Leo Mirani in The Economist:
If there is one thing I learnt in my week of riding an electric bike, it is that the cycling public of London puts people who use the assistance of a motor on roughly the same moral plane as the Daily Mail puts immigrants. They are probably the sort of people who double-dip their chips and disrespect queuing. In short, they are cheating. Were cycling a sport, with rules dictating that a rider may only use her own energy, then, yes, it would be cheating. But for those of us not competing in the Tour de France, for those of us simply looking for a way to get around town safely, comfortably and quickly, using an electric bike is not cheating any more than using an electric kettle. And unlike double-dipping or queue-jumping, e-biking has no societal cost – if anything, it carries benefits. Let’s start with the most important consideration: safety. In a previous piece for 1843, I complained that a small minority of London’s cyclists can be aggressive and impolite on the road (to which that small minority responded by being aggressive and impolite to me on Twitter). One reason is that they are poorly served by London’s still developing cycling infrastructure. Sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to stay alive. Another reason for their blasé approach to traffic regulations is that setting off from a standing start is the most energy-intensive aspect of cycling. That is why some are loath to stop for red lights or at pedestrian crossings.
E-bikes remove the second reason entirely and ameliorate concerns about the first. A common misconception is that an e-bike requires no effort – that they are simply cut-rate mopeds. On the contrary, most e-bikes only supply motor assistance when the pedals are pushed. Depending on the cycle and the power setting, a rider can get between anywhere from one-and-a-half to three times as much energy out of the thing as she puts in. That means setting off becomes near effortless, making cyclists more likely to stop when they should. Moreover, the assistance helps cyclists rapidly accelerate out of danger if they find themselves in a sticky situation. And just in case they get carried away, British law requires all e-bikes sold here to cut out motor assistance at 15mph, or 24kmph, in line with other European countries. (North America has a more generous 20mph limit.)