Retail electric bike top-speed of 28-MPH, a new US-legal strategy

October 22, 2013

Recently, at the September Interbike-2013 in Las Vegas, three big players in the E-bike market provided test-rides on production models of their E-bikes that were intended to retail in the USA, and they had a 28-MPH top-speed when in Pedal-Assist-Sensor (PAS) mode…they are SpecializedCurrie, and Stromer.

Previously, the US federal laws seemed to only allow a top-speed of 20-MPH (and a street power-limit of 750W / one-HP) for street-legal E-bikes. However, sharp lawyers have been looking for a way to legally allow a higher top-speed. Specialized, Currie, and Stromer are all very large international bicycle manufacturers, so something that might make their dealers vulnerable to lawsuits is something that they would never do without some type of solidly-researched legal ground to stand on.

The peculiar point of the US-configured systems that are now being promoted is that; the rider can only use a throttle up to 20-MPH, however…if you pedal, the PAS will power up the E-bike all the way to 28-MPH.


Here is one example of a "speed sensing" PAS. As the small magnets pass by the sensor, the computer calculates you approximate speed.

Here is one example of a “speed sensing” PAS. As the small magnets on the disc pass by the sensor, the computer calculates your approximate speed and adds the appropriate amount of assist. “Torque-sensing” PAS works better, but is also more expensive.


I am happy to know that some very important people are taking the lead in establishing a more reasonable standard than the 20-MPH speed limit. Personally, I was actually not too annoyed by the 20-MPH limit. My biggest annoyances are the street power limits that I found to be very frustrating. For instance, IF …a mom on a cargobike with a child and two bags of groceries approaches a steep uphill, I find it just plain silly to limit her to only using 750-Watts of power. If she is riding safely and staying under a speed of 20-MPH, she should be free to use as much power as she can afford. That being said…

…I can’t help but to wonder why we can only ride up to 20-MPH if we are using a throttle?

A famous man once said that: “If you care about laws and sausages, you should never see how either of them are made”. The political compromises that are part of getting a new proposal through the long and winding road to becoming a law are undoubtedly an ugly process. Principles and common-sense are often bent into painful contortions along the way, until the result is almost unrecognizable to those who started the campaign to “make the world a better place”.

On the one hand, scooters and motorcyclists safely use a throttle up to 70-MPH (113 k/h). But on the other hand…they also are required to have a state license, state registration, and insurance. This is a golden era for  most cities in the US, where you can ride a DIY 3,000W E-bike on the streets to your hearts content…as long as the E-bike is stealthy, you are riding safely, and you don’t draw attention to yourself.

I have a hunch as to why these three giant E-bike manufacturers are now able to sell E-bikes that can be pedaled up to 28-MPH. I have no evidence…but here it is: PAS keeps your hands free to operate ONLY the brakes at higher speeds.

I could be wrong, but indulge me for just a few minutes. I recall reading about a builder who wanted to convert a gasoline motorcycle into an E-motorcycle. He bought a running mid-sized used motorcycle for a good price, and then sold the engine for half that price. He added a motor, controller, and battery pack…got it running…and then went to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to hopefully get it registered for legal street use.

The thing I remembered about this project was that; the licensing and registration was cheaper and easier to get if it was designated as a scooter by an inspection. The two most interesting criteria were that the top-speed could not be over 50-MPH, and it could not require the use of a clutch. IF…it was capable of major highway speeds (50-75 MPH),…OR…the rider had to operate a clutch and transmission…it then had to be registered as a motorcycle. To be a scooter under the law, it had to use only a low top-speed, and have NO clutch and manual transmission-shifter (most scooters have an auto-shifting transmission)

So, the philosophy of the government “think tank” seems to be that if an E-bike is traveling faster than 20-MPH, the allowable system must make the riders safety devices easier to operate in a split-second incident that might result in an accident.

Again, this is just my guess…and of course, there are US-jurisdictions where E-bikes are not allowed in ANY form (I’m looking at you, New York City).

What I can tell you for certain is that: In  Asia and Europe, E-bikes are serious business, and…PAS-controlled E-bikes are now entrenched as  “simply the way things are done”.

There are some exciting things going on in off-road E-bikes right now (especially coming out of Germany), but when it comes to the modest power and speed limits for street-legal E-bikes, PAS rules the street.

If you don’t want to draw the attention of the police, it is a smart move to be pedaling all the time, even if it is just ghost pedaling, with your legs not actually adding to the bikes propulsion (sometimes called “clown pedaling“). I’m starting to warm-up to the idea of a PAS-enabled E-bike, but…personally, I just like how it will help me avoid a ticket when I don’t realize I’m being watched.

Whether you have a throttle, PAS, or both…ride safe, my friends…


Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, October 2013


Grew up in Los Angeles California, US Navy submarine mechanic from 1977-81/SanDiego. Hydraulic mechanic in the 1980's/Los Angeles. Heavy equipment operator in the 1990's/traveled to various locations. Dump truck driver in the 2000's/SW Utah. Currently a water plant operator since 2010/NW Kansas


  1. I hope the E-bike manufacturers will take the lead in educating the public, and specifically public officials, about the many benefits of E-bikes!
    I spent part of the summer in Breckenridge, CO and divided my time between riding my Trek road bike, and my E-bike! It was very discouraging to see signs on some of the bike trails in the area that specially barred “electrically assisted bicycles”!!!
    I envision that E-bikes could open up recreational opportunities to a large segment of the population in addition to commuting and other uses!
    In my younger days I rode off-road motorcycles and was infuriated that the M/C manufacturers sat on their hands while public officials, and other elitist types, methodically closed down public lands and limited riding areas.
    If laws or regulations are enacted to restrict E-bikes, retailers will be reluctant to sell them!!!

