E-bike Classes Explained
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are becoming increasingly popular as a means of transportation and recreation. However, with so many different types of e-bikes available, it can be challenging to choose the right one. E-bikes are classified into three classes based on their power, mechanisms, and where they can be ridden. Here's what you need to know about e-bike classes and how to choose the right one for you.
E-Bike Classes Explained
The three main classes of e-bikes mostly have to do with your e-bike electrical system — how your motor, pedal assist system (PAS), and throttle (if your e-bike has one) work together to power your e-bike. Any e-bike model can become any class with modifications. The different classes of e-bikes mostly divide e-bikes by their top speed and if they are equipped with throttles or not. Here are the different classes of e-bikes:
- Class 1: E-bikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph. They are allowed on bike lanes, bike paths, and on the road.
- Class 2: E-bikes that also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, but are throttle-assisted. They are allowed on bike lanes, bike paths, and on the road.
- Class 3: E-bikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph. They are allowed on bike lanes, bike paths, and on the road.
Federal Regulations for E-Bikes
The federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines a "low-speed electric bicycle" as a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a maximum speed of 20 mph under motor power alone, and a motor that produces less than 750 watts. This law distinguishes, at the federal level, e-bikes that can travel 20 mph or less under motor power alone from motorcycles, mopeds, and motor vehicles. Devices that meet the federal definition of an electric bicycle are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and must meet bicycle safety standards. However, as a 2014 e-bike law primer notes, this federal law only applies to the e-bike’s product standards and safety. State traffic laws and vehicle codes remain the sole domain of states and state legislatures.
In other words, the manufacturing and first sale of an e-bike is regulated by the federal government, but its operation on streets and bikeways lies within a state’s control. Some states, including Alabama and Alaska, that define e-bikes in some manner still nonetheless require an operator’s license to ride an e-bike.
Of the 43 states and D.C. that define e-bikes, some state laws, such as in Arizona, Minnesota, Utah, and Washington, specifically allow e-bikes on bike paths and trails.
Here are the states that require an operator's license to ride an e-bike and their age requirements:
- Alabama - 16 years old
- Alaska - no helmet requirement but there is an age requirement of 14
- Connecticut - no one under the age of 16 shall ride a Class 3 e-bike
- Hawaii - 14 years old
- Louisiana - 16 years old
- Massachusetts - 16 years old
- Missouri - 15 years old
- New Jersey - 16 years old
Be sure to check the details of your state laws because some states may have additional requirements, such as registration or insurance.
How to Choose the Right E-Bike
When shopping for an e-bike, it's important to choose the right one that fits your needs and local laws. Here are some factors to consider when choosing an e-bike:
- Riding style: Consider your riding style and where you plan to ride your e-bike. If you mostly ride on flat, paved roads or bike trails, a Class 1 or 2 e-bike may be perfect for you. These e-bikes are great to help you commute to work or run errands. If you need an e-bike with more power and speed that can handle challenging terrain or longer distances, a Class 3 e-bike may be a better fit.
- Local laws: Check your local laws to determine what classes of e-bikes are allowed in your area. Some areas may have restrictions on certain classes of e-bikes.
- Budget: E-bikes in different classes may have different price points. Consider your budget and what features are most important to you when choosing an e-bike. The cost of an e-bike can range from $300 to over $14,000, depending on the type, construction, and quality of the motor. Urban Bikes Direct will work with your budget to find you the best deal. They frequently feature sales and coupons to help get you the e-bike that you want.
- Personal preference: Ultimately, the choice between e-bike classes comes down to personal preference. Test ride different e-bikes in different classes to determine which one feels the most comfortable and fits your needs.
Note that it's always best to check with your local laws to figure out what you can ride and where.