There are various laws and regulations you need to know if you’re buying an electric bike in California. We call them the handbook for two-wheeled vehicles.
California defines three classes of electric bikes. These are class 1, class 2, and class 3. I’ll look into these classes later on. However, as per the state, all-electric bikes are regular bikes. However, the bikes must not exceed 750W motor and 28mph speed.
If you’re looking for an e-Bike for San Francisco, for example, then know the conditions the bike must meet.
Join me as I discuss laws and frequently asked questions about electric bikes in California.
California Electric Bike Classification
To have a clear understanding of electric bike laws in California, it is important to understand their electric bike classification. California adopted new e-bike laws in 2015.
The AB 1096 defines electric bikes as bikes with a fully functional motor and operating pedals. It limits the motor wattage to 750 watts. The laws were put in place to put ordnance in the electric bike motors.
However, a local county/city might enact regulations to restrict or allow users in that specific area.
The laws broke down e-bikes into the following classes:
The first category of e-bikes is class one which is the most basic. These are low-speed pedal-assisted electric bikes. The bikes can only start when you pedal. They feature a motor that assists as the rider pedals.
However, the motor stops assistance once the bike hits 20mph. There are very few regulations on class 1 e-bikes. The bikes are allowed on all paved surfaces where conventional bikes are allowed.
These are low-speed, but throttle-assisted electric bikes. The bikes feature motors that can propel the bike without the necessary pedaling. You can start the bike and ride without pedaling.
However, just like class 1 bikes, the motor cannot assist when the speed reaches 20mph. There are also fewer restrictions on class 2 bikes. Most bikes under this category are allowed on paved surfaces where regular bikes are allowed.
Lastly, we have the class 3 electric bikes which are speed pedal-assisted bikes. The bikes feature powerful motors that assist when the rider is pedaling. The bikes are allowed higher speeds of 28mph.
As you pedal, the motor provides assistance making pedaling effortlessly. However, the assistance stops when speeds reach 28mph. Persons riding class 3 electric bikes must be older than 16 years. In addition, they must wear a helmet for added protection.
There are further restrictions on class 3 bikes. These bikes are not allowed on paved surfaces for regular bicycles, or class 1 and 2 bicycles. If you have to ride the bikes on the bike lanes, you must have special permission from the local/city jurisdictions.
Here are the restrictions on riders of class 3 electric bicycles in California:
- The rider must be 16 years old or older
- One must wear a helmet for safety
- You cannot carry an extra passenger on the back seat
- Requires authorization from local authorities to ride in regular bike lanes
The good news is that all electric bikes in the California laws are exempt from license plate requirements and motor vehicle financial responsibility.
The 750W motor is the limit for all-electric bikes in California. Anything beyond this is considered a vehicle and might need extra vehicle requirements like insurance.
However, this does not mean there are no electric bikes with even bigger motors. There are a total of six states which allow electric bikes with motors of up to 100W.
The six states are Minnesota, Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia, and Kansas. However, there are still strict regulations that guide how one rides these bikes.
If you want to fit powerful motors on your electric bike, then consider Mississippi and Florida. These are the only states without regulations on the amount of motor power.
We also have mopeds which are motorized bicycles. They operate in the same manner as bicycles but are classified under motorcycles. Anyone using a moped in California should not confuse it with an electric bike. You must be 16 years and over and have a one-time license plate.
Riding an electric bike in California: FAQs
Due to the new electric bike laws adopted in 2015, there are several questions new riders ask whenever they get an electric bike. In this section, I will cover some of the frequently asked questions regarding electric bikes.
Can I Change/modify My Electric Bike?
The new bill prohibits riders from changing or modifying their electric bikes. However, if one has to modify their electric bikes, the classification label must also be changed.
Can I Ride My Electric Bike on Regular Bicycle Lanes?
Electric bikes can ride on regular bicycle lanes. However, there is a limit to the types of classes that can ride on regular bicycle lanes. For example, class 3 electric bicycles are not allowed on dedicated bicycle lanes, unless stated so.
Local/city laws may offer ordinances to class 3 bikes but within the stated area.
What are the Rules of Riding an Electric Bike on a Trail in California?
Class 1 and 2 electric bikes are allowed on a trail in California. However, class 3 electric bikes are not allowed on a bikeway, bicycle path, recreational, or hiking trail.
The rule is exceptional when the path is adjacent to a main road or highway, or when there is an ordinance from the local jurisdictions.
Do I Need a License, or Special Registration to Operate an E-bike in California?
Riders don’t require a license or any special registration to ride an electric bicycle in California. However, this does not mean you disobey traffic laws. All riders must follow the set-out traffic laws while on the road.
How Fast Can Electric Bikes Go?
Most motor-assisted electric bikes can hit a maximum speed of 20mph. While some bikes in classes 1 and 2 can go beyond this speed limit, it is not allowed. For class 3, riders can go up to 28mph.
You should not go beyond the set limits as this can lead to a ticket as in the case with cars.
Related: How Fast Can E-bikes Go?
When you’re in California, you need to meet the electric bike laws and requirements. Make sure you order bikes with maximum motor power not exceeding 750W.
Make sure you’re versed with the speed regulations of electric bikes before riding one. Understand your electric car classification and what is required.