Islands and E-Bikes

Terry Jaskiw

            “E-Biking on Fire Island” is the title of two 30-minute videos on YouTube. There is a Part 1 and a Part 2. In Part 1, the operator of an electric bike or e-bike whips around the parking lot and roads at Robert Moses State Park at the western tip of Fire Island, and then heads east for miles on a narrow Fire Island roadway not meant for cars – but according to Fire Island National Seashore regulations e-bikes are okay.

            View the videos by going to and search “E-Biking on Fire Island.”

            E-bikes are something new. And, suddenly, they’re darting around Suffolk County roads – across Great South Bay from Fire Island – mosquito like. Many are operated by young teens,  without helmets. E-bikes need no license plates in New York State, those who ride them no driver’s license – and at some island resort areas within the U.S. e-bikes are now being restricted.

“If you want to use an e-bike to get around Michigan’s Mackinac Island, the rules are pretty straightforward: You can’t,” was the start of an article in July on a web blog entitled “Jalopnik.” The only exception being “A mobility disability that ‘substantially limits the ability of the individual to pedal a bicycle.’ In which case, you’re allowed to have a Class 1 e-bike that only provides assistance while you’re pedaling, and you have to get it licensed. It’s possible to use a Class 2 e-bike, but the electric throttle has to be permanently disabled, reverting it back to a Class 1. But do people listen? Of course not. It’s 2023.”

 The Detroit Free Press reports that Mackinac Island police have seized between 50 and 75 e-bikes over a three-week period according to the blog, and their police chief states that the regulations are “clearly communicated.”

On Fire Island, under the category of Motorized Vehicles, the Code for Seaview, as of Jan. 1, 2021, says: “All motorized vehicles (both gas & electric) must have a Seaview permit to operate on our walks. Free medical permits are available for special needs Seaview residents upon their paying all that year’s respective service charges and fees. All vehicles must obey all posted traffic rules including a Town speed limit of 5 mph … Motorized bicycles, skateboards, wagons, hoverboards, etc. are not permitted at any time.”

            Meanwhile, as is often the case when a new technology arrives, there are vested interests pushing a new product or process.

            The police department on Shelter Island, where in 2021 a fatal accident occurred involving an e-bike, is focusing on e-bikes, The department last month ran an ad in the Shelter Island Reporter headed “Know the Law, Electric Bikes and Scooters.” It included how New York State “law states only persons 16 years and older can operate an e-bike.”

“We had a fatality in August 2021 involving an e-bike and we had a serious injury accident involving an e-bike this summer.” Detective Sergeant Jack Thilberg told me.

Shelter Island is far from alone. “Teenagers’ Accidents Expose the Risks of E-Bikes,” was the front-page headline of the July 31 issue of The New York Times.

“The e-bike industry is booming,” said the article, “but the summer of 2023 has brought sharp questions about how safe e-bikes are, especially for teenagers.”

The technology has out-paced existing laws and regulations while police state that some companies appear to knowingly sell products than can easily evade speed limits and endanger young riders according to The Times article.

Meanwhile, the same day this article ran in The Times, Newsday published a two-page spread headlined: “East End easy riders, New e-bike tours to check out in the Hamptons and Montauk.”

Not only are people being killed riding e-bikes, but the bikes’ power source, lithium-ion batteries, have a record of exploding. In March, ABC News reported that in 2022 in New York City, 147 injuries and six deaths had resulted from e-bike battery fires. “So far in 2023, 33 fires, 42 injuries and three deaths have been attributed to these fires,” the report said. It also quoted Mayor Eric Adams as saying: “E-bikes and e-scooters are here, you might as well get used to them.”


This past July, a 93-year-old woman died in Ozone Park, Queens, in a fire in a two-story building that started by a lithium-ion battery exploding in an e-bike repair shop below where she lived. Complacency is not the answer.