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The electric bikes market has skyrocketed in the last few years. According to recent reports and industry analyses, electric bike sales have increased dramatically over the last few years and are expected to double in the near future, generating up to $53.5 billion in 2027!
However, when it comes to laws and legislation, electric bikes have always been a matter of debate, since it takes time to pass laws that are fair to everyone.
Since the electric bike laws in the US are still in their infancy, there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion regarding the whole thing, and that’s where this article comes in handy!
Today, we’ll walk you through a brief guide with everything you need to know about electric bike classification in the US, whether on a federal or a state level. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What Is the Legal Situation of Electric Bikes in the US?
Although electric bikes have been around for decades, their market has flourished over the last few years. This is because electric bikes are emission-free and easy to use, which makes them great for the environment and ideal for our busy lives.
But since electric bikes have been getting much more attention recently, many states had to address the uncertainty that surrounds their legal situation.
This is because electric bikes lie at the midpoint between a bicycle and motor vehicles, so having a clear-cut classification that is exclusive to them is quite a challenge.
Electric Bike Federal Laws
In 2002, the US Congress passed a bill that defines electric bikes, which is known as the “US HB 727”.
Under that law, any vehicle with 2 or 3 wheels that has fully operable pedals and an electric motor is classified as a “low-speed electric bike” if it has the following properties:
- Has an electric motor with a power of 750 watts or less
- Can speed up to 20 mph when powered solely by its motor on a paved, level surface (when ridden by an operator that weighs 170 lbs)
According to this law, the electric bike can either be pedal or throttle operated, and its regulation on a federal level is carried out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) instead of the Department of Transportation (DOT), exactly like non-motorized bikes.
Electric Bike State Laws
When it comes to laws that govern electric bikes on the road, it was mainly left for individual states to decide. Since these laws vary from one state to another, bike laws were going to take separate routes.
Not only that, but when states started passing laws regarding electric bikes, they showed major contradictions with each other.
There are currently 17 states in the US that classify electric bikes as motor-powered vehicles or mopeds, and in these states, electric bikes are treated as so.
In fact, confusion between electric bikes and mopeds has caused so many problems in states like New York that they attempted to ban them altogether until they were legalized again in 2020.
To settle this mess, many states and electric bike manufacturers have made efforts to make these laws more uniform.
The most successful attempt was in 2020 when many states adjusted their electric bike laws to become similar or identical to California’s electric bike laws. This system is informally known as the “3 class system”, and is currently used in many states.
What Are The 3 Electric Bike Classes in the US?
Now that you have a better understanding of the legal situation of electric bikes in the US, it’s time to take a deeper look at the 3 electric bike classes.
The electric bike 3 class system is a set of guidelines that categorize electric bikes depending on certain features or characteristics of the bike.
If you want to buy an electric bike in any of the states where this law is in action, you need to learn about these classes to make an educated decision:
What is a Class 1 Electric Bike?
Class 1 includes the simplest of all electric bikes. This class includes all electric bikes that will only provide motorized assistance when you’re pedaling.
A class 1 electric bike motor will stop providing assistance when the bike’s speed reaches 20 miles per hour, which complies with the description of low-speed electric bikes in federal laws.
Keep in mind that some bikes may still provide a motorized boost via a throttle rather than pedaling. However, for these bikes to be categorized as class 1, the throttle needs to be activated only when you’re also pedaling, even if you’re doing minimal work.
These bikes are usually the slowest of all electric bikes, so they’re the most flexible and relaxed in terms of rules and regulations in state laws because they’re highly unlikely to cause any serious traffic accidents.
For example, class 1 electric bikes are usually allowed on both streets and bike lanes in most states
What is a Class 2 Electric Bike?
The second class of electric bikes includes all electric bikes that will provide motorized assistance whether you’re pedaling or not. In other words, their motors are capable enough to propel the electric bike without external assistance.
However, similar to bikes in class 1, these bikes will have the same maximum motor-assisted speed. In other words, it’ll cease to boost the electric bike when it reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour.
Unlike class 1 electric bikes, the motor here is operated using a throttle or a button on the handlebar.
What is a Class 3 Electric Bike?
Class 3 electric bikes are all electric bikes that are equipped with an electric motor, which provides assistance only when you’re pedaling.
The motor in these bikes will stop assisting the rider when the electric bike’s speed reaches around 28 miles per hour.
According to laws, class 3 electric bikes must have a speedometer and their motors can be controlled via a throttle but not necessarily like the case in class 2, although these aspects may vary depending on the state in question.
When it comes to laws and legislature, class 3 electric bikes have the strictest laws on the road. This is because these electric bikes are relatively faster than the other two, which puts them at risk of serious traffic accidents when speeding.
