Volkswagen do it, the President of the United States does it, our kids do it and when we are honest, we also do it here and there - cheating. And when things get tight? Then you can help yourself with little excuses, memory gaps or in these days also with a determined denial in connection with the presentation of alternative facts. That is what many people certainly think. When we were young, didn’t we like tinkering with our exhaust systems to make our beloved moped a little faster or at least louder? Why should we then have scruples levering out the 25 kmh (15 mph) limit on pedelecs which is so reasonable for many of us.
Hardly any sense of guilt or risk awareness
Pedelec tuning is, as a matter of fact, very attractive. Kits tailored to the respective drive systems cost between 100 and 200 Euro and tuning can be achieved in just a few simple steps even by technical newbies, that is what manufacturers promise. And yet e-bikers not only forget the often described moment at 25 to 27 kmh (15 to 17 mph) when the performance slumps, the pedelec afterwards achieves even up to 50 kmh (31 mph). Although it is mentioned on the internet that no liability is assumed for damage and that a legal use in the scope of the road traffic regulations is impossible, what does that mean in fact? “According to our knowledge, most customers and dealers are not at all aware of the risks they run and of the consequences they have to face,” underlines ZIV managing director Siegfried-Neuberger. “We think that hardly any consumer would continue using tuning tools, if they were aware of the possible consequences in the case of a warranty claim, the resale, a police check or an accident.”
Caution: Pedelec turns into motor vehicle
As a matter of fact, pedelec tuning bears a number of substantial risks. The most important factor according to Siegfried Neuberger: “An increase in speed renders each pedelec into a motor vehicle, with all insurance relevant and even legal consequences.” This will not only concern the users of a tuned e-bike, but also dealers offering tuning kits or assembling them by order of the customers. “Bicycle dealers tuning e-bikes?” According to Albert Herresthal of the German bicycle association VSF e. V., this is an absolute no-go! For graduate engineer and expert witness Dirk Zedler there are also high risks and the need of clarification. “The fact that tuning renders a pedelec into a motor vehicle has severe consequences. For the vehicle driver, but also for the dealer tuning the vehicle or handing over the tuned vehicle to the customer. Because by handing it over he places it on the market.” From his point of view there are also strong doubts as to the supportability of the argumentation that the legal situation was explained to the customer. “I actually wonder why the market surveillance authorities have not yet presented at the bicycle dealers offering and assembling tuning kits. But I am sure that that will happen soon.”
No one will find out?
The police and the insurances have already become aware of the pedelec tuning issue some time ago. “Those who perform tuning, should be aware of meeting policemen quite soon who are familiar with the issue,” states Roland Huhn, the legal expert of the German cycle association (ADFC). According to him, policemen are being trained in recognising illegal tuning kits. In addition, the legal expert refers to the possibilities of the police, such as roller dynamometers to determine maximum speeds as well as the option to seize vehicles in the event of doubt and to have them inspected by an expert. The motivation is much higher for insurers who have best chances to reveal tuning. Because what is better in the case of an accident with a pedelec than to inspect the vehicle first of all before compensating for a damage. “In the case of an accident, with or without fault on the part of the insured, the insurance can insist on the inspection of the pedelec,” explains the expert witness Dirk Zedler whose company is meanwhile dealing a lot with such cases. “The e-bike did not only enhance bicycle mobility, but also initiated a wave of disputes before the courts. Our order volume in this respect increased considerably.” In this connection he warns potential tinkerers of the consequences: “In the course of an examination an expert witness is in a position to find out quite quickly, whether the maximum speed was manipulated. “Technical devices, such as dongles, were regularly dismounted by the owners prior to inspection, but they would forget that there were various system parameters indicating quite easily any manipulation from outside. “The data are stored by the electronics comparable to that of a tachograph. The registered average speed is a sufficient indicator already to find out whether there is any foul play going on. This is how tuning can be revealed quite fast and without doubt.”
High risks of accident due to material
A non-calculable, high risk is also pointed out by Dirk Zedler for whom the testing of a pedelec as a complete system is daily routine. “From the point of view of an expert witness I do not only care about the legal consequences leading possibly to criminal proceedings, but also about the risks of accident due to material – for the cyclist himself, but also for the parties involved.” His main issue is that the components used are not at all designed for higher speeds. “Of course we often hear argumentations, such as riding downhill on a regular bicycle or pedelec is also performed at clearly higher speeds. But that is not the point. The fact of the permanent loads which the components cannot bear weighs much more heavily. This applies in the first place to the brakes, but also to other parts, such as handlebar and fork and not least to the frame.“
According to his own statement, he meanwhile receives a big number of pedelecs for inspection. “What we have stated recently in this connection is that a big part of the sporty e-bikes, i.e. trekking and travel bikes as well as e-mountain bikes, have been made faster. In the case of the classic low step-through the tuning issue does virtually not appear.” And why are there not yet any court decisions and reports in the press? For this question the expert witness has also a plausible answer: “As e-bike tuning is still a relatively new issue and legal proceedings can last several years, we have currently not yet any warning precedential case.”
Author: Reiner Kolberg