Whether you rent one from a shop or a bike-sharing concern, pedal-assisted electronic bikes are all the rage. According to industry statistics, e-bike sales jumped 70% this summer, with rentals experiencing a similar increase.
Unfortunately, British television personality Simon Cowell was recently injured on a new, high-powered electric trail bike. He fractured his back and had to be hospitalized earlier this month.
Does that mean that e-bikes aren’t safe? Not necessarily. It does mean that you should be cautious about riding one, especially if you haven’t had a lot of time to practice.
Because you will need practice. Lots of it.
The bikes, which can go between 20 and 30 mph, are heavier and differently balanced than standard bicycles. They speed up quickly, which can unbalance some riders. Falls, when they happen, are likely to be somewhat more serious, if only because of the increase speed over traditional biking.
In fact, a December e-bike study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that e-bike injuries tended to be more serious than injuries involving standard bikes, although it wasn’t clear precisely why.
E-bike injuries more likely to require hospitalization
For the study, New York University School of Medicine epidemiologists sorted through a national database of ER visits, looking at accidents involving traditional bikes, e-bikes and motorized scooters. They searched the period between 2000 and 2017, when e-bikes were relatively new.
They found over 9 million adults and children who had been brought to emergency rooms after being hurt in standard bike accidents. Another 140,000 people had been injured using motorized scooters, and some 3,000 were injured riding e-bikes.
In general, those who had been riding e-bikes were injured the most severely and were the most likely to need hospitalization.
It could be that the increased speed alone accounts for the additional severity in the injuries. Or, people may take more risks when riding e-bikes than they would on traditional bikes.
Whatever the reason, the study also found that e-bike accidents tended to drop off within certain age groups after a couple of years had passed. That could mean that people tend to crash their e-bikes when they first start riding them, with the risk going down once they get more practice.
Shared e-bikes may not come with helmets, may be defective
If you’re planning to rent an e-bike, you should always wear a helmet. However, many ride-share companies do not provide helmets when they rent the bikes. You’ll need to bring your own or risk a serious head injury if you crash.
If you’ve followed the news around shared e-scooters, you may know that many of the devices may be poorly maintained or even defective. People have discovered — too late — that their brakes don’t work. People have lost control of e-scooters, perhaps due to maintenance issues or mechanical defects. Last year, Consumer Reports did a survey and found that around 8% of riders had reported a malfunction.
Be cautious when renting an e-bike
If you haven’t ridden an e-bike before, don’t rent one on the spur of the moment. Take some time to get to know the vehicle and always wear a helmet. Make sure you understand the traffic laws involved and try to be visible.
If you are injured by a defective bike or by another vehicle, discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney.