Electric Bike Regulations

Electric bikes are legal in most places in the US and Canada but they are not completely legal in every state, province and municipality. Some jurisdictions ban the use of throttle controlled electric bikes, some ban electric bikes with motors over a certain wattage, and others file electric bikes under the same category as a moped or motor scooter. To ensure hassle-free riding, check your local laws to make sure the electric bike you’re planning on buying can be used where you plan on riding. You can find information and updates here, on the PeopleForBikes website.

State-by-State Legislative Efforts

Established in 2015, the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association (BPSA) formed a special committee on electric bikes. This committee was created to work towards harmonized electric bike regulations in the United States so that electric bikes can find a path toward proliferation by enabling states to have tools for proper regulations for safety. While we want most electric bikes to be considered the same as a normal bicycle and allow riders access to bicycle infrastructure, states need to be able to differentiate the different types of electric bikes from a use perspective, and apply these regulations state by state.

The committee’s chairman is IZIP’s president, Larry Pizzi. The BPSA electric bike committee joined forces with PeopleForBikes, a national bicycle advocacy organization, and in its very first year, successfully passed legislation in California that is rapidly becoming a legislative model in other states. In 2016 Utah and Tennessee also adopted the model legislation. In 2017 legislative efforts are making considerable ground in eight other states and with state parks and federal land management agencies around the use of eMountain bikes on natural surface trails. Regular updates are posted here, on the PeopleForBikes website.

IZIP Electric Mountain Bikes at Sunset

Class Types of Electric Bikes and Model State Legislation

Part and parcel to the state level licensing and use regulations on electric bikes, the California law, which became effective in January 2016, established three class types under "Low Speed Electric Bicycles" as the vehicle class was defined in 2002 by the US CPSC under Public Law 107-319. This CPSC definition does not address any law that determines how you can use a Low Speed Electric Bicycle – it only outlines the requirements for manufacturer and first sale as it relates to safety standards and specification. This leaves how you can use an electric bike up to state laws, which govern the licensing and use of electric bikes as consumer products.

Because the federal definition is so broad in scope, it left many states classifying Low Speed Electric Bicycles as mopeds or motorized scooters. These are considered motor vehicles, which require licensing and registration in some states. After beginning to talk with lawmakers and communities about their concerns around electric bike safety, it quickly became clear that further segmentation of this vehicle class was needed so that states and municipalities could properly regulate electric bikes based on a narrower set of classification types. The following class types were then conceived through consensus of the thirteen member companies of the BPSA Electric bike committee. These class types were then developed and integrated into new regulations in the model legislation, which is now based on the California bill for consistency across the United States. Below is an overview of the three class types definitions and their general restrictions by class type.

You can find more information on electric bike laws here and a legislative primer from the NCSL on the rapid progress being made by the Electric bike committee here, both on the PeopleForBikes website.

Class Type Definitions

"Electric bicycle" shall mean a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.

"Class 1 electric bicycle" or "low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle" shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

"Class 2 electric bicycle" or "low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle" shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

"Class 3 electric bicycle" or "speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle" shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.

General restrictions by Class Type

Rights and duties of electric bicycles: Except as otherwise provided an electric bicycle or an operator of an electric bicycle shall be afforded all the rights and privileges, and be subject to all of the duties, of a bicycle or the operator of a bicycle.

Path use by class 1 and 2 electric bicycles: A class 1 electric bicycle or a class 2 electric bicycle may be used in all places where bicycles are permitted to travel, including, but not limited to bicycle and multi-use paths and trails [use appropriate state specific language to describe paved bike infrastructure; omit trails where they can be interpreted as trails open to mountain bikers]. However, the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency having jurisdiction over a path or trail may prohibit, by ordinance, the operation of a class 1 electric bicycle or class 2 electric bicycle on that bicycle path or trail.

Path use by class 3 electric bicycles: A class 3 electric bicycle shall not be operated on a bicycle or multi-use path or trail [use appropriate state specific language to describe paved bike infrastructure; omit trails where they can be interpreted as trails open to mountain bikers] unless it is within or adjacent to a highway or roadway, or unless the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency having jurisdiction over the path or trail permits, by ordinance, that operation.

Age restriction: No person under the age of sixteen (16) may operate a class 3 electric bicycle. A person under the age of sixteen (16) may ride as a passenger on a class 3 electric bicycle that is designed to accommodate passengers.

Helmet requirement: All operators and passengers of class 3 electric bicycles shall wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards provided by either the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission or the American Society for Testing and Materials, or standards subsequently established by those entities.

Speedometer requirement: All class 3 electric bicycles must be equipped with a speedometer that displays the speed the bicycle is traveling in miles per hour.

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