Micheal Stack, from eBikes of Long Island in Ronkonkoma, says the electric bicycles are most popular with people who are 40 to 70 years old. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; Howard Simmons

The traffic, sprawl and not-so-bicycle-friendly highways on Long Island made commuting by bike an unlikely option for Hank Degamon. But when the 62-year-old first hopped on the saddle of an electric two-wheeler and hit the throttle, the 750-watt motor unleashed an unexpected zing.

Degamon and his wife, Andrea, have joined the rise of e-bike riders on Long Island and nationwide. They use their battery-powered bikes to run errands, jet off on dates and, for Hank, routinely get back and forth to work.

“Every time we jump on them, it’s like a new adventure. It’s really a lot of fun,” said Degamon, of Lake Grove, an aircraft interior technician who started in October biking about 3.5 miles to his job in Ronkonkoma. “It’s transportation, exercise and I’m basically getting to work for free.”

The growing trend of e-bikes provides an entryway into the cycling world, retailers said. But with the novelty comes questions surrounding state and local guidelines, leading to confusion among consumers, retailers, and law enforcement, regarding where they’re permitted, which ones are legal and speed limitations, advocates and retailers said.

“The legislation is incredibly long and not very simple and leaves a lot of things open for interpretation,” said Daniel Flanzig, advocacy chair at the New York Bicycling Coalition. Flanzig, an attorney who lives in Sea Cliff, often takes his kids to school on his e-bike.

Flanzig also is lending his expertise to local law enforcement, recently holding an electric-vehicle mobility class at the Lynbrook Police Department to explain the legislation.

The chief there, Brian Paladino, told Newsday that in the over two decades that he’s been a cop, it’s the first time he’s seen registration exemptions for devices with a motor. The differences between types of e-bikes, which can determine which ones are legal, appear to be in the minutiae, he said.

“We’re perplexed by a lot of this,” Paladino said. “However, we’re going to use discretion, and if someone is driving reckless, no matter what vehicle it is, we’re going to take action.”

By state law, e-bikes follow most standard biking guidelines but are not permitted everywhere conventional cyclists are allowed. For instance, e-bikes can’t go faster than 20 mph and are limited to streets that have a speed limit of 30 mph, while conventional cyclists can access streets with higher speed limits and travel faster than 20 mph, according to state law and Flanzig.

“It’s very strange. There doesn’t seem to be much rationale limiting e-bike riders access to higher speed roadways when the same roadways are accessible by any runner, cyclist or pedestrian,” Flanzig said.

Riders also may face varying rules set by local municipalities. In Nassau County, they are not allowed in county parks, while in parks run by Suffolk County, they are considered “vehicles” and are not allowed on off-road biking trails, officials said.

In Long Beach, they are not allowed on the boardwalk, a city spokesperson said.

“Laws can change from town to town, and the inconsistency could be a problem for the rider if it’s not well-publicized by the municipality,” Flanzig said.

Babylon Town spokesperson Ryan Bonner said officials are aware of some of the issues e-bikes have caused in other areas, but have not implemented any limitations, like other towns and villages contacted by Newsday.

In Patchogue, Mayor Paul Pontieri said he is concerned about e-bikes in the village, where the speed limit is 25 mph. He believes many go faster than the speed limit.

“I see them on Main Street in Patchogue and they are weaving in and out of traffic,” Pontieri said. “I just think there should be more control.” Sometimes, he sees them on sidewalks as well.

A Suffolk police spokesperson said in an email that the department is "seeing an uptick in the use of motorized bicycles" but could not provide the number of citations issued based on how the tickets are issued.

E-bikes are classified as Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Legislation has passed in some form in 39 states, including New York, according to Ash Lovell, electric bicycle policy and campaign director at PeopleForBikes, a Colorado-based advocacy group that pushed for federal and state legislation.

The Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes allowed on Long Island have pedals and a battery-powered motor that stops providing assistance at 20 mph, the legal limit. Class 2 bikes, such as the Degamons' Bintelli Fusion, also have a throttle that powers the bike with or without pedaling.

