Ebikes have exploded in popularity in recent years. Once a rare luxury commodity, ebikes are now commonplace on streets and sidewalks. This has caused some confusion legally as cities and states scramble to figure out what rules and regulations to impose on ebikes.
Are ebikes subjected to the same regulations as traditional bicycles, or are they classified as a different type of vehicle? The answer to this question truly depends on your ebike’s classification. Ebikes come in three classes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3.
These definitions are still somewhat new, and therefore there is often some overlap and confusion between classes. However, there are some general rules of thumb you can use to determine your bike’s classification, which in part affects regulations as to where you can and cannot ride your bike.
Class 1 Ebikes
Class 1 ebikes can only go up to 20 miles per hour and their electric motors only work when the rider is peddling. Some Class 1 bikes may have a throttle on the handlebars that offers an extra power boost, but – in order to be categorized as Class 1 – the throttle will only work when the rider is pedaling.
Regulations surrounding Class 1 ebikes vary by state, city, and country. The majority of areas subject Class 1 ebikes to the same regulations as traditional bicycles. This usually means you can ride your ebike on bike lanes, in the road, and on bike and multi-purpose trails.
Class 2 Ebikes
Like Class 1 ebikes, Class 2 ebikes can only go up to 20 miles per hour, but have throttles that work even when the rider is not pedaling. (Although, it should be noted that Class 2 ebikes usually have pedal assist options, much like Class 1 ebikes.)
In the majority of cities and states, Class 2 ebikes are subject to the same regulations as Class 1 ebikes when it comes to riding within a city. Class 2 ebikes can usually drive on the road or in bike lanes, for example. What is sometimes different is rules regarding trail riding.
In some areas, Class 2 ebikes may not be allowed on singletrack mountain bike trails. This is because an ebike's high speed may pose a risk to other riders if there is not adequate room to pass.
Class 3 Ebikes
Class 3 ebikes can go up to 28 miles per hour and must have a speedometer. They may or may not have a throttle depending on regulations in your state. California, for example, excludes ebikes with throttles from Class 3 categorization. In other states, throttles that only work up to 20 miles per hour are allowed on Class 3 ebikes.
In most states, ebikes are only allowed on the road or on bike-only lanes or trails. They are subject to the same rules of the road as other motor vehicles, meaning you have to adhere to stop signs and lights and use hand signals before making turns.
Regulations for Class 3 ebikes can be very strict when it comes to bike trails. You cannot usually take them on off-road bike paths or multi-use trails where you will be sharing space with pedestrians.
Always Check Local Regulations
The above regulations regarding different classes of ebikes are rough guidelines. You should always check your local regulations before riding your bike in a particular area. Some regions may have strict rules for all ebikes, including Class 1 bikes.
In addition to following local regulations, always keep safety in mind regardless of the class of your ebike. Wear a helmet at all times to protect yourself from accidents or injuries. In fact, the majority of areas require all bike riders to wear helmets.
Ebike Classifications: The Bottom Line
Ebike classes are relatively new as legislators have only recently started incorporating ebikes specifically into local traffic laws and regulations. Details and laws regarding bike classifications are subject to change, so always stay up-to-date with the precise guidelines in your area. This ensures you both avoid fines or penalties and keep yourself and other riders safe.
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