Many electric bike riders and e-bike enthusiasts are naturally interested in the laws and regulations which govern the use of their favorite mode of transportation. Most people want to do the right thing and follow the rules in their community. But it doesn’t take much research to discover that e-bike laws, regulations, and rules vary from place to place and may be ambiguous at times. This is because governments are large, slow to act, and often multi-layered. Just because one state or country has certain views about ebikes does not mean that other states or countries will share that same view.
If you’ve recently purchased an e-bike or plan to in the near future, you will soon find out that each state and city or country have these different rules from one another. However, the good news is that all governments have a similar framework for ebike regulations, and it is simply the minor details that change from area to area. And once you understand the framework, you can quickly discover the most relevant and current legal rulings for your situation. It is also interesting to know why e-bike laws are not yet set in stone, especially since e-bikes have been around for some time and only continue to rise in popularity. We will cover all of these topics and more today as we discuss the current attitudes that European and American governments have about e-bikes.
E-bike Laws are Still Evolving
It can be tempting to think that just because you’ve checked your local regulations once that you are set for life. Unfortunately, laws and regulations change over time, especially ones related to newer technologies like electric transportation and changing micro-mobility trends. Consumers and markets often act quicker than governments can respond. Therefore, it is important to remember that e-bike laws and government positions can and will change as time goes on. Be sure to check up on the latest news and rules about e-bikes from time to time. This can even make the world of e-bikes a little more exciting!
Governments are Incentivized to Provide Guidance on E-bikes
Understanding how different governments think about e-bikes can be highly instructive. All governments are incentivized to continue to provide more guidance on e-bike laws as time goes on. It is in their best interests to provide clarity to a growing number of their constituents. After all, e-bikes are good for communities in many ways.
For example, governments should incentivize e-bike adoption and provide guidance to increase their usage. When more e-bikes are used in an area, less traffic congestion and pollution occurs. E-bikes are great for commuting and beating traffic or helping to fight back against man-made climate change.
Additionally, there is a growing population of e-bike riders, young and old, who crave stability from lawmakers and policy setters in the government. By having smart and reasonable rules in place, e-bike riders are safer, as are the pedestrians on the sidewalk and motorists on the road. When governments respond to new technologies with safe and practical laws, the flywheel of innovation is allowed to continue spinning, and we all benefit.
E-bike Laws Follow a Common Framework
Governments generally approve of e-bikes. We know this because although the details differ, the U.S. Government and every government in Europe have some text on record related to e-bikes. The differences between countries will be found in the following categories: motor power, speed limit, pedal operability, age restrictions, safety requirements, and allowable routes.
Governments set maximum motor power output for e-bikes because they do not want them to become too powerful and take on the characteristics of street motorcycles. This inhibits the speed limit to some degree for the same reason. By voluntarily putting a limit on the motor size of their bikes, brands like Honbike have been able to help riders always stay on the right side of the law, no matter the country they are riding in.
Pedals must be fully operable on any e-bike for it to be considered a true electric bike. Some countries have minimum age requirements for e-bike use, and some go even further to define minimum age limits by the class of e-bike. The same cautious government attitudes that created age limits also created helmet laws which vary by age and state. Finally, most e-bikes may only be ridden in bike lanes, on bike paths, or safely on the road if no bike lane is present. You can generally not ride an e-bike on the sidewalk unless it is the only safe option.
E-bike Laws and Regulations in Europe
E-bike laws in Europe vary from country to country, but it has been great to see all countries embrace electric bike usage so warmly. We’ve written extensively on the topic, but in general, e-bikes fall into one of four classes and must follow all of the same traffic rules as traditional cyclists. By ensuring that your bike is labeled with the maximum power and speed, you will be able to demonstrate legal riding requirements are met should the need arise.
E-bike Laws and Regulations in America
Most e-bike laws in the United States evolved from traditional bicycle laws. The U.S. Government recognizes and encourages the use of e-bikes by those with physical disabilities due to injury or old age, and it is great to see some clarity from the federal level legalizing e-bikes. Americans have larger cities and more land and thus have higher allowable speeds for their e-bikes than in European countries. Therefore, e-bikes in the U.S. fall into three different classes, which are recognized by each state (motorcycles are technically the fourth class but are not considered low-speed electric bikes for our purposes here).
The only unifying federal law is one that defines what an e-bike is: from the Federal Consumer Product Safety Act; an e-bike is a “low-speed electric bicycle” that has fully operable pedals and a top speed of 20mph when only powered by the motor. It also states the motor size may only produce less than or equal to 750 watts of power. That said, each state relies on additional details such as licensing requirements, helmet usage, and where you are allowed to ride, so be sure to check your local regulations before riding.
As governments continue to adopt new and better laws for e-bikes and build new and better infrastructure to support those laws, everybody wins. Everybody from the planet to the drivers to the riders. This, in turn, will increase electric bike adoption and continue the sustainable upward spiral of green transportation. This is why governments are incentivized to continue their work. Thankfully there are common elements to e-bike law, and Europe and the U.S. both have many resources written on the topic.