They are fast, pedaling is easier, and there is no obligation to wear a helmet or insurance: the e-bikes, which are reduced to 25 kilometers per hour, are very popular with cyclists – but the EU could change that now.

Will we soon also need liability insurance for e-bikes that only travel up to 25 kilometers per hour?

E-Bikes in the fast lane: Last year, the value of electric bicycles sold exceeded that of conventional two-wheelers for the first time. This was the result of calculations by the Cologne market research institute IFH. With a share of 51 percent of total sales of around 3.5 billion euros, the new trend wheels account for more than half of the industry’s sales. In 2016, the proportion was only 45 percent.

The reason for success is that the so-called pedelecs are exempt from insurance, i.e. e-bikes that are throttled to a speed of 25 kilometers per hour. The industry generates the vast majority of its e-bike business with them. A discussion initiated by the EU Commission about extending compulsory insurance to include pedelecs is causing a stir.

Better protect victims of traffic accidents

In a proposal to amend the EU directive on motor vehicle liability insurance, the Commission expressly points out that there is a risk of accidents not only from cars but also from other electrically powered vehicles such as e-bikes. Pedelecs would also be affected.

The aim is to better protect victims of traffic accidents. However, it is also provided that member states can exempt such vehicles from compulsory insurance. In this case, the EU Commission advocates the establishment of a compensation fund for the victims.

“If this proposal becomes law, liability insurance will be required to prevent millions of European citizens from using pedelecs,” writes legal expert for the European Cycling Federation (ECF), Adam Bodor, in an article for the specialist magazine “Radmarkt”.

“We consider the proposal unnecessary because of the low potential for damage from pedelecs,” said the German bicycle association ADFC, which immediately announced resistance. For the two-wheel industry association, managing director Siegfried Neuberger pointed out the “very negative effects” of a possible general insurance requirement and called for the introduction of an official exception for pedelecs. Drivers of faster e-bikes in Germany already need an insurance license in addition to an operating license.

Hazard potential also from pedelecs

At the moment, no changes are planned in the insurance obligation for pedelecs, said a spokesman for the responsible Federal Ministry of Justice on request. According to the EU Commission’s proposal for a directive, this legal situation could be retained, the statement said.

According to Radmarkt editor-in-chief Michael Bollschweiler, if liability were to arise, sales could collapse. “The charm is that it’s a bike in a legal sense,” he said. The simplicity is part of the success. This is shown, among other things, by the fact that e-bikes requiring insurance have so far been a flop in Germany.

The Gelsenkirchen lawyer Arndt Kempgens, on the other hand, pointed out the considerable risk potential also from pedelecs. “In practice, we see that the victims of such accidents go away empty-handed,” he complained. Although those who caused accidents are already liable for bicycle accidents, the claims are currently often difficult to enforce.

For the bicycle industry, a drop in sales figures for electric bicycles would be a clear setback. While the Cologne researchers’ study predicts significant growth for e-bikes in the coming years, business with conventional mountain bikes declined last year, as did the demand for city bikes and trekking bikes.