The thought of hopping your bike, turning the key, and zipping through the city is incredibly enticing. Unfortunately, there may be some paperwork before you can freely cruise.
The license requirements for E-Bikes vary across the globe. In the US, seven states require a license, so check locally before riding! If a state is using the three-tiered electric bike classification system, which defines them using motors and speed, you typically won’t need a license.
Although a hassle, these regulations can benefit different riders. E-bikes are gaining traction, and more states are using the three-tiered classification system than those that aren’t. What even is the three-tiered classification system, and how does it affect you? Keep reading to find out!
The laws and regulations surrounding electric bikes are somewhat confusing. The boom in popularity has made it difficult to pinpoint precisely where e-bikes fall in terms of jurisdiction. Different states have different definitions, regulations, and laws, making it even harder to get a consensus.
As of now, 44 states have defined electric bikes in some capacity. Twenty-six states use the three-tier electric bike classification system. The remaining 18 states have varying definitions, regulations, and guidelines. To find your state, check this map!
If your state is using the three-tier classification system, then you most likely won’t need a license to ride an e-bike. If your state defines electric bikes as moped and scooters, such as Alaska, then you’ll need a license to legally ride an e-bike. Be sure to check locally before riding!
Other states like Hawaii define electric bikes as “low-speed electric bicycles” when used with a max speed of 20 mph. Simultaneously, states like Iowa define e-bikes as a “bicycle” as long as its motor is under 750w and the bike has a maximum speed of 20 mph.
As you can see, this can be fairly confusing. These laws and regulations get even more twisted when you consider the federal laws.
The federal regulations for electric bikes seem even more jumbled up than the states. At the federal level, these bikes are only consumer products. So, here’s a basic rundown to keep it simple:
- The federal rules for electric bikes are established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- If an e-bike has two or three wheels, functioning pedals, an electric motor generating less than 750W, and travels only at speeds under 20 mph when using the motor alone, then they are considered low-speed electric bicycles and cannot be classified as motor vehicles.
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation allow access to Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes up to 750 watts.
That’s just a basic overview of the federal regulations. Most of the laws that will matter to riders will be at the state level. Be sure to check with your state and local regulations before riding. Here’s a map to get you started!
More than half the United States is currently using a three-tier class system to define electric bikes. You’ll find most electric bikes online falling under the three-tier classification system. The three classes are tiered from one to three. All of these tiers have pedal-assist to varying degrees and speeds.
- Class 1: Pedal-assist without throttle up to 20mph
- Class 2: Pedal-assist with or without throttle up to 20mph
- Class 3: Pedal-assist up to 28mph and throttle up to 20mph
These different classifications help define electric bikes consistently in terms of laws and regulations. The language of the 26 states using this class system is nearly identical. Typically, you won’t need a license to ride an e-bike within these states. Be sure to check your state and local regulations beforehand!
Most riders prefer a Class 3 e-bike, as it offers the most power output and highest top speed. However, most budget-friendly bikes are going to fall somewhere between Class 1 and Class 2.
Keep in mind, when you reach the top speed using pedal-assist, it will turn off. With a Class 3 bike, the pedal-assist will disengage once you get the maximum speed of 28mph. This doesn’t mean you can’t pedal more to go faster and reach a higher speed.
On the other hand, if you reached the max speed then began to slow down, the motor would kick back in, offering assistance.
Are you craving the wind in your hair? The thrill of high speeds? Too bad! Electric bikes have a speed limit. Electric bikes are limited to 20 mph or under with motor power alone by the federal government.
However, there’s a difference if you fall into a state with a three-tiered class system. Class 3 e-bikes can legally reach speeds of 28mph with human assistance. Use this map to check whether your state uses the three-tiered classification system!
Are There E-Bike Registration and Helmet Laws?
In the United States, 25 states and Washington D.C. have helmet requirements for passengers and riders. There are also 25 states that have no helmet requirements for electric bikes. If your state uses the three-tiered class system, you’ll typically need to wear a helmet.
Surprisingly, helmet laws are one of the most confusing aspects of electric bikes. You would think this would be a no-brainer, pun intended. For instance, Florida requires any rider under 16 to wear a helmet.
In contrast, Oklahoma requires those under 19 to wear a helmet. To find out your state’s laws, check out this map!
If your state defines electric bikes as vehicles or mopeds, you’ll need to follow their registration guidelines. Currently, nine states require e-bike registration in some capacity. These states are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.
A decent amount of countries treat electric bikes as traditional bicycles. I mean, even 26 of the U.S. states do so. So, can you ride your e-bike freely across the globe, or is there some paperwork that needs to be filed first?
Unfortunately, you may need to fill out some forms before riding your electric bike across the globe. Here are some of the other rules and regulations you can find for e-bikes around the world:
- The United Kingdom is fairly forward-thinking when it comes to electric bikes. Riders need to be at least 14 to ride an e-bike, and there’s no need for licensing.
- China allows you to ride your e-bike without a license. China used to require e-bike registration, but this has changed.
- Canada allows individuals to use electric bikes across all eight provinces. However, just like the states, the laws can vary from province to province. Typically your electric bike will have to have a motor smaller than 500W.
- Japan is another great place to ride your e-bike! Japan doesn’t require a license to use an electric bike, and they’re seen as traditional bicycles. However, there are a few unique regulations surrounding motors and modifications.
- New Zealand requires e-bike licenses for motors over 300W. If your electric bike falls under 300W, then you’ll only need a helmet to cruise around the city.
- Australia defines e-bikes with motors of 200W or less as traditional bicycles. The general consensus across the country is that you don’t need a license or registration to ride. However, laws and regulations will vary from state to state.
- Finland has taken a more limiting approach to its regulations. Finland requires e-bikes to have a motor under 250W, a top speed of 25km/h, and no throttle.
- Denmark has taken a much more laid-back approach to electric bikes. You can ride an electric bike if you’re over 15 and wear a helmet. Denmark allows bikes to reach 45km/h, which isn’t something to scoff at!
- Turkey takes an approach that has aspects of the three-tiered classification system in the States. In Turkey, an e-bike motor is required to turn off and stop offering assistance at 25km/h. This regulation is similar to how Class 1 and 2 bikes stop offering service past a certain point.
These are just a few of the different countries around the world with regulations surrounding electric bikes. Always be sure to check locally and nationally before riding or purchasing an electric bike!
Even your location doesn’t require it, we highly recommend you wear a helmet! We recommend the Schwinn Thrasher Bike Helmet (On Amazon) for kids and adults and the Exclusky MTB Helmet for off-roaders. There are various other options you can check out here (On Amazon) if you’re looking for something more specific.