Tired of being a “pedal pusher” on your daily commute? Looking for an equally eco-friendly means of transportation that’ll make your rides a breeze — and leave your friends green with envy? Look no further, because e-bikes are here, and here to stay.
Okay, okay, I get it… Enough with the jokes. Uncle’s humor aside, e-bikes are a fantastic option for riders of all ages who want to go farther while pedaling less. Whether you’re a daily commuter, recreational rider, or an impaired cyclist whose mobility has recently become limited, an e-bike is that personal mobility vehicle to help you move around freely and without fuss.
Now, you’re here reading this, which means you already know that not all electric bikes are created equal.
If you live in the United States, you’ve probably read or hear that not long ago, electric bike manufacturers and right about half the states in the country came up with a classification system for e-bikes that determines what e-bike riders can (and can’t) do depending on how powerful their two-wheeler.
And if you’re thinking about buying an electric bike for yourself, your spouse, and/or your kids, then you absolutely and positively should familiarize yourself with this system before making the purchase.
Why? Because not knowing the rules doesn’t mean you don’t need to follow them. And not following the rules gets you in trouble. Knowing that researching rules isn’t a favorite thing for many of our readers, we wrote this guide as a starting point.
Electric Bike Classes, Explained
In the United States, many, although admittedly not all, states, counties, and municipalities divide electric bikes into three classes. These classes are as follows:
- Class 1 electric bikes are e-bikes that provide pedaling assistance up to a speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2 electric bikes are e-bikes that provide pedaling and throttling assistance up to a speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3 electric bikes, depending on the state, are e-bikes that provide pedaling and/or throttling assistance up to a speed of 28 miles per hour.
If you’re the type of person who prefers a table over a bullet list, here’s the same information in a different format:
|Electric Bicycle Class||Assistance Type||Speed Limit|
|Class 1||Pedaling only||20 miles per hour|
|Class 2||Pedaling and throttling||20 miles per hour|
|Class 3||Peadling and/or throttling||28 miles per hour|
These classes are important because they determine who can ride the e-bike, where they can ride the e-bike, and whether they need to abide by any special rules as they do. Read on below for the details.
Class 1 Electric Bikes
Electric bikes in this class only provide pedaling assistance to the rider and can’t accelerate on their own. Once the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour, the assistance stops. The rider can continue to pedal, but the motor will no longer make it easy for them to do so.
Generally, Class 1 e-bikes can go everywhere that traditional bikes can, although this may vary from state to state.
Class 2 Electric Bikes
Electric bikes in this class provide pedaling and throttling assistance to the rider. They can make not only pedaling easier, but they can also accelerate freely on their own. Once the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour, the assistance stops. The rider can continue to pedal, but the motor will no longer provide a boost or accelerate on its own.
Like Class 1 e-bikes, Class 2 e-bikes can typically go everywhere traditional bikes can. However, you should always check with the state and local laws in your county and municipality to determine what is and isn’t allowed when riding this class of electric bicycle.
Class 3 Electric Bikes
Class 3 electric bikes provide pedaling and/or throttling assistance, and can go up to 28 miles per hour. The bikes stop providing assistance when the speed limit is reached. The rider can continue to pedal without the motor.
Whether a Class 3 electric bike has pedaling assistance only or pedaling and throttling assistance comes down to the state writing the rules. For example, in Arizona, California and Washington, a Class 3 electric bike is limited to 28 miles per hour and can only provide assistance when pedaling. But in the state of New York, a Class 3 e-bike can provide pedaling and throttling assistance up to a speed of 25 miles per hour.
Some states have minimum age and safety gear requirements for Class 3 electric bikes. For example, in California, Class 3 e-bike riders must be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet at all times.
Which e-Bike Class Should You Buy?
At the end of the day, the best class of electric bike for you will depend on factors such as your local regulations, your intended use, and, last but not least, your personal preferences.
We think Class 1 and 2 electric bikes are the better choice than Class 3 for a few reasons. They’re treated the same as traditional bikes, which means they can go on regular roads. They’re also cheaper, and most riders won’t need the speed difference of 8 mph with Class 3 bikes.
Without a doubt, Class 2 e-bikes provide the best value for the money. They have pedal and throttle assistance, so the rider can choose between easy pedaling and pedaling-free movement. Throttling can be a real boon when you’re tired or in traffic.