Initially intended to help delivery and food industry workers, the faster Class 3 e-bikes, which can reach a max of 25 mph, are not allowed outside New York City. There is no need to register the electric bikes or obtain a special license, but since last June, the electric bikes must have a manufacturer's label with the bike's classification. Children under 16 are not allowed to ride them.

Electric minibikes, dirt bikes, golf carts and go-karts are not legal.

State law also legalized e-scooters on most streets and highways with speed limits of 30 mph. They can go a max of 15 mph and can be powered by an electric motor or propelled by foot. Unless otherwise stated, these electric, unregistered devices are not permitted on sidewalks.

Lovell acknowledges it can be baffling for consumers to navigate e-bikes rules that are not entirely consistent, especially since state policy change passed two years ago occurred before a rigorous public awareness campaign. PeopleforBikes is working on educating more consumers this year.

"There's been a huge push for policy change at the state level, but I think there has been less of a push for the public to really know what is and isn't an electric bicycle," Lovell said. “There is a lot of confusion among the general public about what is and what isn’t an electric bicycle.”

The electric bikes are not allowed on mountain bike trails managed by New York State Parks and the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Michael Vitti, the president of Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, or CLIMB, a group of volunteers that identifies, creates and maintains local mountain bike trails, said the rules are not always clear. He sees plenty of e-bike riders on trails, calling it the “the wild, wild west,” where verbal altercations often break out between regular and electric cyclists regarding the guidelines.

He favors permitting Class 1 e-bikes without throttles on trails. They often weigh less than Class 2 bikes and more closely resemble the standard bike.

Consumers in the market for purchasing one often turn to retailers to try and make sense of the law. 

At The Bicycle Planet shop in Syosset, manager Evan Gaffney said customers routinely ask him where they can ride and whether they will get pulled over by cops.

“Legislation is constantly changing, and it’s really tough,” Gaffney said. “We’re trying to work within that, but it’s a challenge because the ground is moving between our feet because it’s a new segment of the market."

Advocates and retailers warn consumers to do research before committing to an e-bike and to get comfortable with a standard bike before turning to the electric mode.

There’s also the issue of buying online, where regulation remains patchy, advocates said. The allure of buying less-expensive e-bikes online from lesser-known overseas manufacturers may come with a safety risk and other hurdles, retailers and advocates said. There have been reports of lithium-ion batteries exploding in bikes and causing fatalities and serious injuries.

In New York City last year, lithium-ion battery fires were the fourth-leading cause of death for fires, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the FDNY. There were 216 fires linked to micro-mobility devices last year, which resulted in six deaths and 147 injuries, Dwyer said. In 2021, there were 104 investigations, four deaths and 79 injuries.

In Nassau County, six fires linked to lithium-ion batteries, some of which were utilized in e-bikes, caused one death and seven injuries last year, according to Michael Uttaro, chief fire marshal at the Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office.

“When it comes to this emerging technology, there is best practices that should be taken into account for fire safety,” Uttaro said, noting that people should avoid off-market or discount batteries that may not be compatible with the device.

Suffolk County spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said there is also an uptick in e-bike-related fires but no known injuries. 

At E-Bikes of Long Island in Ronkonkoma, where Hank and Andrea purchased their e-bikes, owners Michael Stack and Steve Montelione said they sell reputable brands, carry spare parts and can repair all the bikes sold at the shop.

“I can get any single part for this bicycle and their batteries won’t go on fire because they’re not inferior no-name batteries,” Stack said. Online manufacturers don’t always provide the same guarantees, he said.

Trish Larsen, the owner of Pedego Stony Brook e-bike shop, expects all the benefits of the electric bike "lifestyle" to continue catching on. 

“I don’t think the peak has hit yet," she said. 

If the boom continues, clearer rules will be needed, retailers said.

“This is some unchartered territory, and the more popular it gets, the more there will be a need for more rules for public safety," Montelione said.

The traffic, sprawl and not-so-bicycle-friendly highways on Long Island made commuting by bike an unlikely option for Hank Degamon. But when the 62-year-old first hopped on the saddle of an electric two-wheeler and hit the throttle, the 750-watt motor unleashed an unexpected zing.

