As you’ve noticed if you follow me on Twitter, after seeing one on the street and arranging to test-ride one around the block, I ordered a FlyKly electric bike, and it arrived last week.
What it is, in essence, is an electric scooter, with a top speed under 25mph and a claimed range of 40 miles, that you can recharge in the house off normal electrical current. (The battery is removable.) It weighs only about 100 pounds (less than half what a gas-powered scooter weighs). While that’s too heavy to carry it up the stairs, it’s light enough that you can easily maneuver it through hallways and in and out of elevators to keep it in, say, an apartment building’s bike room, and (since there’s nothing to drip or leak) there’s no reason not to park it in the living room.
The FlyKly does have functional pedals, like a bicycle, and in fact under federal law it’s classified as a consumer product (like a bicycle), rather than a motor vehicle. In fact, the relevant statute states that electric bikes must be treated by states as consumer products rather than motor vehicles. New York State, however, has ignored this, and all electric bicycles are illegal here and subject to confiscation as unregistered motor vehicles. (You may have noticed the 20,000 electric bicycles on the streets of NYC, piloted by deliverymen and hobbyists; yes, under NYS law they are all illegal to operate, and subject to a $500 fine and impoundment.) However, NYS DMV will not register them. So you may legally buy and own them, but not actually use them.
This is, of course, legal nonsense, and it will be straightened out eventually. (It seems to me that what is needed is the proper kind of plaintiff to sue NYS in federal court — someone who has the time and flexibility to put up with the timetable of litigation, the sense to make the right arguments, and the maturity to present well in front of a judge. If I get a $500 citation that isn’t dismissed, I’ll see whether I have the stomach for it.)
In the meantime, what seems to happen in NYC is that if you are riding responsibly, the police ignore you. When you are at speed, you look like just another Vespa (which are legal if registered), and when you aren’t moving, nobody cares anyway. I had one encounter with a parks cop (who treated me as though I were a Vespa rider, and simply said pleasantly that I had to walk the bike in a crowded pedestrian area), but I don’t think I’ve been noticed otherwise. Last night I (cautiously) rode through the pedestrian shortcut alongside police headquarters (connecting from Madison and St. James through to Frankfort and Gold, under the Brooklyn Bridge), past three NYPD guardhouses, and nobody cared.
I was careful, though, to walk the bike whenever I was passing through an area I might expect to be hassled for riding through on a normal bicycle. And without exception I’ve stopped at every red light, and stayed in traffic in congested areas rather than trying to find a way around. This means that for trips of more than a block or two, traveling by FlyKly is actually marginally slower than riding a normal bicycle in the typical amount of city traffic.
But who cares? In nice weather it’s so much fun to get out and just ride. I’ve been all up and down the lower half of the island, and tomorrow have a couple of errands on the Upper West Side, so I’ll have a chance for a longer ride.
The handling is fine; the 25mph governor is not a problem in the city. (I rarely find myself wanting to go any faster than that.) The bike seems well designed and I keep finding things I like about it. There’s a bag loop, so you can carry one bag of groceries, along with whatever is on your back. (There’s an optional cargo box, but to install it you have to remove the rear rail, and I use that rail to lift the bike when I’m flipping the kickstand, so I’m reluctant.)
The only problem was that I tripped the electric fuse on one of my first rides, and had to let the battery cool down before I could reset it and it would “stick.” (It actually wasn’t a clean test, because during the cooldown I had the bike plugged in, so I’m not absolutely sure that overheating was the issue.)
I investigated motorcycle licensing in NYS, because it seems prudent to have evidence of training in the event that a police officer claims I am “riding unsafely.” It’s actually pretty easy — you pass a written test and get a permit, and then if you take a 3-day riding course, you waive out of the driver’s test. So expect to hear about that in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, zoom zoom! Bike porn below.