Electric Bike Legality – The Final Verdict

Electric Bike Legality - The Final Verdict

It looks like a regular bicycle and it mainly behaves like a regular bicycle, but it’s powered by electricity.

That doesn’t mean it’s legal everywhere, though.

The problem with electric bike legality is that e-bike rules and laws vary from one state or region to the next, even though e-bikes are considered safe and have many benefits.

What are the main benefits of e-bikes?

E-bikes are better for the environment than cars, while also being an alternative to regular bikes for people who have disabilities or physical limitations.

If you’re interested in purchasing an e-bike, you’ll need to know about electric bike legality. Let’s jump right in, because you don’t want to break the law with your bike.

The Thorny Issue Of Legal Definitions For E-Bikes

Forbidden Lane For E Bike

One of the reasons for the confusion when it comes to setting laws for e-bikes is that it’s not easy to define them!

How would you define an e-bike compared to an e-scooter or moped, for example?

Another thing that causes confusion is that different U.S. states will define e-bikes in different ways.

For example, some U.S. states see e-bikes as being the same as bicycles, and therefore they can follow the same set of rules, whereas others see e-bikes as being more like other types of vehicles.

How Is An E-Bike Really Defined?

A 2002 law enacted by Congress changed the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s definition of electric bikes.

It called this low-speed bicycle a “two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20mph,” as Congress.gov reports.

That’s quite a mouthful!

According to federal law, e-bikes can be powered by a motor only (“throttle-assist” bike) or make use of both a motor and the rider’s leg power (“pedal-assist” bike).

What’s confusing about the above is that the federal law doesn’t specify the maximum speed that’s allowed for e-bikes which are powered by motor and human power.

However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has cleared this up by stating that e-bikes can travel faster than 20mph if the rider is making use of both motor and human power, as National Conference Of State Legislatures reports.

In What U.S. States Are E-Bikes Defined?

USA E Bike Regulations

In 33 U.S. states, e-bikes are defined.

These are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia,  Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

However, all of these will have different rules when it comes to how e-bikes can be operated.

In the rest of the U.S. states, e-bikes don’t have clear definitions and are sometimes categorized in the same vehicle class as mopeds, but again this can vary from one state to the next.

Let’s take a look at how the different U.S. states treat e-bikes as well as if you need a license to operate them.

  • Alabama – In Alabama, an e-bike is a motor-driven cycle so you need to have an operator’s license to use one and you need to register it.
  • Alaska – Alaska follows the same rules as Alabama – e-bikes aren’t seen in the same way as bicycles.
  • Arizona – In Arizona, e-bikes are the same thing as bicycles, so they follow the same rules of the road. You don’t have to register, license, or insure your e-bike.
  • States That See E-Bikes As Regular Bicycles – In some states, e-bikes are regulated in the same way that bicycles are, so you don’t have to follow rules of registration, licensing, or insurance to own one. That’s a relief! If you love your e-bike, you’ll be glad to live in one of these states that follow the above law.
ArkansasIdahoMichiganNew YorkTennessee
CaliforniaIllinoisMississippiOhioVermont
ColoradoIndianaMinnesotaOklahomaVirginia
ConnecticutIowaMontanaPennsylvaniaWest Virginia
ConnecticutKentuckyNebraskaSouth CarolinaWashington
DelawareLouisianaNew HampshireSouth DakotaWyoming
FloridaMaineNevadaTexasWisconsin
GeorgiaMarylandNorth CarolinaUtah

How Other States Define E-Bikes

Riding E Bike In Hawaii

Earlier, we mentioned that e-bikes can have different rules in different parts of the country, so let’s look at what these rules are in states that don’t view e-bikes as being in the same category as bicycles.

Hawaii

E-bikes are defined as “Low-speed electric bicycles.” The assisted maximum speed that they’re allowed to provide on a paved and level surface is less than 20mph.

You have to be registered as an e-bike owner and pay a $30 fee at any city hall satellite location, or the state business registration unit, in Honolulu.

Kansas

This state defines an e-bike as an electric assisted bicycle. The e-bike has to have a motor that’s less than 1,000w and it should have a maximum speed of 20mph as well as operable pedals.

However, you don’t have to register yourself as an e-bike owner, and you don’t need to insure your bike or have a license to use it.

Massachusetts

Since an e-bike is defined by the state as a motorized bicycle, its rules vary when compared to regular bicycles.

