Metro Planners Discuss Regulating E-Bikes

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Leaders in the Des Moines metro are discussing a growing trend in transportation.

Electric assist bikes, or e-bikes, offer a mechanical push to help riders. More e-bikes are being sold in Iowa, which has metro planners looking at how these new bikes should be regulated.

Daniel Koenig sells and builds e-bikes in the Ichi Bike shop in Des Moines’ East Village.

“It’s the fastest growing segment of cycling at this point,” he said.

The e-bike is designed to assist riders when they pedal, helping people to go farther with less energy.

Gunnar Olson, of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, just bought an e-bike to commute to work.

“As a guy who has to go to a lot of meetings and wear a tie a lot of days, having bike allows me to travel farther distance expending less energy, so I don’t show up a sweaty mess,” Olson said.

The growing e-bike market is causing governmental planning agencies to look at how to regulate this type of bike. At a meeting Tuesday, leaders with the Des Moines MPO discussed concerns and possible solutions.

“Polk County has a permit system. Story County has a permit system. A few of our other places deal with it differently,” said Mike Armstrong, a Des Moines MPO planner. “Right now if you want to ride an e-bike you kind of have to call ahead every jurisdiction and find out what you need to do.”

Concerns over a motorized vehicle on a trail open new questions.

“People concerned about getting buzzed by bikes, flying down the trails,” Koenig said. “E-bikers have the responsibility to not put people in a position to feel like they are getting buzzed by a bike.”

Another concern is if an electric motorbike is allowed on trails, why not mopeds?

“An e-bike is still electric assist. When I stop pedaling, I stop. And when I pedal, I’m going. That would differentiate me from a moped,” Koenig said.

So far the group has more questions than answers, but members are studying regulations in use in California to govern how Iowa treats e-bikes.

E-bikes also help those with some type of physical impairment be able to ride, and that may increase the use of trails.