March 18, 2014

Tokyo Warns Cyclists About Illegal Electric Bicycles

Recently the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has issued warnings to the public against the use of electric-assisted bicycles which run under their own power rather than providing pedal assist, saying that they are illegal on public roads.

Road Legal Electric-Assist Bicycle
Under Japanese road laws an electric bicycle that can run under its own power, without the cyclist pedalling, is under the same category as a motorcycle with engine size of 50cc or less and such vehicles require number plates and for the rider to have a license. Therefore riding such a bicycle on public roads unlicensed and without number plates is illegal. Electric bicycles commonly sold in Japan provide "electric assist", extra power to the pedals while the rider is pedalling while models overseas typically have a throttle allowing the bicycle to move without the rider pedalling at all.

The Tokyo Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs purchased 5 different types of the electric power-assisted bikes, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 yen, for testing. They sourced the bicycles from both highly recommended online retailers, and retailers who had received a high number of consumer complaints. Of those tested one was equipped with a throttle in a clear violation of the road traffic act and three of the five continued running after the rider had stopped pedalling. More alarmingly was that under Japanese regulations power assisted bicycle motors are designed to stop running once the rider reaches 24 kilometres per hour, but four out of the five bicycles tested continued to accelerate to even higher speeds.

Personally I've noticed an increase of throttle controlled electric bicycles in the Higashi Shinjuku and Shin Okubo districts near my office. Such a sharp increase that I thought maybe the law had been changed to make such bicycles legal. I've seen these bicycle in use within full view of police officers none of whom have so much as even warned the cyclist. If officials don't act soon their use will become commonplace and the police will lose the power to act as they have in so many other areas of Japanese cycling regulation.

Bicycle buyers are advised to check safety inspection marks including the Traffic Safety mark from the Japan Traffic Management Technology Association, Bicycle Association Approved mark from the Bicycle Association of Japan and the Safe Goods mark of the Consumer Product Safety Association.

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