Degamon and his wife, Andrea, have joined the rise of e-bike riders on Long Island and nationwide. They use their battery-powered bikes to run errands, jet off on dates and, for Hank, routinely get back and forth to work.

“Every time we jump on them, it’s like a new adventure. It’s really a lot of fun,” said Degamon, of Lake Grove, an aircraft interior technician who started in October biking about 3.5 miles to his job in Ronkonkoma. “It’s transportation, exercise and I’m basically getting to work for free.”

The growing trend of e-bikes provides an entryway into the cycling world, retailers said. But with the novelty comes questions surrounding state and local guidelines, leading to confusion among consumers, retailers, and law enforcement, regarding where they’re permitted, which ones are legal and speed limitations, advocates and retailers said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Electric bikes are growing in popularity on Long Island and nationally, retailers say, but inconsistent rules may confuse riders.
  • E-bikes aren’t allowed everywhere standard bicycles can go, and are limited to streets that have a speed limit of 30 mph.
  • Local municipalities can pass their own policies and limitations.

“The legislation is incredibly long and not very simple and leaves a lot of things open for interpretation,” said Daniel Flanzig, advocacy chair at the New York Bicycling Coalition. Flanzig, an attorney who lives in Sea Cliff, often takes his kids to school on his e-bike.

Cycling advocate Daniel Flanzig, of Sea Cliff, takes his children...

Cycling advocate Daniel Flanzig, of Sea Cliff, takes his children to school with his electric bike. Here Flanzig with his children, Andrew, 7, and Shelly, 9, in September.  Credit: /Johnny Milano

Flanzig also is lending his expertise to local law enforcement, recently holding an electric-vehicle mobility class at the Lynbrook Police Department to explain the legislation.

The chief there, Brian Paladino, told Newsday that in the over two decades that he’s been a cop, it’s the first time he’s seen registration exemptions for devices with a motor. The differences between types of e-bikes, which can determine which ones are legal, appear to be in the minutiae, he said.

“We’re perplexed by a lot of this,” Paladino said. “However, we’re going to use discretion, and if someone is driving reckless, no matter what vehicle it is, we’re going to take action.”

E-bike speed limits

By state law, e-bikes follow most standard biking guidelines but are not permitted everywhere conventional cyclists are allowed. For instance, e-bikes can’t go faster than 20 mph and are limited to streets that have a speed limit of 30 mph, while conventional cyclists can access streets with higher speed limits and travel faster than 20 mph, according to state law and Flanzig.

“It’s very strange. There doesn’t seem to be much rationale limiting e-bike riders access to higher speed roadways when the same roadways are accessible by any runner, cyclist or pedestrian,” Flanzig said.

Riders also may face varying rules set by local municipalities. In Nassau County, they are not allowed in county parks, while in parks run by Suffolk County, they are considered “vehicles” and are not allowed on off-road biking trails, officials said.

In Long Beach, they are not allowed on the boardwalk, a city spokesperson said.

“Laws can change from town to town, and the inconsistency could be a problem for the rider if it’s not well-publicized by the municipality,” Flanzig said.

Babylon Town spokesperson Ryan Bonner said officials are aware of some of the issues e-bikes have caused in other areas, but have not implemented any limitations, like other towns and villages contacted by Newsday.

In Patchogue, Mayor Paul Pontieri said he is concerned about e-bikes in the village, where the speed limit is 25 mph. He believes many go faster than the speed limit.

“I see them on Main Street in Patchogue and they are weaving in and out of traffic,” Pontieri said. “I just think there should be more control.” Sometimes, he sees them on sidewalks as well.

A Suffolk police spokesperson said in an email that the department is "seeing an uptick in the use of motorized bicycles" but could not provide the number of citations issued based on how the tickets are issued.

Different classes

E-bikes are classified as Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Legislation has passed in some form in 39 states, including New York, according to Ash Lovell, electric bicycle policy and campaign director at PeopleForBikes, a Colorado-based advocacy group that pushed for federal and state legislation.

The Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes allowed on Long Island have pedals and a battery-powered motor that stops providing assistance at 20 mph, the legal limit. Class 2 bikes, such as the Degamons' Bintelli Fusion, also have a throttle that powers the bike with or without pedaling.

