You just moved to the big city and are looking for a flexible, affordable and convenient way to get around town. A car isn’t an option due to the high cost and limited parking and storage options, and public transportation isn’t convenient for your lifestyle. One solution is to purchase an electronic bike, or ebike.
E-bikes (and folding e-bikes) are ideal for numerous reasons. In addition to their affordability and physical fitness benefits, they’re propelled by an electric motor that can help riders reach speeds that exceed that of a conventional bicycle. This can make everything from commuting to running errands to just taking a ride around town much faster and more efficient. However, know that not all e-bikes are the same. In fact, e-bikes are divided into three different class models: Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Before you purchase an e-bike , it’s important to understand the different models and how they’re regulated in the state that you live in.
The 3 electronic bike classes are as follows:
- Class 1—Pedal assist up to 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2—Throttle up to 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3—Pedal assist up to 28 miles per hour.
Class 1 E-Bike
A Class 1 electric bike is defined as a low-speed, pedal-assisted bicycle. These bikes are equipped with motors that provide assistance only when the rider is pedaling and only when the rider is pedaling at a speed of less than 20 miles per hour. Due to this low-speed operation and how the motor works with this class of e-bike, riders are typically permitted to ride them anywhere that a conventional bike can be ridden. These areas include bike lanes, bike paths and the street. However, it’s important to note that e-bike regulations vary by U.S. state, which makes things confusing for some riders. In New York, for instance, e-bikes are regulated by the PeopleForBikes model legislation, which defines and regulates the three classes of e-bikes similar to bicycles. Essentially, this means that Class 1 e-bikes ride by the same rules of the road as standard bikes, and are not subject to licensing, registration or insurance requirements. Conversely, eight states which are Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Alaska and New Mexico consider e-bikes as mopeds or motor vehicles, which abide by much stricter user requirements.
New York Update: As of August 2 it is now legal to ride e-bikes on streets that post have a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less, but you cannot operate them on a sidewalk unless authorized by the local ordinances.
Class 2 E-Bike
Class 2 e-bikes are the most common type of e-bike found throughout the United States. This class of e-bike comes with a throttle – typically in a grip-twist style – that works with or without the rider pedaling. It’s worth noting that some models of Class 2 e-bikes require the user to begin pedaling before the throttle will kick in. Class 2 e-bikes typically max out at speeds of 20 miles per hour to comply with speed and safety regulations, and so these models can qualify in most states as standard bicycles. Similar to Class 1 e-bikes, in the vast majority of states, Class 2 e-bikes are treated like normal bicycles. This means they can be ridden on bike lanes, bike paths and roads, and are not subject to licensing, registration and insurance requirements.
Class 3 E-Bike
The third class of electronic bike is a pedal-assist model that can reach speeds of up to 28 miles per hour. While these faster speeds are attractive, especially for commuters, access in many U.S. states is more limited with Class 3 e-bikes than it is with Class 1 and Class 2 models. As a result, Class 3 e-bikes are typically only allowed on roads – and not on bike paths, bike lanes or trails. Furthermore, some municipalities prohibit any rider under the age of 16 from operating a Class 3 e-bike. Some even go as far as treating Class 3 e-bikes like mopeds and subjecting riders to licensing, registration and insurance requirements. This is especially true outside of the United States in European countries where bikes are more common in many cities. Wearing a helmet is also often mandatory for Class 3 riders.
AB 1096 Regulates E-Bikes in California
As we said throughout this piece, every U.S. state regulates e-bikes differently. Some follow the model legislation that PeopleForBikes suggest, while others are more restrictive. However, even those states that follow the model legislation may still have their own little caveats. Take California for instance, a state that follows the PeopleForBikes model to define the three classes of e-bikes. In an effort to keep bicyclists safer, California passed Bill AB-1096, legislation that further regulates operation of e-bikes throughout the state. The law clarifies some standard e-bike practices, such as how riders under the age of 16 are not permitted to operate a Class 3 e-bike. However, there are other caveats that riders should be aware of. For example, while there is no minimum age to operate a Class 1 or Class 2 e-bike, riders 17 and under must wear a helmet at all times. Furthermore, Class 3 e-bike riders are permitted to operate everywhere but on bike paths. All classes of e-bikes in California can be operated without a driver’s license, registration or insurance requirements.
AB 1096 also regulates how e-bikes are sold and labeled. For instance, it requires e-bike manufacturers to label bikes with the top speed the motor can reach, as well as a classification number and motor wattage. It’s illegal for e-bike owners – or anyone else – to tamper with the motor without replacing or updating the label to reflect new speeds or motor wattage.
Understand the Classes BEFORE You Purchase an E-Bike
Because all states have different rules and regulations governing e-bike use, it’s imperative to understand what they are before you purchase a Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 e-bike. Some of the factors to consider as you make your decision might include:
- Where you intend to ride the e-bike. Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes are typically allowed anywhere conventional bikes are, while Class 3 e-bikes are treated more like mopeds.
- Age: Only those 16 and up are permitted to operate Class 3 e-bikes in states that follow the PeopleForBikes model legislation. There are no age limits for Class 1 or Class 2 e-bike operation.
- Speed: While Class 3 e-bikes reach the highest speeds, they’re also more strictly regulated than Class 1 or Class 2 e-bikes in many states.
- Federal land which is controlled by the National Forest Service, National Park Service and The Bureau of Land Management have their own e-bike rules. Definitely make sure you check them out before your trip.
- There is a Class 4, mostly for Mopeds and Motorcycles, where the electric drive motor (which may be greater than 750 watts) can be actived by pedal or throttle and achieve top speeds above 28 m.p.h. In most areas in this country these motorized vehicles require registration and licensing and have limitations as to where they can be ridden.
To better understand the specific legislation as it pertains to e-bikes in each U.S. state, visit PeopleForBikes.org. In its “Policies + Laws” section, it breaks down e-bike guidelines state-by-state.
Lastly, while most e-bikes can be unlocked to achieve higher speeds than these classes address we will save that “unregulated” part for another article.
An e-bike is a fun, convenient and healthy way to get around town. Just make sure you do your homework on the different classes and how they’re regulated in your state and city before you make your purchase to avoid any surprises down the road.