You need an operator’s license to use one, and you’ll also have to be registered. However, you won’t be required to insure it. The maximum speed for e-bikes is 25mph.

Missouri

E Bikes In Missouri

In Missouri, e-bikes are defined as motorized bicycles. They shouldn’t exceed speeds of 30mph. You need an operator’s license, but you don’t need to register yourself or insure your bike.

New Jersey

As long as you ride an e-bike that’s either a Class 1 or Class 2 vehicle, then you don’t need to register, insure, or license your bike.

  • Class 1 bikes are those that have motors which provide assistance when the rider is pedalling but then don’t provide assistance when the e-bike reaches the speed of 20mph.
  • Class 2 bikes are ones that are equipped with throttle-actuated motors and don’t provide assistance when the bike reaches 20mph.

New Mexico

Here, e-bikes are defined as mopeds. You need to have a license and insure your e-bike.

North Dakota

If you own an e-bike in North Dakota, the state defines it as a motorized bicycle.

You need to follow the same motor laws as those pertaining to motor vehicles, such as when it comes to insuring your e-bike, registering it, and having a license to use it.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s laws when it comes to e-bikes are as follows: the state defines e-bikes as electric motorized bicycles, and while they don’t have to follow laws for motor vehicles, they are subject to rules of the road that apply to vehicles.

You don’t need to register your e-bike.

Where Can You Ride Your E-Bike?

Senior Couple On E Bikes

As if the definitions of e-bikes weren’t sometimes confusing, and quite different from one state to the next, you also need to know that you can’t always ride your e-bike everywhere.

So, where are you allowed to ride your bike or what places do you need to avoid?

Here’s a rundown of what the laws are in the state in which you live.

