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Banned drivers behind surge in electric bikes

Baron Katranski on an electric bike.

Baron Katranski on an electric bike. Photo: Justin McManus

 

They may be looked down upon by those who spend their Sundays in lycra but sales of electric bicycles are surging thanks to  their popularity with commuters including disqualified drivers. 

Melbourne retailers are reporting a boom in business as more riders dump perspiration for automation in the form of battery-powered bicycles.

Melbourne Electric Bicycles co-owner Nathan Reizer said sales had increased two or three times in the past couple of years, a growth he expected would continue. 

The biggest attraction of the rechargeable bikes, he said, was that they nullified the two biggest adversaries of every cyclist: hills and wind. 

"They're great for those cyclists who want to get home earlier and not in a pool of sweat," he said.

The rise in sales is also being attributed to the relaxation of laws in Victoria a couple of years ago allowing the import of more powerful bikes, such as the "Pedelec" which is popular in Europe.

Under Victorian road rules, an electric bike is allowed a motor with a power output up to 250 watts and a top speed of 25 km/h. Riders must pedal to access the power of the bikes, which do not have to be registered or require a license.

Drivers who have lost their licenses for drink driving and other offences are  another a significant source of electric bikes buyers. 

Some retailers are pitching electric bikes online as a way for disqualified drivers to get to work or around town. 

"It's not uncommon. They might not open up with the fact they have lost their license but once your ask them quite often they will say yes," said Mr Reizer.

Despite reports of police booking disqualified drivers for using the bikes, Victoria Police said there was no problem as long as they weren't riding scooters or motorbikes. 

Dolomiti Electric Bicycles owner Giampaolo Zanol agreed banned drivers had formed a significant chunk of sales, but said it had also led to many reducing their reliance on cars in the long term.

He said his business had moved from a small shop in Carlton to a one in Ivanhoe as demand for electric bikes increased, particularly among commuters aged in their 30s.

"As the bike networks get better and traffic gets worse, people are commuting in 10-15 kilometres out from the city," he said.

Older riders or injured riders have also shown they want a bit more power when they pedal, particularly those cyclists no longer able to ride as far as they used to.

"Some might have hip or shoulder problems, others are just a little bit too old and don’t have the strength in the legs any more," said Mr Reizer. 

Monash University Institute of Transport Studies research fellow Marilyn Johnson said studies showed many owners  of electric bikes used them regularly. 

"Eighty-eight per cent of people rode their bike weekly and about 48 per cent rode them daily. Those were people who previously did not ride regularly as an adult," she said.