  2. My impression is ebikes are too fast for the
    sidewalk and too slow to mix with urban traffic.
    In the Netherlands companies have funded
    a 25 mile “ebike freeway”.
    Both the employees and the companies seem
    happy with the arrangement.

    • I would suggest that any bike is too fast for the sidewalk – electrically assisted or not.
      Great idea about the ebike freeway.
      I hear a lot about ebikes being illegal in NYC, but they are everywhere. I never see the cops stopping anyone. The problem is delivery guys (nearly always Chinese) driving through every red light, down one way streets the wrong way, cutting in front of pedestrians. The issue is the riders, not the vehicles.
      I ride a Goped ESR (stand up) Scooter with a 3KW motor, Hope brakes front & rear and a 32 AH battery pack. Top speed approx 25 mph. Awesome machine! I’ve been driving it to work and back for two years and so far the cops have never even looked at me. So how do we classify a stand up scooter with a motor and batteries??

  3. Something that really puzzles me about the USA is the apparent difficulty in deciding what is a bicycle, unregistered E-Bicycle, Light motorcycle[1] and Full motorcycle. And why this isn’t decided at Federal level rather than changing at state and city borders. But then, Europe, Aus, Canada and other jurisdictions seem to have plenty of definition and legal problems as well. In lots of places it’s not terribly clear how to test the speed and power restrictions or what they actually mean.

    Meanwhile it seems logical and sensible to me that unregistered E-Bicycles have limits and controls that mean they still behave like bicycles. And 20mph-500w seems about right to me. Where that 20mph means that the electric power cuts out around then. Which means a no load speed for the motor of around 22mph. By all means free wheel or pedal down a hill faster than that, just as you can on an unassisted bicycle, but don’t keep adding motor power above that speed.

    The article is right though. Look like a bicycle and do bicycle type things and nobody will pay any attention to you. None of these laws are enforced much often because the Police don’t know the law any more than we do and as above don’t have the clear methods to test against it.

    [1]And finally, motorcycle laws in the US also seem to be somewhat confused. For a long time, you had to have a right hand foot brake and a left hand clutch even if the bike was automatic. And there ought to be a clearly defined procedure for registering one offs, home builts and personal imports.

  4. I wonder about the liability issues on eBikes that go that fast. If you are hit in an accident and it’s totally the cars (or something else) fault, are they not liable since you were not supposed to be riding that on public roads in the first place?

  5. In Australia bikes are limited to 250 Watt and ~15MPH. This is enough for me as I like to pedal and actually ride the bike. I also insure my bike with Velosure and they insist on PAS mode only. I do take your point about a mother, a child and cargo on a cargo bike, but they are not on the road behaving like a regular bicycle rider anyway. Far too dangerous at the moment. That will change with more dedicated bike paths, but very few will have consistent access to bike paths.

  6. Twisting a throttle or squeezing a clutch is more unstable than spinning your legs? I doubt it. I think the automatic vs clutch distinction was the nature of motorcycle transmissions (higher speeds) vs scooter automatics (low speeds).
    Second, 20mph max and 750W are not compatible for flat ground riding. &50W will get many bikes/riders to 25mph easy, and close to 30mph on skinny tires/aero help. So if 750W is allowed for hills, then, yes, raise the speed limit to be compatible.
    Liability is the driver. Stink’in lawyers! A bike going over 20mph raises safety issues for the rider, automobile expectations and roadways, pedestrian venues and expec.. It can be done, just like a pack of lycr cyclist cruising 20+ in a pack on a road. For the high power bikes, they need to be on th eroad, OR obey the bike path speed limits. It seems the communities just bar them from the paths due to deliquent riders/teens, rather than trust them as adults and offer safe passage routes off the road. Sad.
    I suggest 3 classes:
    1. E bike class: 750W or less, speed limits controlled by road/path/justisdiction. Expected speeds up to 20mph, with 28mph max. No restrictions.
    2. E bike Moped class: 1hp-2.5hp (750W-1875W): Requires normal river’s liscence (16 and older). Expected speeds from 20-30mph, with max up to 35mph. Require liability insur and registration, no special license.
    3. E bike Moto Class:2.5hp+. Requires normal river’s liscence (16 and older) and motorcycle liscense. Requires liability,registration, and license to be on road. Expected speeds over 35mph up to 50mph. Vehicle requirements like brake lights/tire size/brake disk size could apply.

  7. sounds a bit like the s-pedelec in some European countries.

    A standard pedelec is allowed to assist up to 25kph and throttle only up to 6kph, but s-pedelecs are allowed to assist up to 45kph and use throttle up to 20kph (so you don’t need to wear a helmet)

    You need insurance (cheap, rather an advantage than a disadvantage compared to theft insurance costs for similar priced normal bikes ) and a license plate for riding a s-pedelec.

    The difference is that the s-pedelec is perfectly legal over here. (but legally it is not a bicycle)

  8. The wattage limit is a bit silly… Anyone willing to argue that a pedelec going 28 mph falls within the law must know somebody.

  9. I don’t think he was writing specifically about CA but the US in general.

  10. For those complaining about stricter local laws, it would be too difficult for every manufacturer to make a bike catered to each specific state. Some states have more strict aspects on the definition of an e-bike while others may be more lenient.

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