ELEC­TRIC BIKES: THE SILENT KILLER ON OUR STREETS

They’re green and oh so trendy. But last week elec­tric bikes, which can hit speeds of 30mph, claimed their first Bri­tish vic­tim. And ex­perts fear there’ll be many more

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By An­gella John­son

SHE didn’t see it com­ing – or hear it. At around five o’clock on an Au­gust af­ter­noon, Sakine Ci­han started cross­ing a road near her home in East Lon­don. She never made it to the other side as a 30-year-old man rid­ing a bi­cy­cle crashed into her and knocked her vi­o­lently to the ground. As Sakine, 56, lay se­ri­ously in­jured, cra­dled in the arms of passers-by, the cy­clist fled the scene.

Sadly, on Wed­nes­day, two weeks af­ter the ac­ci­dent, it was an­nounced that Mrs Ci­han, a di­vorcee, had died.

The num­ber of pedes­tri­ans killed or se­ri­ously hurt by cy­clists in Bri­tain has dou­bled in the past decade – there were three deaths and a fur­ther 457 in­juries in 2016 – yet there is some­thing that makes the tragic fate of Mrs Ci­han unique.

For she is the first per­son in this coun­try to have been hit and killed not by a nor­mal bi­cy­cle, but by an elec­tric bi­cy­cle.

Heavy, silent and ex­tremely rapid, these new ma­chines – known as e-bikes – are at­tract­ing grow­ing con­tro­versy as sales in Bri­tain soar.

Ac­cord­ing to crit­ics, they are lit­tle more than un­li­censed mo­tor­bikes, ca­pa­ble of be­ing mod­i­fied to reach speeds of 30mph or more, and a great dan­ger to road users and pedes­tri­ans.

Billed as suit­able for young and old alike, bikes pow­ered by elec­tric mo­tors are tak­ing the mar­ket by storm.

Hal­fords claimed that 2017 was the ‘year of the e-bike’ af­ter a 220 per cent in­crease in sales, but there is ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that this year’s sales will be greater still, with an e-bike bo­nanza ex­pected at Christ­mas.

Cost­ing up­wards of £400, they are al­ready reck­oned to ac­count for more than 12 per cent of the mar­ket. A fur­ther 2.5 mil­lion sales are ex­pected over the com­ing 12 months.

Be­cause they are equipped with both ped­als and an elec­tric mo­tor ca­pa­ble of reach­ing 15.5mph, the bike ef­fec­tively ‘help’ the rider, par­tic­u­larly mov­ing away from a stand­ing start or go­ing up­hill, al­low­ing the cy­clist to pedal as lightly as they choose. They can also be used as nor­mal bikes, with the mo­tor switched off, or rid­den just like mopeds with no ped­alling at all.

As with all new toys – par­tic­u­larly toys with green cre­den­tials – the fa­mous are em­brac­ing them.

Ad­ven­turer and TV pre­sen­ter Ben Fogle is a fan and Si­mon Cow­ell has re­port­edly splashed out on no fewer than seven e-bikes at a cost of al­most £ 60,000 so that he can cy­cle to and from work. Pre­sum­ably he has one for each day of the week. Olympic gold-medal win­ning track cy­clist Victoria Pendleton has re­cently launched her own Pendleton Somerby Elec­tric Bike, that sells for about £850.

But be­neath the healthy sales pro­jec­tions, the smil­ing faces of celebri­ties, and claims of eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits and con­ges­tion-slash­ing, the rise of the e-bike is po­ten­tially bad news for our streets, as the griev­ing fam­ily of MrsCih an knows all too well (although there is no sug­ges­tion that the man who crashed into her was break­ing the law).

In coun­tries such as China, the United States, Hol­land and Is­rael, where e-bikes have re­ally taken hold, they have brought may­hem and a grow­ing toll of in­jury and death.

