E-bikes might be distinctly different from cars, but their manufacturers’ repair monopolization goals are nearly indistinguishable. E-bike makers are joining the ranks of automakers, smartphone companies, and other corporate manufacturers by trying their best to prevent customers from repairing their own belongings. Representatives for People For Bikes, a trade organization representing US bicycle companies, have been reaching out to lawmakers in a sneaky attempt to exclude e-bikes from recent right to repair legislation.
It’s a simple fact that as e-bikes grow in popularity, there will be more e-bike owners seeking repairs. While you might envision a humble e-bike rider fixing their RadWagon in the comfort of their own garage, e-bike manufacturers hear the word “repair” and see dollar signs instead. Broken e-bikes present an opportunity for manufacturers to open their own service centers—like Rad Power has been doing in major metropolises—and charge customers for repairs. And as with any other right to repair tale, each repair a customer performs at home represents a loss in revenue in the eyes of the manufacturer.
According to a recent report by Grist, People for Bikes has spent the last several months trying to water down right to repair bills in a way that benefits e-bike manufacturers—all while making it appear like they’re advocating for customers. In 2022, New York became the first state to pass a bill requiring electronics manufacturers to allow customers to repair their own products. While celebration was certainly in order, the bill excluded the automotive, home appliance, medical gear, and farm equipment industries, which are often considered the most contentious right to repair verticals. Not one to be left out, the e-bike industry quickly began seeking the same exemptions.
Credit: David French/Unsplash
Representatives for People For Bikes sent a letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul in December arguing that e-bike fires—which have only proliferated alongside e-bikes themselves—were the fault of “consumers and others attempting to service these devices themselves.” When Ash Lovell, the organization’s e-bike policy and campaign director, was asked to provide evidence for this claim, Lovell said the data was “anecdotal, from folks that are on the ground in New York.” New York City is where a majority of reported e-bike fires have taken place, likely because the area’s tight thoroughfares and higher-than-usual need for delivery workers make e-bikes a more attractive transportation option. But to People For Bikes, the uptick in e-bike fires in this particular state likely presents a convenient scapegoat: With New York being one of just three states to have enacted right to repair legislation, People For Bikes can blame self-repair instead of manufacturers.
Right to repair advocates push for manufacturers to provide the same parts, manuals, and tools to customers and third-party repair shops as they provide to authorized service centers. The e-bike industry has so far circumvented this push by responding to battery malfunction reports with offers to replace the batteries entirely. To bolster public support for this tactic, People For Bikes has been running a campaign called Hungry For Batteries, which encourages e-bike riders to recycle their batteries instead of seeking repair (or attempting to conduct repairs themselves). In fact, the website for Hungry For Batteries entirely neglects to acknowledge repair as an option: In its FAQ section, riders who believe their e-bike batteries are damaged or defective are told to seek out a drop-off center for recycling.
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