Using Electric Bikes On The Road: The Full Law For All Countries

Last Updated on March 30, 2021

Using Electric Bikes On The Road: The Full Law For All Countries

Looking to hit the road on your new electric bike and wanting to know if your E-bike design fits in with the country or state guidelines?

Lucky for you, you’re at the right place.

Various electric bike designs are designed to fit inside the majority of area laws; even those with pedals can be used in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

But let’s break down all the key laws for using an electric bike in all countries.

Here’s everything you need to know and everything you need to consider when using an electric bike on the road.

Let’s get going, gang!

Firstly what is an Electric/ E-bike?

E-bikes are like regular bikes, but they have electric motor power that powers up to 750 watts. Some e-bikes even have pedals that propel the bicycle with or without the electric motor too, so the user has the option of using both.

Electric bikes can travel at a range of speeds, but they do not exceed more than 20-28 miles an hour.

Anyone can ride an e-bike, and they have become increasingly popular in the cycling industry; they even do mountain bike e-bikes as well as road bike e-bikes.

Key laws to consider when using an electric bike on the road:

Electric Bikes are on the rise; they have become increasingly popular in recent years, which means it has never been so important to understand the laws when using your E-Bike on the road.

There are laws regarding electric bike use on the road depending on the country you live in, the state laws, and a few other laws. It also depends on your electronic bike’s design; it wasn’t until the past year that electric bikes were allowed to be used in New York City.

The idea of the use of electric bikes all depends on where you are in the world, in Europe E-bikes are considered a sufficient form of travel whereas in the USA it is considered a form of exercise. This is why the laws slightly differ between countries.

Laws in the United States around E-bikes:

Similar to other countries, electric bicycles have become increasingly popular across the states. Not only are e-bikes a great recreational bike and can be ridden for fun, but they can help you get from A to B with ease.

For daily commutes to work, people opt-out from pollution and drive the motor vehicle every day for a more eco-friendly option such as an e-bike to help support them from A to B.

An electric bicycle is also a brilliant alternative for those on a budget; nowadays, there are often bike storage areas at work to encourage employees to bike to work rather than driving.

Most states adopt a three-class system for e-bikes, but this is not the case in all states, sadly. This three-class system across the US regarding e-bikes has been long and far between as there no set federal regulations.

This essentially means that each state or local government is allowed to set up its own laws regarding electric bicycles. The best thing I would recommend is to check the local laws for your area as they differ from state to state.

  • For example, in California, the law is clear that no driving licence is required to operate class 1, 2, or 3 e-bikes, and a helmet is not required for class 1 and 2 e-bikes but is required for class 3 users.
  • However, in Maine, e-bikes are not as popular or well defined, and they have much stricter laws when it comes to where they can ride to comply with the law.

An organization called ‘PeopleForBikes’ has risen as a national advocacy group and has been pushing for more transparency regarding e-bike laws across the US. They have already pushed the three-class system, which was implemented in 2016, but it is still not used in every state.

 PeopleForBikes continue to push for other states to follow suit when it comes to this three-class system until e-bikes are legal in all states.

So what is the three-class system?

To modernize the electric bicycle law in the United States, PeopleForBikes have designed a three-class system to categorize electric bikes and regulate them based on their maximum assisted speed:

  • Class 1 electric bike: This is an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only while the rider is pedaling. It can reach maximum speed limits of 20mph and has a power output of 750W.
  • Class 2 electric bicycle: This is an e-bike equipped with a motor that can be used exclusively to propel the bicycle; it doesn’t provide assistance when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20mph.
  • Class 3 electric bike: This e-bike is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only while the rider is pedaling. It stops providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28mph, and it is equipped with a speedometer.

The three-class system creates rules which govern the use of e-bikes, focusing on safety as the top priority. Class 1 and 2 electric bicycles can travel anywhere where traditional bikes are allowed to go.

Class 3 electric bikes can only be ridden on streets and roads where traditional bikes are permitted, such as bike lanes but are restricted to speed limits and slower speed areas in areas such as multi-use paths.

Class 3 electric bikes are also subject to additional requirements such as minimum user age, helmet requirement; electric bikes do not require licensing, registration, and insurance.

