Federal Guidelines; State and Local Regulations; The Types of Electric Bikes



Electric pedal-assist bicycles are actually regulated by the federal government. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act states that electric bicycles and tricycles meeting the definition of low-speed electric bicycles will be considered consumer products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has regulatory authority to assure, through guidelines and standards, that the public will be protected from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of electric bicycles.

According to the Wikipedia definition, the federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines a “low speed electric bicycle” as a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph (32 km/h) and an electric motor that produces less than 750 W (1.01 hp). The Act (Public law 107-319 107th Congress) authorizes the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect people who ride low-speed electric vehicles by issuing necessary safety regulations. The rules for e-bikes on public roads, sidewalks, and pathways are under state jurisdiction and vary.

We will be posting a regularly updated list of the status for each state, but understand that even within states, counties and cities have the ability to amend, modify and/or regulate the use of electric pedal-assist bikes.

The California Standard

Electric Bicycles are defined by the California Vehicle Code.

New legislation became effective January 2016. The current regulations define an “electric bicycle”: a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts, separated into three classes:

  1. A “class 1 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  2. A “class 2 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  3. A “class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, (no throttle) and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour and equipped with a speedometer.

Local government ordinances are allowed to permit or ban any class of electric bicycles on dedicated bicycle paths and trails, with Class 1 & 2 permitted, and Class 3 banned, by default.

Beginning January 1, 2017, manufacturers and distributors of electric bicycles will be required to apply a label that is permanently affixed, in a prominent location, to each electric bicycle, indicating its class. Should a user “tamper with or modify” an electric bicycle, changing the speed capability, they must replace the label indicating the classification.

Types of Electric Bikes

Just like traditional pedal power bikes, the pedal-assist, electric bike market is continuing to reach into new categories with the hopes of addressing every type of consumer need. It is important to note that from a structure standpoint, about 80% of every legal eBike is actually a traditional bicycle. The remaining 20% covers the motor, battery, controller, and display.

Traditional Urban/Street Bicycles – Pedal-Assist urban/street bikes are traditional in design and tend to offer the more classic bike design with a more upright riding position. Most are rigid frames with simple gear options. Often referred to as the commuter bike, they are some of the most common designs that are offered by most of the major brands.

Frame features may include different sizes for different height riders and a step-through frame design for the ladies.

Speed Pedelec Bicycles – A variation of the traditional performance street bike is the new Class-3 Speed Pedelec bike. This is similar to the street style but they often have higher performing components, more gears and larger brakes for greater stopping power. The Speed concept is that these bikes use a similar motor but unlike the Class-2 option with the supplemental twist-throttle, these are exclusively pedal-assist. They have been adjusted to reach an “assist” speed of a maximum of 28mph. This is faster than the common legal setting of 20mph.

Mountain Bikes – While the title indicates these are designed for heavy off-road use, often riders seek the “Sport Bike” style for both the aggressive look as well as many of the additional features such as suspension forks and frames, larger wheels and tires, more robust braking systems and greater gear options. Many eMountain Bikes will never really see the hardcore dirt trails, but they offer the flexibility to do so at any given moment.

The Cruiser Bike – The retro look of the laid back cruiser style bike brings back memories of the original “Schwinn-style” bike with the sloping seat post that gives the rider a more casual position, the larger (often white) tires, the traditional cargo rack on the back and the often bright colors. Cruiser bikes were some of the first eBikes to hit the California market as they gained instant popularity in the beach communities. This phenomenon has reached across the country now.

Fat Tire Bikes – A specialty version of the mountain bike is the new Fat Tire bike. The frame is beefed up to handle the more rugged terrain and the width of the front fork and rear chain stays have been widened to accommodate the nearly 4” wide rims and tires. There are a few schools of thought as to how this style came about. The gravel and sand rider wanted a wider tire surface that they could lower the air pressure and actually ride on loose ground or sand. A second group found that by creating both the larger traction surface as well as a more forgiving nature of a balloon tire, trail riding would be more enjoyable for the recreational rider.

Indirectly, it was found that regular street/sport riders would enjoy the added forgiveness when they hit a curb or tree root and simply ride over it without the traditional jolt.

Folding/Compact Bikes – The idea of urban commuting to where you drive your car to the city and park in a garage, open the trunk and pull out the folding eBike and unfold it was an interesting concept for tackling what is referred to as the “Last Mile” from the car to the office. For many urbanites, the idea of a folding or compact bike allows them to store the bikes inside an apartment, taking up less room and making it easier to get them to upper floors in a building.

In other growing segments, these compact bikes can fit into smaller storage areas such as bins in an RV or boat, and even into the cargo hold of a private plane.

Cargo Bikes – Going in the other direction are the large, extended frame cargo style bikes. These are often referred to (lovingly) as the pickup truck of electric bikes. The frame designs vary from extended to the rear where additional seats or cargo holds can be mounted to the racks quickly. Others have adopted the European style of extending the front wheel of the bike allowing the driver to view the passengers and/or goods being transported. In both cases, the electric motor drive system gives the driver the capacity to add as much as a couple of hundred pounds that can go unnoticed when the full assist mode kicks in. Climbing hills with kids in their seats makes for a great family ride.

Strictly Off-Road Electric Bikes – While we don’t generally promote these types of bikes, there is a class of bikes that have taken the motorized mission to another level. These bikes have dramatically more power through larger motors, oversized battery packs and often are primarily activated through throttles only. They go well beyond the federally set speed limits and are often associated with motorcycles rather than traditional bicycles.

The owners of these bikes typically use them on their own private land or on acceptable, multi-vehicle off-road trails. To be clear, these are not “Street Legal” pedal-assist, electric bicycles.

Moped Style “Electric Bikes” – This is another style of motorized bike that we don’t support. Traditionally made in China, these look more like traditional motor scooters. They manage to enter the North American market through a loophole that says by having working pedals and a motor that does not exceed the watt level, they are lumped in with legitimate electric bicycles. The facts often counter the misrepresentation as the pedals can’t really move these bikes for any real distance without power, and the overall increased weight (as much as 90lbs) adds to the challenge.