  • Alabama – You’re not allowed to ride e-bikes on bike paths or sidewalks.
  • Alaska – You’re not allowed to ride your e-bike on bike paths or sidewalks.
  • Arizona – Here, you are allowed to make use of bike paths and sidewalks.
  • Arkansas – The laws aren’t clear. You’ll need to find out if you’re allowed to use bike paths as local governments have the authority to limit the use of e-bikes on certain bike paths. 
  • California – You’re only allowed to use an e-bike on the sidewalk if regular bikes are allowed there. You can use your e-bike on bike paths.
  • Colorado – You can use a Class 1 or 2 e-bike on sidewalks, but not a Class 3 bike. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are also allowed on bike paths, but local jurisdictions can prohibit them.
  • Connecticut – E-bikes are allowed on certain roadways. You must stay away from sidewalks, turnpikes, and limited access highways.
  • Delaware – In Delaware, you can use your e-bike on bike paths and sidewalks.
  • Florida – You’re allowed to use your e-bike wherever regular bikes are allowed, such as on bicycle paths and multi-use paths.
  • Georgia – E-bikes can be part of three classes: Class 1 bicycles are those that have a motor providing assistance when the rider pedals and stops doing so when the bike reaches 20mph; Class 2 bicycles have throttle-actuated motors that don’t give the rider assistance when e-bikes reach 20mph; Class 3 bicycles have a motor that gives the rider assistance when the rider is pedalling and stops when the e-bike reaches 28mph(Class 3 bicycles aren’t allowed on a shared path or bicycle path unless it’s within or next to a roadway or highway, or allowed by the local authority.)
  • Hawaii – E-bikes can be used wherever bikes are allowed, and that includes bike paths.
  • Idaho – E-bikes are allowed on bike paths.
  • Illinois – E-bike aren’t allowed on sidewalks but they can be used on bike paths.
  • Indiana – The state has the same three classes for e-bikes as Georgia. You can’t use  a Class 3 bike on a bicycle path or multipath unless it’s within or next to a roadway or highway, unless otherwise specified by the local authority.
  • Iowa – You can use your e-bike on sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Kansas – You can use your e-bike on sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Kentucky – You can use your e-bike on sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Louisiana – You can use your e-bike in places where regular bicycles are allowed. This includes bicycle paths as well as multi-paths. However, you can’t use e-bikes on non-motorized, natural surface trails.
  • Maine – Class 3 bikes can’t be used on a bike path unless it’s within a roadway or highway.
  • Maryland – Class 3 bikes can’t be used on bike paths unless they’re on roadways or highways. You’re not allowed to use your e-bikes on any sidewalks.
  • Massachusetts – You can’t use your e-bike on sidewalks or bike paths.
  • Michigan – You can ride Class 1 e-bikes on bike paths and linear trails, but Class 2 or 3 bikes are not allowed, as People For Bikes reports.
  • Minnesota – You can make use of sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Mississippi – You can use your e-bike on sidewalks and bike paths. However, local laws might enforce that the e-bike motor is disengaged when doing so.
  • Missouri – You can’t use your e-bike on sidewalks. Your local authority will be able to inform you of whether or not you can use bike paths.
  • Montana – You can use your e-bike on bike paths and sidewalks.
  • Nebraska – You can use your e-bike on bike paths and sidewalks.
  • Nevada – You can use your e-bike on bike paths but not sidewalks.
  • New Hampshire – You can ride a Class 1 or 2 e-bike on a bicycle path and multi-use paths where bicycles are allowed. You can only use a Class 3 bike on the roadway.
  • New Jersey – New Jersey has two classes for e-bikes. Class 1 e-bikes are those that have motors that provide assistance to the rider when the rider pedals the bike, then stop providing assistance once the e-bike reaches 20mph. Class 2 e-bikes have a throttle-actuated motor that stops giving the rider assistance when the bike reaches 20mph. You can ride both classes of bikes on bike paths.  However, you can’t use your e-bike on sidewalks that are meant for pedestrian use.
  • New Mexico – You can’t ride your e-bike on the sidewalk.
  • New York – Class 1 and 2 e-bikes can be used on roads with speed limits of 20mph, while Class 3 bikes have a limit of 25mph. You’re not allowed to use any e-bikes on sidewalks. You can use bike lanes and some bike paths that connect, or are adjacent, to roads.
  • North Carolina – You can use your e-bike on the sidewalk, as long as regular bicycles are allowed there. The state doesn’t really specify if e-bikes are allowed on bike paths, so you’ll have to check with your local authority.
  • North Dakota – You can’t ride e-bikes on sidewalks, and you should contact your local authority for information about whether or not you can use e-bikes on bicycle paths.
  • Ohio – You can ride your e-bike on bike paths.
  • Oklahoma – Class 3 e-bikes can’t be used on bike paths or multi-use paths.
  • Oregon – You can use your e-bike on a bike path but not the sidewalk.
  • Pennsylvania – You can use your e-bike wherever regular bikes can be used, even sidewalks.
  • Rhode Island – State laws don’t specify if e-bikes are allowed on bike paths, so you’ll have to check with your local authority.
  • South Carolina – It’s unclear if e-bikes are allowed on bike paths in this state, so check with your local authority.
  • South Dakota – Class 1 and 2 e-bikes can be used on multi-use paths and bike paths, but Class 3 bikes aren’t allowed on paths or trails. They can, however, be used on the road.
  • Tennessee – Class 1 and 2 e-bikes can be used on bike paths. Class 3 e-bikes have a limited use of bike paths and generally aren’t allowed.
  • Texas – E-bikes are allowed wherever regular bicycles are allowed.
  • Utah – E-bikes are allowed to be used on bike paths but aren’t permitted on sidewalks.
  • Vermont – The use of e-bikes on bike paths is unclear, so you’ll have to check with your local authority.
  • Virginia – Where bicycles are permitted, e-bikes will also be allowed. This includes bicycle lanes and multi-use paths.
  • West Virginia – Class 1 e-bikes are allowed on multi-use paths and bike paths.
  • Wisconsin – The laws are unclear, so you’ll have to check with your local authority.
  • Washington– Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on trails and bike paths, but you can’t use a Class 3 e-bike there.
  • Wyoming– All e-bikes are allowed on bike paths.

Related Questions

Do you need a helmet to ride an e-bike?

While state laws sometimes vary, you should always wear a helmet in the same way you should wear one when riding a bicycle.

Why do e-bikes have speed limits?

This speed limit, which is usually 20mph, helps to differentiate e-bikes from other vehicles on the road. You can go faster, but you’re not allowed to use the electric power to assist you if you do.

Conclusion

You love your e-bike.

It’s pretty much the same thing as your regular bicycle, just with a bit of electric power. But sadly, some state laws don’t define it as such.

In this article, we’ve looked at the e-bike laws in all of the U.S. states so you’ll be more informed about where you’re allowed to use your e-bike in the same way that you’d use your regular bike, and where you need to follow some rules, such as registering your bike and/or getting a license to be able to use it.

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