You Must Be This Tall (And This Old) To Ride An Ebike

Finding the right kind of transportation can be like selecting a ride at the carnival: no matter how fun the ride may be, there might be a host of disclaimers that mean you can’t go on it. “You must be this tall to ride the Whirlybird.”

The same goes for e-bikes — there are a whole host of considerations you have to keep in mind, from what kind of e-bike you can ride, where you can ride it, and whether it’s even legal to have it at all. It’s totally understandable that you’re keen on information regarding your electric bicycles and the electric bike laws, rules and regulations that follow – from the proper bike paths, insurance requirements, public land use, helmet law, and other laws and regulations that may deal with electric bikes. Well you’re in luck – this is just the article for you!

Let’s break down some of the most common legal and logistical hurdles you’ll have to climb before you can strap yourself into your new e-bike and hit the road.

A NATIONAL STANDARD?

When it comes to e-bikes, only one federal law on the books applies that talks about requirements for ebike. So as much as it is unbeknownst to many, electric bicycles are regulated, and it does take quite some managing to operate an ebike. It prescribes the maximum speed or top speeds an e-bike can travel propelled by the electric motor alone no matter the power output. Beyond that, there are no nationwide biking laws that apply to e-bikes. More to the point, there isn’t a single federal statute that says who can and cannot ride an e-bike in terms of maximum or minimum age. Because of this, we must look to the individual states to know who can ride and under what circumstances.

BIKE CLASSIFICATIONS

In the United States, e-bikes can be divided into three separate classification systems. This three tiered classification defines an electric bicycle’s power, with the classes mostly dependent on speed limit and if it is electrical assisted or pedal assisted. 

They’re defined as follows:

Class 1: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.

Class 2: Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.

Class 3: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.

Not all states use these classifications, and some of the states that utilize them don’t use all 3 categories.

Currently, 28 states use no classifications at all. They are:

Alabama

Alaska

Delaware

Florida

Hawaii

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Massachusetts

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

Vermont

Virginia

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Twenty-one states employ all three of the categories of classification. They are:

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Georgia

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Maine

Maryland

Michigan

New Hampshire

Ohio

Oklahoma

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Washington

Wyoming

One state, New Jersey, utilizes the Class 1 and Class 2 categories but does not have a Class 3 designation in any of its laws.

A LICENSE TO RIDE

A handful of states have passed laws requiring that people operating e-bikes be licensed to do so. In some states, this is because they’re legally considered to be in the same class of transportation as vehicles like mopeds. This means they take on the same laws for use of bike lanes, sidewalks and bike paths. Other states have specifically written laws requiring licensure for e-bikes.

The following nine states require a license to use any kind of e-bike:

Alaska

Arkansas

Louisiana

Massachusetts

Missouri

New Mexico

North Dakota

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Hawaii does not require a license but does require the user to be registered and pay a 30-dollar registration fee.

Michigan requires no licensure except in Mackinaw State Park. There, a rider would need to acquire a specific permit to use the e-bike within the park.

The other 39 states currently have no licensure requirements on the books.

AGE OF THE POTENTIAL RIDER

By far the area where states have the most laws regarding the use of e-bikes surrounds the age of those who might be riding them.

22 states have no age restrictions at all. This means if your electric bicycle reaches any of these states, you need not worry about your age. They are:

Arizona

Delaware

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Maryland

Mississippi

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Jersey

New York

Ohio

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

Utah

Vermont

Wyoming

Alabama, Alaska, North Dakota, and Virginia require all operators to be at least 14 years old. Tennessee requires all operators of Class 3 e-bikes to be 14 or older but has no age requirements for Class 1 or 2.

Michigan similarly has no restrictions for Class 1 or 2 e-bikes. For class 3, however, operators must be over the age of 14. If the person’s a passenger on Class 3, however, they may be any age.

In Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, and West Virginia, all operators must be at least 15 years old. Georgia, Indiana, and Texas have no restrictions for Class 1 or 2 operators, but all Class 3 drivers must be 15 or older. However, you can be any age if you’re a passenger on Class 3.

16-year-olds can use any kind of e-bike in Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin. In South Dakota and Washington, the rule’s also 16 unless you’re a passenger on the e-bike in which case you can be any age.

Colorado limits Class 3 to those only 16 years old and above. California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma also do not allow anyone under 16 to drive a Class 3 e-bike, but they may be a passenger at any age.

In Arkansas, a rider must be over the age of 16 to use a Class 3 e-bike.

Finally, Maine requires all drivers of Class 2 and 3 e-bikes to be over 16. Passengers and users of Class 1 e-bikes have no age restrictions.

PUT A HELMET ON

The final determining factor in who can ride an e-bike and who can’t under electric bicycle laws is helmet usage. State helmet laws vary in terms of age and class of vehicle being used as determining factors for who needs to wear helmets and who does not. This is basic consumer product safety to be followed by all ebike riders and bicycle riders even ones that own commuter ebikes, a traditional bike, or any other motor power or human powered two or three wheeled vehicle. 

The final determining factor in who can ride an e-bike and who can’t under electric bicycle laws is helmet usage.

In six states, everyone must wear a helmet while riding an e-bike. Those states are:

Alabama

Alaska

Connecticut

Louisiana

Massachusetts

West Virginia

Four other states—California, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee—require helmets for anyone using Class 3 e-bikes.

By contrast, 32 states do not require anyone to use a helmet while they ride. Those states are:

Arizona

Florida

Idaho

Illinois

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Maryland

Mississippi

Missouri

Minnesota

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Hawaii and Maine require anyone under the age of 16 to use a helmet while on an e-bike. Delaware and Michigan set their bar at under 18 for everyone and every class of e-bike.

Indiana and New Hampshire require helmets for under 18 individuals, but only if they’re using a Class 3 e-bike.

Finally, Arkansas and Colorado require anyone under the age of 21 using a Class 3 e-bike to be wearing a helmet.

AN EVOLVING SITUATION

The above information on electric bike laws, rules and regulations, and classifications is accurate as of the time of this writing. But as The National Conference of State Legislatures makes clear, we’re likely in for a lot of changes in e-bike laws as they become increasingly popular.

The more e-bikes that are out there, the more legislators can see how and what makes sense to guide the vehicles’ use. This would mean more defined and exact takes on public land use and insurance requirements, along with top speeds, maximum power output, and other requirements for ebike that need to have jurisdiction under ebike law. 

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever have to worry about the “You must be this tall” sign governing who can ride an e-bike, that doesn’t mean we won’t be in for some changes in existing laws over the next five years.

Read about What is an E-bike?