Electric Bike Action casts a very wide net over the uni- verse of electric-powered two-wheelers. We throw our collective legs over everything from bikes like the
tire-smoking, electric-powered Zero motorcycle to the pedal-assist cruiser your grandmother could pedal to her weekly
bridge match. While categorizing all these bikes into neat
subcultures might seem like an impossible task, American
lawmakers have already done the work for us, and it is a pretty logical division of power, so to speak.
MOTORCYCLE OR BICYCLE?
Lawmakers have drawn the line between electric motorcycles and power-assisted bicycles by comparing one component—where you put your feet. On a motorcycle, this component is called a “footpeg,” and on a power-assisted bicycle,
it is called a “pedal.” Footpegs equal a motorcycle; pedals
equal a bicycle.
Apparently, sensing the ability of some ingenious type
to find a hole in that description, lawmakers in a preventative action closed that loophole in less time than it takes to
explain what a mid-mount motor is. The pedals, to be real
pedals, have to be connected to a crank, and that crank has
to be connected to a drivetrain so that the power-assisted
bicycle rider is able to move the bike along under 100 percent
Another loophole closer that may be in place in your state
is the e-bike’s top speed. Many state laws are written to put
a maximum speed on how fast an e-bike can propel its rider
without pedaling. The most common number is 20 miles
per hour, but your state might add or shave some speed
to that number.
The footpeg criterion takes all the guesswork out of
identifying a motorcycle. The law doesn’t care if your
motorcycle uses a four-stroke engine, a two-stroke
engine, a rotary engine, a steam engine or an electric
motor. If you can’t pedal it, you fall under the jurisdiction
of the laws, licensing and registration that apply to motor-
cycles in your state. And, the laws vary greatly from state
to state. An example of this is motorcycle rider helmet
Forty-seven states have a helmet law for motorcyclists.
Of those, 19 have a universal helmet law that requires helmets for all riders, 28 require helmets for specific riders,
and three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) do
not require a helmet to be worn. Our point is that if you
are riding an electric-powered motorcycle, you need to
be well-versed in your state’s motor vehicle department’s
rules and regulations. Your electric-powered motorcycle,
in the eyes of Johnny Law, is the same as a gas-guzzling
Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special.
Your electric-assist bicycle doesn’t totally fit under the
bicycle umbrella in the eyes of lawmakers. Again, you
have to check with your state, because rules of the road
vary wildly from state to state. In California, bicycle riders
over 18 are not required to wear a helmet, but all e-bike
riders, regardless of age, are required to wear a helmet (a
bicycle helmet, not a motorcycle helmet). Speaking of age,
in California, a rider needs to be 16 years of age or older
to operate an e-bike on the street. Sorry, kids, no riding
dad’s e-bike to school.
To help you ask the right questions about e-bike
operation in your state, we spoke to Jaime Coffee of the
California Highway Patrol’s Community Outreach and
Media Relations department and asked her the most common
e-bike questions in regards to the law.
EBA: Are e-bikes permitted to use bike lanes?
Jamie: So long as the e-bike meets the definition of a
motorized bicycle found in California Vehicle Code Section
(CVCS) 406, yes, it would be permitted in a bike lane.
However, there may be local ordinances that prohibit or further restrict usage.
EBA: Are e-bikes restricted to bike lanes?
Jamie: No, they are not. To be operated on the roadway,
the operator needs to adhere to CVCS 21202 for Operation
on Roadway. Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway
at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the
same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable
to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except under
any of the following situations:
(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle
proceeding in the same direction.
(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into
a private road or driveway.
( 3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (
including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles,
bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substan-dard-width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the
right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of section.
Riding on the
of the Law
bicycles fit into the rules
of the road (and trail)