Things you should know before hitting the road
The invention of bikes in the early 19th century marked a major turning point in the field of transportation. It was then followed by a series of careful planning and the creation of more advanced two and three-wheeled vehicles. With Karl Benz’s invention of the "Motorwagen", the first gasoline-powered, three-wheeled car was patented in 1886. Since then, fuel-powered cars have become well known all around the world. However, many setbacks like gas shortages have come up from using fossil-fuel-powered modes of transportation. Hence, the invention of electric-powered vehicles. Although their first existence was recorded in 1832, it wasn’t until the year 1890 when the first successful electric vehicle debuted in the United States with William Morrison’s invention of the electrified wagon that immediately sparked the interest of many in electric-powered vehicles.
As the number of electric-powered vehicles continues to go up, and transportation problems continue to arise, modern technology finds itself combining the ease of using electricity with the convenience of biking. The game-changing development of electric bikes has been the talk of the town since its conception. Many people are intrigued by the power and capabilities of an electric bike, mainly its speed. Being an e-bike user, especially in the US and in some parts of Europe, you have to be completely aware of the implementing rules and regulations for the use of electric bikes. Because as strange as it may seem, your so-called “electric bike” may not be classified under the bike category according to your department of transportation.
What is a bike?
If you’re wondering how can an electric bike be legally classified as a bike, going back to the fundamental question, “what is a bike?” will definitely help. For starters, Oxford Dictionary defines a bicycle as “a vehicle composed of two wheels held in a frame one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with handlebars attached to the front wheel.” Having said that a bike is propelled by turning the two pedals gives you an idea of what bikes should be and how they should work. Legally speaking, US Legal defined a bicycle as a human-powered vehicle with two wheels (one at the front and one at the back) designed to transport by pedaling. From the definitions given, one thing is for sure: the essence of being a bicycle lies in the human's act of pedaling; therefore, to be classified as a bike, this trait should not be removed in any case.
Definition of an Electric Bike
You might be using your e-bike for quite some time now and still don’t know the real definition. Don’t worry because we got you covered! While there is no single definition agreed upon by all, an electric bike can be described as a two-wheeled vehicle with an electric motor that provides electric pedal assistance to the rider. Electric bikes are still the same as traditional bikes having the basic components: frame, wheels, handlebars, and seat post with the addition of an electric motor, a battery, and a display and control system. With fully operable pedals, an electric bike is also equipped with an electric motor of less than 750 watts powered by a battery having a capacity ranging from 24V to 72V. Now you might want to keep this in mind because currently, the federal regulation of e-bikes (both in the US and Canada) limits the definition of an electric bike to a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, an electric motor of no more than 750 watts (1 horsepower), and a maximum speed of 20 mph on a paved level surface. Although some electric bikes do not only provide pedal assistance but full control over the e-bike, just like a moped, they are nevertheless considered as e-bikes because, after all, they still offer the option of pedaling.
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Classifying electric bikes
With the high demand for greener transportation, the number of people using and switching to electric bikes is continually increasing. Because of that, the production of different types of e-bikes to provide more convenience and choices to consumers is becoming larger and larger in the market. However, electric bikes' mass production makes it harder for both the bike regulators and the policy-making bodies to track and identify which ones are already going beyond the legal definition of what an electric bike should be. So to ease the regulation and clear the confusion, California’s law for legal e-bikes created a basic framework classifying all electric bikes.
For you to understand more, electric bikes are classified into two types: pedal assist and throttle type e-bikes. Pedal-assist e-bikes work by providing assistance or power from the electric motor only when you’re pedaling - the act of pedaling keeps the motor activated. For throttle type e-bikes, whether or not you’re pedaling, the motor can be engaged through a twist grip or by pressing a button.
And now, for the classes of e-bikes, there are three. A Class 1 pedal-assist electric bike or commonly known as pedelec in Europe, is a low-speed, pedal-assisted e-bike equipped with a motor that is activated through pedaling and has a maximum of 20 mph speed. In comparison, a Class 2 throttle electric bike also has a maximum speed of 20 mph, but it is equipped with a motor that is engaged using a throttle (can be a button or grip-twist) that can be used exclusively even without pedaling. Lastly, Class 3 electric bikes, same as for Class 1, are also pedal-assist only e-bikes but only with a higher top speed of 28 mph and are equipped with a speedometer. Take note that all electric bikes cease to provide pedal assistance when they reach their respective maximum speeds.
Class 3 electric bikes
Among the three, Class 3 electric bikes or speed pedelecs have the highest maximum speed. The 28 mph top speed feature of a Class 3 e-bike is still a contentious issue for some states in the US whether or not it should be classified as a bicycle or under the moped category. Nevertheless, to lessen your confusion regarding class 3 e-bikes, we have comprehensively laid out everything for you!
In some parts of Europe, electric bikes have a more organized structure of technical classification and regulation. Having more strict legislation for electric bikes, the European Union regards speed-pedelecs as motorized vehicles or as mopeds, thus requiring every Class 3 electric bike user to have a special driver’s license and a moped license plate. Moreover, speed-pedelecs should also be equipped with rear view mirrors. Wearing a helmet is mandatory, and the minimum age for riding a speed-pedelec is 16 years.
On the one hand, although the USA and Canada have federal regulations concerning the safety requirements and standards of manufacture for electric bikes, these are not enough to cover the regulations of the practical use of e-bikes in their respective countries. That is why the 3-class classification system is being pushed forward to be adopted by every state to ensure single unified legislation for the proper implementation of electric bikes.
Generally, in the US, Class 3 electric bikes are neither considered as mopeds or scooters. Although all electric bikes are indeed heavier than regular bikes because of the presence of a motor, battery, and a full display and control system, they are still regarded as bicycles. Under the law of California that defines what a legal electric bike should be, Class 3 e-bikes remain to be under the category of bicycles but with restrictions to some bike paths due to their higher top speed. The bill prohibits any electric bike owner from modifying their e-bikes to change the motor’s power output and consequently change speed capability. A driver’s license is not necessary, but wearing a helmet is required by the law. Unlike Class 1 and 2 electric bikes, riding a Class 3 e-bike requires a minimum age of 16 years old. It is barred from using class I multi-use bike paths - paved rights-of-way that are entirely separated from streets and are exclusively used by pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized vehicles.
Class 3 speed pedelecs are considered the fastest legal electric bikes, having a maximum of 28 mph. In some parts of Europe, speed pedelecs are considered mopeds requiring a special driver’s license and a moped license plate. In the US, Class 3 e-bikes are still classified as bikes with restricted access to some bikeways. Generally speaking, bicycle law varies from country to country and from state to state, especially now that electric bikes have become more prevalent. Having an e-bike does help a lot in our daily commute, but before heading out and giving your e-bike a spin, make sure to know and abide by the existing traffic laws. Because having sufficient knowledge regarding this matter not only prevents you from getting a ticket violation, but it will also result in a more organized structure of transportation in your area.
Now that you already know these things, it’s time to hit the road! Do you have any questions? Leave us a comment below!