Toronto: E-bikes, A Dilemma on Two Wheels


 Doug Beatty, president of the Toronto Electric Riders Association, rides his bike on his street in Toronto.

Doug Beatty, president of the Toronto Electric Riders Association, rides his bike on his street in Toronto.

The city is looking for public input on where electric bicycles fit into the city’s transportation mix.

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Shunned by cyclists and too slow to keep up with motorists, electric bike riders have long struggled to carve out a place on Toronto’s streets.

And the battle is about to get even more fierce.

As the city reviews its bylaws governing the operation of e-bikes, the transportation service department is requesting public input on where these vehicles fit in Toronto’s transportation mix.

In an online survey launched this week, residents are being asked about everything from whether riding an e-bike should require a licence (it currently does not) to whether they’ve ever witnessed a conflict between an e-bike and cyclist. A meeting with stakeholders, meanwhile, is scheduled for this Saturday.

But a rapprochement — particularly between cyclists and e-riders — will not come easy

“I’d like to see all vehicles with two wheels get along, however I’m not sure that’s possible,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, whose request for a staff report last fall prompted the consultation. “The debate has really become quite nasty.”

The problem is largely one of clarity. Under provincial legislation, e-bikes with pedals and a maximum speed of 32 km/h are allowed on all the same roads as conventional bicycles. But a Toronto bylaw supersedes that legislation, limiting access to bicycle lanes and multi-use trails to bikes that are “propelled by muscular power.” E-riders who use their motors in these lanes are subject to a $305 fine.

But the bylaw makes no distinction between pedal-assist bikes and electric scooters, which are heavier, wider and much more cumbersome to pedal.

All of this has created confusion for e-riders, according to Doug Beatty, president of the Toronto Electric Riders Association.

“People say to me, ‘I don’t really know where I should be, so I’m just going to ride where I feel safe,’” he said.

According to Beatty, the current bylaws are too open to interpretation, and don’t reflect the needs of e-riders, many of whom commute long distances.

“There needs to be some information for everybody to see,” he said. “The city needs to do an educational process once they amend their bylaws, and say, ‘This is where these things are supposed to be.’”

Yet many cyclists and e-riders have very opposing views on where, exactly, that is.


According to Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, there should be different rules for pedal-assist bicycles, which “fit well into the current cycling infrastructure,” and electric scooters.

“We don’t think electric scooters fit into that mix, primarily due to excessive speed mix and size. Those should not be considered a bicycle,” he said.

But Greg Moore, owner of ezriders, an e-bike shop on the Danforth, disagrees.

“Where else are they supposed to go?” he said. “They belong on the side of the road.”

Daniel Egan, the city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs, said the online survey, which closes May 8, will help to inform his team’s upcoming report to the public works committee. Changes to the regulations could come as early as this summer, he said.


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  1. This is very interesting, You are a very good blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to reading more of your great post.

  2. It’s already difficult enough when a vehicle is legal, but then not allowed off the highway in one province, or not allowed in a city, or not a vehicle in other places, especially when it all keeps changing and the nature of the vehicle is to travel. Get it settled, and keep it consistent with national law, or regulation will keep Canada’s transportation inefficient. The debate is so fierce that riders needed an association to fight for ebikes? People have too much free time.

    As a rider, e-bikes aren’t much different from bikes. Requiring they travel in road lanes and limited to 32kph, is just going to annoy everyone making ebikes dangerous. Motorized bikes and scooters and mopeds have been harmless for decades. Regulation for its own sake keeps all motors labelled 49.9cc, the pedals on, and vehicles weighing a ton.

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