Every state has different laws governing e-bikes, and in 23 U.S. states, riding an e-bike is technically illegal. Of- ten, e-bikes are classified as mopeds or motor vehicles, or they have equipment, licensing or registration requirements (think the DMV) that cause problems for riders.
As e-bikes proliferate around the U.S., the litany of state laws governing them needs to be simplified. Clear rules on how and where to ride an e-bike benefit new and seasoned riders alike, who will no longer be confused about where to ride, as well as local bike shops who will see increased business. Victories have already been won in California, Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina and a handful of other states, but many still lag. As a result, PeopleForBikes (PFB) and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA) are working to clarify and fix legislation state by state. The partnership is working to update e-bike regulations across the U.S. so that e-bikes are treated more like regular bicycles.
To that end, PFB and BPSA have put forward a classification system that divides e-bikes into 3 distinct groups. A “Class 1 electric bicycle” is a pedal-assisted bike with a top assisted speed of 20mph. A “Class 2 electric bicycle” is a bike with a top assisted speed of 20mph that can be operated without pedaling by using a throttle. A “Class 3 electric bicycle” is a pedal assisted bike with a top assisted speed of 28mph. With this class system, the goal is to allow the use of lower-speed e-bikes on bicycle paths, and give local lawmakers the flexibility to regulate e-bikes based on their needs. California was the first state to adopt this new classification system, and serves as a model for progressive e-bike legislation for the rest of the country.
E-bikes help reduce barriers to bicycling, allowing those limited by fitness, age, or disability to ride more. It’s easy to dismiss e-bikes as a fad or even as cheating, but if you consider their potential to solve problems and inspire more people to ride their bikes more often, they’re a pretty exciting development in the cycling world.