F.A.Q. regarding Department of Interior's recent Policy on E-Bike Definitions and Usage

Are E-Bikes Legal? Voltaire Cycles Franchises

In response to the Department of Interior's recently published Policy and Rules issue for use of E-Bikes on our federal lands, we have assembled a list of the most commonly asked questions from customers of our franchise shops. 

Question: "Do you need a license or registration to ride either an e-bike or an electric scooter?”

Answer: “This is a good question and one that we hear daily. The short answer is that it depends on the state where you reside. The longer answer goes like this; over the last decade, electric bikes have become an integral part of many urban and suburban communities. Each state in the U.S. has its own laws regarding the use of these vehicles on public roadways. You should check with your local municipality to determine whether you are permitted to ride an e-bike on lanes and roadways. Don't assume that because your state may have specific legislation permitting the use of e-bikes that this applies equally everywhere. Check first to be sure. Each municipality within a state has the ability to modify road use and restrictions based on extenuating circumstances. 

For a state-by-state directory of e-bike laws, please visit our non-profit lobbying and cycling advocacy organization PeopleForBikes.org. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities large and small to develop and protect bicycle usage on public roadways. While you are there, please donate to help the cause. We are all benefiting from their outstanding work. 

In the Voltaire Cycles Franchises' home-state of New Jersey, e-bikes and e-scooters are legal. However, its strongly recommended to check first with local municipality. 

Are E-Bikes Legal? Voltaire Cycles FranchisesQuestion: "If I were to build my own e-bike and put an 8,000 watt motor on it with fat motorcycle-like tires, are there any public roadways where I might be able to ride this type of vehicle? "

Answer: “Sorry, but that type of vehicle would not be legal to operate on any public roadways in the United States under current e-bike legislation. At the time of this publication, we are not aware of any state that would permit that type of vehicle due to the size of the motor and the top speed potential. If you want to ride that type of vehicle, you have two options: 1. ride it on private land exclusively 2. register and license that vehicle as a moped or motorcycle. 

Question: “So what is considered an e-bike? And what is considered a moped? I see a lot of these Vespa-moped-type scooters with pedals slapped on it as though they are props. Would these types of moped-vehicles be considered an e-bike or a moped?”

Answer: “Currently, most U.S. states define an e-bike as any 2-wheel cycling vehicle that can be powered/propelled by human, motor, or a combination of both. The laws limit the size of the electric motor that can be installed on a bicycle (<750w) and limit the speed this motor can propel the vehicle. This speed limit is typically 20mph. 

Question: “What if I don't want to pedal? Can I just use the throttle and ride the e-bike around like a moped?"

Answer: "It depends on the specific legislation in your state. In most cases, the answer is 'yes' but your e-bike motor may not exceed 20mph while under throttle. This speed limit is why e-bike manufacturers install a software limiter that the motor from exceeding 20mph when the throttle is switch on".

Question: “What if I want to pedal and use the throttle for help going up a hill. Can my bike have a throttle if I am pedaling really fast – over 20 mph?”

Answer: “Absolutely! You can ride your bike as fast you pedal – there are no speed restrictions on human power. However, if your e-bike has a throttle, it will only work for you up to 20mph. If you are going faster than that, the throttle will not work. There is an exception to this rule which is covered in the next questions. 

Are E-Bikes Legal? Department of InteriorQuestion: “What does it mean when it says ‘Class 1 E-Bikes only’?”

Answer: “In most states, the definition of an e-bike follows a classification system of electric bikes which was developed in Europe over the last 2 decades. Currently, the most U.S. states recognize 3 classes of e-bikes; Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. The first class is the most popular class because it defines the e-bike as any bicycle with pedal assist motor but does not have a throttle and will not exceed 20mph in assistance. The vast bulk of professional and respected brand names in the cycling industry manufacture only Class 1 e-bikes. These e-bikes are the safest and the most efficient of all classes. 

A Class 2 e-bike is defined as an e-bike with a motor that can be operated by a throttle regardless of whether you are pedaling or not. The throttle is an important piece of equipment on this e-bike. It converts the bike into one that can be operated similarly to a Moped or a small motorcycle. Most respected brand names producing these types of e-bikes do so by offering both pedal assist and a throttle. This enables the rider to choose between the two options. However, for legal purposes, the law only recognizes bicycles with or without throttles. If the e-bike has a throttle, it is a Class 2 e-bike regardless if the bike also has pedal assist capability.

Finally, most states provide for a 3rd class of e-bikes which permit the pedal assist technology to continue supporting the rider's pedaling all the way to 28mph. This is called a Speed Pedelec and falls under Class 3 definition. The difference between a Class 1 and a Class 3 e-bike is their top speed. A Class 1 E-Bike will assist you up to 20 mph and then will cut off. A Class 3 E-Bike will continue assisting you up to 28mph which is extremely fast on a bicycle.

Question: "I heard from a friend of mine that E-Bikes and Electric Mountain Bikes are prohibited from use on any Federal lands such as National Parks. Is that true?"

Voltaire Cycles Franchises - Are E-Bikes Legal?Answer: “No! In fact, the Federal Department of Interior recently published its findings on e-bike usage in a Policy Report that was issued on October 8, 2020. Contrary to this rumor, the Department of Interior actually responded favorably to the use of e-bikes on federal lands and has now published it's findings after a year-long study of the use of e-bikes on public lands. Please read the Policy Statement here. In the next year or two, you will begin to see postings on trailheads, and Park Websites which provide guidance on where you are permitted to ride bicycles and e-bikes on in the parks. Please note that generally speaking, most e-bike laws are following guidelines established for conventional cyclists. As the industry grows, there will undoubtedly come a point where some access will be restricted exclusively for one or the other. 

Question: “If I buy this electric mountain bike from you, will I be ticketed or fined for using it on the trails up in Yosemite?  

Answer: “Great question! Before making your purchase, please check Yosemite's Park Rules and Regulations here. Even though the Department of Interior has published its policy advocating for a more permissible attitude to the use of e-bikes on our trail-systems, governance of the trails themselves is regulated by individual Parks Management officers. There may be reasons unique to a national park for why your e-bike may be prohibited from use. The same restrictions may also prohibit conventional bicycles too. As with everything, we are trying to balance resource preservation from the affects of overuse. If you encounter restrictions which seem overly conservative, take a moment to appreciate that maybe there are mitigating circumstances that are affecting your safety, and/or the safety of wildlife. Be courteous, and be responsible. Following the rules insures that our parks will be available for generations to enjoy long after we are gone.