Buyers GuidesFirst Timers

Electric bikes and road safety

How to stay safe on the road.

In 2012, 112 cyclists were killed on UK roads. Young, middle aged, elderly, mostly careful riders, some maybe less so, all doubtless sadly missed. There are no firm figures for injuries, but it’s likely they run into thousands.

As far as I’m aware, in comparison, there are very few deaths so far of electric bike riders in the UK – perhaps because e-bikers tend to be older, more careful and maybe less inclined to jump lights and flit around between cars. But that doesn’t mean an accident might not happen – so even if you think the whole ‘safety thing’ only deserves a yawn, think again and do take a few minutes to read these reminders.

All standard cycle safety rules of course apply to electric bikes. Broadly speaking these are as follows:

Firstly, the bike itself

Regularly check your brakes and replace pads whenever necessary. Make sure lights work fully (get extra strong ones if necessary) if riding by night.  Check that saddles, pedals and handlebars are well tightened at all times. Service the bike regularly – either thoroughly yourself or get a local bike shop to do the job – their fees are always reasonable.

Check too that paniers or baskets are firmly attached with items well stashed inside so they won’t fall out. Also make sure that padlocks and chains don’t hamper wheels in any way and bungee straps are tightly attached – I’ve been caught out by this a couple of times. Wear the right clothes – high viz jacket, helmet with high viz stickers (head injuries are the most common for cyclists), good warm waterproof gear and gloves for winter riding (cold kills concentration), sunglasses or goggles to ward off flies and midges in summer and NO flapping skirts, flared trousers or flip flops.

Secondly, out on the road

Don’t drink alcohol – yes, riding a bike while under the influence is a punishable offence. Always obey the Highway code – it applies to anyone using public highways. Also check local byelaws. If you are not allowed to cycle on the pavements or in certain areas of your town, don’t – there is a good reason – and be mindful of other riders at all times. When cycling along small country lanes, keep well in from the middle of the road. In town, always ride at least 3 feet from a parked row of cars – you never know who may unthinkingly open their door, driver or passengers alike. Always indicate if turning left or right – if you’re worried about wobbling even a quick flap of your arm is better than nothing. Also pay attention when turning left to the car next to you – he may also be turning left and be totally unaware of your presence. If turning right, take up a position where you’ll be clearly seen by oncoming traffic but don’t encroach on their path. Always stop at traffic lights (yes, seriously), don’t hold on to other vehicles to help you along and lastly, never, ever sidle up alongside a tall lorry. Keep well behind. Unless the driver has excellent mirrors (many don’t), he simply won’t see you.

Now the specifics of e bike safety

Firstly, the bike itself. Spokes are likely to work loose far more quickly on an electric bike than on a standard one, due to the motor’s vibration. It is after all similar to a mini motor bike. Check your spokes much more than you think you should – every few days if you are a long distance commuter for example and use a spoke key (keep one in your pocket or saddle bag) to tighten if necessary. The same goes for tyres – keep well pumped up to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures at all times. Next point: check major nuts and bolts especially on carriers – with aluminium used more and more to reduce bike weights these can also work loose quickly, again due to the motor’s vibration. Check and tighten these every 2 weeks or so. And lastly, of course, pay special attention to battery care. You should have received a safety leaflet with your bike, but if not, the general rules are not to tamper with the battery or try to open the case, do not immerse in water or use a power jet, do not expose to extreme cold or heat and do not drop. I always recommend carrying heavy lead acid batteries by the body of the battery and not by its handle, as sometimes the latter really aren’t strong enough.

Secondly, out on the road

As everyone knows, an electric bike can go up to 15 miles per hour with motorised assistance. This is actually pretty fast for most people, but doesn’t necessarily make you stand out. What will do, however, is if you use your throttle to start off – for example to enter a roundabout or when lights turn green. Drivers behind and next to you may be surprised (they won’t know you’re riding an electric bike) so keep a close eye on them. It’s also worth checking quickly behind to make sure drivers know that YOU know they are there and even trying to make eye contact – it can be very useful on today’s roads! The next point to be aware of is if your motor suddenly dies (sadly it can happen) – for example while going up a very steep hill that you didn’t perhaps realise was more than the bike can cope with. If a driver behind you has seen you speeding up there fairly confidently and suddenly you aren’t anymore, it could be very dangerous. Doing the slowing down to stop manual signal for motorists (right arm up and down a few times) will at least give them some warning. Be careful if you have a very heavy bike (perhaps with a lead acid battery) and have to stop on a hill – for example at traffic lights. You don’t have the luxury of a hand brake, so you should make sure before even riding the bike that you have enough arm strength to keep the bike in position in these circumstances . Rolling backwards slowly (or quickly) won’t go down at all well with anyone behind, whether cyclist or motorist. If in doubt, dismount, push the bike onto the pavement and across the road as a pedestrian and start up again when recent traffic has gone past.

Last of all, take extra care when on cycle paths or in shared space. A lot of cyclists using these will be trundling along at a very leisurely pace and will be quite unprepared for you to sail past, so always give warning with your bell or shout out ‘coming past’. Children may be on these paths on their own bikes with parents and won’t think to check behind before swinging out in front, and there is also, of course, the added danger of pedestrians, often with small children, pushchairs and pets in tow, using these areas. They shouldn’t…. but they do. Moderate your speed on cycle paths and in shared spaces at all times.

And last but not least, don’t let this put you off cycling. Stick to the rules above and have fun, not nightmares!

Hatti Lee, Whoosh Bikes