Laws take a while to catch up to new technologies. There was a brief period when electric bikes sat in legal limbo, a gray area of uncertainty about whether they should be classified as bicycles or a type of motor vehicle. Were they legal in bike lanes? What about in parks? Nobody had a definitive answer, and when lawmakers attempted to write one, states contradicted each other.
As of 2020, the ebike industry and more than half of US states have coalesced around a common (though broad) system of three classes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. Yet even today, interpretations of these classes differ slightly across retailers and manufacturers' websites. Your best approach? Check your local laws for ebike compliance if you're concerned. You're unlikely to get pulled over for going 22 miles per hour in a bike lane or for using an ebike in the wrong lane (especially if it looks like a regular bike). But it's better to be sure than to have no defense if you do get pulled over.
Below, we break down what each class of electric bike means, the different types of electric vehicles, and more, so you know what you're getting into.
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Class 1 ebikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and the electric motor works only when the rider is pedaling. A bike that has an electric motor that assists only during pedaling is called a pedelec.
Some, like the VanMoof S3/X3 , have a throttle on the handlebars that offers an extra power boost, but on Class 1 ebikes the throttle works only if you're also pedaling. You don't have to be pedaling very hard, though. You can throw it into a low gear and just free-spin the pedals forward slowly and that's enough to let the throttle work.
Pro riders will use the aero bike in races such as the Tour de France for longer, flatter stages as results show that an aero bike can be up to four minutes faster over a flat 40-km course (if riding conditions are favorable) as well as in sprint stages where the aerodynamic shape and uncompromising stiffness is an asset in getting you over the line in first place.
Class 1 ebikes are allowed on bike paths and bike lanes that are shared with traditional, nonassisted bikes—what we've started to call analog bikes.