As of 2020, here are the states that implement the three-class system:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Lousiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming.

For more information about what PeopleForBikes is about and the regulations for each state, then click here.

All e-bikes in the US should familiarize themselves with the cycling laws for their area; if you’re ever unsure about the laws regarding electric bikes, then you can contact your local law enforcement for peace of mind.

Many electric bikes are now allowed on local bike trails, which are designed for e-bikes.

Canada:

In Canada, Electric bikes are on the rise, too; despite them not being as popular as in Europe and Asia, they are definitely catching up with the growing trend.

People are tending to opt-out of their motor vehicle for an e-bike instead. However, there are some key differences between e-bikes in the US in comparison to Canada.

E-bikes can have a power output of up to 750W in the US, whereas, in Canada, they can only be regulated at 500W. However, despite the difference in wattage, the two motors go relatively the same speed.

An e-bike with 750w goes an average of 20mph, and one at 500W can still go at a speed of 19.8mph (32km/h). This decrease in wattage doesn’t make a huge difference in the feel of the e-bike, and the 500W has a much more vast range than the 750W models.

Here are the key law differences between Canada and the United States:  
  •  Helmets are mandatory across all provinces and territories in Canada for an e-bike unless the law says otherwise.
  • There are age differences between each province; for example, in one province such as British Columbia, you have to be 16 years or older to ride an e-bike whereas, in other provinces, you can be as young as 12.
  • In some provinces, it is the law that e-bikes with throttles have licenses.
  • Specific e-bike labeling is required on all e-bikes in Canada.

 

Similarly to the US the law about e-bikes slightly differs from province to province, and each provincial state has the authority to implement their own law when it comes to e-bikes and the law.

United Kingdom:

Despite the UK having left the EU, the laws between the UK and Europe are still very similar. They still implement very similar law criteria and are treated the same as regular bikes.

There is no need for red tape in the form of a license, no road tax or insurance needed, and riding in the UK with a helmet is recommended, but it is not a legal law requirement.

Here are the basic rules laid down by the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles Regulations of 1983 as amended by a 2004 European Directive:

  • The maximum speed limit in the UK and Europe is 15.6mph (25km/h).
  • The power of the motor in the UK and Europe must not exceed 250 watts
  • By law, the e-bike must not exceed the weight of 40kg/lbs or 60kg/132lb with a tandem. Some early electric bikes have larger acid batteries which slightly push the 40kg limit, but nowadays, they aren’t very popular.
  • The rider has to be over the age of 14 by law in the UK, and the electric bicycles must show a plate detailing the manufacturers, nominal battery voltage, and motor power rating.
What happens when the e-bikes exceed the criteria?

If your e-bike doesn’t meet the law regulations in the UK, either the motor is more powerful than 250W, or if it assists you when you’re riding over 15.5mph, then you will need to be registered, insured, and taxed as a motor vehicle.

This means that riders will require a driving licence and must wear a full-face motorcycle helmet.

Speed pedelecs (the bikes that exceed this criterion) cannot be ridden on bike paths and must be approved by DVLA before you hit the road. It is not recommended to go out of these law enforcement regulations.

What is the throttle dilemma?

In regulation with the EU law, it has an important effect on electric bikes with ‘twist and goes’ throttles that can take you to the full speed without needing to pedal at all.

In the UK, the only throttle that is legal is one that the throttle assists the rider without pedaling up to 6km/h (3.7mph). This allows the rider’s throttle to have starting assistance only.

If the cyclists are rolling but not pedaling faster than 6km/h, then the throttle will cut off. If the cyclists pedaling at the same time, then the throttle can assist up to 15.5mph.

How strictly are these laws enforced?

In both the EU, US, and the UK, these laws are not enforced very strictly. However, if you’re caught in an accident or caught out by the government, then the consequences of breaking the regulations can be quite serious.

EU:

In the EU, there are actually four classes of e-bikes that riders can use. However, some are distinguished as motor vehicles over electric bikes.

Electric bicycles that exceed the limit of 25km/h and have 3 wheels instead of 2 are classes as an l1e.

As a general rule of thumb, registration and insurance are required for all people with electric bikes. This ensures that all bikes are registered, and it gives riders peace of mind as to that their bike can be located if it is ever stolen.

