Electric bikes have rapidly grown in popularity over the past few years, which has led to more and more people discovering that these are not just toys but also practical tools that can assist and expand the world of pretty much every member of society. Some people are still learning what electric bikes offer and this requires asking some seemingly simple yet legitimate questions such as: “do you need a license for an electric bike?” or “do you need a license to drive an electric bike in California?”
This is an important subject, so we want to set some context before diving into it headfirst. Licensing requirements can seem complex on the surface, but once you look at them with the assumption that you are buying a new electric bike, they become much less intimidating and more understandable. Here’s how licensing works in Australia, where most cyclists cycle in an accident and where e bike-related injuries often account for up to 1/3 of all rides involving personal injury.
Before we answer the question of whether you need a license for an e bike it is important to mention that, with e bikes on the rise in society, regulations are changing quickly. Regulations that were established in cities may also vary state by state or municipality by municipality. You should always check your individual city’s regulations to find out what restrictions and licensing requirements are specific to your location before riding on public streets or trails.
In many of the 50 states, you don’t need to register your electric bike before operating one on the road. They also aren’t required to have insurance or undergo inspections as motor vehicles would be. That being said, there are many good reasons why some states might require these licenses, including ensuring e bikers understand the laws that apply to their class of vehicle and ensuring they are wearing a helmet.
WHAT DEFINES AN ELECTRIC BICYCLE IN THE USA?
In today’s world where all personal transportation is being electrified i.e. electric cars and electric motorcycles; how do we separate an electric bicycle from, say, an electrified moped, scooter or an e-superbike? You might have noticed that we snuck the term ‘low-speed electric bicycle’ into the beginning of the last section. This is because this is the official title Congress has placed on what we all call e bikes. The law goes as so:
an electric bike with a motor of less than 750 watts, ridden by someone who weighs 170 pounds and has fully-operable pedals. Its top speed is less than 20 miles per hour when driven on a paved surface.
As per the law passed in December 2002, “low-speed electric bicycle” is not considered a motor vehicle. These bikes are under the department of Consumer Product Safety Commission. They are to be regulated like regular bicycles and many more other products. Therefore, they lack certain provisions as standard motorized vehicles that require having a driver’s license and permit before operating it on roads.
The bikes that reach speeds exceeding 28mph are categorized as class 3, meaning they don’t require a driver’s license. They are powered by human power and motors that cut out once you surpass this speed. These bikes have no brakes so pedal assist is the only method of stopping them. They can be ridden under the speed limit on city streets and have no brakes if they go beyond it at a certain point. If the motor stays on when you exceed this speed then your bike is classified as a motor vehicle.
These are the electric bicycles in this article and all of our other ones. Anything that goes faster than 20mph using only a throttle or 28mph using pedal assistance is considered a motorized vehicle and not an electric bicycle.