Bike Safety: E-bikes’ Wild West Era and How to Protect Yourself

E-bike class designations

While states can vary, generally Class I, II and III e-bikes are defined under industry-sponsored model legislation that has been enacted throughout the United States. The following definitions are taken from California’s enactment of the model legislation:

Class I e-bike: low-speed pedal-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Provides assistance only when the cyclist is pedaling
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 20 mph
  • All ages are allowed to operate
  • Are legal on any paved surface a regular bicycle is allowed to operate
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Class II e-bike: low-speed throttle-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Can exclusively propel the bike with a throttle control (without pedaling)
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 20 mph
  • All ages are allowed to operate
  • Are legal on any paved surface a regular bicycle is allowed to operate
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Class III e-bike: speed throttle-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Provides assistance only while the cyclist is pedaling
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 28 mph
  • Rider must be 16 years old or older
  • Must wear a helmet to operate
  • Are not allowed on Class I bike paths but are allowed in all other bikes lanes
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Ways e-bike riders get hurt and how to prevent them

Issue Fix
Cheap component failures. Research the bike and consider the expense an investment in your future wellbeing.
Drivers underestimate e-bikes’ travel speed. Expect drivers won’t know the difference between a bicycle and an e-bike and will turn in front of you. Appropriate? No. But leave a safety margin to account for it.
Bicyclists are not trained motorcyclists. Consider whether you need an e-bike that can go 28 mph versus a pedal-assist bike that tops out at 20 mph. If the former is absolutely necessary, consider practicing in a parking lot or taking a motorcycle safety course.
New riders sometimes hit an overbold phase within the first six months. Recognize the potential for this and back it off
as soon as it surfaces.

Have you or someone you know been involved in a bicycle crash? Curious about your rights? Are you a lawyer handling a bicycle crash who wants more information on how to get the best result for your client? Contact Bicycle Law at 866-VELOLAW (866-835-6529) or info@bicyclelaw.com.

E-bike class designations

While states can vary, generally Class I, II and III e-bikes are defined under industry-sponsored model legislation that has been enacted throughout the United States. The following definitions are taken from California’s enactment of the model legislation:

Class I e-bike: low-speed pedal-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Provides assistance only when the cyclist is pedaling
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 20 mph
  • All ages are allowed to operate
  • Are legal on any paved surface a regular bicycle is allowed to operate
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Class II e-bike: low-speed throttle-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Can exclusively propel the bike with a throttle control (without pedaling)
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 20 mph
  • All ages are allowed to operate
  • Are legal on any paved surface a regular bicycle is allowed to operate
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Class III e-bike: speed throttle-assisted bicycle

  • Equipped with a motor
  • Provides assistance only while the cyclist is pedaling
  • Ceases providing assistance once a bike reaches 28 mph
  • Rider must be 16 years old or older
  • Must wear a helmet to operate
  • Are not allowed on Class I bike paths but are allowed in all other bikes lanes
  • Not in the statute (but common courtesy): slow around nonmotorized bikes, joggers, and walkers, and don’t do close passes

Ways e-bike riders get hurt and how to prevent them

Issue Fix
Cheap component failures. Research the bike and consider the expense an investment in your future wellbeing.
Drivers underestimate e-bikes’ travel speed. Expect drivers won’t know the difference between a bicycle and an e-bike and will turn in front of you. Appropriate? No. But leave a safety margin to account for it.
Bicyclists are not trained motorcyclists. Consider whether you need an e-bike that can go 28 mph versus a pedal-assist bike that tops out at 20 mph. If the former is absolutely necessary, consider practicing in a parking lot or taking a motorcycle safety course.
New riders sometimes hit an overbold phase within the first six months. Recognize the potential for this and back it off
as soon as it surfaces.