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Me? I’m a traditional bicycler. I like using my own muscles, fat reserves and morning breakfast to get me into town. But I understand, as everyone zooms past me on their electric bikes, legally by-passing traffic jams in the bike lanes and easily parking outside one’s office entrance without arriving hot and sweaty to work is a nice advantage. Furthermore and most importantly, I remind myself that one less combustible engine is stinking up the air I am gasping to breath.

E-bikes have taken off in Switzerland. In 2016 one in four new bikes purchased were electric; a 14% increase over 2015. Part of the success is that cantons have been subsidizing E-bikes for years. The canton of Geneva, through your local town hall, refunds up to CHF 250 (but no more than 50% of the bill) for electric bikes (VAE, vélo à assistance électrique) and kits to transform your bike to an e-bike. Visit the cantonal website here for more information.

There are two types of e-bikes with different rules:

  • The Light version goes up to 25km/h and has 500 watts of power. The minimum age to ride such a bike is 16 year-old without a drivers license or 14 years-old with a Cyclomoteur Category M license.
  • The Fast version drives up to 45km/hour with a power of 1000 watts. You need special insurance and will have a license plate. All bicyclers must have a drivers license of Category M or above. The minimum age is 14 years old. The law specifies that these bicycles must stay in the bike lane if there is one available and you must wear a helmet.

Safety is tricky on e-bikes. From my own experience, not one e-biker has rung a bell to warn me he’s passing at high speed. Furthermore, I’ve heard about lessons hard learned on sharp corners with oil, longer breaking times and slipping in the rain; all of which are easy to navigate if you’re pedaling but forget about when the bike is accelerating on its own. The Swiss Touring Company (TCS) has a four-hour safety class in French. For members, it costs CHF 55.

Do your research when choosing an e-bike. There are a whole slew of considerations: your route, off-the shelf bike vs. conversion kit, battery type, regeneration, central motor vs back wheel motor, pedal assist vs pedal on demand and how the bike charges. If you read French, the TCS has recommendations and estimated price points depending on your biking needs here.

Geneva has many opportunities to check out e-bikes. The best time is this weekend Friday-Sunday, April 7-9 at the Salon de Velo Electrique at the Pavillon Sicli Genève · Route des Acacias 45. Specialists will be present to answer questions, twenty brands will be showing their bicycles (and other two-wheeled electric products) and test drives are possible by signing up ahead of time (a helmet and identity card are obligatory).

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/