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Knowing Ebikes: The Different Types of Ebike Classifications

Knowing Ebikes: The Different Types of Ebike Classifications

Tell your friends about electric bicycles, and you’re sure to elicit at least one confused look and a request for some follow-up questions. They might ask, “So, is it a bike or a motorcycle? Do you still have to pedal? Are you sure it’s legal?”

The answer to all these questions is that it’s complicated.

Legislators and ebike manufacturers have worked to determine a set of classifications for ebikes. Together, they have settled on a three-class system. This system describes the different forms of electric bicycles, what they can do, and where they can go. In today’s post, we’ll help you with knowing ebikes by taking a closer look at the different types of ebike classifications.

Class 1 Ebikes

The most common kind of electric bicycle on the market is a Class 1 ebike. A Class 1 ebike also goes by another, less common name—pedelec. This word is a nifty little portmanteau of “pedal” and “electric.” As that name would indicate, this ebike requires you to pedal for it to function, just like any traditional bicycle. However, the electricity comes into play with a sensor that determines when your pedaling could use a little boost. The ebike’s motor supplements your movements with added speed to conquer challenging hills, compensate for exhaustion, or simply speed up. Class 1 ebikes have a built-in speed limit of 20 miles per hour.

Because pedelecs are bicycles first and foremost and rely primarily on the cyclists to power them manually, most states and provinces consider them bicycles rather than motor vehicles. This helps obviate the issues of licensing and registration that accompany motor vehicle operations. Alas, while all pedelecs are ebikes, not all ebikes are pedelecs. There’s a significant distinction between Class 1 and Class 2 ebikes.

Class 2 Ebikes

As we move from Class 1 to Class 2, ebikes gain a significant addition—that of a throttle. This component attaches to the handlebars and allows the cyclist to activate the motor without pedaling. The throttle represents a notable change in how you operate an ebike, and this difference is clear to manufacturers and regulators. Cyclists on Class 2 ebikes can use pedal-assisted electrification or throttle-controlled electrification. By relying entirely on the throttle, they can get from Point A to Point B without pumping their legs at all.

This feature is useful for cyclists who may have an injury or disability but still need access to independent transportation. It also makes Class 2 ebikes popular choices for off-roading. While many Class 1 ebikes are best for urban use, their Class 2 brethren tend to find applications in a wider territory. Outfitting a mountain bike with ebike technology allows riders to power through the toughest terrain in state and national parks, making for a fun added attraction for camping trips and hikes.

Just like Class 1 ebikes, though, there is a hard limit on how much power a Class 2 ebike can derive from its motor. Again, 20 mph is the point at which the ebike’s internal speedometer overrides the motor and tells it to stop supplying power to the pedals no matter how much you work the throttle. It’s this degree of independent motorization that made the state of New York apprehensive toward the legalization of ebikes, despite being a potentially ideal cradle of ebike ridership. It was only in April 2020 that New York started rolling back its heavy restrictions—the heaviest in the nation—on electric bicycles.

Class 3 Ebikes

Here’s where things seem to get a bit complicated. Class 1 ebikes only have pedal assistance, while Class 2 ebikes combine pedal assistance with an independent motor. So, you might expect that a Class 3 ebike represents the other end of the transition. You may picture an entirely motorized bike with no pedal power. Although that’s a logical assumption, it’s incorrect. You can more accurately think of Class 3 ebikes as something akin to “Class 1A” ebikes. The difference is all in the speed.

This classification arose from what the Germans labeled the Schnell-pedelec, a faster version of a traditional pedelec. All Class 3 ebikes feature pedal-assist technology, just as Class 1 and 2 models do. They may have a throttle, or they may not. That aspect varies between models. What sets Class 3 apart from its fellow classifications is its higher maximum speed. Rather than topping out at 20 mph, a Class 3 ebike, or S-pedelec, achieves maximum speeds of 28 mph. This may be more than municipalities, states, and provinces permit from a bike that anyone can ride without passing a test. For instance, anyone in California can ride a Class 1 or 2 ebike. But riding a Class 3 ebike with its additional velocity requires a minimum age of 16. While only minors in California need to wear helmets on Class 1 or 2 ebikes, that 28-mph capacity calls for mandatory helmets on all riders in the Golden State. Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee implement this restriction as well. Thus, if you want to use a Class 3 ebike, you should check local regulations.

Retrofitting a Bike

There’s a fourth class to cover in this guide to the different types of ebike classifications. This category includes those bikes that began their lives as manual models but received upgrades to become ebikes. Such a transformation is possible with one of the kits from Ebike Essentials. Depending on how you decide to modify your bicycle, it can wind up landing among any of the three ebike classes. Most commonly, people upgrade a manual bike—a “Class 0 ebike,” if you will—to a Class 1 with a pedal-assist motor and no throttle. In conjunction with your own pedaling power and a little help from gravity, this motor can push you to speeds of around 25 mph if you can handle them. We feature electric bicycle conversion kits for sale that will help you successfully retrofit your bike into an ebike. You’ll enjoy easier pedaling, faster speeds, and all the benefits that come with ebike ownership, no matter its classification.

Knowing Ebikes: The Different Types of Ebike Classifications
by Ebike Essentials