Do All US States Use the 3 Class Electric Bike System?
The short answer to this question is no, all US States don’t use the 3 class electric bike system. There are still some states that don’t use the 3 class electric bike system for regulation.
However, the success of the system in states where it’s in action is encouraging more and more states to ditch their outdated bike laws and use the 3 class system.
Currently, there’s a total of 36 states in America that adopt some or all of the concepts of the 3 class system.
Here’s a simple spreadsheet that outlines the states where the 3 class system is used. It also specifies the small differences between each state in applying the rules of the 3 class system.
What is the Minimum Age to Ride an Electric Bike in the US?
As previously mentioned, there is some confusion when it comes to electric bike laws in general, especially when it comes to the legal age to ride an electric bike.
This is because there isn’t a universal minimum age to ride an electric bike in the US. Electric bikes aren’t exactly a moped or a motorcycle.
Like other aspects of electric bike legalization in the US, the minimum age is largely dependent on state laws and whether the state has adopted the 3 class system.
The minimum age for riding a bike starts from as young as 14 years old and up to 16 years old (the most common minimum age among all states).
In states where the 3-class system is enacted, there’s no minimum age for using electric bikes of class 1 or 2. However, riders need to be at least 16 years old to ride class 3 electric bikes.
However, there are some states that don’t even have a minimum age for using electric bikes, to begin with. The best way to find out the minimum age in your state is to check the local electric bike laws on the state’s website.
Is It Mandatory to Wear a Helmet While Riding an Electric Bike in the US?
Like the case with minimum age, each state will have its individual rules regarding helmets while riding an electric bike.
In states where the 3-class system is used, wearing a helmet is mandatory for electric bikes of class 3. However, when it comes to classes 1 and 2, only riders that are 17 years old or younger must wear a helmet.
Despite that, it is generally recommended to always wear a helmet while riding a bike to minimize the impact of any accidents.
Do You Need to Carry a Special License to Ride an Electric Bike in the US?
Whether or not you need to carry a license to ride an electric bike in the US mainly depends on the state where you’re going to ride the bike. Since the majority of the US states follow the 3 class system, electric bikes are regulated as a form of bicycles, so they don’t need any form of licenses or registration papers like mopeds and motorbikes.
However, if you own an electric bicycle that has a top motor-assisted speed of more than 28 miles per hour, you’ll need a license to operate it. The same rules apply to insurance and license plates.
Are Electric Bikes Allowed on Bike Lanes in the US?
When it comes to class 1 and 2 electric bikes, riders are allowed to use bike lanes in the US anywhere where regular bikes are permitted, unless otherwise noted.
This means that most electric bikes are on regular roads, bike lanes, as well as mixed use trails. As for class 3 electric bikes, they’re allowed on roads but not on bike lanes.
Keep in mind that each road is different, and some trail paths strictly prohibit the use of any electric bikes for safety.
Is It Legal to Modify an Electric Bike in the US?
Whether or not modifying your electric bike is legal depends on the type of modification you’re planning to do and its legality in the state where you’re going to use the bike.
Ideally, any modifications that can alter the speed capabilities of electric bikes are generally prohibited, especially if the changes will also change the electric bike classification.
What Is the Difference Between an Electric Bike and a Moped?
The difference between electric bikes and mopeds has always been a matter of debate, which is why there are some states that still classify both mopeds and electric bikes as the same thing. However, the main difference between the two is motorized assistance.
On one hand, you usually need to pedal in order to keep the electric motor running in an electric bike. On the other hand, mopeds are low speed bikes with electric motors that are designed so that they don’t require any form of pedaling in order to move.
Unlike electric bikes, mopeds riders are required to register their mopeds and they must carry a driver’s license. They’re also not allowed on bike lanes.
How to Choose the Right Electric Bike Based on Its Class
As you can see, the choice here depends on the desired electric bike speed and where you’re planning to use it.
For example, if you mainly ride in bike lanes, you’ll need to avoid class 3 electric bikes. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a throttle controlled bike, you should consider a class 2 bike.
But, if you’re looking for a simple bike with as few restrictions as possible, you should stick to class 1 bikes.
This wraps it up for today’s guide that walks you through all that you need to know about the electric bike laws in the US.
As you can see, while the electric bike laws have a long way to go before they’re clear for everyone, the 3 class model is a promising system that makes it much easier to regulate them.
With that said, electric bike laws still vary by state, so you should always check with the local authorities and make sure that you’re following the law to avoid fines and legal trouble.
If you want to learn more about active hobbies such as e-cycling, check out our other posts.