Electric bikes offer a planet-friendly alternative to cars and a leg-friendly alternative to pedaling a bike.
But ebikes come in different classifications: classes 1, 2, and 3.
Each of these ebike classes refers to how the electric bike provides power and when the motor stops providing power.
State laws and local rules determine which types of ebikes you can use in which areas, as well as the gear you may need, such as a helmet.
In most states, you’ll find similar rules for ebike classes 1 and 2. However, class 3 ebikes can be trickier. In some cases, class 3 ebikes follow rules similar to those for mopeds.
Are we confused yet? Hopefully not for long.
Here’s how it all works.
Class 1 eBikes
Think of the simplest ebike, one that only provides power when pedaling. If you’ve got that down, you’re halfway to understanding a class 1 ebike.
Another requirement for a class 1 ebike is that the motor stops providing power when the bike reaches 20 MPH.
In short, class 1 ebikes have no throttle and stop sending power through the motor when the bike reaches 20 MPH.
See? That was easy.
Class 2 eBikes
Now imagine a class 1 ebike, but let’s give it a throttle. With a throttle, the ebike can provide power even if you aren’t pedaling. A class 2 ebike is basically a class 1 ebike with a throttle. The bike is still limited to 20 MPH, although some manufacturers provide ways to “unlock” higher speeds, making it a class 3 ebike.
In effect, class 2 ebikes offer two ways to power the bike: throttle or pedal-assist. Okay, maybe three ways. You also have the option of good old-fashioned people power without any assistance from the motor. In fact, you might need to use that option if the battery runs dry mid-trip from using the throttle.
Still easy. Next up: class 3.
Class 3 eBikes
As mentioned, class 3 can be the trickiest of the ebike classes. Instead of focusing on the throttle (or lack thereof), a class 3 ebike is defined as an ebike with a top speed of up to 28 MPH.
Whether the ebike has a throttle is irrelevant for class 3, except when it isn’t. For example, in California, class 3 ebikes can’t have a throttle, but they can go 28 MPH with pedal assist.
In other states, though, a class 3 can have a throttle, provided the throttle powers off at 20 MPH.
Class 3 is where you really need to follow the rules specific to your state. Each state can be finicky in its own way regarding class 3 ebikes.
Generally, state rules and even park rules follow similar guidelines for class 1 and 2 ebikes.
Ebike Classes: State Rules
The way states define ebike classes is far from universal. Although a growing number of states have adopted the class 1, 2, and 3 definitions above (albeit in lawmaker legalese), several states still don’t define ebikes at all.
As of 2019, 22 states have adopted the 3-class system for classifying ebikes. Many states still march to their own drummer, eschewing the class 1, 2, and 3 system used in neighboring states.
It’s not a perfect world. But states are slowly coming closer to a consensus for ebike classifications.
For ebike owners, this state-by-state divergence underscores the importance of knowing the laws in your state. It’s also essential to understand how your state treats each of the ebike classes.
For example, New Jersey now follows the 3-class definitions, or at least a class 1 and class 2 system. Most class 1 and class 2 ebikes are “low-speed electric bicycles” in the Garden State.
NJ’s rules for class 3 ebikes become a bit murky, however. Is it a moped? Is a class 3 ebike even legal in NJ? This 2019 NJ bill leaves room for question. NJ’s rules for class 3 ebikes seem to be in legislative limbo peppered with legal mumbo jumbo.
Local municipalities may limit or prohibit the usage of ebikes in certain areas as well.
Also, be sure to check helmet laws for your state. Some states require helmets for class 3 ebikes.
Park Rules for eBike Classes
You may encounter different rules at each park you visit with your ebike. Generally, class 1 and 2 ebikes are allowed on paths and trails where traditional bikes are allowed. However, this isn’t always the case. If you’re headed out to the trails, be sure to check the rules before you start your bike adventure. Often, you can find rules regarding ebikes on the website for your favorite park or recreation area.
As an example, the National Park Service (NPS) says that each Superintendent can manage ebike rules differently. Some might disallow class 3 bikes while others permit their use. However, NPS regulations probit throttle-only use in national parks. This regulation affects class 2 ebikes and throttle-equipped class 3 ebikes. Sorry nature lovers, you’ll have to pedal.
eBike Classes and Your Insurance Policy
If you buy a policy specifically for bikes, like those from Simple Bike Insurance or Velosurance, you can customize your policy to fit a class 1, 2, or 3 ebike. However, If you’re using your homeowners, renters, or condo policy to insure your bike, it’s helpful to know some limitations that can affect coverage.
Many insurers won’t cover ebikes with a throttle. Instead, these types of bikes may be considered vehicles by the insurer, excluding them from coverage on your home insurance policy. Similarly, you can’t insure your car or motorcycle on your home policy. This means your insurer may not provide coverage for class 2 ebikes or class 3 ebikes with a throttle.
However, you can expect most insurers to treat coverage for class 1 ebikes with pedal assist (only) similar to coverage for people-powered bikes.
Home insurance provides limited protection for personal property, including ebikes, unless the insurer defines your ebike as a vehicle. In that case, there’s likely no coverage at all. Regardless, physical damage caused by riding mishaps isn’t covered by a standard home insurance policy. Instead, standard coverage focuses largely on risks such as theft or fires in your home.
Your home policy might also provide liability coverage for injuries caused to others or unintentional damage to the property of others. Most policies do. However, this liability coverage may be in question for throttle-equipped electric bikes.
Standard home insurance also won’t cover business-related risks. Bike delivery workers should consider a specialized policy.
Home insurance may be suitable for inexpensive class 1 ebikes without a throttle. But the safest way to insure your high-value ebike or throttle-equipped ebikes may be to choose an insurer that specializes in bike and ebike insurance.
Electric Bike Manufacturers and eBike Classes
Well-known ebike makers place a sticker on the bike frame indicating whether the ebike is class 1, 2, or 3. But in many ways, the ebike landscape still resembles the wild west of old. Depending on the source, your bike may or may not have a sticker.
Bike store bikes at your local dealer likely have affixed stickers indicating the class of ebike. However, when buying bikes online (or pre-owned), there might not be a clear indication of an ebike’s class.
Don’t shrug your shoulders and guess. Instead, you can follow the guidelines detailed above explaining ebike classes. Once it clicks for you, you’ll know at a glance whether an ebike is class 1, 2, or 3 just by reading a few key details about the top speed and presence of a throttle.
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