The impending recession may have diminished thoughts of Peak Oil, but prices will again start to rise as economies recover and demand for our dwindling oil supplies begins to pick up.
When this happens, we will again start to question the logic of using a 1-tonne vehicle to move one person short distances across town, when an electric bike would be almost as comfortable and convenient.
The picture (right) shows an electric power-assisted 250 watt bicycle, from Alan Parker's submission to the Select Committee on the Impact of Peak Oil on South Australia. With a stated price tag of A$992, electric bikes have considerable potential to replace cars for short trips, especially in hilly terrain such as Armidale, where people can be discouraged by the effort required to pedal a bicycle.
As well as their important role in making transport more sustainable by substituting for car trips, E-bikes are particularly useful to older people, enabling them to be active as part of their daily life, increasing mobility, reducing isolation and improving health. Initial research conducted at Monash University has confirmed that electric power assisted bicycles (EPAB) can still provide health benefits to riders.
Unfortunately, none of the above will happen without changes to the Australian Regulations, which prevent light, safe electric bicycles such as the one in the picture from being imported into Australia. Most modern EPAB have power outputs of 250-350 watts, above the 200 watt limit required by Australian regulations. Instead of crude limitations on total power (which can be a problem when going uphill), the power-assist of the motor reduces as speed increases, cutting out at about 30 km/hr.
Changes are needed urgently to allow popular models that satisfy the Japanese, Chinese and European regulations to be imported here, creating a competitive market for this form of transport in Australia. This was recommended in December 2003, by a report by A/Prof Geoff Rose and Peter Cock, Institute of Transport Studies, Monash University. Unfortunately, little progress seems to have been made.
We therefore recommend that, as soon as possible (certainly before the end of 2009), Australian regulations be changed so that Pedelec and E-bikes with functional pedals that can propel the bike, and electric motors no more than 350 watts, that satisfy Japanese, Chinese and European regulations should be classified as bicycles and approved for use on Australian roads.