Class Type Power Output Top Speed Pedal Assist or Throttles?  Number of Wheels  Distinguished as? 
L1e-A  < 1,000W 25 km/h Both 2, 3, 4 Power Cycles
L1e-B  4,000W 45 km/h Pedal-assist only 2 Mopeds
L2e < 4,000W 45 km/h Pedal-assist only 3 Three-wheeled mopeds
L6e N/A 45 km/h Pedal-assist only 4 Light Quadricycle
General laws in the EU regarding e-bikes:
  • Cyclists need to keep on the right of the road, bike lane, or carriageway. In Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Great Britain, the same rule applies but on the left instead.
  • Cyclists need to indicate the direction they’re going using hand signals.
  • Cyclists are required to ride in single file, except when overtaking another cyclist, making a turn, where traffic is heavier than normal, or if the carriageway is wide enough.
  • People are required to ride in a cycle lane if there is one present; cyclists are not permitted to use motorways or similar roads that don’t have a cycle lane. Some countries in the EU have designated laws that ban electric bikes from using cycling lanes.
  • Riders must cycle with at least one hand on the handlebar while riding.
  • Cyclists must not endanger other road users.
  • When pushing or walking a bike on foot, cyclists can use the path or sidewalk on the side of the road as they are considered pedestrians.

Australia

In the land of down under, electric bikes are starting to make an appearance in the market. E-bikes are quite new to Australians and nowhere near as popular as in other countries.

 In Australia, there are two main classification systems and rules:

  • The first one is that electric bikes are limited to 200W.
  • The second option is that the 250W bike has a pedal-assist system or throttle. This bike is not allowed to exceed 6km/h by the throttle alone but with the pedals assisting the rules is that it can reach a speed of 25km/h

In Australia, electric bikes are solely used for off-road purposes only and have no regulations. However, those that exceed 250W in power must be classed as a motorbike and require a license and to meet the key requirements as well as being insured.

Australia has several law requirements that apply to all cyclists, not just e-bikes:

  • Bike Helmets must be worn at all times and have to be approved by the government.
  • All bikes must have a bell or horn.
  • All bikes must have at least one effective braking system
  • When riding at night, riders must be visible and have lights and reflectors.
  • Bikes without pedals are not regarded as bicycles by the Australian government and therefore a crucial requirement.
  • In New South Wales in Australia, riders under the age of 12 can use the footpath to cycle if they’re not confident on the road or in a cycle lane.

In 2015 and 2016 Australia faced significant backlash in the drastic changes regarding bicyclists in general. The New South Wales Government decided the best way protect cyclists is to keep them off the roads.

Sydney went through drastic changes regarding bicyclists in general and regarding rider safety. They got rid of hundreds of bike lanes, and law enforcement heavily fined cyclists for both and major wrongdoings.

Asia:

Asia alone has the most electric bikes than across the globe. China alone has more than 200 million registered E-bikes, and they roll in 30 million new ebikes each year.

Electric bikes are, without any question are very popular in China, and the law is always changing as a result.

Here are the laws as of April 2019:  

  • The top speed will be raised from 20km/h to 25km/h
  • Motors cannot exceed 48V or 400W.
  • The ebike cannot exceed the weight of 55kg.
  • E-bikes have to be used with foot pedals so the user can manually propel the bike as well as electrically propel.

 This again differs from providence to providence. For example, in Beijing, the law indicates that those using electric bikes must have a driver’s licence and be registered with the local government.

Countries like Japan are no stranger to electric bicycles either, so much for every 10 bikes you see on the road, 6 of those are electric. In Japan, the regulations are slightly different from China.

  • In Japan, motors cannot exceed 250W and cannot exceed the speed of 24km/h.
  • All electric and standard bikes need to be registered and have insurance.
  • You can only have a pedal-assist bicycle, and if the electric bike is throttle based, then it must be registered as a 50cc engine or less. It also requires a driver’s licence and plates on the bicycle.

 The rules of the road in Japan apply to all vehicles; if a cycle lane is present, then a cyclist must use it.

Before you hit the road, make sure you read your regulations for your country, state, providence, county, or whatever is required and follow the requirements and have fun on your ebike!

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