There are three different classes of electric bikes. It’s used to determines what e-bike you can legally ride and where.
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Why there’s a classification system
Electric bikes have become a popular method of transportation and a way to explore the outdoors in the United States. For years, they’ve been popular in Europe.
However, not all e-bikes are the same. Some are more powerful and advanced than others. When it comes to safety and clarity for consumers and manufacturers, regulations are needed.
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In the United States, how e-bikes were regulated and the laws around them were unclear. At the federal level, there are safety regulations for the manufacturer. In 2002, House Bill 727 stated that low-speed electric bicycles are not to be considered motor vehicles.
How e-bikes are used and where you can ride them is up to the state. E-bike regulations weren’t clear, and some states used the same regulations as a moped or scooter.
Now, with the help of PeopleForBikes, 33 states have adopted the 3-Class system. As more states update and clarify the state law with the 3-class system, there can be standard regulations throughout the United States. It’ll make the use of e-bikes safer and eliminate confusion.
Regardless of the class, the maximum power output is 750W, which is 1 horsepower. Plus, all e-bikes are required to have a class identification label.
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Class 1: Pedal Assist
Class 1 electric bikes have a motor that only provides assistance when you’re pedaling, and it doesn’t have a throttle. It also has a top speed of 20 mph. So, when you reach 20 mph, the motor will stop assisting.
You can ride a Class 1 e-bike in a bike lane, roads, trails, and bike paths. If a traditional bike can ride somewhere, a Class 1 e-bike can too.
The following are examples of Class 1 e-bikes:
Class 2: Throttle On Demand
With a Class 2 e-bike, the motor is activated by a throttle. Most e-bikes will have a grip-twist on a handle or a button that you hold down to activate the throttle.
Overall, it’s similar to a Class 1 e-bike. However, the Class 2 e-bike doesn’t require pedaling for the bike to move forward. The ability to only use the throttle is appealing in case you can no longer pedal.
Most of the Class 2 e-bikes will also have the option for pedal assistance. Like the Class 1 e-bike, Class 2 e-bikes are also limited to 20 mph. After you reach 20 mph, the assistance will cease.
Most states allow you to ride a Class 2 e-bike anywhere that a traditional bike can go. However, check with your state in case there are restrictions due to the throttle feature.
The following are examples of Class 2 e-bikes:
Class 3: Speed-Pedelec
A Class 3 e-bike is the fastest of all of the classes, and they also have more regulations. In Europe, a Class 3 e-bike or speed-pedelec is classified as a moped. However, they’re e-bikes in the United States.
The motor of a Class 3 e-bike only assists when you pedal, and the assistance stops when you reach 28 mph. They also have a speedometer to make sure you know how fast you’re going.
Unlike Class 1 and 2 e-bikes, you can only ride Class 3 e-bikes on roadways, and you’re required to wear a helmet. There’s also a minimum age of 16 years old to ride one.
You can’t ride a Class 3 e-bike on most bike paths and trails because they’re too fast and pose a danger to others. The high power performance is restricted to city streets and bike lanes.
Some Class 3 bikes also have a throttle. This is where it doubles as a Class 2 e-bike because the throttle is limited to 20 mph.
The following are examples of Class 3 e-bikes:
The purpose of a maximum speed
The maximum assistance speed of 20 to 28 mph for e-bikes is important for safety. If you’re going downhill, you may go faster. However, the motor won’t be helping you past the limit.
According to a Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute study, the average speed for a cyclist is around 10 mph. Knowing the average, the ability to get assistance up to 20 or 28 mph is more than enough.
With the growing number of e-bikes hitting the road, regulations will keep everyone safe and on the same page. While 33 states have adopted the 3-Class system, not every state has. Therefore, you need to check with your state to see what type of e-bike you can ride and where you’re allowed to be.
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Featured image courtesy of Canva.
About David Em
David Em is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hello E-Bikes, the destination for electric bike reviews, comparisons, gear, and tips.