When is a bike not a bike? When it's electric

THEY might look like a solution to the rising oil price and global warming, but a court ruling has found some motorised bicycles cannot be legally used on NSW roads - even though the Roads and Traffic Authority previously advised owners they could.

As many as 10,000 such bikes, known as E-bikes, may have been sold in NSW on the basis that they did not require registration, and all users had to do was wear a helmet and obey the road rules.

The law specifies that "pedal cycles" with "one or more auxiliary propulsion motors" up to 200 watts do not require registration.

In May last year, Deborah Alice Matheson was riding her Eazyride bike on a street in Nyngan at about 30 kilometres an hour, using its motor, when she was stopped by police. She told them the RTA had told her that the bike did not need to be registered, but she was charged with driving an unregistered vehicle. She was convicted at Nyngan local court this year and fined $500.

Last Thursday week, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict, without recording a conviction. Justice Peter Johnson found the magistrate who found Ms Matheson guilty had not erred in ruling that the bike motor was not "auxiliary" but primary, and its pedal power was secondary.

Early last year, a person who rode an electric scooter on a street was acquitted in Sutherland local court of driving an unregistered vehicle.

The director of the bicycle company Eazy Ride, Trevor Patrick, was dismayed by the Supreme Court's decision and has closed his business.

He said he had received advice from two senior RTA officials suggesting that E-bikes did not have to be registered and could be used like bicycles. "If anyone in this state is entitled to believe she's been denied natural justice it's Mrs Matheson," he said.

An RTA spokeswoman denied the organisation had ever advised that E-bikes could be used without registration.

She said they did not meet safety standards and therefore could not be registered. They could be used only in backyards and on private roads. "We encourage anyone who has been sold a bike under false pretences to go to the Department of Fair Trading," she said.

But an RTA review in February still spoke of the need to clarify the "intention of exemption from registration" of E-bikes and called for certain vehicles to be excluded. It also referred to "confusion amongst the public, police, magistrates and even RTA officers" about which vehicles should be registered.

One cyclist, Craig Donarski, has been riding his electric bicycle to work almost every day for two years. He says the trip from Lilyfield to Circular Quay takes him 22 minutes, and it costs him about 10cents to 12cents a week in electricity to charge the batteries on his bike.

"It's the cheapest form of transport past the pushbike … It makes bike travel possible for people who don't have the levels of fitness or strength to ride a normal pushbike. It just seems absurd … when we are worrying about anything from peak oil to greenhouse gases to parking, to make these things illegal."

Mr Donarski had an Eazyride bike, but has just bought a newer electric bicycle for $1400. He says the company that sold it had told him it did not require registration.

"I just spent $1400 on the assumption that it was a legal vehicle to ride."

"There goes my budget," he said, as he contemplated his future need for public transport.

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