The state of ebike legality in the United States for a very long time has been ‘whatever you can get away with’. The laws vary from state to state and many states have no laws whatsoever governing ebike usage. NYC has banned them, but with limited and inconsistent enforcement. In many other places like Moab they have been banned as well, mostly because too many people were riding too recklessly without any self-imposed limits on their behavior. In general, I have found that the a large majority of regular non-motorized the cycling obsessed crowd absolutely abhors ebikes, but the tide may be changing.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law in California today that outlines 3 types of ebikes and their appropriate usage.
Type 1 ebike: is for Pedal Operated (often know as PAS) bikes which are allowed on all bike trails and bike paths without restrictions. Speed must be under 20mph. Minors must wear helmets.
Type 2 ebike: is a Throttled Ebike which are allowed on everything Type 1 bikes are allowed on without restrictions. Speed must be under 20mph. Minors must wear helmets.
Type 3 ebike: is a Speed Pedalec which are not allowed on Class 1 bike paths but are allowed everywhere else. Speed must be under 28mph and you need a helmet to ride this ride regardless of your age.
Mopeds: Who cares about mopeds? You’re on the wrong blog. Go back to google, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
This law is a HUGE win for the ebike industry as now ebike dealers and manufacturers can actually build bikes that conform to the California laws. For too long ebikes have had an arbitrary 20mph speed limit as a carry over from the HR 727 law. This law only defines what can be sold in the US as an “ebike” instead of being called something else like a “moped” or “motorcycle”. This law has nothing to do with what is legal to ride, but I carry a copy of it everywhere I go as a way anyway as a way to confuse policemen into not giving me a ticket. HR 727 talks about a 750Watt limit and a 20mph speed limit on level ground with a 170 lb rider. Very few ebikes home-built ebikes in the US conform to this rule.
‘‘For the purpose of this section, the term ‘lowspeed electric bicycle’ means a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose 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 mph.” – HR 727 is the only federal definition of ebike you might ever see
Just how fast can you go with a 750 Watt nominal mid drive unit?
A 750 watt mid drive the BBS02 over-volted to 59v on a road bike can hit 85.5km/hr (53mph) as shown in this video by our favorate Aussie speed freak Bruno. In order to go this fast you will need to reprogram your controller and mount it with a 52T chainring on a very efficient road bike with a 59v battery on it, a newer controller with 3077 mosfets and lose a few pounds off those love handles. Most BBS02 750W units go around 30mph without any mods on a normal bike and while carrying your average super-sized American. If you drive the BBS02 at that kind of speed and power (almost 1500W) expect to have to replace the gears pretty regularly, hopefully the 1000W BBSHD will be built more robustly. Just how fast will the BBDHD go? It is unlikely that even in the best conditions with a windscreen it will go much over 60mph because when you get that fast you have to start adding a lot of power to go just a little bit faster.
Is 28 mph really enough?
In my opinion 28mph is fast enough. 28 mph seems to be about the perfect combination of efficiency, safety and speed. Whenever I think that my 28 mph ebike is not going fast enough I think about all the Amish in their horse carts going slower than that and being perfectly happy. When I am going over 40mph on my $300 frame frankly it scares me and it’s just not worth being scared all the time to get where I am going just 25% faster. Another serious problem is that it takes a lot more power to go 40mph on your ebike than it does to go 28mph. How much more power does it take? Probably at least double the power as wind resistance starts to be a real problem for non-recumbent bikes at speeds much over 30 mph. I can go much farther on the same charge if I just slow down to a reasonable speed.
Most states have ebike laws that limit speeds to 20 mph which is fine for inter-city traffic but WAY too slow for commuting longer distances. A spandex-clad nonelectric skinny tire road biker on a slight downhill slope can easily hit 30+ mph so a 28mph speed limit is way more in line with what is to be expected with ebikes. As for single-track trail riding and other Type 1 Bike trail speed limits I would have to say that in the woods I almost never exceed 20 mph as it is far too dangerous to hit a tree at those speeds. Trees really hurt, the best way to not hit them is to just not look at them whenever you lose control of your bike. Alternately you could just ride at a speed in which you don’t lose control of your bike, but where is the fun in that? It would be nice if places like Moab would open up their trails to ebikes that would self-limit their speeds to 20 mph, but I think that it is incredibly unlikely to happen. My understanding of this law is that you can take your 28 mph type 3 ebike and just ride on Class 1 bike trails as long as you don’t exceed 20 mph you automagically become a “Type 1 ebike”. Brilliant.
What can I do?
Find out about what laws there are in your state for ebikes and if there is legislation currently working its way through your state senate. Become an ebike activist and help to write and pass the laws you want to live within your community. Encourage your local government to build bike lanes everywhere like they have in Denmark. Don’t give up the dream of living in a world where ebikes are not discriminated against, but rather celebrated as a fantastic, efficient and environmentally sound form of transportation.
It starts and ends with you.