By Tony Donaldson  [email protected]


When this great country began, the framers of the constitution knew that there should be overarching federal laws, then state laws to allow each state a way to handle many issues in a way that serve the people of that state in the best and most fair way.

States adopted their own state constitution, and most of them opted not to reinvent the proverbial wheel but instead co-opted what the other states were doing. That led to most having the exact same one-size-fits-all document. Maybe that’s a good idea, maybe it isn’t. I didn’t study much political science in high school or college, but it seems that given individual power and the needs of citizenry in California that’s likely a little different than that of the citizens of Kentucky, does one size fit all?

California started the trend in electric bicycle legislation, possibly too quickly adopting a three-class system in which Class 1 electric bicycles can offer pedal assist up to 20 mph, Class 2 e-bikes can go up to 20 mph and have a throttle, and Class 3 electric bicycles can go up to 28 mph and are not allowed on bike-only paths but are allowed on city streets and street bike paths. Soft surfaces allow electric bicycles unless otherwise legislated. All bikes are required to have a class sticker affixed to them, I suppose for enforcement purposes.

I’m not sure we need a Class 2. The throttle is irrelevant to the speed and makes it more confusing to enforce. If someone has a need for a throttle, whether because of injury or preference, it’s ultimately still the same speed, right? That’s just one of the issues with the way California has framed this, and some of it has to do with the lack of knowledge on the part of legislators and some has to do with bike companies and lobbyists protecting their own interests. At the same time, there has been some good help from various coalitions, like PeopleForBikes.

Now there are five states with electric bike legislation on the books, including California, Tennessee, Utah and Arkansas. It looks like Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut and New York are up next. For the most part, they’re all rubber-stamping what California has done, with little thought of the needs of the citizens of that particular state. It’s a step in the right direction, albeit a somewhat lazy one.

Laws move slowly, but as we all know, technology speeds ahead exponentially. Too restrictive of a law can impede some incredible innovation, too loose of a law can be dangerous for the citizens it is supposed to serve and protect.

Getting it right the first time is important, because amending it later can take a long time. Case in point: when California required hands-free cell-phone use in cars, they missed the fact that people would then just text. They had to amend that law, but by then it was too late. They had created a habit. California drivers are egregious abusers of this law when it comes to texting, and that’s made it far more dangerous for both drivers and cyclists.

New York is struggling with what to do with electric bikes. They require anything with a motor to be registered. Alabama and Alaska consider any bike with a motor a motorcycle and require an M-class license to operate them. Alabama and Michigan require a motorcycle helmet to ride an e-bike.

The mountain biking community is concerned about trail access. Everyone on two wheels who likes the dirt wants to keep access to the amazing trails across this country. IMBA’s great survey comparing traditional mountain bikes to electric ones and showing no difference in impact on trails is huge, but we also have to all work together with land managers to keep a friendly and open discussion. In some states it is legal to ride any soft surface with an e-bike, unless specifically marked otherwise. In other states it’s illegal to ride any soft surface with an e-bike, unless specifically marked otherwise.

I know that many of the legislators are hearing from constituents and others who have heard fearmongering stories from friends or news stations that draw attention to the issue and ask “are e-bikes dangerous?” and basing decisions on this kind of information instead of actually throwing a leg over an electric bike and experiencing the reality. Europe and Asia have embraced electric bikes in a big way, and we are starting to as well.

I’ve had some serious discussions with people throughout the industry, and I’m clamoring to talk to more. We are at a pivotal time, and we all need to discuss this and point the e-bike juggernaut in the right direction.


We don’t get nearly enough input from our readers. We’d love to hear from you. If you have an experience to share, a story to tell, a complaint, a compliment (about us or any company in the industry), whatever, please e-mail me at [email protected]. We’re also always on the lookout for good stories from contributors. If you have an idea, drop me a line!

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