Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.
Not a day goes by when I don’t see people on ebikes whizzing past me, mocking my pedestrian status. But how fast are they allowed to go? And, is speed even policed? Let’s take a look at how the laws and their policing vary in different locations:
In the US, unsurprisingly, there’s no national approach. Instead, there are two different approaches to setting speed limits, and several states don’t recognize ebikes at all.
You can take a look at the different states in detail here, but here are the main distinctions:
26 states follow a three class system:
- Class 1: pedal assist only; maximum assisted speed of 20 mph (32 kmph). Pedal assist bicycles give you extra power while you’re already pedaling.
- Class 2: twist throttle assist only; maximum motor-powered speed of 20mph (32 kmph). On a throttle bicycle, you can engage the throttle to propel forward using only the motor.
- Class 3: pedal assist only; maximum assisted speed of 28 mph (45 kmph). Unlike Class 1 and 2 ebikes, Class 3 ebikes are prohibited from standard bike paths. They include long-range electric bikes that are also suitable for off-road climbing.
Other states, like Nevada (NV), have an upper limit of a 750W motor. This increases to 1000W in Oregon.
There are other local variations. For example, in Seattle, a Multi-Use Trail Policy limits speed to 15 mph for riding the trails.
In states without a specific definition of ebikes, they fall under the same category as motorcycles.
UK and EU
In the UK, conventional ebikes fall under the category of electric assisted pedal cycles (EAPC).
The electric motor capacity is limited to 250 watts. According to regulations you should not be able to propel the bike when it’s traveling more than 15.5 mph (25 kmph).
The EU and UK categorize bikes with motors beyond 250W or equipped with a full-speed throttle as S_Pedelecs. These are akin to level 3 ebikes in the US.
In the UK, ebikes are registered as motor vehicles for use on public roads. Riders must to wear a motorcycle helmet.
But I can buy a faster ebike?
Many bikes exceed local speed limits, some with the potential to reach out to 80 mph (128 kmph), including racing bikes.
Many manufacturers effectively make hybrid Class 2/Class 3 eBikes, where the throttle works up to 20 mph (the Class 2 rule) and pedal assist works up to 28 mph (the Class 3 rule). The throttle just won’t do anything between 21 mph and 28 mph (or higher).
What happens if you are caught speeding?
In 2013, the first ebike speeding ticket was issued in Seattle. It was for exceeding 20 mph (32 kmph) in a school precinct.
Cyclists most commonly exceed the speed limit on a steep hill. Not having a speedometer or not knowing that you were speeding is no excuse. You may get off with a warning or have to pay a fine.
Traffic violations are generally treated the same for cyclists and motorists in the US and differ state-by-state. You have to pay a fine, and the penalty may affect your car insurance.
Many states, including Seattle and California, allow cyclists to take a bicycle safety class at a traffic school to reduce a fine. This typically also removes the ticket from your record and stops it from impacting your car insurance.
In Germany, the laws are the same as for regular bikes: 30€ with the possibility of it being increased to 60€ + 1 point in your driver’s license (if you have one).
In 2020 Van Moof shared that police were stopping riders in Germany for exceeding the 15.5 mph (25 kmph) EU limit by switching to the US country setting in the corresponding app. In response, the company changed the app to avoid a recurrence.
What about legal enforcement?
I did a quick call out to ebike riders in Oregon, Florida, Seattle, Minneapolis, Indiana, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Berlin.
One person noted that they had seen a park ranger with a speed gun waiting for bikes in San Francisco. An easy way to raise revenue in a slow week?
The rest had never received more than a warning. It’s likely an ebike that resembles a bike and not a moped or dirt bike will attract police attention. Not being a dick, in general, goes a long way, I find.
Laws and regulations are constantly changing as ebike capabilities and other mobility tech evolve. Some lobby that faster bikes would incentivize more people out of their cars.
What do you think? Have you ever been fined? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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