The increasing popularity of electric bikes has prompted countries and states to adopt clearly defined laws and standards determining their classification and proper usage.
However, in the US, these laws vary from state to state, which means that many riders are unsure about where they can ride and whether or not they need a license.
This article will provide an overview of e-bike regulations in the United States and Europe to answer the question, “Do you need a license for an electric bike?”
We will also discuss the different classifications of e-bikes and licensing requirements in various states and the EU.
What is an Electric Bike?
In the United States, the federal Consumer Product Safety Act defines electric bicycles as any two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operational pedals, a top speed of 20 mph when propelled solely by the motor, and a maximum power output of 750W (1.01 horsepower).
In 38 of the 50 states, the definition of an electric bike extends to include three distinct categories based on motor power, top speed, and the presence of a throttle.
With this system, states can apply different regulations and restrictions. Class 3, the most powerful and fastest class with a 28 mph top speed and no throttle, is typically subject to stricter regulations.
The remaining 12 states recognize e-bikes but don’t differentiate between them. However, the laws are constantly being updated with the increasing popularity of e-bikes; more states are adopting the three-class system.
Keep an eye on PeopleForBikes.org for updated information on regulations state-by-state.
Is an E-Bike a Motor Vehicle, and Do Electric Bikes Need to Be Registered?
In most states in the US, ebikes are not viewed as motor vehicles and don’t need to be registered.
However, there are a few exceptions.
In New Mexico, an ebike is considered a moped and is subject to the same licensing and registration laws as mopeds. However, in Hawaii, ebikes only need to be registered and you don’t need a license to ride one.
In Massachusetts and Alaska, electric bikes fall into a grey area where riders must carry an operator’s license. Still, they are not subject to registration and insurance regulations like other motorized vehicles.
Electric Bike Classification
As mentioned, the electric bike classification system helps regulators distinguish between different models of ebikes in order to apply different regulations and restrictions.
There is a 40% increase in top speed from a Class 1 or 2 to a Class 3 e-bike, which is why they are viewed differently in the eyes of the law, with more stringent rules applying to Class 3 e-bikes.
The classes are as follows:
- Class 1 Electric Bikes: Pedal assistance (PAS) only, top speed of 20 mph, max power output of 750W.
- Class 2 Electric Bikes: Pedal assistance and throttle, top speed of 20 mph for both, max power output of 750W.
- Class 3 Electric Bikes: Pedal assistance and optional throttle (depends on the state), top speed of 28 mph for PAS, 20 mph for throttle, max power output of 750W.
In all states that adopt the three-class system, the models that exceed the Class 3 limitations are subject to the same restrictions as mopeds and scooters.
These e-bikes may have a top speed of over 28 mph and a motor wattage of over 750W. Examples include some moped-style e-bikes or hunting e-bikes from brands like Juiced Bikes, QuietKat, or Rambo Bikes (it’s possible to ride these bikes on private land without a license and registration).
Read more about this in our detailed guide on electric bike classes in the US.
Do I Need a License for an Electric Bike in the United States?
As of early 2023, 12 out of 50 states in the US are not using the three-class system. Of these, just four states require licensing, registration, or insurance to use an electric bike:
- New Mexico: Operator’s license, insurance
- Alaska: Operator’s license
- Massachusetts: Operator’s license, registration
- Hawai: Registration
The remaining eight states don’t differentiate between different classes of e-bikes. Each has its own specific rules surrounding top speed and power.
For example, Pennsylvania states an e-bike can have a max power of 750W, a maximum speed of 20 mph on a level surface when powered by the motor source only, and weigh no more than 100 lb.
These eight states are:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Rhode Island
Again, for a full breakdown of the law in each state, visit PeopleForBikes.org.
Overview of Electric Bike Licensing in Europe
The definition of an electric bike in the EU and the UK is significantly more limited than in the US.
The European Union defines an e-bike as any cycle (bicycle or tricycle) equipped with an auxiliary electric motor with pedal assistance and a maximum continuous rated power of 250W, which progressively declines and cuts off as it reaches a speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph). These electric vehicles are exempt from all licensing and registration.
However, if you live in the European Union and want a more powerful e-bike or one with a throttle, they are subject to ‘type approval,’ the EU’s four-class moped categorization, meaning you need a license and registration.
These classes are:
- L1e-A: 250-1000W max power, 25 km/h (15.5 mph) top speed, throttle optional, up to four wheels
- L1e-B: 4000W max power, 45 km/h (28 mph), throttle optional, two wheels
- L2e: 4000W max power, 45 km/h (28 mph), throttle optional, three wheels, 270 kg (595 lb) max weight
- L1e-B: 45 km/h (28 mph), throttle optional, four wheels, 450 kg (992 lb) max weight
Do You Need a License for an Electric Bike in Europe?
You don’t need a license for an e-bike in Europe if it meets the following restrictions: a fully operable pedaling system, a max continuous rated power of 250W (0.25kW), and a 25 km/h top speed.
However, speed pedelecs require licensing and registration. These have a max power of 4 kW (4000W) and a top speed of 45 km/h, falling within the four-class moped categorization.
Takeaways: Do I Need a License for an Electric Bike?
Electric bikes are still a relatively recent innovation, and with their use becoming more widespread, the laws, regulations, and standards that govern them will undoubtedly change.
The existing laws relating to licensing vary significantly from country to country, and within the United States, each state differs from the next.
In the US, you only need a license to ride an e-bike in three states. The three-class e-bike system is almost ubiquitous, with 38 of the 50 states using it. This system provides a precise classification for different types of e-bikes.
In Europe, e-bikes with a 25 km/h top speed and 250W max power are exempt from licensing. Speed pedelecs (up to 45 km/h) require a license and registration.
It’s essential to understand the laws and regulations in your area before purchasing and using an e-bike to ensure you stay safe and abide by the law when you’re out riding.
We hope the details of this article were of help if you were wondering whether you need a license for an electric bike or not.