New York has been forced to crack down on law­less rid­ers. Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said: ‘What peo­ple have seen is ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able. Elec­tronic bi­cy­cles go­ing the wrong way down streets, weav­ing in and out of traf­fic, ig­nor­ing traf­fic sig­nals, some­times go­ing up on side­walks.

‘It’s one thing if a reg­u­lar bi­cy­cle does that – that’s a prob­lem – but an elec­tronic bi­cy­cle, it’s so much faster. It cre­ates a real dan­ger.’

In Hol­land, one of the most cy­cle­friendly na­tions on Earth, e-bikes now make up a third of all sales, a trend ac­com­pa­nied by a near dou­bling of cy­cling fatal­i­ties over the past year. Ex­perts say that, in part, the dan­ger lies in the sheer weight of the new ma­chines, which – with a bat­tery, a mo­tor and a sturdy frame to suit – can cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age.

A new gi­ant breed of elec­tric de­liv­ery bikes now on the streets of Briti sh cities, equipped with heavy pan­niers at the front and the rear, looks par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.

But there are other prob­lems, too, as it seems that pedes­tri­ans and other road users are con­fused by the high speeds reached by e-bikes, and by their rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The pro­file of the rid­ers is an­other risk fac­tor, as many are drawn to elec­tric bikes pre­cisely be­cause they are vul­ner­a­ble – in­ex­pe­ri­enced or

‘They are so much faster – it cre­ates a real dan­ger’

el­derly. In Hol­land, 38 men were killed rid­ing elec­tric bikes in 2017 – a stag­ger­ing 31 of them over the age of 65.

Then there is an al­to­gether more deadly risk. The Mail on Sun­day has es­tab­lished that e-bikes can be mod­i­fied to reach speeds of 30mph or more – po­ten­tially lethal for any pedes­tri­ans who hap­pen to get in their way.

And the changes can be made with shock­ing ease. Sim­ple-to-fit kits for ‘turbo-charg­ing’ e-bikes are freely avail­able for sale on the in­ter­net and in some shops on the high street. Plug-in at­tach­ments, or so-called don­gles, trick the com­put­erised speed sen­sors on the bike, and over-ride the soft­ware re­strict­ing them to 15.5mph – a speed limit laid down in law.

It is com­pletely il­le­gal to use these souped- up ma­chines on Bri­tish roads, of course, yet traders such as Martin Brown, the owner of the on­line e-bike shop, have no qualms about sell­ing the equip­ment.

‘Are you fed up with the power cut­ting off when you reach the speed limit?’ he asks on his web­site. ‘We are the only UK sup­pli­ers of the Bosch tun­ing don­gle that takes away the speed cut-off re­stric­tion and al­lows you to reach higher speeds on your Bosch 250w or 350w e-bike sys­tem.’

Pre­sum­ably for le­gal rea­sons, Mr Brown then warns that the speed-tun­ing don­gle is for ‘off road (pri­vate land) use only.’

Graphic de­signer Martin Northrop, him­self a keen cy­clist for more

‘He was bomb­ing along at a stag­ger­ing speed’

than 30 years, knows just how dan­ger­ous these mod­i­fied elec­tric bikes can be.

Jog­ging in Hyde Park in Cen­tral Lon­don last week, he only nar­rowly avoided col­lid­ing with an en­thu­si­as­tic e- cy­clist hurtling along the cy­cle track at, he es­ti­mates, 40mph.

‘The user was an older man with a lit­tle cap on his head and he was bomb­ing along at a stag­ger­ing speed,’ he says. ‘When he stopped be­fore me, I said, “Crikey, you were belt­ing along”, and he just grinned with ob­vi­ous rel­ish, as he told me that he’d had it “chipped” to go fast. Frankly, the speed it was go­ing means that it’s no longer a bi­cy­cle but a mo­torised ve­hi­cle – and po­ten­tially very dan­ger­ous for peo­ple walking through the park. You don’t ex­pect those kind of speeds.’

