The politics of e-trikes and NYC, circa 2021


DHL's Cycles Maximus trike outside NYC's Grand Central


Why isn’t DHL operating its brand-new, super cool Cycles Maximus + Velove container trike, on the streets of NYC? Read this Q&A with Revolution Rickshaws founder and principal Gregg Zuman to find out.


What’s New York’s “36-inch rule” for our industry?

It’s a provision of the New York State Legislature’s 2020 omnibus budget bill that makes certain mopeds qualify as bicycles under NYS law—and defines these “bicycle[s] with electric assist” as “a bicycle which is no more than thirty-six inches wide.”


What would happen to me if I throttle-activated a “trike” wider than 36 inches through Times Square, tomorrow? Would I get pulled over? Ticketed? Charged with a crime?

Tomorrow? Nothing out of the ordinary. You *might* get pulled over by NYPD if you blew through an intersection with a steady red traffic signal, e.g.; otherwise, you’d be operating in violation of applicable laws and regulations due only to your activation of a throttle to power through the “square”. If you rolled with a wide trike sporting only a pedal-assist motor rated and stamped by the manufacturer as under 750 watts with a power output limit of 20 MPH still fall within the guidelines of the 2018 New York City Department of Transportation pedal-assist bicycle regulations? 100% legal.


Okay, so why hew all live-electric urban vehicle (LUV) operations to this new law?

Because, if you’re managing a big brand, you might fear besmirching your company’s reputation by operating in a manner not endorsed by each and every government agency. To wit: the NYCDOT’s Commercial Cargo Bike Pilot excludes cycles that exceed the width limit—so if a company wants to participate, it must comply with the state law in spite of the fact that its own regulations clarify explicitly the legality of electric-assist bicycles including precise configurations for adherents to follow.


Recently, State Senator Jessica Ramos introduced a bill that would expand the allowable width of a cycle from 36 inches to 55. How do you expect it to affect New York City’s streetscape? Should it become law?

Her bill is an attempt to make it easy for the city to pass a bill to legalize motorized pedicabs, if the city so desires. It won’t pass… but the Small Business committee of NYC Council on 1 March  held a hearing on an intro bill including a provision to legalize electric-assist pedicabs—effectively making Senator Ramos’s bill moot if the city bill passes… excepting diehards demanding wide-body throttle-only “trikes”.


Tell me about throttles. What’s the difference between a cycle with a throttle and a cycle with an electric assist? What does the law say about operating a cycle with a throttle in New York State?

Throttles activate the motors of mopeds and motorcycles, generally speaking. With heroic acrobatics, New York State has managed to carve out, within its legal framework for motor vehicles, a special niche in which particular throttle-driven motor vehicles qualify as “bicycles.” So, while “pedal-assist” bicycles, per the NYCDOT’s definition, may not sport throttles and must cease motor operation when the rider stops pedaling, “electric-assist” bicycles, per state law, may have throttles and may operate without pedaling—at speeds of up to 25 MPH in NYC!


Does the 36-inch rule have any upsides? If so, what are they?

Bike lanes today (and yesterday) seem to be designed to accommodate contraptions up to three feet wide. Contraptions wider than three feet wide do not play well with the narrowest bike lanes; certainly, this new framework does have at least a bit of logic to it.


Tell me about DHL. They’re planning to go carbon-neutral by 2050, and their New York operation purchased a couple of “Cubicycles”. But they’re not plying the streets yet. Why not?

The 36-inch rule played a role; one of their trikes, purchased via Revolution from Cycles Maximus and Velove, exceeds 36 inches (and therefore is ineligible for the DOT’s Commercial Cargo Bike Pilot), while the other Cubicycle is actually a quadricycle! But they also face other challenges; read more here.


If you could wave a magic wand and rewrite the law, how would you rewrite it?

I would make it disappear, leaving us with the regulations issued by the NYC DOT in 2018—which clarify that “pedal-assist bicycles” are legal on city streets while mopeds built like bicycles are not.