When ebikes first hit the scene, they brought along a fair amount of confusion on where and how they were legally allowed to be used. Should a bike with a motor be treated like a conventional bike, sharing bike paths and trails with conventional bikes and pedestrians? Or should they be treated like a motorcycle or moped, with all of the regulations shared by these two-wheel vehicles?
If you’ve been curious about where you can ride your electric bike, we’re breaking down Federal and CA state regulations for ebikes and the classification system used to categorize ebike usage.
Electric bicycles have been defined and regulated at the Federal level since 2002. Under Federal law, electric bicycles are subject to the same regulations that govern traditional (human-powered) bicycles. They are not considered “motor vehicles.”
Under Federal law, an ebike is considered a “low-speed electric bicycle” and defined as “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.”
Federal law does not supersede state traffic laws and vehicle codes. For our CA friends, an understanding of local CA ebike classifications can help you understand exactly where you can ride your ebike.
The CA Department of Motor Vehicles breaks down ebikes into 3 categories.
Class I Ebikes
Class I ebikes are equipped with a pedal-assist motor that only provides assistance when a rider is pedaling. These bikes cease to provide assistance when the bike reaches 20 mph. Class I bikes are allowed on the same bike paths and lanes that conventional bikes are allowed.
Class II Ebikes
Class II eBikes are equipped with throttle-assisted motors that can exclusively propel the bicycle, but that cannot provide assistance when the bike reaches 20 mph. As with Class 1 ebikes, Class II bikes are generally allowed the same places as a conventional bike.
Class III Ebikes
A Class III ebike is equipped with a pedal-assist motor that reaches a top speed of 28 mph. Class III ebikes are also equipped with a speedometer. In some states, Class III ebikes may have a throttle (but not in CA). Riders must be 16-years or older and wear a helmet. These bikes are not allowed on Class I multi-use bike paths (these paths are shared with pedestrians) unless specifically authorized by a local ordinance.
In 2019, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a Secretarial Order aimed to increase recreational opportunities for ebikes on public land. The National Park Service (NPS) issued a final rule in 2020 stating that ebikes may go where traditional bicycles are allowed. However, superintendents at each park must give explicit direction to limit or restrict ebike access where they deem appropriate.
Basically, ebike rules may vary from park to park. But generally, ebikes will be allowed on any off-highway vehicle area (roads or trails where motorized vehicles are permitted). And ebikes may be allowed on bike trails, but you should check a park website before you go to to find out which trails are accessible to ebikes. Some parks may also exclude certain classes of ebikes, such as Class III bikes, for example.
Most importantly, ebikes and conventional bikes are never allowed in the wilderness of a national park, so please respect the rules and stay on the trails, regardless of what you ride.
Roseville Cyclery is Northern California’s premier ebike sales and service shop, located in downtown Roseville, CA. We carry a wide selection of pedal-assist ebikes from your favorite bike manufacturers, such as Specialized, Santa Cruz, Norco, and more. Visit our shop to find the perfect ebike for your riding needs, or shop our selection of ebikes online.