As if this were not enough, an in­va­sion of Amer­i­can-style elec­tric scoot­ers is now adding to the chaos on our roads and pave­ments.

Some­times called a Go-Ped, this is the mo­torised ver­sion of the foot­pow­ered scoot­ers much-favoured by chil­dren and ‘ Yummy Mum­mies’. Else­where in the world, how­ever, they are a cause of ma­jor con­cern, with in­juries and deaths recorded in the United States, Hol­land, Is­rael and Sin­ga­pore.

There have been protests in Cal­i­for­nia, where com­pet­ing hire and shar­ing schemes have left the pave­ments lit­tered with dumped scoot­ers, no­tably in San Fran­cisco and Santa Mon­ica. Kansas City has banned them from shop­ping ar­eas.

On the East Coast, Bos­ton’s Mayor Martin Walsh has threat­ened to im­pound them.

In Bri­tain they are ef­fec­tively il­le­gal, banned from roads and pave­ments, as are Seg­ways and hov­er­boards. Yet e- scoot­ers are avail­able both for sale and for longterm hire in high street stores and, while they are not cheap – they cost f r om £ 500 – again s al es are ex­pected to soar this year.

Users and re­tail­ers say the po­lice ap­pear to be turn­ing a blind eye so long as they are rid­den safely.

‘It’s a grey area,’ ex­plains Liam Law­less, who sells Is­raeli-de­signed Inokim scoot­ers from a shop in Cen­tral Lon­don. ‘I’ve never known of any­one bei ng pull ed over by po­lice.’

What­ever the law says, he com­mutes to work on his e- scooter, claim­ing: ‘It’s good for the planet, more prac­ti­cal in big cities than the elec­tric bike, can be car­ried, and is easy to hop off, if needed.’

No won­der safety cam­paign­ers in Bri­tain are warn­ing about the dan­gers posed by ‘green’ takeover of roads and pave­ments – and are de­mand­ing safe­guards.

The char­ity Cy­cling UK, for ex­am­ple, says a full re­view of road traf­fic of­fences is now re­quired to p pro­tect the pub­lic.

At present, in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales, you can ride an e-bike if you are just 14 and with­out the need for a li­cence of any kind.

This might seem an ex­tra­or­di­nary state of af­fairs, bear­ing in mind that elec­tric bikes in Northern Ire­land re­quire a moped li­cence and must be reg­is­tered, taxed and in­sured.

Such rapid changes in tech­nolo ogy are cer­tainly in­creas­ing the p pres­sure to change the ar­chaic l laws which gov­ern – or fail to gove ern – cy­clists in Bri­tain.

The man who knocked down Saki ine Ci­han in Dal­ston could only be a ar­rested for ‘fu­ri­ous driv­ing’ un­der t the 1861 Of­fences Against the Pers son Act. He is yet to be charged.

This is the same an­cient leg­is­la­tion that was used to pros­e­cute and jail cy­clist Char­lie Al­lis­ton, whose il­le­gal bike with­out brakes struck and killed Kim Briggs, 44, in Lon­don in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

Foll ow­ing her death, and a cam­paign by her wid­ower Matthew, the Gov­ern­ment is press­ing for a new, more ef­fec­tive of­fence of caus­ing death or se­ri­ous in­jury when cy­cling.

Af­ter all, what­ever the eco­log­i­cal boasts of this trendy rev­o­lu­tion, it seems the silent new ma­chines can be just as deadly as the cars they are in­tended to re­place.

STAR AP­PEAL: TV ad­ven­turer Ben Fogle rides his e-bike in Lon­don – there is no sug­ges­tion he breaks the law

CELEBRITY EN­DORSE­MENT: Model Rachel McCord on board a mo­torised scooter in Cal­i­for­nia

MOWN DOWN: DOWN S Sakine ki Cih Ci­han, 56, 6 died af­ter be­ing hit in East Lon­don

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