A Beginners Guide to the Different Classes of Electric Bikes
Jan 30, 2024
Within many states, electric bikes are sorted into a three-tiered system. Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. These classes are based on how fast and powerful different e-bike models are. The idea of the class system is to make it easier for people to understand the differences between other motorized vehicles and to help regulators set rules for them.
Rails to Trails has some more information on e-bike regulations!
What is a Class 1 electric bike?
Class 1 e-bikes are categorized as traditional street and mountain bikes in the eyes of law. This means that these electric bikes are allowed on shared bike paths and trails alongside traditional, non-electric bikes.
These e-bikes integrate pedal-assist technology that becomes activated once the rider begins to pedal. The motor only becomes activated when the pedal is being engaged. The speed limit on these electric bikes is 20 mph.
What exactly is pedal assist?
Pedal assist is a common feature in how electric bikes function. In simple terms, when you pedal an e-bike, it activates the motor and moves the bike forward. The specifics of pedal assist differ from bike to bike. For example, some electric bikes require you to apply pressure to the pedals while others only require the pedals to be spinning for the motor to output power. This would be the difference between a cadence sensor, used in the Superhuman Bandit and Babymaker electric bikes, which only requires the pedals to spin, and a torque sensor, used in the rest of our e-bikes that require you to actually push on the pedals. None of our bikes will continue to run long after stopping pedaling. For example, some electric bikes require constant pedaling to keep the motor engaged, while other models continue running even if you take a break from pedaling. To sum it all up, pedal assist is the method of motor engagement in e-bikes connected to how the rider interacts with the bike pedals.
Class 1 electric bikes tend to be cheaper which makes them best suited for newcomers!! Not because they are worse bikes but because they have less power and therefore require less batteries and complexity. Class 1 e-bikes are great at enhancing a daily commute or starting to spend more time outdoors!
What is a Class 2 electric bike?
Moving onto class 2 electric bikes, these bikes tend to stand out against Class 1 e-bikes due to the use of a throttle which eliminates the need for pedal-assist. A simple and light press of the throttle moves you forward that provides easy acceleration. The rider holds ultimate control, they can choose a more high-intensity or relaxed kind of ride.
Despite usually having a pedal-assist option, the throttle allows riders to cruise without pedaling, relying solely on the bike's motor for forward movement. It’s important to mention that relying heavily on the throttle without taking a break or pedaling can deplete the battery quickly. Class 2 is similar to Class 1 due to the speed limit cap of 20 mph.
This class of electric bikes can also be used in the same areas as Class 1 e-bikes and regular, traditional bikes. These e-bikes are perfect for the casual commuters and recreational riders. Class 2 bikes are the best and most recommended for people with limited mobility due to the throttle.
What is the difference in a Class 3 electric bike?
Finally Class 3 e-bikes are similar to Class 1, except for the distinguishing fact that Class 3 has a top speed limit of 28 mph. This high speed makes them one of the fastest options among electric bikes.
A majority of ebikes do have a setting to increase the speed limiter on the bike, but increasing the speed limit will make the bike not fall under Class 1, 2, or 3 and operating past the limit could get you in some trouble.
Due to Class 3 electric bikes speed, these bikes are meant to be in road lanes or designated bike lanes, but mostly restricted from bike paths and multi-use trails. Despite their speed, these electric bikes remain within legal bicycle classification. Class 3 electric bikes are perfect for riders who are seeking next level speed and power for their needs.
What states recognize the class system for electric bikes?
There are 13 states that DO NOT recognise the three-tiered system and here is how they define e-bikes.
- Alaska: A motor-driven cycle
- Hawaii: A low-speed electric bicycle as detailed in 15 U.S. Code § 2085
- Kansas: An electric-assisted bicycle with two or three wheels, a seat, fully operative pedals, and an electric motor; The electric motor must have a power output of no more than 1,000 watts and not propel or assist over 20 mph on level ground.
- Kentucky: A bicycle must have operable pedals.
