If you just bought or are thinking about buying an electric bike, it’s important that you understand all the laws surrounding e-bikes. Purchasing a street legal electric bike depends on where you live, what type of electric bike you have, which road you’re on, how fast your bike can go and more.
To clarify some of the confusion about international electric bike laws, we organized a list of common questions and answers. Understanding this information will help to keep you from getting stopped by the authorities on your fresh set of wheels. Let’s get started.
Legally- what is an e-bike?
The legal definition of an electric bike varies from country to country and, in the case of the United States, from state to state.
In the United States, electric bikes are defined as bikes with an electric motor or battery that are powered up to 750 watts. Most e-bikes in the US won’t allow the rider to go faster than 20-28 miles per hour.
Laws vary in the European Union member states. However, the generally accepted definition of an electric bike is cycling with pedal assisted electric motors and a maximum continuous power of 0.25 kW (350 watts). These electric bikes are required to stop assisting the rider once they’ve reached a speed of 25km/h or 15.5 mph.
The correct terms in the European Union vary as well. Pedelecs for example, or a low-powered electric bike, maybe classified differently and in turn are subject to different laws.
Canada defines electric bikes, or as they say power assisted bicycles, as a two or three wheeled bicycle that has a motor of 500 watts or less. These can legally only go as fast as 32km/h.
Understanding the differences in terminology in your region, will help to deepen your understanding of street legal electric bike laws and help keep you safe on the open road.
Is my e-bike a motorized vehicle?
In certain states in the US and worldwide, your electric bike might be considered a motorized vehicle. This may be due to the power of your bikes motor, how fast it goes or simply a lack of electric bike laws in your area.
It’s important to understand that an electric bike and motorized bike/vehicle are not the same thing. A motorized bike normally uses a gas engine and some electric components. It is essentially a lighter version of a moped or scooter, yet it can weigh over 100 lbs (45 kg). While an e-bike simply has a pedal-assisted motor and battery. Although in some areas they can both can be considered the same under the law.
If your electric bike is considered a motorized vehicle, you may need to use a headlamp, speedometer, horn or other accessories to ensure you’re legally able to ride your e-bike. If you want to stay as safe as possible on the road, we recommend looking into these accessories.
Where can I ride my e-bike?
The short answer to this question is: it depends. You never want to assume anything when it comes to electric bike laws. A lack of e-bike classifications or laws in your area, does not imply you can ride your bike anywhere.
You may find that you’re able to ride your e-bike on the road, but not in the bike lane. In some areas in the US, e-bikes are restricted in national parks and trails. This sometimes happens in land designated for conservation purposes, but isn’t always the case.
What are e-bike classes?
In the United States and European Union street legal electric bike classes have been written into both federal and municipal law. While these classes may vary a bit globally, they generally help manufacturers to create electric bike models and accessories that fall within the scope of the law.
A Class 1 electric bicycle will only feature a pedal-assisted motor and battery. Meaning that the motor will only propel you forward while the rider is pedaling. There are no throttles on this class of bike and they are capped to assist the rider at 20mph (32 km).
This class of electric bike is similar to class 1 with the exception of a throttle mechanism. This means your motor will operate without the use of a pedaling motion. These are also capped at 20 mph (32 km).
Class 3 electric bikes tend to be made for speed, however the laws around these bikes vary greatly. While they don’t have a throttle function and feature a pedal-assisted function, they are capped at 28-32 mph (48-51 km). Luckily class 3 e-bikes tend to come with a speedometer, so you can easily see how fast you’re going.
Understanding the class your electric bike falls into will help to keep you from getting a ticket or purchasing a bike that you simply cannot ride where you’d like.
Do I need special gear to ride my e-bike on the road?
If your electric bike is considered a motorized vehicle, you may need additional gear and accessories to ride on local roads and trails. However, if your electric bike specifications are within the appropriate class you may not need to worry. You may also find that you are required to ride in lanes of other traffic rather than in a bike lane.
You always want to keep in mind what you will be using your electric bike for and how much faster you’ll be going. If you plan to haul extra cargo, ride at night or in the rain, it will be worth your time and money to purchase additional electric bike gear.
Many of the more expensive e-bike models available online will already come will added features such as a speedometer, horn or LED lamp. While you may not need these features, the most important thing for your e-bike journey is safety.
Can you use your e-bike in a race, ride or other bike events?
As more people being using e-bikes as a zero-emissions form of transportation, the bigger the e-bike community gets! Before signing up for your first ride, race or bike event, make sure you understand the restrictions of where you’ll be riding.
Of course, the use of motors or batteries is prohibited in professional cycling races. This has been widely talked about and investigated globally.
Certain races may be for traditional mountain bikes and you may be able to compete simply by removing your battery. Other races are reserved solely for electric mountain bikes.
Double check with event organizers to make sure that your electric bike doesn’t disqualify you from competing or enjoying a great route with other riders.
What if I crash on my e-bike?
Electric bike crashes are not uncommon. In fact, electric bike crashes are on the rise. Having the proper gear such as a helmet, headlamp, or horn may keep you from being in a crash, but unfortunately accidents do happen.
Due to the increased speed you will achieve on your electric bike, the risk of injury in a bike crash is greatly increased. This is especially the case for older individuals who may be using an e-bike to explore more trails without over exerting themselves.
Not to mention, an electric bike is an investment. Most e-bikes are a minimum of $500 USD and a can be as much as $12,000 USD. An electric bike is an investment no matter what you spend. You can save a lot of headaches and fees by investing in insurance for your electric bicycle as well.
(If you’re worried about finding a reliable and affordable e-bike, we’ve got you covered).
In most cases, because electric bikes have a motor, they will be partially covered with your auto, homeowners, renters and possibly your life insurance policy. Of course, that is something you’ll want to clarify with your insurance company.
A limited insurance policy will cover the cost of replacing parts or, if your bike gets stolen, the entire thing. If you are in a serious crash or simply don’t plan on paying medical expenses, you should consider expanding your electric bike insurance policy.
Globally, we’re just in the beginning stages of outlining e-bike laws and they vary between countries and states. While there is much debate about what is considered a street legal electric bike and where you should be allowed to ride, the one thing that’s for sure is that e-bikes aren’t going anywhere.
Remember that an electric bike is an investment. Taking the time to educate yourself on the regulations in your area will help to reduce your electric bike costs in the long run. Whether that’s on your insurance policy or your gear.
If you’re new to electric bikes, check out our list of affordable e-bikes and questions to ask yourself before buying to help find the right fit for your cycling needs.