Rushing e-bikes are a brand new risk. Amsterdam desires to manage them remotely

A few weeks ago, Amsterdam announced that it was testing new technology that can automatically reduce the speed of e-bikes when riders enter certain parts of the city.

Predictably, the initiative sparked debate. At Redditsome expressed concerns about this Data protection and government childcare, while others felt stricter measures were needed to protect other road users from e-bikes, particularly those with aftermarket mods that make them faster. Some said the technology – called Adaptive Speed ​​Governance (ASG) – was not practical.

Regardless, we felt the issue was worthy of further investigation. That's why we sat down with Paul Timmer, who developed the system to protect all road users.

“Slowing down e-bikes is only a last resort,” says Timmer, who works for the Townmaking Institute, a nonprofit focused on developing mobility solutions. “But of course that’s the part that got all the press attention.”

How does the speed limit work on an e-bike?

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The institute has built a platform that integrates different levels of spatial information. This includes fixed locations such as schools or busy intersections. The platform can also be updated with temporary zones that could pose a danger, such as a street party, as well as real-time data on traffic and the like.

A module installed on the handlebars of an e-bike connects to this platform via 5G. Unlike GPS, this cellular network measures the bike's location and speed more accurately. When the module detects that you are approaching a busy zone, warning messages will appear on the screen.

The warnings come in two forms: nudges and nannies. Nudges are notifications that warn you of potential dangers. “Nanny” mode only comes into play if The driver doesn't slow down. Then the module sends a signal to limit or completely shut down the motor. This makes it more difficult for the driver to maintain the same speed.

Example of “nudges”. Photo credit: Townmaking InstituteSpeeding technology for e-bikes
Speeding with an e-bike in AmsterdamExample of “Nanny” mode. Photo credit: Townmaking InstituteSpeeding with an e-bike in Amsterdam

Timmer says it's not about monitoring cyclists, but rather alerting them to possible dangers.

“Our research has shown that the warning alone is a really effective deterrent against speeding,” says Timmer. “Most people want to avoid dangerous situations in which they could hurt others or themselves or both.”

A new threat

In the Netherlands, e-bikes are limited to 25 km/h. However, many riders manipulate their bike's hardware to remove this restriction. Others purchase aftermarket throttle systems for extra boost. This is of course illegal.

Nevertheless, Amsterdam's head of traffic, Melanie van der Horst, claims that half of all e-bikes in the city exceed the 25 km/h limit due to these modifications.

“Today, electric bikes are much more than just a bike that goes a little faster,” she said NRC earlier this month. “Some of them are heavy animals that cause serious injuries in an accident.”

“Children no longer dare to ride bikes; “The older ones get out when a souped-up fat bike comes by,” she added, perhaps with a hint of exaggeration.

As the name suggests, fat bikes are large, heavy e-bikes with thick tires. Popular with teenagers and young adults, many of whom drive illegally. The Dutch police have confiscated Fat bikes, the can drive up to 80 km/h.

“Fat bikes are becoming a real problem in Amsterdam,” says Timmer. “Although the bikes are often as big and go as fast as a moped, the riders are not subject to the same traffic rules and age restrictions.”

The controversy surrounding ever faster and larger e-bikes has reached its peak boiling point in the Dutch capital, and many are calling for stricter regulations and law enforcement. The pressure on politicians to find a solution is increasing.

While slowing down at least remotely on e-bikes may seem like a step too far, especially in a country that prides itself on the freedom of cycling, the other alternatives may be tougher.

“If that doesn’t work, license plates would probably be the next step,” says Timmer. “E-bikers must wear helmets, be over 16 years old and can be detected by speed cameras.”

Carrot or stick?

Municipal e-bike and e-scooter rental systems already have technology that limits speed in certain locations. It's called geo-fencing and it allows a connected vehicle to adapt its movements to the ever-changing urban environment.

However, entering the world of personal vehicles could prove more difficult. Unless the government makes the technology mandatory, it's up to individuals to make the effort. And I can't imagine the worst offenders – unruly, fat-driving teenagers – taking the initiative.

Perhaps the best solution would then be to integrate ASG into the displays of existing e-bikes, which the Townmaking Institute is currently discussing with manufacturers.

In all likelihood, curbing e-bike speeding will require a little carrot and a lot of stick. Tightening regulations and enforcing them will likely be the next steps for cities like Amsterdam, which announced a new bill just last week Ban Performance modification kits for e-bikes.

Also Amsterdam in December reduce the speed limit for cars on 80% of urban roads from 50 km/h to 30 km/h to reduce accidents and pollution across all modes of transport.

The Townmaking Institute will test its technology in several other European cities this year, including Munich, Athens and Milan.

“We’re excited to see how other cities will use the system and how it will work in each location’s unique environment,” says Timmer.

The institute is also in discussions about getting into e-scooters and public transport. While perhaps more important, the use of ASG in cars is still “years in the future.”

“They have [car manufacturers] We have legions of lawyers who fight speed limits until the end,” says Timmer, laughing.

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