Electric bicycles or electric-assist bicycles, often called e-bikes, are becoming increasingly popular because they can make biking easier or more comfortable, which potentially allows for a greater diversity of bicycle trips and riders. E-bikes are even starting to be integrated into bike sharing systems with Birmingham, Baltimore, Park City, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville leading the way in the U.S.

E-bikes include a small electric motor that is engaged by pedaling or by a device on the bike's handlebar such as a throttle or switch. Generally, e-bikes look very similar to standard bicycles and a standard bicycle can be converted into an e-bike. The top speed for most e-bikes is between 20 and 28 miles per hour. Maximum speed is particularly important to the classification and regulation of e-bikes. While regulations vary by state and municipality, at the Federal level, e-bikes are considered to have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour when powered exclusively by motor.

According to PeopleForBikes, five states have model legislation that regulates e-bikes by three classifications and more than 20 states regulate e-bikes as conventional bicycles. The remaining states have sometimes confusing laws that may classify e-bikes somewhere among mopeds and scooters. Some municipalities also have special e-bike laws, which typically regulate use on trails, paths, and sidewalks. After a one-year study period, Boulder, Colorado, adopted legislation allowing e-bikes on multi-use paths, but not in open space or mountain park lands.

Resources

Framework for Considering Motorized Use on Nonmotorized Trails and Pedestrian Walkways provides guidance for permitting e-bikes on nonmotorized paths.

PeopleForBikes shares up-to-date information on federal and local e-bike policies as well as resources for e-bike retailers and people interested in electric mountain bikes.

State Electric Bicycle Laws - a Legislative Primer offers in-depth discussion of the legal regulations that pertain to e-bikes.

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Examples

Evaluation of an Electric Bike Pilot Project at Three Employment Campuses in Portland, Oregon finds that e-bike ownership can foster longer bicycle trips and trips by a wider range of users.

Motives, perceptions and experiences of electric bicycle owners and implications for health, wellbeing and mobility analyzes interviews with e-bike owners in the UK and the Netherlands.

Risky riding: Naturalistic methods comparing safety behavior from conventional bicycle riders and electric bike riders finds that e-bike riders do not differ from conventional bicycle riders in terms of safety behavior.

Electric bikes in North America: results of an online survey concludes that e-bikes help bicyclists take more trips, longer trips, and carry more cargo.

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