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Sorting through the confusion of electric bike/trike laws

Reprinted from TerraTrike Trailhead Spring 2018

If you’re thinking about getting an electric assist trike, and wondering whether riding an e-assist trike on your local bike trail is OK, the answer is ‘probably’, but you’ll want to check your state and local guidelines.

E-Assist bikes/trikes are most frequently “pedal-assist” or “muscle-assist,” meaning the rider must be pedaling for the electric motor to engage. A ‘low speed electric bicycle’ is defined as a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals, a top speed when powered solely by the motor under 20 mph (32 km/h) and an electric motor that produces less than 750 W.

The rules for riding e-bikes and e-trikes on public roads, sidewalks, and pathways are under state jurisdiction and vary widely state to state. Even within states, counties and cities have the ability to amend, modify and/or regulate the use of electric pedal-assist bikes. Currently, 23 states have e-bike or e-trike laws. Many states are feeling the need to clarify the classifications and regulations sur- rounding e-assist vehicles, and are working to update their existing ebike usage policies. Some states are using a classification system to define the differ- ence between e-assist bikes/trikes and other motorized vehicles such as scoot- ers and mopeds.

Three Classes of Electric Bikes:

Class 1: A “Class 1 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 1 bicycles are limited to below a 750W motor and have no throttle.

Class 2: A “Class 2 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicy- cle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 2 bicycles are limited to below a 750W motor and have a throttle.

Class 3: A “Class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour. Class 3 bicycles are limited to below a 750W motor, have no throttle, and are equipped with a speedometer. Pedelec and moped style bikes fall into this category.

TerraTrike’s Rambler E.V.O.

TerraTrike’s Rambler E.V.O. (electric vehicle option) is a Class 1 electric assist trike. It has a 740-Watt motor, has no throttle, and is limited to 20 miles per hour maximum. Class 1 bikes/trikes are not considered motorized vehicles. Signs stating ‘No Motorized Vehicles’ do not apply to Class 1 trikes, unless local ordinances specifically prohibit them.

E-assist bike and trike use is quickly growing in popularity. As the laws and guidelines catch up with the usage, riders should be aware of and follow the state and local laws wherever they ride.

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