It’s a tale as old as time, humans finding ways to boost the speed of their rides. Cars get chipped. Motorcycles get aftermarket sprockets. Hell, back in the day horses probably got fed “the good carrots.” Now one of the latest forms of speed hacking has targeted electric bikes, and Amazon is getting raked over the coals for helping provide the goods to illegally hot-rod those e-bikes.
The issue of modifying e-bikes for extra speed is most commonly found in Europe, where strict electric bike laws limit electric bicycles to a sluggish 25 km/h (15.5 mph).
Considering that even an out-of-shape cyclist can surpass that speed on a rusty old Schwinn, some European e-bikers are understandably eager to find workarounds for more speed.
To get around this low software-limited top speed of electric bicycles in Europe, a cottage industry of e-bike speed hacking kits have emerged.
Solutions range from electronic modifications or “chipping” that can remove digital speed limits, to hardware hacks that trick the bike’s speed sensors into thinking it is going slower than it truly is, allowing for more speed.
As The Times recently pointed out, a kit for hacking Bosch e-bike motors is currently an Amazon Bestseller in the UK.
The product, which carries a price of around £150 (approximately US $175), boldly claims to be able to unlock Bosch e-bike motors to a speed of 45 km/h (28 mph). Hidden farther down the page is a small disclaimer explaining that unlocking an e-bike’s top speed above legal limits may be against the law in some areas.
Policy director of Cycling UK explained that these kits are illegal to use on public roads in the UK because they change the classification of the e-bike:
Illegal adaptations, where you no longer need to pedal or where the motor is overpowered or goes faster than 15mph, aren’t just a risk to the rider and others, but mean you’re riding a motorbike. You would therefore be committing a criminal offense riding one on UK roads without insurance, license plates, and a motorbike helmet.
The ready availability of illegal conversion kits online is a concern. While buyers should do their research, there should also be a burden of responsibility on online retailers to make sure they’re doing their due diligence and only selling legal equipment with all necessary warnings about how to fit these kits safely and legally.
Amazon, for its part, claims that these devices are sold by third-party vendors using its platform. Unlike items sold directly by Amazon, third-party vendors take orders via Amazon but often fulfill those orders independently.
The company explained in a statement:
Third-party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow all applicable laws, regulations, and Amazon policies when listing items for sale in our store.
This type of e-bike hot-rodding is much less common in the US, where e-bikes are permitted to operate at speeds of up to 45 km/h (28 mph) in many places.
Several e-bikes are known to achieve even higher speeds than 28 mph, and police departments in much of the US often aren’t yet well enough versed in electric bikes to differentiate between legal and illegal use of e-bikes on public roads.
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