Unlocking an electrically-assisted bicycle to prevent the power assist from being cut off at 25 km/h is a common practice, yet prohibited by law. Offenders now face up to one year in prison, and manufacturers of electric-assist bicycle unlocking kits can face up to two years in prison.
Being able to benefit from the electric assistance of an e-bike beyond 25 km/h: while the idea may seem appealing at first glance, not only is it dangerous, it is now punishable by law in France.
Figures from the latest French Cycle Observatory bear witness of this, and the next edition should confirm it: e-bikes are gaining more and more followers in France. Their users appreciate the comfort of electric assistance, which allows them to pedal faster and with less effort.
This surely can be done, but there is a limit. The electric assistance stops when the e-bike reaches 25 km/h (common rule in EU for most countries). Beyond that, only the rider’s pedaling effort allows accelerating further. This is a feature that clearly distinguishes e-bikes from mopeds and establishes them as a sustainable form of soft mobility.
A limit considered too restrictive for some, who may have been tempted to install unlocking kits on their e-bikes, allowing them to extend the electric assistance well beyond 25 km/h. The problem is – it is dangerous, and it is now also illegal.
We can thus come across electric mountain bikes with 500-watt motors, transformed into mopeds, or even electric city bikes that are faster than motocycles. And those are driven by casual daily bikers in their city shoes.
Yet, and this is a trend noted in the new category of race-style road bikes, manufacturers of electric bicycles are playing it cool by offering models designed to give a helping hand in difficult times, but not to break records, with power limited to 220 or 250 watts and reasonable torque.
These light and nimble electric bicycles are also very similar to traditional road bikes in terms of handling speeds above 25 km/h.
A dangerous practice – not known what to expect
An e-bike is currently designed to provide electrical assistance for speeds up to 25 km/h. Unlocking this speed limit can then lead to premature wear of the frame, fork, brakes, and wheels, or damage to the engine and battery.
Derestricting an e-bike poses a safety hazard and also a risk of sizable additional repair costs. Not to mention that the derestricted machine is no longer considered a bicycle but a moped, so, follows different regulations.
As a result, such e-bikes are no longer covered by the warranty (neither by the manufacturer nor by the shop). Their owners ride on unapproved machines and are also not insured. Heavy do-it-yourself work can have serious consequences in the event of an accident, especially if it involves injuries.
A crime, now punishable by law
Came to effect at the end of December 2019, the Mobility Orientation Law modifies the French Highway Code and prohibits e-bike derestricting practice. Professionals, which modify “the speed limit system in order to allow (…) electric bicycle to exceed its maximum authorized speed” are now subject to a one year imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros.
Articles L317-1 (and the following) of the French Highway Code specify in particular that “an electric bicycle, on which the offense was committed, is immobilized and removed from circulation until it has been brought into conformity or repaired. “Manufacturers of debriding kits are liable with two years’ imprisonment.”