Initially intended to help delivery and food industry workers, the faster Class 3 e-bikes, which can reach a max of 25 mph, are not allowed outside New York City. There is no need to register the electric bikes or obtain a special license, but since last June, the electric bikes must have a manufacturer's label with the bike's classification. Children under 16 are not allowed to ride them.

Electric minibikes, dirt bikes, golf carts and go-karts are not legal.

State law also legalized e-scooters on most streets and highways with speed limits of 30 mph. They can go a max of 15 mph and can be powered by an electric motor or propelled by foot. Unless otherwise stated, these electric, unregistered devices are not permitted on sidewalks.

Lovell acknowledges it can be baffling for consumers to navigate e-bikes rules that are not entirely consistent, especially since state policy change passed two years ago occurred before a rigorous public awareness campaign. PeopleforBikes is working on educating more consumers this year.

"There's been a huge push for policy change at the state level, but I think there has been less of a push for the public to really know what is and isn't an electric bicycle," Lovell said. “There is a lot of confusion among the general public about what is and what isn’t an electric bicycle.”

'Wild, wild west'

The electric bikes are not allowed on mountain bike trails managed by New York State Parks and the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Michael Vitti, the president of Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, or CLIMB, a group of volunteers that identifies, creates and maintains local mountain bike trails, said the rules are not always clear. He sees plenty of e-bike riders on trails, calling it the “the wild, wild west,” where verbal altercations often break out between regular and electric cyclists regarding the guidelines.

He favors permitting Class 1 e-bikes without throttles on trails. They often weigh less than Class 2 bikes and more closely resemble the standard bike.

Consumers in the market for purchasing one often turn to retailers to try and make sense of the law. 

At The Bicycle Planet shop in Syosset, manager Evan Gaffney said customers routinely ask him where they can ride and whether they will get pulled over by cops.

“Legislation is constantly changing, and it’s really tough,” Gaffney said. “We’re trying to work within that, but it’s a challenge because the ground is moving between our feet because it’s a new segment of the market."

Advocates and retailers warn consumers to do research before committing to an e-bike and to get comfortable with a standard bike before turning to the electric mode.

Online purchasers 

There’s also the issue of buying online, where regulation remains patchy, advocates said. The allure of buying less-expensive e-bikes online from lesser-known overseas manufacturers may come with a safety risk and other hurdles, retailers and advocates said. There have been reports of lithium-ion batteries exploding in bikes and causing fatalities and serious injuries.

In New York City last year, lithium-ion battery fires were the fourth-leading cause of death for fires, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the FDNY. There were 216 fires linked to micro-mobility devices last year, which resulted in six deaths and 147 injuries, Dwyer said. In 2021, there were 104 investigations, four deaths and 79 injuries.

In Nassau County, six fires linked to lithium-ion batteries, some of which were utilized in e-bikes, caused one death and seven injuries last year, according to Michael Uttaro, chief fire marshal at the Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office.

“When it comes to this emerging technology, there is best practices that should be taken into account for fire safety,” Uttaro said, noting that people should avoid off-market or discount batteries that may not be compatible with the device.

Suffolk County spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said there is also an uptick in e-bike-related fires but no known injuries. 

Michael Stack, owner of E Bikes of Long island in Ronkonkoma,...

Michael Stack, owner of E Bikes of Long island in Ronkonkoma, demonstrates an e-bike model. Credit: Howard Simmons

At E-Bikes of Long Island in Ronkonkoma, where Hank and Andrea purchased their e-bikes, owners Michael Stack and Steve Montelione said they sell reputable brands, carry spare parts and can repair all the bikes sold at the shop.

“I can get any single part for this bicycle and their batteries won’t go on fire because they’re not inferior no-name batteries,” Stack said. Online manufacturers don’t always provide the same guarantees, he said.

Trish Larsen, the owner of Pedego Stony Brook e-bike shop, expects all the benefits of the electric bike "lifestyle" to continue catching on. 

“I don’t think the peak has hit yet," she said. 

If the boom continues, clearer rules will be needed, retailers said.

“This is some unchartered territory, and the more popular it gets, the more there will be a need for more rules for public safety," Montelione said.

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