Motorized bike
Motorized bike Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Roi Katziri replaced his NIS 500 bike with one that cost NIS 4,250. "When they asked me if I wanted to ride an electric bike, I didn't think twice. I drive to work and back every day, so the opportunity of having fun riding a bike without breaking a sweat seemed delightful."

Katziri says he was disappointed because the bike he got was pretty conservative and gray-looking.

"But I was really impressed with how comfortable they are to ride, especially on the new bike paths they've paved along the Tel Aviv promenade," he adds.

By the time he finished the ride, his T-shirt was dripping with sweat.

He learned that even with an electric bicycle, you have to use your leg muscles to make the pedals go round.

On a positive note, he found the shock absorbers let him get through even badly paved road safely; the front and rear lights lit his way after dark; and his bike folded compactly to fit in a car trunk or go with him on public transport.

The bike's electric charger was also simple to load and easy to remove, says Katziri.

Nir Zelik also got an electric bike to try out, a Raleigh model retailing at NIS 9,500.

He, too, had a pretty pleasant ride, particularly going uphill. "If you're comparing it to an ordinary bicycle with no motor, then the ride experience is much easier, especially where it's hard pedaling and you had to make a real effort."

Zelik sums up: "You can reach pretty remote places in relatively little time and without much physical effort, thanks to the motor. On the other hand, the battery only lasts two hours, so riding out of town is not an option.

Not a bad deal

As a comfortable option for running around town that doesn't require a license, the electric bike is "not a bad deal," he says. Promoter Uri Spector is lobbying the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee and Transportation Ministry.

Electric bicycles are becoming "astonishingly popular" around the world, says Spector, for obvious reasons - "the cost of fuel, the cost of buying and maintaining a vehicle, congestion on the roads and concern for the environment."

The rise in the use of electric bikes world-wide has been meteoric, says Ziv Goldschmidt, CEO of Matzman and Merutz and a member of a forum for bicycle importers here. There will be an estimated 120 million in use in China this year more than a million are expected to be bought in Europe.

In the United States, 300,000 have been sold in 2010, double the sales of 2009. Electric bikes account for about a third of the urban-use bike market in Europe and the U.S.

Spector says that regulators everywhere take the view that due to limitations of speed, weight and power supply, you may ride electric bikes without a driver's license, insurance or vehicle license fee.

Europe differs from North America, Japan and China. While most countries allow you to operate the bike with a hand throttle up to 32 kph, European regulations stipulate the rider has to pedal and go only 25 kph.

What does Israel say?

Until February, riding an electric bike here was illegal, but then the Transportation Ministry adopted the European regulations. Dr. Shai Sofer of the Road Safety Authority notes: "These regulations specify that electric bikes may have a motor of no more than 250 watts output; that their speed be no higher than 25 kph; and that the motor be operated by pedaling and not a throttle." Furthermore, riders must be at least 14 years old.

While using an electric bikes requires no driver's license or vehicle license, it does require wearing a helmet.

Electric bikes must meet the European standard (EN15914 ) and be approved by recognized European laboratories as well as passed by the Israel Standards Institute or the the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology as meeting European standards.

Sofer recommends asking for a test drive of a bike before you buy and getting a clear-cut explanation of how it works, because riding an electric bike is not like riding an ordinary bike.

As imports were illegal until a few months ago, no Israeli standard has been approved.

Until the standards institute formulates one, importers musty rely on European certificates and approval by the above-mentioned bodies.

There is a good chance things will change soon.

In April, the ministry received the interim report of the committee charged with regularizing the status of three-wheeled and two-wheeled vehicles.

It recommends permitting an electric motor with output of 1,000 watts instead of the 250 watts currently specified and to permit operation with a throttle instead of the pedals. A final decision could come in a few weeks.