- Massachusetts: A motorized bicycle (either a pedal bicycle with a helper motor or a non-pedal bicycle with a motor) with a maximum cylinder capacity of 50 cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and a maximum speed of 30 mph on level ground
- Montana: An e-bike or electrically assisted bicycle with two operational pedals and an attached motor that propels the bicycle and a 170-pound rider no faster than 20 mph on level ground
- Nebraska: A bicycle with two or three wheels, fully operative pedals, and an electric motor with a maximum capacity of 750 watts that can propel the bicycle at a maximum speed of 20 mph on level ground
- New Mexico: A moped with two or three wheels, an automatic transmission, and a motor having a piston displacement of less than 50 cubic centimeters with a maximum speed of 30 mph on level ground
- North Carolina: An electric-assisted bicycle with two or three wheels, a seat, fully operable pedals, and an electric motor of no more than 750 watts with a maximum speed of 20 mph on a level surface
- Oregon: An electric-assisted bicycle designed to be operated on the ground on two or three wheels with a seat, operable pedals, and an electric motor of no more than 1,000 watts with a maximum speed of 20 mph on level ground
- Pennsylvania: A pedalcycle with electric assist weighing a maximum of 100 pounds with two or three wheels larger than 11 inches in diameter, operable pedals, and an electric motor of no more than 750 watts and a maximum speed of 20 mph on a level surface
- Rhode Island: An electric motorized bike propelled by human power or electric motor power, or both, with an electric motor no more than 2 horsepower and a maximum speed of 25 mph on level ground
- South Carolina: An electric assist bicycle or bicycle with a helper motor and two or three wheels, operable pedals, and an electric motor of no more than 750 watts; maximum motor-powered speed of 20 mph when operated on a paved level surface by a rider weighing 170 pounds; the electric motor must disengage or cease to function when the brakes are applied or the rider stops pedaling. Electric assist bicycles are not mopeds.
State Laws and Regulations for Electric Bikes
Are all classes of e-bikes allowed on all trails?
It all depends on what trails and where you are riding. To be sure, it is always best to check with local regulations before you ride. However, some local trails will have posted signs that clearly define whether or not your class of electric bike is allowed.
The Bureau of Land Management says that all 3 classes of electric bikes are allowed on public lands managed by BLM. Currently e-bikes are allowed on roads and trails open to Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use. In addition, if a BLM manager or officer gives a written approval following the rules, you may also use e-bikes on roads and trials meant only for traditional bikes and non-motorized travel. The link below provides more details on where to ride.
What is the minimum age requirement to operate an electric bike?
E-bike laws are always changing and growing, so staying up-to-date with the newest laws is important! DMV’s normally have a page for two-wheeled motorized vehicles. Click HERE to find your state’s DMV homepage!
States with a 14 year old minimum age requirement for electric bikes:
- North Dakota
States with a 15 year old minimum age requirement for e-bikes:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
States with a 16 year old minimum age requirement for electric bicycles:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
States with a 18 year old minimum age requirement for electric bikes:
- South Carolina
States with a NO minimum age requirement for electric bicycles:
- Rhode Island
Does my e-bike need to be registered?
There are more states that do not need electric bikes to be registered. However there are a few states that do. Again, most state laws are still being developed for electric bikes, so be sure to check local authorities before you ride. Registering your e-bike is easier than you think, especially if your state offers it online.
States that DO require e-bike registration:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
Exploring the world OF electric bikes with the three-tiered system of Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 offers a pathway to endless opportunities of exploring the world ON electric bikes. Whether you're a beginner seeking a relaxed ride or even an enthusiast searching for more speed and power, understanding the differences of each class is key. It’s important to note that rules and regulations vary from state to state, so staying informed about laws in your area ensures an enjoyable e-biking experience. So remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re speeding through town on a Class 3 or cruising down a trial on a Class 1 joy ride, it’s crucial to enjoy the ride no matter what you’re doing or where you’re going!