Federal laws give states the freedom to regulate electric bikes in unique ways. Classification systems and e-bike laws in California are different from those you'll find in other states. If you own an e-bike or are considering purchasing one, take some time to understand California's regulations, as well as those you'll encounter across state lines.
Electric Bike Laws and Regulations
There are three different classes of e-bikes. Classes were created to determine how e-bikes should be used according to local e-bike laws. Currently, 36 states across the U.S. utilize the three-class system for electric bikes. States may alter some details within their three-tier systems, but most are very similar. The classes include:
- Class 1: The Class 1 e-bike provides assistance only when you pedal, and stops assisting when you reach 20 mph — great for bike lanes, bike paths, roads or anywhere you'd take a traditional bike.
- Class 2: The Class 2 e-bike is equipped with a throttle which provides a boost without pedaling, and stops assisting at 20 mph.
- Class 3: The Class 3 e-bike is equipped with a speedometer, and only assists until the bike reaches 28 mph — an excellent choice for commuters. The most popular bikes fit into Class 1 or Class 3 because riders still want to pedal.
If you're shopping for an e-bike, it’s important to understand the e-bike laws in your state, as they may be slightly different than the popular 3-classification system. Familiarizing yourself with these laws and regulations is crucial for a variety of different reasons. They're meant to keep you riding safely and to protect others around you. Electric bikes are fun to use and convenient, but they are still machines that require these types of regulations to protect consumers and people in public places.
Depending on the state, these regulations can be about where you ride, what gear you need to wear, certain attributes of your bike and more. When you know all about these different policies, you'll avoid fines and are keeping yourself and others safe.
What Is A Class 1 E-Bike?
Most municipalities treat class 1 e-bikes like regular street and mountain bikes.
The fundamental distinction is that electric bikes have pedal-assist technology that works when you engage the pedals. When using this mode, the motor will not run itself without any pedaling. However, as mentioned above, class 1 electric bikes can only get a pedal-assist boost up to 20 mph. Class 1 models from Juiced Bikes also have throttle-only capabilities. Unlike using pedal assist, the throttle-only mode allows you to ride your bike without pedaling. Enjoy taking a break, or turn your excursion into a low-effort ride.
Before taking a class 1 electric bike to an area that may discourage you from using motorized vehicles, research local rules and regulations. They can differ widely between cities and states. If you're interested in buying an electric bike to commute on standard streets and highways, you're probably in the clear with a class 1 e-bike. Many first-time electric bike users start in this class.
More Information on Class 2 Electric Bikes
The electric bike classes make many customers assume that class 2 electric bikes are one direct step up from class 1 e-bikes in handling or difficulty. Instead, the class 2 e-bike is suitable for a few extra surface terrain types, such as off-highway vehicle (OHVs) trails. If you're unfamiliar with OHV trails, they are popular paths for enthusiasts with dirt bikes, golf carts, jeeps and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs.)
When weighing whether to buy a class 2 e-bike or a model from another class, check out the specs of the bikes you're considering. Like class 1 bikes, class 2 e-bikes have pedal assistance up to 20 mph and throttle-only mode, where the motor can work independently. This mode may be valuable to you if you're unable to pedal because of an injury or limited mobility.
Need-to-Know Facts About Class 3 Electric Bikes
Speed differentiates class 3 e-bikes from their counterparts in the other classes. Electric bikes under this classification continue to garner support by e-bike fans, especially ones eager for adventures. Because class 3 e-bikes offer pedal assistance up to 28 mph, they help riders go faster. Like all Juiced Bikes, class 3 versions have a throttle, so your motor is always ready to help. That means you can reach your destination with less legwork.
Is a class 3 electric bike the ideal choice for your unique needs and riding style? If you're interested in both commuting and adventuring, we recommend checking out the full lineup of class 3 models from Juiced Bikes. You may even see some e-bikes that can qualify for a few classes available on our website. From sporty, moped-style frames to the ultimate variant in light commuters, our wide range of class 3 e-bikes will help you get where you're going safely and stylishly.
Please be careful to obey local rules if you're using bike-only paths for your cruising. Many places have electric bike regulations that prohibit class 3 e-bikes from some lanes and trails because of their speed, and such rules discourage visitors from racing.
Classifying Electric Bikes
Since there are so many different types of electric bikes out there with different capabilities, these classes help keep cyclists, drivers and pedestrians safe. In California, and 21 other states, bikes are sorted into three classifications based on top speeds and whether pedaling is a necessary function.
Knowing the class of your e-bike or your future e-bike will tell you where and how you can ride. For instance, in California, a class 3 electric requires that the rider wear a helmet. E-bike users in class 2 and below can be any age and have access to pathways meant for cyclists.
Blending Different Classes
Juiced Bikes are super versatile e-bikes that can be used for a wide variety of purposes and can fit into multiple classes depending on the mode you are using. When you own an electric bike that meets the specifications of more than one class, you can enjoy the benefits of each class at different points. If you ride a bike that toes the line between two classifications, you have more control over how and where you ride.
If you have an e-bike that allows you to pedal or not pedal to power the bike, that model could be class 1 or class 2 in a 3-class system. Or, if you have a e-bike where you can change out the battery, you could even go between a class 2 and a class 3 specification. This added versatility gives you access to other bikeways in the state and more ways to use this versatile, fun and environmentally friendly way to get around.
E-Bike Classifications Outside of California
All fifty states and Washington, D.C. define e-bikes in some capacity, but their classifications can be slightly different from state to state. Here's how e-bike classification looks outside of CA.
Of the states that categorize e-bikes, 36 of them use a three-tier system similar to what we discussed above. Tiered categorization allows states to separate e-bikes from other motorized vehicles like mopeds or scooters. Most of the classification parameters in these states are fairly similar, so riders shouldn't have much trouble understanding the overlap.
Fourteen states regulate e-bikes without implementing the classification system. These include Hawaii, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
E-Bike Requirements Across States
If you live outside of California or plan to take your e-bike on the road with you, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with different e-bike regulations in the U.S.
Insurance and Registration
Most states with a three-tier classification system do not require you to register or insure your e-bike. However, all 36 states that use a three-tier model require e-bikes to have a visible label displaying the class, top speed and motor wattage. You may need licensure, registration and vehicle insurance to ride in states that lack a classification system or only use two tiers.
State lawmakers set unique helmet laws for e-bike riders and passengers, and some even leave regulation to local governments. Many states require helmets in some capacity through laws centered around age, class or a hybrid of the two. Connecticut is one state that requires all riders to wear a helmet, while a few states allow you to ride without one. Inquire with your state's transportation department to determine its helmet requirements for e-bike riders.
E-Bike Road Rules Across States
Understanding electric bicycle laws by state is important so you know where you can and can't ride. Reach out to the transportation department or local authorities for the state in question to find out where you can and cannot ride an e-bike.
Road and Sidewalk Regulations
The legality of riding an e-bike on the road or sidewalk varies across states. E-bikes must share the road with cars and follow the same rules in Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Virginia and a few others. Some states allow e-bikes on sidewalks as well as roads, including Arizona, Washington, Minnesota and Utah. Even so, keep in mind that these states may limit which e-bike classes can ride on the sidewalk.
Multi-use Trail Regulations
Whether or not you can ride an e-bike on multi-use trails is up to local and state governments. Some states like Colorado have implemented pilot programs to test how e-bikers affect other riders on rail trails and hiking paths. Inquire with city officials to determine if e-bikes are allowed on local multi-use trails.