A rider near Vancouver, British Columbia was ticketed for operating his device without insurance and driver’s license. The rider claimed his device was a “Motor Assisted Cycle”, as defined in their traffic codes, while police said otherwise. A trial judge went with the police’s interpretation; and an appeal to the BC’s supreme court failed.
The supreme court’s opinion to uphold the conviction had two prongs, wheelsize and “intent” of the law. The former was a bright line, clearcut and seems inarguable (in other words, how did he think he could ever win?) [but wait; see discussion below about wheelsize]— the MAC codes specifies a minimum wheelsize and this gadget had significantly smaller wheels ergo it’s not a MAC. The latter prong, about the intent of their law is much more dubious; they found that despite the gadget having operable pedals, the guy admitted he “never” pedals; thus in their view a violation of the intent of the MAC code (‘A’ means assisted, right?).
In any event the opinion is interesting, and an easy read:
The gadget in question was a Motorino XMr. It’s power-specs (500W motor, max. 20mph) appear to, otherwise, place it into the MAC category. Side-note, in the popular press, e.g. see E-bike rider loses court case against ticket for operating without licence, insurance have a picture of something that is clearly larger than the XMr model; perhaps to gin up antipathy? (fake news?).
To understand the “intent” question, one would need to look up the earlier case they refer to in the opinion R. v. Rei, 2012 BCSC 1028. I haven’t read it yet but it’s there at that link, and i don’t want to waste too much time on Canadian law 🙂
[ok I just read Rei. First off, in Rei he DID NOT HAVE PEDALS, they were removed or missing or whatever. But setting that aside, in the BC vehicle code, it does have specific requirements, e.g.
“A motor assisted cycle must be equipped with a mechanism, separate from the accelerator controller, that… prevents the motors from turning on or engaging before the motor assisted cycle attains a speed of 3 km/hr”
That the Motrino (apparently) does not have; since the defendant said he NEVER pedals, and the other guy Rei didn’t even have pedals.
This would mean, by the way, that their code is out-of-step with the US (and now Arizona) ebike “class” (or “type”) system,
both class 1 and class 3 a class 2 need not be pedaled, a throttle alone can just make it go ]
There’s some interesting subtexts about how Canadian motor-vehicle insurance works, and that it’s impossible to purchase insurance for such a device.
But what about Arizona?
The general gist of this story sounded very very similar to what happened to some motorized bicyclists (this was before the ebike-specific law) and got some into a lot of legal trouble. The trouble with that older law, the “motorized bicycle” law of 2006.
That issue — which I consider it a defect in the law, and an unintended side-effect — is a result of the 2006’s law referring to a motorized bike as being defined as being operated at less than 20mph. Police read that to mean that anyone riding a bike with a motor at 20mph or greater as somehow stopped being a motorized bicycle and in fact magically transformed into a moped (or even a motorcycle). Even if it was rolling downhill with a tailwind, even if the motor was switched off. In any event, although there were numerous anecdotal reports of being cited; there never were any appeals, even just to Superior court (and could have been appealed to Court of Appeals, because some of the offences are misdemeanors).
That’s all just background and sidebar — what about ebikes, and what about now? Arizona passed an e-bike specific law in 2018. That language, correctly, doesn’t use the phrase “operated at” some particular speed in the defintion, but rather that the motor must not provide any assistance above a certain speed (20 or 28mph, depending on class):
§28-101: ... "Bicycle" means a device, including a racing wheelchair, that is propelled by human power and on which a person may ride and that has either... (a) Two tandem wheels, either of which is more than sixteen inches in diameter. ... "Electric bicycle": means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than seven hundred fifty watts and that meets the requirements of one of the following classes:... (b) "Class 2 electric bicycle" means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle or tricycle and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of twenty miles per hour.
So the easy answer is a Motorino XMr (and the similar ZebraNow * pictured here ) fails to be an ebike per Arizona law because of the wheelsize [but wait; see discussion below about wheelsize] They otherwise would clearly be a fully-compliant class 1 (if pedal assist/ throttle-less) or a class 2, where the definitions plainly states it’s OK for a motor be used exclusively; in other words, an ebike to be and ebike in Arizona, MUST have pedals, thereby being able to propelled by human power, but not required to do so. (i see no legal jujitsu possibilities, but who knows?). To state that again and in a slightly different way: it’s not okay to remove the pedals from a Class 2 even if you never want, or never need to pedal; and a Class 1 would not function without the pedals, because by definition that’s the only way a Class 1 “goes”.
In any event, riders of these small-wheeled ebikes/escooter devices are going to find themselves in the same legal hot water as a motorized bicycle rider going as slow as 20mph (the legal definition is < 20mph; ergo > or equal to 20mph is “illegal”); that is if the police don’t like you for whatever reason. The fines can be substantial, and IIRC some or both charges are criminal misdemeanors (not simple civil traffic tickets).
The Wheelsize Issue
Jay brings up a good point in a comment below regarding wheelsize — it’s not clear what diameter the law (this is true both in the Canada/BC case, as well as Arizona) refers to; it’s certainly not specific. The rim of the Motrino is 12″, but the diameter of the wheel when a tire is mounted to the rim is more like 18″. (not sure about the ZebraNow example?)
Most things that look like bicycles, for adults at least, easily meet the 16″ but it’s sortof problematic for some compact travel/folding bicycles that use smallish wheels/rims. There’s no particular reason these riders shouldn’t enjoy the legal protections afforded to bicyclists.
Does the wheelsize thing in the definition of bicycle make sense? It may in the context of ebikes, I suppose that’s arguable. It clearly doesn’t make sense when considering a folding/travel bicycle; and leaves riders of such devices in a bit of legal limbo when riding. I always imagined the wheelsize requirement was a crude way of differentiating between small-children’s vs. all other bicycles; it’s been in the law for a long long time.
If anyone know of any case law that might clarify the wheel vs. rim size issue please let me know.
In the two examples from the Supreme Court of British Columbia; the more-recent case Ghadban, the trial judge mentions specifically said: “It is a requirement that the wheel of a MAC must be no smaller than 350 mm while that of a limited speed motorcycle must be no smaller than 254 mm. The wheel size of the Motorino XMr is specified to be 12 inches in diameter which converts to 304 mm; less than the required 350 mm for a MAC.” What’s not clear, because we don’t have access to the trial record is whether or not it was even brought up at trial; I surmise the trial judge read it off the datasheet for the Motrino, which was entered into evidence. In the older case Rei, there is no mention of wheelsize, so I imagine it was either bigger wheels that were not an issue, or nobody brought it up at the trial; the opinion does not reference any specific make or model of scooter in that case.
* ZebraNow is a micromobility escooter month-to-month rental. They seem to be CA -based. I haven’t tried to figure out how they fit in with CA law. I also don’t know why there is one here (in Phoenix / Ahwatukee).