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The Three-Class e Bike System

Electric bikes (eBikes) are gaining traction as a means of recreation and transportation in the United States after enjoying years of popularity in Europe. Virtually any adult, from the most seasoned bike rider to someone who hasn’t biked since childhood can ride an Ebike. EBikes have the potential to expand bike riding to new audiences and keep people riding bikes throughout their lives.  Several type of Ebikes types have emerged, all of which can broadly be placed into three categories.

The three classes are defined as follows:

  • Class 1: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
  • Class 2: eBikes that also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, but are throttle-assisted.
  • Class 3: eBikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.

                   All classes limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).

Kentucky & Indiana's Ebike Law

See Kentucky's Law

See Indiana's Law

Regulation & Clarification

In the United States, at the federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates eBikes for the purpose of product safety for manufacturing and first sale. States decide how eBikes can be used on streets and bike paths. Over time, states adopted (what could arguably be described as outdated) rules governing the use of eBikes — some treating them like human-powered bicycles, some treating them like motor vehicles, and everything in between. Some have no regulation whatsoever. 

Since 2014, with leadership team from People For Bikes, the national bicycle advocacy group and bicycle industry trade association, more than 30 states have passed a standardized regulation for eBike use with a simple, straightforward approach known as the “3-Class” System. This model legislation defines three common classes of eBikes (based on speed, wattage, and operation), and allows states to decide which types of bicycle infrastructure each class can use (typically Class 1 and Class 2 eBikes are allowed wherever traditional bikes are allowed). It also requires eBike makers to place a highly visible sticker on the frame to indicate an eBike’s Class. 

In 2015, California was the first state to adopt this “3-Class” approach, and since then, 32 other states followed suit: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. More states around the country should adopt this “3-Class” standard to eliminate confusion, enhance safety, and promote this green transportation method.

Classes and Access

Some states treat Class 1 eBikes like traditional mountain or pavement bicycles, legally allowed to ride where bicycles are permitted, including bike lanes, roads, multiuse trails and bike-only paths.

Class 2 throttle-assist eBikes are often allowed most places a traditional bicycle can go, though some states and cities are opting for additional restrictions (e.g. New York City & Michigan State). Class 2 may not be suitable for singletrack mountain bike trails — it has been shown that they pose greater physical damage to trails due to the throttle-actuation. Class 2 may be better suited for multi-use OHV trails designed for more rugged off-road vehicles.

Class 3 eBikes are typically allowed on roads and on-road bike lanes (“curb to curb” infrastructure), but restricted from bike trails and multiuse paths. While a 20-mph maximum speed is achievable on a traditional bicycle, decision makers and agencies consider the greater top-assisted speed of a Class 3 eBike too fast for most bike paths and trails that are often shared with other trail users.

To learn more about where electric bikes can be ridden in the United States visit People for Bikes.

Adopted and updated from an article written by Claudia Wasko, General Manager of Bosch e Bikes Systems. Reprinted here with permission.