This question varies a lot from country to country and bike to bike, so it’s not easy to answer it absolutely. If you’re traveling within the United States, though, electric bicycles are not considered motor vehicles under most circumstances. Specifically, this applies to bikes with an electric assist motor that does not exceed 500 watts and a top speed no higher than 20mph when powered by the motor alone. They are classified as consumer products under the Consumer Product Safety Act, which means there is no minimum age requirement for legal operation, and there is also no licensing requirement. Like kayaks and other vehicles that are classed as consumer products, safety and legality are two separate things, so make sure you’re purchasing age-appropriate models if you’re shopping for an electric bike for children. It’s also worth noting that while e-bikes do not require federal licenses, states across the country are allowed to have their own requirements, and several of them do require an operator’s license for at least some types of e-bikes when they are ridden on the street.
Bike Classes and Riding Restrictions
While you don’t need a license to operate e-bikes, there are some restrictions on when and how they can be used. Federal law classifies bikes with electric motors into three categories, according to engine size and top speed.
- Class one bicycles typically do not require a license, with very rare exception, because they only provide an assist when the operator is pedaling and ceases assisting when the bike exceeds 20 mph
- Class two bikes still have a top speed of 20 mph before the assist cuts off, but they can provide propulsion even when the rider does not pedal
- Class three bikes have a top speed of up to 28 mph, and are the ones most commonly restricted in states requiring a license
Additionally, many biking trails in public parks and on state land include restrictions on which trails are open to class three bikes. Most do not regulate the use of class one or class two bikes, but always check out the rules before you show up to a new place expecting to ride. Mens hybrid bikes can often have the electric assist disabled when needed, and you should still be able to ride with the assist off even if you can’t use it on that particular trail.
States Requiring Licensing
Currently, there are 16 states that require some form of licensing for at least some classes of electric bike, but many of them only require it for class three bikes, using the rubric defined above. Not all of them call those bikes class three, but typically they use the features that define the class in the description without substantial changes if they do not use the term. It’s a good idea to investigate your state’s bike laws before any purchase, because additional restrictions on where any bicycle can be ridden, what personal protective equipment is required, and how bikes should behave in traffic are all important for new riders to learn. Keep that in mind as you shop for a hybrid bike for women.
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