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Are e-bikes safe to ride?

Pedal-assisted electric bikes are all the rage now, with rentable versions popping up all over Arizona. They give you an extra push for your pedaling, making long distance rides a lot easier — as long as you keep your battery charged. They’re a little heavier than traditional bikes but can easily go 20-30 mph. Are they safe?

Not without a helmet and some time to practice, at least. And sometimes helmets are not provided by ride-sharing services or even bike rental shops.

Moreover, they aren’t quite the same as traditional bikes, in ways that matter. For one thing, they’re heavier and take more effort and room to slow down. For another, they speed up more quickly, which can jolt an inexperienced rider. And finally, that 20-30 mph speed can cause more serious injuries than you may expect.

E-bikes cause greater rates of hospitalization than standard bikes

A recent study in the journal Injury Prevention indicates that e-bike injuries are indeed more serious, on average, than traditional bike injuries. The researchers, from New York University’s School of Medicine, pored through a national database of emergency room visits. They were looking for accidents on standard bikes, motorized scooters and e-bikes that took place between 2000 and 2017.

There were plenty to find. When it came to traditional bikes, more than nine million people were injured during the study period. By contrast, only 140,000 were injured on motorized scooters and around 3,000 on e-bikes, which were not very common during the early years of the study. Of the three types, e-bike injuries tended to be the most severe and most likely to need hospitalization.

The obvious reason is the increased speed. Being in a crash at a greater speed generally causes more serious injuries. However, the study wasn’t able to confirm that speed was the main issue.

Another issue was the riders’ familiarity with e-bikes. People under 18 were initially the earlier adopters of e-bikes, and that seems to have been clear from the study. When it came to the earliest years of the study, it was those under 18 who were involved in the most accidents.

As time went on, however, fewer young people crashed. Then, the most e-bike crashes were among people between the ages of 45 and 65. This might indicate that crash risk drops noticeably as riders become more experienced.

Perhaps don’t take one out on an impulse

As e-bikes become more ubiquitous on our roadways, it’s only natural that more people will be injured. You can reduce the severity of any potential accidents by wearing a helmet, following all traffic rules, avoiding driving drunk and, perhaps most important, familiarizing yourself with the e-bike.

  • Thoroughly inspect your rented e-bike to ensure the brakes and other systems work
  • Start with the lowest assistance setting to get used to the extra push
  • Be aware that you can go faster than you probably could
  • Know that it takes longer to slow an e-bike down
  • Practice in a closed parking lot

If you do run into trouble, you may wonder if it is entirely your fault. You should be concerned. As motorized scooters rolled out, there were a lot of injuries — and some of these were caused by defective or poorly maintained scooters. The same caution should be taken when it comes to e-bikes.

To be safest, you will need some time to practice and get used to an e-bike, so you shouldn’t assume it’s safe to take one out without notice. Once you’ve gotten used to the extra power, ride safely!


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