Electric Bike Class can be designated as Class 1, 2, or 3 according to your state’s laws. That determines what you can ride and where.
As of 2020, the ebike industry and more than half of US states have coalesced around a common (though broad) system of three classes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3.
Yet even today, interpretations of these classes differ slightly across retailers and manufacturers’ websites. Your best approach? Check your local laws for ebike compliance if you’re concerned. You’re unlikely to get pulled over for going 22 miles per hour in a bike lane or for using an ebike in the wrong lane (especially if it looks like a regular bike).
A few major themes can be attributed to this success. First, states follow each others’ leads and seek regional consistency in how they treat e-bikes, so there’s momentum. Second, the e-bike market is booming and states recognize that riders need consistent and common-sense rules for where they can be ridden.
Last but not least, the unwavering support from the industry led directly to these wins. Without the above and beyond contributions raised by the BPSA E-Bike Committee to build on-the-ground teams in each of these states, making this much progress in one year would not have been possible.
But it’s better to be sure than to have no defense if you do get pulled over.
Below, we break down what each class of electric bike means, the different types of electric vehicles, and more, so you know what you’re getting into.
Electric bikes (eBikes) are gaining traction as a means of transportation in the United States after enjoying years of popularity in Europe.
Anyone can ride them, from the most seasoned bike rider to someone who hasn’t biked since childhood. EBikes have the potential to expand bike riding to new audiences and keep people riding bikes throughout their lives.
But some confusion around how and where electric bikes can be ridden is dampening their growth potential and as an emerging technology, they require clear regulations to govern their use and create stability in the marketplace.
Lack of Regulation
In the United States, at the federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates eBikes for the purpose of product safety for manufacturing and first sale. States decide how eBikes can be used on streets and bike paths.
Over time, without clear guidance, states adopted outdated rules governing the use of eBikes — some treating them like human-powered bicycles, some treating them like motor vehicles, and everything in between. Some have no regulation whatsoever.
Taking Steps toward Clarity
Since 2014, with leadership team from PeopleForBikes, the national bicycle advocacy group and bicycle industry trade association, more than 30 states have passed a standardized regulation for eBike use with a simple, straightforward approach known as the “3-Class” System.
This model legislation defines three common classes of eBikes (based on speed, wattage, and operation), and allows states to decide which types of bicycle infrastructure each class can use (typically Class 1 and Class 2 eBikes are allowed wherever traditional bikes are allowed).
It also requires eBike makers to place a highly visible sticker on the frame to indicate an eBike’s Class.
In 2015, California was the first state to adopt this “3-Class” approach, and since then, 32 other states followed suit: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. More states around the country should adopt this “3-Class” standard to eliminate confusion, enhance safety, and promote this green transportation method.
The three classes are defined as follows
Class 1 ebikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and the electric motor works only when the rider is pedaling. A bike that has an electric motor that assists only during pedaling is called a pedelec.
You don’t have to be pedaling very hard, though. You can throw it into a low gear and just free-spin the pedals forward slowly and that’s enough to let the throttle work.
Class 1 ebikes are allowed on bike paths and bike lanes that are shared with traditional, nonassisted bikes—what we’ve started to call analog bikes.
Class 2 ebikes are also limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, but they have throttles that work when you’re not pedaling. That doesn’t mean the motor won’t assist you if you decide to pedal. Most Class 2 ebikes offer electrically assisted pedaling alongside throttles. As with Class 1 ebikes, you can generally ride them the same places as an analog bike.
eBikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.
Here’s where it gets confusing. Class 3 ebikes can go up to 28 miles per hour and must have a speedometer, but may or may not have a throttle.
It depends on the state writing the rules. California, for example, doesn’t allow Class 3 ebikes to have throttles at all. In other states, throttles are allowed as long as they only work up to 20 miles per hour, while pedal-assisted electric power continues up to 28 miles per hour.
Most states let you take a Class 3 ebike into road lanes or a bike-only lane in the shoulder of the road (so-called curb-to-curb). But you can’t take them on bike paths that exist outside of the road or on multiuse trails shared with pedestrians, like in a park.
A few ebikes try to work around these restrictions by adding a mode that limits the speed to 20 miles per hour so that you can ride them on multiuse trails and paths. Toggle the setting or remove a special physical key and you can unlock the bike’s full potential.
All classes limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).
Classes and Access
Some states treat Class 1 eBikes like traditional mountain or pavement bicycles, legally allowed to ride where bicycles are permitted, including bike lanes, roads, multiuse trails and bike-only paths.
New York City’s Mayor de Blasio recently announced the city will officially allow Class 1 eBikes. While New York City’s decision is unrelated to singletrack trail use for electric mountain bikes (eMTBs), we believe that Class 1 pedal-assist eBikes should have the same rights and responsibilities as traditional bikes . And therefore also be allowed on non-motorized mountain bike trails, as is the case in Europe.
Class 2 throttle-assist eBikes are often allowed most places a traditional bicycle can go, though some states and cities are opting for additional restrictions (e.g. New York City & Michigan State).
Class 2 may not be suitable for singletrack mountainbike trails — it has been shown that they pose greater physical damage to trails due to the throttle-actuation. Class 2 may be better suited for multi-use OHV trails designed for more rugged off-road vehicles.
Class 3 eBikes are typically allowed on roads and on-road bike lanes (“curb to curb” infrastructure), but restricted from bike trails and multiuse paths.
While a 20-mph maximum speed is achievable on a traditional bicycle, decision makers and agencies consider the greater top-assisted speed of a Class 3 eBike too fast for most bike paths and trails that are often shared with other trail users.
Shuangye only makes Class 1 and Class 3 eBike systems, which to be clear, are both pedal assist and provide support up to 20mph and 28mph respectively. Learn more about Bosch eBike Systems here.
Everyone stands to benefit from common-sense rules on how and where to ride an eBike. With clear regulation and updated state laws, law enforcement will understand what rights eBike users have and when to enforce the law, and can easily identify the class of bike based on its sticker.
Bike retailers can help their customers understand where each type of eBike can be used, boosting their sales. People who already ride eBikes will have easy rules to follow on where they can ride, and new bicyclists who may be discouraged from riding a traditional bicycle due to limited physical fitness, age, disability or convenience gain new transportation alternatives.
To learn more about where electric bikes can be ridden in the United States visit People for Bikes.
State Variations and Federal Land
Effective August 2, the state of New York made it legal to ride an ebike on roads that post a speed limit of 30 miles per hour. While it doesn’t directly regulate an ebike’s top speed, it effectively means you’re restricted to 30 mph, unless you like speeding tickets.
California, aside from having a ban on throttles for Class 3 ebikes, also says an ebike’s electric motor must be less than 750 watts. Washington state says it must be 750 watts or less, which effectively rules out those ultrafast ebikes.
Beyond that, they’re considered electric motorcycles. A few manufacturers make California-compliant versions of their higher-end ebikes.
Eight states flat-out classify ebikes as mopeds or motor vehicles and not bicycles at all. These are just a few examples of how widely the laws are written and interpreted legally, all the more reason for you to look up local state and city laws before you buy an ebike (especially a high-powered or fast one).
The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and National Forest Service all control different swaths of federal land and have their own rules for which ebikes can be ridden where. Read up before you take a trip with your ebike.
If you are looking for a new way of commuting or want a healthier lifestyle, we are here to help you. Visit our website to learn more about electric bikes and electric scooter or please leave information to us.