March 10, 2012
In the USA, Congress has defined an electric bicycle as any bicycle or tricycle with fully operable pedals, an electric motor not exceeding 750 W of power and a top motor-powered speed not in excess of 20 miles per hour. An electric bike or trike that meets these limitations is regarded as a bicycle  by Public Law 107-319. This Law defines electric bicycles only for the purpose of Consumer Product Safety. It is a safety criteria that manufacturers should use in building electric bicycles, which helps protect manufacturers from the threat of lawsuits from within states that attempt to legislate more stringent safety requirements.
Federal law was designed to keep manufacturers from designing high speed high power e-bikes without extreme liability issues. However its very easy to build a bike that is beyond federal law. You will be lawbreaker…but chances of you getting caught are slim. In the minds of many build yourself e-bikes, legal means not getting stopped and questioned by the police. Your e-bike must look normal enough to pass that test.
Welcome to the world of guerilla e-bike building / riding. Almost all of the high performance e-bikes on the planet right now that can hit speeds of over 30mph are designed in peoples garages. The idea is you can build your own electric bike without worryiing if you hurt yourself on it, yu wont end up sueing yourself. In the off chance you do hurt someone else on your high performance e-bike, you can get sued.
If you want to keep your e-bike legal or atleast appear legal..keep the following things in mind.
To count as an electric bike your e-bike must have pedals. Without pedals you can easily be considered a motorized vehicle or worst an electric motorcyce.
Stealth. Hide your electric components and wiring as much as possible.
Install lights if your going to ride at night.
Wear a helmet. If you look safe you will draw less attention to your self.
Consider limiting your bike to 750 watts to the motor, or simply putting a “750 watt” sticker on your motor or somewhere on your bike.
Ride safe and sane so as not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
Ebikes ride in a marginal area when it comes to the law.
Although they are motorized vehicles they count as bicycles according to federal law and most state jurisdictions. State law supersedes federal law so check your state laws to know right where you stand when it comes to electric bikes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bicycle_laws
Federal law says tthat it is an electric bik as long as it is motor burns less than 750 watts and the bike goes less than 20mph unassisted (by human power) on flat ground.
Most electric bikes are stealthy in appearance and sound so therefore there is virtually no way to prove you are breaking the above law. Even if you are clocked doing 35mph, you can tell the cop that the electric power only accounted for 20mph of it and your legs cranked it up to 35mph.
When it comes to home built electric bikes and legality much of it comes to what you can ride past a cop and not get pulled over. If your bike looks and sounds like an electric bike and you go flying past a cop, ride wildly or belligerently break traffic laws you can easily get pulled over and questions. Use commen sense when building and riding your e-bike and you probably wont have any problems.
EBIKE LEGAL FAQs
Ebike Legality question and answer
Do you need a license to ride an e-bike?
No, e-bikes in most jurisdictions count as bicycles.
Do you need proof of liablility insurance?
No e-bikes in most jurisdictions count as bicycles.
Can you park on the sidewalks?
Absolutely..just lock that baby to a post bicycle style.
Can you take on subway?
If you can take a bicycle on the subway than more than likely you can take your e-bike. It’s best if your e-bike looks like a bicycle in cases like this.
Can you get a DUI on an electric bike?
You can, but the same as a dui on a bicyle it will not have the severe consequences a DUI would have in a car or motorcycle . Basically the same as a dui on a bicycle. Most states consider bikes and motorized vehicles differently for the purposes of DUI statutes.