Are Electric Bikes Street Legal?

Electric bikes or e-bikes, as people often refer them to in their respective communities, have some unique uses and regulations and laws of all common forms of transportation.

This is because they fall into the category of both a normalized bike and can exceed certain speeds that can make them potentially dangerous in incapable hands. Some people might even wonder if they are legal or not. 

In short, electric bikes are, in fact, legal. However, there are specific rules you must follow depending on which state you are in a while operating your e-bike. It is essential to look up particular regulations to know what to watch out for when you decide to acquire an electric bike. 

If you were looking to purchase one of these delightful machines or know what you can and cannot do on one, look no further! We are going to be discussing what an electric bike is and the standard rules and regulations. Keep reading to find out more information. 

What Is An Electric Bike?

E-bikes are what you would expect of a normalized bike, but with the bonus of having an electric motor installed to assist in propulsion, making it easier to traverse terrain without much effort required.

In the world of e-bikes, there are two defining types of them: one that bolsters the rider’s ability to move forward via pedal-power or more commonly referred to as pedelecs, and the alternative adding more power to the bike itself by adding throttle to the cycle.

Despite the differences between the two, they both retain pedals like traditional bikes and, as such, do not qualify as electric motorcycles by that same logic.

Being an electric bike, these enhanced forms of transportation must be charged and retain this charge in the form of rechargeable batteries located typically beneath the bike seat or behind the bike’s pedals. (Design may vary, these are simply generalizations).

In most cases, electric bikes can reach speeds of up to 20 mph, but more expensive, higher-powered models can top up to almost 30 mph. 

Is It Legal To Ride An Electric Bike?

The answer to this is rather complex, by and large, yes, e-bikes are indeed legal to ride in the United States, but these legalities tend to lean heavily on which state you are in a while attempting to operate the bike.

A majority of these regulations and laws fall upon a few key factors, including:

  • How much power output the bike has
  • What the speed limits of your state are
  • Road laws
  • Classifications of the electric bike itself
  • Age limits
  • And a few other more specified instances

In short, there are quite a few federal laws and guidelines that differentiate a normalized motor vehicle and an e-Bike. Through these differences, the legality and limits of the bike are governed.

If you intend to buy an e-bike, we recommend that you diligently comb through your state’s rules about them to stay on the safe side of things.

Standard Rules & Laws To Be Aware Of When Riding An Electric Bike

Even though the laws do vary from state to state, a few commonplace rules are applicable in almost all states. These rules have been broken down into three significant categories defined by three classes of e-bikes, named: 

  • Class I
  • Class II
  • Class III

Class I Electric Bikes

This specific Class is often referred to as pedal-assist bikes or pedelecs. These bike’s motors only function while the rider is actively pedalling and, on average, have a top speed of 20 mph.

In most cases, Class 1’s can legally traverse all kinds of pathing, ranging from bike lanes, paths, and pretty much anywhere a normalized bicycle is allowed to go. 

Class II Electric Bikes

Class II electric bikes are lovingly referred to as throttle-based e-bikes, can make riding even more of a breeze than Class I, primarily because you can operate them without the rider needing to pedal at all.

These variants also have a limit of 20 mph and can be peddled while using the throttle to boot. In terms of regulation, they follow the same guidelines as Class I and can be ridden anywhere a standard bike can.

Class III Electric Bike

The last classification of e-Bike available, and reasonably so, this iteration of e-bike has the highest speed limit of the three and has the most amount of rules among them for that exact purpose.

Due to these bikes topping off at speeds up to 28 mph, they are considered to be too fast for lanes that pedestrians walk on and too quick to be safely ridden on off-road paths.

Obviously, with the number of differences in regulations, it is highly recommended to check your state’s rules and regulations before purchasing a class III to ensure it not only fits your needs but can be utilized in a fashion you’d like.

Are There Different Laws According To The State?

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There are indeed different laws per state. As we stated above, the differences between the states are too many to list with any amount of accountability. Some states haven’t dedicated resources to clearly defining what rules and regulations are or aren’t in place. 

However, don’t assume this is a ticket to ride your electric bike anywhere you please. In these cases, you’d want to refer directly to your state’s federal guidelines and stay on top of any recent changes regarding e-bikes to avoid getting any unwanted tickets or citations. 

Licence, Registration & Insurance

Although e-bikes technically aren’t a normalized vehicle, you will require a driver’s license in some cases. Nevertheless, this does change from state to state and should be handled accordingly.

As of this article, the following states do require a state-issued driver’s license. Here are the states listed below (in alphabetical order):

Alongside these, both Alaska and Alabama require an M Class license to operate e-bikes.

Maximum Motor Power

State laws dictate what the maximum motor power is. This total power is often measured in Watts, and it will be referred to as (W) in this article, and a few limits in Cylinder Capacity (cc) and one measured in Horsepower (hp).

Below you will find a detailed list of the maximum motor power of each state currently. 

States That Require 1000W Maximum Motor Power:

  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Oregon
  • Oklahoma
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

States That Require 750W Maximum Motor Power:

  • Arizona (less than 750W)
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware (less than 750W)
  • Iowa (less than 750W)
  • Idaho (less than 750W)
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States That Require 500W Maximum Motor Power:

  • Maryland
  • Montana

States That Require 150cc Maximum Motor Power:

  • Alabama

States That Require 50cc Maximum Motor Power:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut (less than 50cc)
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • West Virginia

States That Require 2 hp Maximum Motor Power:

  • Hawaii

Maximum Speed Limit

Like the power outage above, there is a legalized speed limit in place for several states. These limits will be measured in miles per hour or (mph).

States That Have A Maximum Of 30 mph:

  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • West Virginia
  • New York

States That Have A Maximum Of 25 mph:

States That Have A Maximum Of 20 mph:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas (28 mph for Class III)
  • California (28 mph for Class III)
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Iowa (under 20 mph)
  • Maine (28 mph for Class III)
  • Maryland
  • Michigan (28 mph for Class III)
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee (28 mph for Class III)
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming (28 mph for Class III)

Minimum Age Requirements

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Unlike the speed limits and motor power, the minimum age requirements for riding e-bikes fluctuates much more heavily depending on which classification of bike you intend on riding. As such, those limits will not be listed here for each state.

However, the general rule of thumb is that you must be at least 14 years old in most states and 16 to ride Class III e-bikes in most cases. You must check the laws in your state to ensure you don’t risk your safety or break any rules in riding your e-bike.

Helmet Requirements

Unfortunately, helmet regulation is the least sanctioned portion about riding e-bikes, and while the laws may be lax on the subject, you shouldn’t be. Safety is always imperative when operating any vehicle or doing any activity that would offer safety equipment, which would be no exception.

While only New Jersey, Alabama, and West Virginia require you to wear a helmet, it’s heavily advised that you do so, even at low speeds. Hitting your head or getting into an accident can cause severe and permanent damage.

Conclusion

E-bikes are a phenomenal method of transportation and can make some of the more difficult parts of riding a bike a thing of the past. E-bikes offer the cardio workout a traditional bike does, but they also allow you to enjoy the ride more freely and put far less stress on you if you want to do some sightseeing.

Keeping up to date on whatever safety measures are in place for your state is imperative to making the most of your potential purchase, as well as keeping yourself and others out of harm’s way.

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