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Is An Electric Bike Considered A Motorized Vehicle?

Is An E-Bike A Bicycle Or A Motor Vehicle In The UK? What About The US?

Electric bikes are becoming increasingly popular globally because they offer riders the chance to travel farther and faster than ever before on a bicycle. 

They\’re also environmentally friendly, which means that they\’re a great choice for commuters who want to reduce their carbon footprint.

They have all the benefits of a regular bicycle plus the benefit of a motor.

They\’re often referred to as bicycles because they\’re designed to look like regular bikes, and they\’re usually ridden on bike paths and trails – but they technically have motors. 

So, which one does an e-bike fall under? Is it a bicycle or a motor vehicle?

This distinction is important because the laws of motor vehicles are different from bicycle laws.

In the United Kingdom, 

What Is An Electric Bike?

An electric bike (or e-bike) is a bicycle powered by electricity instead of human power.

An electric bike can also be called:

  • E-Bike/ Ebike
  • Pedelec (from pedal electric cycle)
  • EPAC (Electronically Power Assisted Cycles)

E-bike definitions:

  • A bike that has fully operable pedals that propel it. 
  • An electric motor that won\’t assist you when you\’re travelling more than 25 km/h (15.5 miles per hour)
  • an electrically power-assisted cycle that doesn\’t exceed the 250 watts maximum motor power

These e-bike requirements apply to two-wheeled bikes, tandems, and tricycles. 

Is An E-Bike A Bicycle Or A Motor Vehicle In The UK?

As long as your e-bike meets the given definitions of an e-bike, it is treated the same way as a bicycle.

You won\’t need a license to drive it. You won\’t need to register it, pay taxes, and insurance for it as you would a motor vehicle. You don\’t have to wear a motorcycle helmet. You can drive it on bicycle paths. 

However, if your e-bike doesn\’t meet those requirements, meaning your e-bike can go over the speed limit or have throttles, it will be considered a motor vehicle.

You will need to register it, pay taxes, and insurance for it. You must wear a motorcycle helmet. And you can only drive it when you have a driver\’s license. 

In the United States,

Federal level E-bike definitions:

A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and electric motor wattage of fewer than 750 watts (1 h.p.)

With 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 20 miles per hour.

The federal law permits e-bikes to be powered by the motor alone (a \”throttle-assist\” e-bike) or by a combination of motor and human power (a \”pedal-assist\” e-bike).

Note:

The specifics of the definition of e-bikes will differ at the state level. 

For example, Delaware, Iowa, and other states define the maximum wattage for an e-bike as 750 watts or lower.

Minnesota, North Carolina, and other states define the maximum wattage for e-bikes as 1000 watts or less. 

E-bike Classification System

Class 1

Class 1 e-bikes are those that have an electric motor that only assists the rider when they are pedalling. 

The engine must stop assisting the e-bike rider when the speed reaches 20 miles per hour, the maximum speed allowed.

Class 2

Class 2 e-bikes are those that have an electric motor that is only used to speed the bike through a throttle system. 

The engine must stop assisting when the speed reaches the maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.

Class 3

Class 3 e-bikes are those that have an electric motor that only assists the rider when they are pedalling. 

The engine must stop assisting the e-bike user when the speed reaches 28 miles per hour, the maximum speed allowed.

Class 3 e-bikes must have speedometers.

Is An E-Bike A Bicycle Or A Motor Vehicle In The US?

Because of how the laws in the US work, there is no one answer to this. 

At the federal level, devices that meet the federal definition of an electric bicycle must follow the bicycle safety standards.

This will change depending on the state traffic laws and vehicle codes.

The twenty-six states that follow the Three E-bike Classification System:

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Idaho
  9. Illinois
  10. Indiana
  11. Louisiana
  12. Maine
  13. Maryland
  14. Michigan
  15. New Hampshire
  16. New York
  17. Ohio
  18. Oklahoma
  19. South Dakota
  20. Tennessee
  21. Texas
  22. Utah
  23. Virginia
  24. Washington
  25. Wisconsin
  26. Wyoming

Meanwhile, New Jersey and West Virginia only have two classes (1 and 2).

Some states lack a specific definition for e-bikes, so they may consider e-bikes as motorized bicycles.

Basically, any e-bike that doesn\’t meet the specific definition for e-bikes is considered a motorized vehicle and will be treated as such.

Age Restrictions When Operating Electric Bicycles

Electric bicycle riders may not be required to have a license to operate e-bikes, but there are age restrictions. 

In The UK

You must be at least 14 years old to use an e-bike on public roads. 

In The US 

Again because of the state system, it will vary.

Not all states have an age restriction.

For those that have age restrictions, it\’s only applicable to Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes. Also, the age restrictions come in two types, the age you need to be to ride, and the age one would be required to wear a helmet. 

For instance, there are eight states where riders must be 14 or older to ride unaccompanied at all rating levels. 

Riders younger than 14 can still ride electric bikes in some jurisdictions if someone over the age of 18 supervises them. 

Another six states require that e-bike riders must be at least 15 years old, and another fifteen states require the riders to be at least 16 years old.

Many states don\’t have a distinct e-bike law regarding age requirements

Regarding bicycle helmets, most require rides younger than 16 or 21 to wear helmets. 

Although, some states require helmets for all ages. 

Do You Need A License To Drive An E-Bike In The UK?

Unless your e-bike has been considered a motor vehicle, e-bike operators or riders don\’t need a driving license to drive an e-bike in the UK. 

Do You Need A License To Drive An E-Bike In The US?

Some states may require you to have a license when riding an e-bike.

The need for a license may also depend on your e-bike\’s class.

For example, in New Jersey, you will need to have a license to operate a Class 2 e-bike because it is considered a motorized vehicle. But, if your e-bike is a Class 1, you won\’t be required to have a license to ride it. New Jersey only has two electric bicycle classes that separate the e-bikes. 

On the other hand, Utah and Vermont have recently removed e-bike licensure and registration requirements.

Final Words

Bicycle manufacturers set the maximum speed limits on the units depending on the market requirements, but some can be altered or overridden. Before doing this, always make sure to check the e-bike laws in your local area.

E-bikes are a great bicycle option in lieu of conventional bicycles, but you must follow the bicycle regulations that apply to them for your own safety.

Hope this article helped. See you on another one!

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Evan Medders

I'm Evan an avid cyclist and bike consultant. Besides my biking, I enjoy being a dad to two, a husband to one. Cycling is a fun and sustainable means of transportation, something not only our planet but also your body craves. We need to stay in physical shape, and keep our Earth in a good condition so we face fewer natural disasters. Biking is our way to see we do our part :)

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