The super trendy fatbike which is extremely popular with youngsters has frequently hit the headlines this year. Unfortunately, not for all the right reasons. So what's going on?
Let's go back to 1 January 2023 when wearing a helmet on an e-scooter became compulsory. Helmets are not considered cool in Holland, so the e-scooter fell out of favour with youngsters. Instead they turned to the fatbike. Basically this is an all terrain e-bike with broad tyres that is styled like a moped.
A big advantage is that there are fewer rules and regulations for e-bikes than for mopeds and light mopeds. As long as an e-bike has pedal assistance up to 25 km/h and the motor power is not more than 250 W, it is classified as a bike.
This means there is no age restriction, you don't need a licence, number plate, or insurance and a helmet is not compulsory. Anyone can ride a fatbike. Also, they are cheaper than many other e-bikes and super trendy. Ideal for school children!
E-bike, moped or illegal vehicle?
So in theory the fatbike is just another e-bike. But does this correspond with the situation in the real world? No. While the sale of fatbikes has skyrocketed, the market has been flooded by fatbikes that don't comply with Dutch legislation for a regular bike.
Many fatbikes have a motor that exceeds 250 W (some are said to be 8 times as powerful). Most fatbikes can go up to not 25 but 30 km/h. The police has even confiscated an enhanced fatbike that could go 85 km/h! More often than not, a throttle lever has been added by the manufacturer, retailer or owner, so pedalling is not necessary. The throttle lever can easily be manipulated so it can be switched on and off through a mobile phone app.
This raises the question: Is an enhanced fatbike actually legally a moped rather than an e-bike? Not according to the Dutch Cyclists's Union (Fietsersbond). They warn users that currently an enhanced fatbike is in fact an illegal vehicle. Even if you have a driving licence and are wearing a helmet, you can't use it out on the road. This means that if you have an accident, you're not insured.
Now, let's be realistic. What happens if you give teenagers an e-bike that can go 30 km/h or more with all-terrain tyres that can effortlessly ride over obstacles such as ramps and curbs? They are going to explore all the new possibilities and put them to good use, with little regard to personal safety or that of others. Hey, what's more fun than overtaking other cyclists at high speed on the inside by bumping up onto the pavement so you can cut a corner?
Other road users complain that fatbikers ride dangerously. They go too fast, you can't hear them and they ignore traffic rules. The Dutch Cyclists's Union says, that "people aged 60 and older hardly dare to use the cycle path anymore". While this may apply to cities where the number of fatbikes is highest, personally we haven't noticed any signs of this outside urban areas.
The Dutch association for injury prevention VeiligheidNL says that over the past 10 years there has been a 38% increase in the number of teenagers aged 12-17 who suffered severe injuries in a bike accident. According to the teenagers, the main reason for this is cycling at high speed. While there are not yet any statistics specifically for the fatbike, it is a worrying trend.
In September the Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB), one of the mayor insurers of bikes, stopped insuring fatbikes due to the "extreme high theft rate" and changes made to the fatbike after purchase, a "dangerous trend" which needs to be stopped. Other insurance companies are considering following suit.
According to the ANWB, the financial costs in damages for fatbikes has increased to around 800% of the insurance premium. This makes it 8x as high as the income in insurance premium. This is clearly not viable. However, the ANWB is investigating how fatbikes may be insured again in the future.
While bike theft has always been a problem in Holland, with the popularity of the fatbike bike theft has reached new levels. In Amsterdam the chance that your fatbike is stolen is said to be a whopping 90%. The Dutch Cyclists's Union suggests that as the trade in second hand fatbikes is thriving, teenagers might be selling their fatbike and then putting in a false insurance claim.
It's clear that the fatbike has been causing a variety of problems. What has been done about them so far? First, the sale of enhanced, illegal fatbikes was tackled. Retailers selling these illegal fatbikes were cautioned and 9 retailers received hefty fines for continuing to sell illegal fatbikes. This probably doesn't solve the issue of online sales through retailers abroad where different rules apply, but it's a start.
Parents have been made aware that there are legal requirements a fatbike needs to comply with and that purchasing an illegal fatbike, or making certain changes to a fatbike may have serious consequences that they will be held responsible for. The idea is that in future parents will make responsible choices when purchasing a fatbike for their child.
Recently police have started carrying out large-scale road checks for fatbikes in strategic locations such as access roads to schools. First time offenders are cautioned. Repeat offenders will receive a fine or have their fatbike confiscated.
Future of the fatbike
Owners of fatbikes are worried about changes that might come. They feel they are being penalised for the bad behaviour of others. What's wrong with having a fatbike that can do 30 km/h if I keep to the 25 km/h speed limit? There are other e-bikes that also have a more powerful motor, why are they not taken off the road? A fair point, that shows that the problem of illegal e-bikes is greater than just the fatbike...
The Dutch Cyclists's Union is very concerned about the problems caused by the fatbike. They are calling for "stricter norms for fatbikes", so the fatbike is no longer an illegal vehicle and a danger on the cycle paths.
One thing seems certain. The fatbike, marketed as a green, cheap and trendy alternative to the moped, is here to stay. Now deal with it.