Safety of e-bikes for kids comes under scrutiny
February 16, 2023
Until this week, I hadn’t heard about a potential safety problem with electric bicycles or “e-bikes.”
An article in The Washington Post, “A Child’s Death Prompts Questions About Brake Safety on E-bikes,” caught my attention.
A lawsuit filed against Rad Power Bikes by the parents of a 12-year-old girl who was killed in 2021 in an e-bike accident claims the company’s bikes are “inappropriately” marketed to children and contain “multiple design defects,” according to The Post article.
Molly Steinapir was riding behind her friend when the two girls were going down a steep hill in Los Angeles. The bike began to shake and wobble when the brakes were applied, according to the lawsuit.
E-bikes are bicycles with motors on them. The Consumer Product Safety Commission classifies e-bikes as follows:
- Class 1 e-bikes have an electric motor that provides assistance only when the person operating the bicycle is pedaling and that stops providing assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2 e-bikes have an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle and that’s not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3 e-bikes have an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle and that’s not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches a speed of 25 miles per hour.
E-bikes are gaining popularity and more than 1 million were sold in the United States in 2021.
Design defects of the e-bike that killed their daughter, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir’s lawsuit alleges, include using disc brakes along with quick-release skewers, which can loosen during hard braking and cause the wheel to wobble and shake. “Even a single hard brake can cause this to happen, and it did happen here,” according to the lawsuit. “Molly's friend was likely unable to stop the bike and lost control of the bike, because her hard pull on the front brake caused the wheel’s quick release mechanism to unthread, loosening the wheel.”
Another defect in the original RadRunner, according to the lawsuit, was its low trail number, the horizontal distance from where the front wheel touches the ground to where the steering axis intersects the ground. The lawsuit said the RadRunner’s trail number was unusually low for road use and made the bike unstable at high speeds.
In a Twitter post, Kaye Steinsapir said “@USCPSC, it’s a matter of time before age warnings are required on e-bikes. Please make it soon and save lives. Our grief feels impossible to continue to bear. Don’t let this happen to another family.”
If you think you’d like to buy an e-bike, be aware of these safety considerations:
- Do research and avoid buying e-bikes that are cheaply made.
- Practice in parking lots or on quiet streets to build your experience. E-bikes accelerate quickly and can reach high speeds, making them difficult for even experienced riders to handle.
- Pay particular attention to how to operate the brakes. Read the instruction booklet carefully. Some say always squeeze both brake levers evenly when slowing. Squeezing only the front brake can cause excessive stress on components, damage to the bike and parts, and/or loss of control.
- Check brake pads for wear and make sure they’re in the right position before you ride.
- Find out what the laws are in your community and state about age limits for children to ride e-bikes. Some states have no age limits and in others, it’s the same as what’s required for operating other motor vehicles, usually 15 or 16 years old.
- Mount and dismount the e-bike carefully. The weight of the battery and motor assist technology can add 20 or more pounds to the weight of the bike.
- Ensure you have and wear proper bicycle safety equipment, for example, a helmet, brightly colored and reflective clothing, and bicycle lighting.
- Become familiar with local laws about where e-bikes are allowed and where they aren’t.
- Obey all rules of the road, including observing stop signs and speed limits.
- Ride where you can bike safely in dedicated bicycle lanes. If you ride in the road with cars, fit in with the flow of traffic.
- Be on the lookout for obstacles such as potholes, curbs, and parked cars.
- Watch out for pedestrians and cars that aren’t following the rules. Sound a bell or horn as people may not realize you’re coming up behind them. Remember it takes longer to stop when you’re going 20 to 25 miles an hour.
- Be cautious when passing cars.
- Don’t ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
E-bikes are being touted as a way for urban dwellers to commute, a change that’s environmentally positive. They’re also cheaper than buying a car and they’re easier to store.
In addition, E-bikes can allow people who aren’t able to pedal long distances, such as seniors, the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
However, thorough research is required before you buy. And, special care is needed if you have kids who would be riding the e-bike. Getting in an accident and sustaining injuries because you or your kids didn’t understand how to use this bicycle that’s growing in popularity would be a disaster.
I do see a lot of e-bikes around here because of the high senior population. That's crazy that the braking system of an electronic bike would not be one of the most stable things on the bike!
Posted by: Jennifer | February 19, 2023 at 06:07 AM
It's good these safety concerns have been getting more publicity. If people are going to ride e-bikes, they need to know how to avoid danger. And, the difference between the cheaper bikes and more expensive bikes is important to know.
Posted by: Rita | February 19, 2023 at 12:31 PM
E-bikes are a great invention, but folks need to know how to properly handle them. I have seen people rent them and ride off without any words of warning or a practice run. And young children on e-bikes are inviting trouble.
Posted by: Meryl | February 19, 2023 at 03:14 PM
Well, that is sobering.
Posted by: Carol Ann Cassara | February 19, 2023 at 08:30 PM
There have been so many cases in India of e-bikes and e-cars catching fire that we're very wary of investing in either until there is more testing done!
Posted by: Corinne Rodrigues | February 19, 2023 at 09:38 PM
Yes, I didn't mention fires in my article, but that's another safety concern.
Posted by: Rita | February 19, 2023 at 09:47 PM
So sad about that little girl. Hopefully, they'll make them safer after that.
Posted by: Laurie Stone | February 20, 2023 at 07:18 AM
There are tons of eBikes and electric scooters here in L.A. I've always been wary of them. I like having control over a bike unless it helped me up a hill. But then, I still won't use cruise control in my car.
Posted by: Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski | February 20, 2023 at 11:05 AM
Yes, e-bikes make it easier for older adults to ride, for example, help with going up the hills. But, then, you're going 20 to 25 miles an hour, so that's another concern. You're going faster, so if you fall off, you'll have a higher chance of getting injured.
Posted by: Rita | February 20, 2023 at 03:05 PM
For our anniversary last May, Husby bought me my super awesome electric trike. I absolutely love it! I had hung up my own bike after the second time my dog toppled me during a walk. This trike makes life possible!
But I do exercise all cautions. I can sure see how something like this could get very out of hand very quickly!
Posted by: Diane | February 21, 2023 at 05:38 PM
Good, I'm glad the e-trike is working for you. I'm glad you're following safety precautions. Keep it up.
Posted by: Rita | February 21, 2023 at 10:56 PM