If you live in an urban area, chances are good you've seen an electric bike or two (or perhaps many more!) along your city streets. Indeed, nowadays, it’s likely that even those living in suburban or remote areas have seen an e-bike in their neighborhood or the surrounding area. And while it wouldn’t be accurate to say e-bikes are ubiquitous, it is fair to say they’re here to stay, and ubiquity is probably not far off.
With the rise in numbers of bicycles all across the world, then, it should come as no surprise that we in the US are trying to come to terms with how to regulate them. In particular, some who oversee access, maintenance, and use of trails and road systems across the country are codifying rules of the road when it comes to electric bicycles.
In August 2019, for example, the US Department of the Interior issued a Policy Memorandum to “[address] this emerging form of recreation so [the National Park Service (NPS) could] exercise clear management authority over the use of e-bikes within the National Park System.”
In this Policy Memorandum, DOI defined e-bikes in a manner “consistent with Federal law and a majority of State laws, [attempting] to provide for their use and regulation on the same basis as bicycles without power assist capabilities.”
That definition is as follows:
“An e-bike is a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.) that provides propulsion assistance.”
Drawing from Title 15, US Code 2085, the Consumer Product Safety Act, and noting that many states have done so as well, DOI further specified that some are regulating these electric bicycles (and sometimes requiring labeling of the bikes to match) according to the following three “class” definitions:
“Class 1 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
“Class 2 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
“Class 3 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.
Summary of E-bike Classifications
Pedal-assist only, no throttle, maximum assisted speed of 20 mph, max 750w (1hp) motor
Throttle assist, maximum speed of 20 mph, max 750w (1hp) motor
Pedal-assist only, no throttle, maximum assisted speed of 28 mph, max 750w (1hp) motor.
Setting New Rules
The important thing to note about the definition put forth by DOI is that it creates a subset of powered vehicles with a purpose in mind: there is a need for regulation of e-bikes in parks, so the first step in establishing that regulation is specifying what is to be regulated. In this case, all three classes of e-bikes listed above are included in the “What is an e-bike?” definition. What’s not included is specified in the Policy Memorandum as follows:
“Devices with electric motors of 750 watts (1 h.p.) or more of power and not included as Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 in the classification system above should be managed as motor vehicles. Motor vehicles are allowed on park roads and on routes and areas designated for off-road motor vehicle use.”
A definition thus established, and in their most basic form, the guidelines governing e-bike usage in National Parks are as follows (paraphrasing):
In National Parks, e-bikes can be used where regular bikes are used. E-bikes must be ridden in pedal-assist mode when they are operating in areas where bikes are allowed but motorized vehicles are not. “Except where use of motor vehicles by the public is allowed, using the electric motor to move an e-bike without pedaling is prohibited.”
This system of e-bike classification and these rules as adopted by the US Department of Interior are, generally speaking, similar to what is in place in many other recreation areas across the country. That said, it is still incumbent on riders of e-bikes to become familiar with and adhere to rules regarding the use of city, state, or federal trails and roads. There are many local exceptions and differences based on traffic, environmental and other considerations.
E-bikes Are Here to Stay
E-bikes are here to stay. That’s a reality, not hyperbole. In the future, many will use e-bikes as their sole form of transportation. Rules, regulations, and laws regarding the use of e-bikes have lagged somewhat behind e-bike proliferation, but many governing entities have now established or are in process of establishing guidelines for e-bike usage.
The commonly accepted definition of e-bike classifications is Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. These distinctions are important because they allow proper governance of powered vehicle operation. They are also important because they have established an enduring lexicon that can serve as a solid foundation for all manner of future discussions about e-bikes.
US Department of the Interior Policy Memorandum 19-01, “Electric Bicycles”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Canute Limarider