eBike: Understanding the Three (Legal) Classifications

If you’ve not jumped on an eBike, what are you waiting for? Over the past few years, the eBike industry has seen amazing growth across the United States and the world. Known by a variety of names, such as electric bicycles, eRiders, and eCycles, these new vehicles have captured the attention of young and old. Local governments promptly got in the act when they realized they needed a way to define an eBike and thus eBike classifications were born.

Legal eBike Classifications

In most cases, the law doesn’t consider an eBike to be a fully motorized vehicle. After all, your feet are making the pedals go around — at least part of the time. Therefore, the legal restrictions surrounding eBikes are fairly low. Many states use a standardized eBike classification system, defined by speed and motor function, to help craft their electric bike regulations.

  • Class 1: The motor on these pedal-assist eBikes only kicks in when you pedal and stops assisting when you reach 20 mph.
  • Class 2: These eBikes have a pedal-assist mode, but the motor can also propel the bike without pedaling. The top speed for both modes is 20 mph. This is often called a “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle.”
  • Class 3:These eBikes feature an electric powered pedal assist. But you only benefit from the assistance once you’ve reached speeds of 28 mph. For this reason, it’s often called “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle.”

Depending on the city or state you’re in – and the eBike classification – you might run into other requirements: permit requirements, lane restrictions, etc. That’s why you should always check with your local laws before riding.

Federal Laws Surrounding eBikes

Federally, eBikes don’t fall under much scrutiny. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has widely left any regulation of electric bicycles to individual states. A 2002 law defined an eBike as a two- or three-wheeled vehicle that has an electric motor of less than 1 HP that’s capable of reaching less than 20 mph. 

Interestingly enough, the federal description of electric bikes only notes a maximum speed that the eBike can reach on its own. It doesn’t place a limit on how fast the eBike can travel under combined human and motor power. Since most eBikes do combine human and motor power, the federal law doesn’t regulate how fast a rider can go.

ebike: 3 Classes of electric bike Classifications.
eBike: Two Wheel Vehicle Operation.

One significant federal shift in electric bike policy came last year when the National Park Service announced that eBikes would be permitted in national parks. The newly approved policy allows eBikes anywhere that traditional bicycles can go in the parks, including park roads, hardened or paved trails and any areas that are marked accessible to off-road motor vehicles. However, this policy only permits pedal-assist (Classes 1 and 3) bikes.

State Laws and Classes of Electric Bikes

States typically place stricter rules on how fast an eBike can travel and who can ride eBikes. Many states consider electric bikes a subtype of a motorized vehicle and place age restrictions on riders or enforce helmet laws.

Thirteen states use the three electric bicycle classifications to regulate riders. These restrictions vary based on the type of bike and the individual state law. For example, one state may require all eBike riders and passengers to wear a helmet, whereas another will only require those under 21 to wear a helmet. Riders should fully understand the different classes of eBikes to make sure they’re within their state and local municipalities’ rules at all times.

A Tale of Two States

New York’s Stringent eBike Laws

New York has had a troubled history with eBikes. In a state with the most populous – and in many eyes, most cutting edge – you would expect up-to-the-minute legislation. However, a handout from People for Bikes shows New York’s laws to be the strictest among the 50 states, causing many people to believe that eBikes are illegal. New York law does allow pedal-assist bikes but prohibits throttle-only bikes, treating them as motor scooters.

Furthermore, New York state law requires eBike riders to register their bikes the same way they would register any other motor vehicle, but there’s no system in place for registration. So, while it’s legal to purchase and own an eBike in New York, it’s illegal to ride one since it cannot be registered properly. Confusing, right?

Fortunately, change is in the air — Governor Cuomo has promised to include eBike laws in his 2021 state budget. Hopefully, more practical guidelines can help bring New York City an eBike revolution.

California’s eBike-Positive Laws

While New York is an extreme case of state regulation, most states are much more supportive. For example, California has been very welcoming to eBike riders. This state focuses its legislation on the age of riders and protective headgear. In California, all eBike classifications are legal, but riders of Class 3 eBikes must be over the age of 16, and all Class 3 cyclists must wear helmets at all times. Riders in other classes must wear helmets if age 17 or below.

Don’t Hesitate to Get Your Own eBike

ebike: 3 Classes of electric bike Classifications.
Riding electric bike is a lot of fun for adults and kids!

Riding an eBike lets you exchange traditional modes of transportation for a thrilling and highly beneficial way to travel. Consumers have already discovered this fact in Europe and Asia and predictions show Americans following in their footsteps, or pedals as the case may be. SWAGTRON® is primed and ready to supply the eBike market with a variety of popular models. Portable commuter bikes like the EB5 PRO and full-size city bikes like the EB12 with removable battery are sure to appeal to urban riders. For adventurers, SWAGTRON has off-road models that can handle the toughest of terrain. 

If you’re considering an eBike purchase, check the laws in the area where you will be riding. Most states and federal areas are very accepting of electric bikes. Several promote their use, so chances are good you can find a class of eBike that works in your area.

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