Maybe the most confusing legal issue facing e-bike riders today is the difference between a bike lane and bike path. A bike lane is a marked section of roadway shared with motor vehicles. Bike paths pretty much universally prohibit the use of motorized vehicles. Still, you will need to research your area. As an example: “A path near our office specifically says “no motorized bicycles.” Yet, when we tracked down an employee who claimed to work enforcement on the path, he said that our e-bike was allowed.”8
But electric bicycles—e-bikes—are new territory for me. Broadly speaking, there are two basic options in e-bike land: power-on-demand and pedal-assist. With the former, the rider can control the speed with a throttle instead of just pedaling. Think moped but with an electric motor instead of internal combustion. Pedal-assist, by contrast, requires the rider to do some of the work. The electric motor won't engage unless the rider is pedaling.
In 5 years of working as a bike messenger in Minneapolis, I've ridden all kinds of bikes, in all kinds of weather. I've ridden walmart mountain bikes, 80's classic steel road bikes, kitted out Treks, pretty much everything EXCEPT for fat tire bikes. Such wide tires always seemed... too much. No need for a bike that only makes itself worthwhile maybe two months out of the year, I thought.
In addition, we have a new lineup of torque sensors from NCTE to replace the long out-of-stock THUN devices. This restores the option for a true transducer that measures the actual spindle torsion. They provide an accurate human watts readout, and unlike other sensors they can be used in mid-drive setups where the motor is driving the right side chain.
Federal law defines the limits of a low speed electric bike, equating it to a bicycle, and bypassing the definition of a motor vehicle only “For purposes of motor vehicle safety standards…” which means that the manufacturers of these bicycles don’t have to meet federal equipment requirements, and are instead governed by the manufacturing requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act. There is no mention of exemption from other federal, state, and local traffic laws, or exemption from the definition of a motor vehicle for other purposes.3 This means the law applies to the manufacturer’s product and sale, avoiding federal safety requirements applying to a motor vehicle such as brake lights, turn signals and braking specifications. The goal of the law was to give businesses a legal framework to define and sell low speed electric bikes without the more stringent Federal classification of a motor vehicle. Ebikes that meet the criteria are considered a “bicycle”, do not meet the definition of a motor vehicle, and will be regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The law also grants the commission authority to add safety requirements to this product. The Federal law supersedes all state laws that equate bicycles to ebikes where the state law is more stringent (lower limits) on power and speed.
An electric bike (also called e-bike, power-assist bike, pedelec…) is a fairly conventional bike combined with a battery and motor that helps out when you are pedaling to make it easier to get uphill or completely takes over driving and allows you to cruise along. Top quality electric bikes, along with electric scooters, are revolutionizing the bicycle industry. Not only is riding an e-bike simple and easy, but a rider can significantly extend their range with minimal cost or effort.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines a "low speed electric bicycle" 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 (1.01 hp). The Act authorizes the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect people who ride low-speed electric vehicles by issuing necessary safety regulations. The rules for e-bikes on public roads, sidewalks, and pathways are under state jurisdiction, and vary.