Modifications are the problem: OPP e-bike expert

·3 min read

Power-assisted bicycles, e-scooters and personal mobility devices were the topic of the “scooters etiquette and e-bikes” Coffee with a Cop session, held monthly at the Penetanguishene Public Library.

OPP Sgt. Gord Keen of the force's provincial traffic operations department was on-hand to share a cup of joe with area residents, and talk about the definitions, concerns and challenges of e-bikes in the area and from a police perspective.

As introduced by Southern Georgian Bay OPP Const. Dave Hobson, Keen became the provincial authority on e-bikes having come from a cycling-influenced family environment growing up in the region.

Keen admitted that the recent interest in e-bikes initially caught many officers unaware of how to deal with rule-breakers. He then provided the attendees with definitions of how the Highway Traffic Act qualifies highways and roadways, vehicles and motor vehicles, and pedal versus power in assisting bicycles.

“There is a definition for e-bikes,” Keen explained. “They are actually, legitimately, called ‘power-assisted bicycles’.”

Pedals were the topic, which gained the most curiosity through the discussion. Users purchasing or modifying e-bikes illegally had at one time removed pedals, but have since adapted to keep them installed and visible while disabling their drive function rendering them nothing more than decoration. Police have also adapted, asking riders to pedal their e-bikes to the expected result: they can’t.

Keen noted that the intended users of power-assist bicycles are those who use the devices for recreation and exercise, but may need help to get up a hill as an example.

“These people,” said Keen, pointing to an image of motorcycle-resembling power scooters, “they have it as transportation and they have no interest in the pedal part at all.

“The bottom line is these devices, all of them (including power-assist bicycles and e-scooters), don’t need a driver’s licence. You also don’t need insurance, a permit, or plates.

“All you need for equipment is a bicycle helmet.”

He explained that the general law-breakers are those who “have never bothered to get a driver’s licence, or their driver’s licence is suspended or they’re under prohibition from driving.”

Questions arose from the people in attendance, mostly retirees, looking at mobility devices and with concerns of making the right choices, fearful of costly municipal or provincial infractions.

MidlandToday asked Keen what role the municipalities play in providing proper infrastructure and clear access to bylaws for law-abiding citizens.

“Many municipalities are embracing micro-mobility within them, especially green modes of transportation – which is fantastic, it’s the way of the future,” said Keen. “Along with that, there has to be significant education because we’re changing people’s thought processes.

“We need to educate people on what the bylaws are within the local communities; they have to be clearly visible so people know what they are; and then we have to educate our riders on all of the aspects, rules of the road, where they are and aren’t allowed to go, et cetera, so they’re not out there inadvertently breaking the law.

“Some people go out, they’re legitimately trying to do the right thing; they don’t know and you can’t really blame them for doing the wrong thing. Ignorance is no excuse, but we’re trying to change our culture so we have to educate that fact.”

Coffee with a Cop happens every month at the Penetanguishene Public Library located at 24 Simcoe Street. Further information is available through the library website.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca