Over the weekend, it was widely reported that Simon Cowell had broken his back falling off his electric bike... but as more details emerged, it became clear that the bike he was riding was far more powerful than the kind of electric bike that can be purchased in UK bike shops; and UK cycle trade body the Bicycle Association have now issued a statement to avoid an ensuing panic over e-bike safety.
Some good advice...— Simon Cowell (@SimonCowell) August 10, 2020
If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time.
I have broken part of my back.
Thank you to everyone for your kind messages.
The music mogul required surgery after his accident, in which the bike's front wheel reportedly kicked up after he engaged the throttle, sending Cowell crashing down. For those who own an e-bike in the UK, you'll know that there is no throttle and the motor is set to cut out at 25km/h (15.5mph)... but the bike Cowell was test riding in Malibu was in fact a Swind EB-01, a machine costing around £16,000 that is capable of assisted speeds up of up to 60mph, with a huge 15KW of power.
As Gloucestershire-based Swind say themselves on their website, the EB-01 is not legal to ride on public roads in the UK (without a licence and insurance anyway) and "is only allowed to be used on private, closed areas, sporting activities or on designated routes". It even far exceeds the legal limit in the US where Cowell was riding it, where the definition of a 'low speed electric bicycle' is one that has a top assisted speed of 20mph, from a motor that produces no more than 750 watts of power.
This is where the problem arose, say the Bicycle Association, as the bike Cowell was riding is essentially an electric motorbike, with the only thing really setting it apart being a 9-speed gearbox and the pedals. They said in their statement:
"This vehicle has, misleadingly in our opinion, been described as an “electric bike” or “e-bike”. In the UK, this vehicle would in fact be classed as an electric motorbike, requiring full type approval, registration, tax, licence, insurance and a motorbike helmet to be worn.
"The BA, on behalf of the UK cycling industry, would stress that what are usually referred to as e-bikes for sale in UK cycle shops have almost nothing in common in technical or safety terms with the electric motorbike which was ridden by Simon Cowell at the time of his accident.
"UK e-bikes (EAPCs) have an excellent safety record and the assistance power is of the same order of magnitude that riders can apply by pedalling. There is very little risk of any electric bike bought in the UK causing an unintentional wheelie.
"People in the UK will find e-bikes safe, fun, healthy and a wonderfully practical means of transport. All reputable e-bikes on sale today will meet the EAPC rules. Nonetheless, please do always read the instructions, seek cycle training if you feel you need it, and keep your e-bike well maintained.
"We recommend that the first step for anyone interested in trying a safe, UK-specification e-bike is to visit a local cycle retailer for professional advice and support."
It could be argued that the confusion that arose in mainstream media surrounding Cowell's bike is possibly a semantic problem as much as it's down to ignorant reporting; given that technically he was riding a 'trail bike' or 'electric bike' that has pedals, but just one that is hugely more powerful than a 'normal' e-bike, and a motorbike by legal definition in the UK. To give another example, it wouldn't be wrong to report that there has been a 'car crash'; but if it had occurred due to the driver losing control of a high-powered sports car rather than a Nissan Micra, you'd expect a follow-up report to clarify this. Hopefully after most of the details of Cowell's bike crash have now emerged, most people are aware that the Swind EB-01 is certainly not the same proposition as a Raleigh Motus....
Time to come up with a loud and clear new name for high-powered e-bikes? It would certainly clear up some of the current confusion!