker that will remove software that allows its e-bikes to offer pedal-assisted power beyond the EU limit of 25 km/h. The option that cheats European speed limits will be removed on November 17th with an update to the VanMoof app that will be applied globally.

All of VanMoof’s new S3 and X3 e-bikes, regardless of country, are fitted with the same custom-built motor capable of 250W or 350W of continuous power and a 500W peak. A default region setting in the VanMoof app allows owners outside the US to select the faster and more powerful US limits even when located in Europe. In the US, e-bikes are generally capped at 32 km/h (20 mph).

“Over the past months we’ve had a number of cases in Germany of our riders being stopped by police for simply having the ability to exceed the 25km/h limit EU default setting by switching to the US country setting in our app,” says VanMoof co-founder Ties Carlier in a blog post. “We are making a change on November 17 to avoid any discussion on adherence to these laws.”

A preview of the new app settings sent to current VanMoof owners. GIF: VanMoof

For now, it seems VanMoof will not be forcing a region reset onto existing e-bike owners through something like a firmware update, for example. “If you are not riding with the correct region setting, we advise you to tap the ‘reset region settings’ button when you receive the app update,” says an email sent to current VanMoof owners.

The move to more strictly comply with the EU speed limit isn’t unprecedented. Cowboy, which only sells e-bikes in Europe, recently removed the faster “off-road” mode from its third-generation e-bikes. The popular mode was meant for riding the e-bike on “private property,” but in practice, it allowed anyone to increase their max pedal-assisted speed to 30 km/h (19 mph) after acknowledging a warning message.

EU directive 168/2013 has governed all e-bikes in Europe since January 1st, 2017. It says pedal-assisted electric bikes with a top speed of 25 km/h and maximum continuous rated power of 250W are treated as regular bicycles that can be ridden without a helmet. These e-bikes are often referred to as “pedelecs” (a portmanteau of “pedal electric cycle”), and their sales have exploded in recent years, propelled even higher after the COVID-19 pandemic. Bikes with more powerful specs require insurance and registration at a minimum, which is why the vast majority of e-bikes sold in Europe seem underpowered and slow to Americans accustomed to 750W motors.

The European Commission is looking into changing its type-approval legislation, but that could take months, if not years. Right now, regulated e-bikes fall under two types in Europe: L1e-A “powered cycles” are more powerful pedal-assisted bikes like cargo e-bikes popular with families with a top speed of 25 km/h and a maximum continuous rated power below 1000W. L1e-B e-bikes have motors with a maximum output of 4,000W and are capable of going up to 45 km/h. Popular brands such as Stromer sell these so-called “speed pedelecs” (or s-pedelecs), which are treated the same as mopeds: they require a helmet, a driver’s license, insurance, and registration; can’t usually be ridden on bike paths; and can’t be ridden by anyone under the age of 16.

European bicycle advocacy group LEVA-EU (European Light Electric Vehicle Association) says the current regulations are stifling e-bike adoption in Europe. “The market for speed pedelecs, for example, has great difficulties in developing because in most cases they are categorized as classic mopeds. However, the terms of use for mopeds are unsuitable for speed pedelecs,” said LEVA-EU in a press release in October. “The situation is even worse for the category of 25 km/h e-bikes with more than 250W. In this L1e-A category, virtually no type approvals have been carried out since 2013.” LEVA-EU claims this is partly due to e-bike manufacturers being forced to navigate complicated and costly procedures originally designed to regulate vehicles with combustion motors. Therefore, the LEVA-EU proposes that e-bikes be reclassified as zero-emission vehicles and regulated according to weight and speed.

Nobody is happy with the current e-bike regulations in Europe

An argument can be made that 25 km/h is a reasonable top supported speed for e-bikes that must share narrow protected bike lanes with slower bicyclists riding traditional bikes in congested city centers like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Berlin. If the cap was raised to 32 km/h, many riders would take advantage of that and create an unsafe speed disparity in those bike lanes. But it’s harder to justify those slow speeds outside the city limits for people looking to replace cars for longer commutes, especially for those who ride on deserted bike paths or must ride on roadways alongside the very cars that Europe’s green initiatives are so eager to replace.

There are initiatives underway that use sophisticated roadside technology coupled with s-pedelecs fitted with Intelligent Speed Assistants to limit e-bike speeds in congested areas. But these efforts, despite seeing some success, are at very early stages.

The UK is currently subject to the same EU regulations, but that might change after Brexit on January 1st. There’s currently a petition in front of the UK government to increase the speed limit from 25 km/h to match the US limit of 32 km/h (20 mph).

All this is to say that nobody is happy with the current e-bike regulations in Europe, but especially new VanMoof owners after November 17th.

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