Electric bikes are surging in popularity like never before. They’re fast, compact, affordable, and fun – and it’s just a matter of time before they replace automobiles as the primary means of personal mobility, at least in dense urban metropolises.
Before that happens, make sure to make yourself acquainted with e-bike laws and regulations in your state. Since electric bikes are relatively new when compared to other means of transportation, their laws continue to evolve. In case you’re interested, here’s a brief overview of e-bike laws in different parts of the world.
E-bike Laws in the US
Under the US Consumer Product Safety Act, e-bikes are defined as “low-speed electric bicycles” with fully operable pedals, a motor that produces less than 750W (1.01hp) of continuous/ nominal power, and a maximum top speed of 20mph (32km/h) when powered only by the electric motor.
Though federal regulations limit e-bikes to 750 watts with a max speed of 20mph, states can devise and implement their own regulations. As of now, 44 states have some kinds of definitions for e-bikes, out of which, 37 follow a 3-tiered classification system (as of now) to categorize e-bikes based on the speed and kind of power delivery system. These classes are as follows:
- Class 1 e-bikes can have a maximum speed of 20mph and must only operate on pedal assist
- Class 2 e-bikes can also run at 20mph max under motor power but they can have a throttle
- Class 3 e-bikes are again limited to just pedal-assist but can have a maximum assisted speed of 28mph
As for where these e-bikes can be used, most states allow the first two classes on the same paths as used by traditional bicycles. Class 3 e-bikes are generally subjected to additional requirements, such as helmet usage and minimum rider age, and are restricted from low-speed areas such as multi-use lanes.
As discussed above, the 3-tiered classification system adopted by 37 states as of now (AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MS, MO, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OH, OK, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY) also dictates the top speed for each class of e-bike.
|Class 1||Class 2||Class 3|
|Power Delivery||Only Pedal Assist||Both Pedal Assist & Throttle||Only Pedal Assist|
|Max Speed||20 mph||20 mph||28 mph|
Some states (like Rhode Island and Massachusetts) limit top speed to 25mph, while others (such as Nebraska, Montana, Kentucky, and Hawaii) allow a maximum speed of 30mph. Besides the state speed regulations, you also have to adhere to the local speed limits, such as in areas with schools and hospitals.
Majority of the states that have adopted the 3-tiered classification system cap the maximum power output of the e-bikes at 750W nominal (or 1.01hp), much like the federal regulation. Other states have varying power limitations. Montana and Maryland, for instance, allow a nominal output of just 500W, while Virginia, Oregon, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Kansas, and Georgia allow up to 1000 watts of continuous motor power.
Many states do not impose an official age requirement to ride an e-bike. Others have varying age restrictions and some only apply them to Class 2 or Class 3 e-bikes. Here’s a breakdown:
- Minimum 16 years: AR (Class 3), DC, FL, ID, IL, KY, ME (Class 2 & 3), MA, OK, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA (Class 3), and WV
- Minimum 15 years: CT, GA, HI, IN, LA, MN, and NJ
- Minimum 14 years: AL, AK, MI, NH, ND, TN (Class 3), UT, and VA
Helmet and safety gear laws can be really confusing as they are either tied to specific age groups or e-bike classes. Helmet regulations commonly apply to riders under 14 or 16 years of age.
Most of the states that follow the 3-tiered classification system mandate helmet usage with only Class 3 e-bikes. Five states (Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut) require helmets for all e-bike classes and all ages. Some don’t have helmet requirements for any age or any class of e-bike.
States that use the three-tiered classification system usually don’t have a registration, licensure, or insurance requirement in place. Likewise, the states that define e-bikes as mopeds or motor vehicles require registration and/or licensure and/or insurance of e-bikes.
For a detailed overview of e-bike laws in each state in the US, consult this resource from non-profit e-bike advocacy group PeopleForBikes.
The federal regulations in Canada limit maximum motor power to 500W and maximum speed to 32km/h (which is the same as the US federal speed cap of 20mph). However, much like the US, each state and territory has the authority to adopt its own speed and power output regulations, though most follow the federal limitations.
The minimum age restriction varies a lot. For instance, it’s 12 in Alberta, 14 in Quebec and Manitoba, and 16 in Ontario and British Columbia. Helmets and e-bike labeling, however, are mandatory in almost all states. Some parts of Canada also require licensure for e-bikes with the throttle.
As of now, four types of electric bicycles are allowed in the EU. The classification, based on the motor power, maximum speed, and the number of wheels, is as follows:
- L1e-A: Known as “powered cycles,” L1e-A vehicles can have a top speed of 25km/h and a max motor power output of 1000 watts. They can be both pedal and throttle assist, and can have 2 to 4 wheels.
- L1e-B: Known as “mopeds,” L1e-B vehicles can have a maximum speed of 45km/h and a max power rating of 4000 watts. Unlike L1e-A vehicles, they can just have pedal assist and at most 2 wheels.
- L2e: Known as “three-wheeled mopeds,” L2e vehicles are the same as L1e-B vehicles, with just one difference – they have 3 wheels. Also, they can have 2 seats max.
- L6e: Known as “light quadricycles,” L6e vehicles are also the same as L1e-B vehicles, with the only difference being their 4 wheels. They can also have 2 seats maximum.
Even though the EU mandates registration for e-bikes, it allows each member state to devise and implement its own regulations. These may vary a lot, but some requirements (such as helmet use) apply to every state.
Electric bikes in the UK can deliver up to 250 watts of continuous motor power, cannot assist riders beyond the top speed of 25km/h, and should be less than 30kg in weight. The minimum age requirement to ride an e-bike is 14, and the bikes are exempt from licensure, registration, taxation, and insurance.
Much like in the UK, e-bikes in Australia can have 250 watts of continuous motor power with a pedal-assist system and a maximum speed of 25km/h. States can set up their own regulations, and as of now, no licensing, registration, or insurance is required to operate an electric bike anywhere in Australia.
Since electric bikes are relatively new when compared to automobiles and other means of transportation, the laws and regulations concerning them keep changing all the time. You are, therefore, advised to learn and consider your state laws and local regulations regarding e-bikes during or after the purchase, so as to make the most out of your experience!