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E-Bike Regulations and Policies: What You Need To Know

E-Bike Regulations and Policies: What You Need To Know

Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are on the rise throughout North America. Their popularity is on a steep trajectory—the kind that would look like a great hill for an e-bike to tackle, if you were to graph it. However, e-bikes and the growth of their popularity are fast—perhaps too fast for some governments to keep up with. Because of this, the rules and regulations that govern them are evolving piecemeal, and what’s legal in one city may not be legal in another. Here’s what you need to know about e-bike regulations and policies across the continent.

How Are E-Bikes Classified?

Upon learning about electric bicycles, the uninitiated layperson may not know exactly how to classify them. At first, they seem to be neither fish nor fowl: unlike motorcycles or motor scooters, they don’t feature combustion engines, but at the same time, the electric motors that they do incorporate set them off from traditional bikes. What, then, is the designation for an electric bicycle? It depends on who—or rather where—you ask. From state to state and province to province, governments can’t seem to agree on what to call an e-bike.

Most jurisdictions simply call an e-bike what it is: a bicycle. They may qualify it with additional identities, such as “motorized bicycle,” “electric bicycle,” or the slightly redundant “motorized electric bicycle.” It gets slightly more complicated is in states such as New Jersey, which classify e-bikes as mopeds and thus subject them to the same rules and regulations that those motor scooters are under. North Dakota, Alaska, and Alabama view them as motorcycles—even if those who ride them do not. These differences and distinctions inform further regulations regarding safety protocol, licensure, and age limits.

Driver’s License: Do I Need One?

Motor vehicles, of course, require licensure to operate, while bicycles, as any nine-year-old can tell you, do not. Where do e-bikes fit into the picture? State and provincial governments can’t seem to agree. Across North America, you’ll find different laws as to whether you need a license to operate an electric bicycle. We’ll give you a whirlwind look at some standout cases.

In most states and the District of Columbia, you do not need a driver’s license from the state to ride an e-bike. Some 16 states do, however, require a license, whether it’s a traditional license or a “class M” motorcycle license. Among these states are populous ones such as New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Alabama, Alaska, and Idaho will allow riders who possess only a motorcycle license to operate e-bikes. Our neighbors to the north in Canada are much more relaxed about licensure. In Québec, cyclists between the ages of 14 and 17 must have the necessary licenses to operate a motor scooter, but anyone 18 and over is eligible to ride an e-bike freely. Across English Canada, on the other hand, there are no licensing regulations among provinces and territories.

Take note, however, that as the popularity of e-bikes expands and as governments become more aware of the unique capabilities of e-bikes, new legislation is likely to expand or rescind current state and provincial regulations. Make sure to stay current with your state or province to ensure that you are properly licensed to operate your e-bike.

Do I Need a Helmet?

Let’s be clear: no matter what state and provincial laws may stipulate, any e-bike rider should wear a helmet. Accidents happen even to the safest cyclists, and a good helmet is the surest protection against serious head injury in the event of a crash. We advise all our riders everywhere to take this precaution.

Still, as much as it may surprise you, you will find that a helmet is not mandatory everywhere. In most states, in fact, it is not. States that require helmets for youth and adult cyclists are the exception rather than the rule. Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon require them for users under 16. In Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, and the Dakotas, make that under 18. Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Nebraska mandate helmets for all riders irrespective of age. Bear in mind, too, that local ordinances may supersede state laws in some cases. Virginia, a state with strong city and county governments, demonstrates this with a state law that requires cyclists under 16 to wear helmets but allows for lower jurisdictions to extend this regulation to older riders. Again, we must reiterate that a helmet is the right choice for any rider.

How Old Do I Have To Be?

As you may have guessed, states that take stricter interpretations of e-bike classification also have age limits in place for riders. If an e-bike is indeed akin to a motor vehicle in the eyes of the law, you can expect restrictions or prohibitions to be in place. In most states and provinces, the minimum age to ride an e-bike ranges from 14 to 16. Utah is a notable exception in that it allows children as young as eight to ride under their parents’ supervision. This is similar to infamously freewheeling Alberta, which allows unsupervised cyclists as young as 12. However, many American states do not have a specific law on the books which dictates a minimum age for riders.

E-Bikes and the Empire State

Start spreading the news: New York, once the strictest state regarding electric bicycles, is relaxing its regulations. Even after other states and provinces had acknowledged and sanctioned electric bicycles, New York maintained the illegality of such vehicles well into 2020. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, both city and state have made it easier for e-bike enthusiasts to legally enjoy the benefits of motorization. As of April 2020, New Yorkers can ride “bicycles with electric assist” on most but not all streets and highways. These assisted bicycles must not exceed speeds of 20 miles per hour in New York City and 30 miles per hour in the rest of the state. All e-bikes must use roadways rather than sidewalks.

In Summary

Again, when it comes to regulations regarding what you need to know about e-bike regulations and policies, remember that situations from state to state and province to province are fluid—to say nothing of municipal ordinances that may override or expand upon those laws. We encourage you to keep tabs on your local situation and those of any place where you intend to ride your e-bike. If you do come across law enforcement, you want to be well-informed. Ebike Essentials can help you enjoy your e-bike anywhere with a mid-drive e-bike kit that features a low center of gravity and a powerful electric motor.

E-Bike Regulations and Policies: What You Need To Know
by Ebike Essentials