Not a day goes by that I don’t see people whizzing by on e-bikes mocking my pedestrian status. But how fast can they go? And is there even speed control? Let’s take a look at how the laws and their police oversight differ in different locations:
The United States
In the US, it is not surprising that there is no national approach. Instead, there are two different approaches to setting speed limits, and several states don’t recognize e-bikes at all.
You can view the different states in detail herebut here are the main differences:
26 states follow a three-class system:
- Class 1: only pedal assistance; maximum assisted speed of 20 mph (32 kph). Pedal assist bikes give you extra power while you are already pedaling.
- Class 2: turning throttle assistant only; maximum motor-driven speed of 20 mph (32 kph). On a bike with throttle, you can engage the throttle to move forward using just the engine.
- Class 3: only pedal assistance; maximum assisted speed of 28 mph (45 kph). Unlike class 1 and 2 e-bikes, class 3 e-bikes are prohibited on standard cycle paths. They contain electric long distance bicycles which are also suitable for off-road climbing.
There are other local variations. For example, in Seattle, a Multiple-use path policy limits speed to 15 mph for trail riding.
In states without a specific definition of e-bikes, they fall under the same category as motorcycles.
UK and EU
In the UK, conventional e-bikes fall under the category electrically assisted pedal bikes (EAPC).
The power of the electric motor is limited to 250 watts. According to the regulations, you are not allowed to propel the bicycle if it is traveling faster than 25 km/h.
The EU and UK categorize bicycles with motors over 250W or equipped with a full-speed accelerator pedal as S_Pedelecs. These are comparable to level 3 e-bikes in the US.
In the UK, e-bikes are registered as a motor vehicle for use on public roads. Riders must wear a motorcycle helmet.
But can I buy a faster ebike?
Many bicycles exceed local speed limits, some with the potential to reach up to 80 mph (128 kph), including racing bicycles.
In fact, many manufacturers make hybrid Class 2/Class 3 eBikes, with the accelerator pedal working up to 20 mph (the Class 2 rule) and the pedal assist up to 45 mph (the Class 3 rule). The throttle just doesn’t do anything between 21 mph and 28 mph (or higher).
What happens if you get caught speeding?
The first ebike speeding certificate in 2013 was published in Seattle† It was for over 20 mph (32 kph) in a school district.
Cyclists usually exceed the speed limit on a steep hill. Not having a speedometer or not knowing you were speeding is no excuse. You can get off with a warning or pay a fine.
Traffic violations are generally treated the same for cyclists and motorists in the US and differ from state to state† You will have to pay a fine and the fine could affect your car insurance policy.
Many states, including Seattle and California, allow cyclists to follow a bicycle safety class at a traffic school reduce a fine. This also usually removes the ticket from your record and prevents it from affecting your auto insurance policy.
in 2020 Van Moof shared that the police stopped riders in Germany for exceeding the EU limit of 15.5 mph (25 km/h) by switching to the US country setting in the accompanying app. In response, the company has changed the app to prevent a recurrence.
What about law enforcement?
I quickly called ebike riders in Oregon, Florida, Seattle, Minneapolis, Indiana, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Berlin.
One person noted that in San Francisco they had seen a park ranger with a speed gun waiting for bicycles. An easy way to monetize a slow week?
The rest had never received more than a warning. An e-bike that looks like a bicycle and not a moped or dirt bike is likely to attract the attention of the police. Not being an asshole in general goes a long way, I think.
Laws and regulations are constantly changing as the capabilities of e-bikes and other mobility technology evolve. Some lobby that faster bikes would get more people out of their cars.
What do you think? Have you ever been fined? I would like to hear your opinion.