Electric bicycles, or “e-bikes”, have become incredibly popular in the last several years. You’ve almost certainly seen one of them whizzing by you on the street, or maybe you’ve even taken one for a spin yourself. Thanks to the explosion in popularity of bike-share systems, e-bikes seem to be a trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
How Are E-Bikes Regulated?
Although low-speed e-bikes are about as safe and as fast as traditional bicycles, the legality of e-bikes is different from that of the conventional bike. In fact, electronic bicycle laws tend to vary from state to state.
The federal government defines e-bikes differently than electric scooters, which are regulated as motor vehicles. Federal law defines a low-speed electric bicycle as “A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”
This law allows an e-bike to be powered by just the motor (a “throttle-assist” e-bike) or by both motor and human power (what’s known as a “pedal-assist” e-bike). However, the maximum speed is only specified for throttle-assist e-bikes, not pedal-assist e-bikes. Federal law regulates the manufacturing and first sale of an e-bike, but the rest is up to the state to regulate.
State legislation regarding e-bikes usually focuses on how to classify them, deciding whether or not to classify e-bikes as mopeds or scooters. If the state decides to classify an e-bike as an electric scooter, then license, registration and other requirements are needed to operate the bicycle. However, some states such as Mississippi don’t define an electric bicycle at all.
E-bike laws in Ohio have created a three-tiered e-bike classification system. This system is meant to differentiate between e-bike models with different speeds.
• A Class 1 electric bicycle is defined as a bike with a motor that only provides assistance when the rider is pedaling, and stops when the bike reaches 20 mph.
• A Class 2 electric bicycle is a bike with a motor that doesn’t require pedaling, and stops assisting when the bike reaches 20 mph.
• A Class 3 electric bicycle is a bike with a motor that only provides assistance when the rider is pedaling, and stops when the bike reaches 28 mph. It’s also equipped with a speedometer.
E-bike laws in Ohio require riders and passengers of class 3 e-bikes to wear a helmet, regardless of age. Electronic bicycle laws in Connecticut are much stricter, requiring riders and passengers of all e-bike tiers to wear a helmet. E-bike laws in Ohio require the rider of a class 3 e-bike to be at least 16 or older, but the passenger may be under 16. As e-bikes continue to skyrocket in popularity in the US, electric bicycle laws will continue to define their role at the state level.