New California Ebike Laws

November 6, 2015

The website “” is one of the sources of information I check occasionally, and they recently reposted an article by Cameron Newland about changes to California’s ebike laws. California is known to be somewhat “environmentally friendly”, so anything that they do immediately draws a lot of attention. Most states are content to sit back and wait until some other state tries a few things out, and then has their court system wrestle over the legality of recent changes. That way, the states who are waiting on the sidelines can save a lot of time and money if they let someone else set the legal precedents for any evolving issue.

The laws concerning ebikes still vary quite a bit from one state to the next (here in the USA), but…this recent clarification of ebike law in such a large and influential state is something that will likely help standardize laws across the US, and also advertise that it is now safe to start embracing ebikes as an alternative form of transport in those areas where they are appropriate.



Chart courtesy of, who is working hard right now in 2015 to improve ebike laws in New York.


I’m reposting this with’s permission to help draw attention to this milestone in ebike law stabilization, and also to help Overvolted get a higher level of public awareness. Parts of the original article were also reposted on another one of our favorite websites,


Governor Brown Signs California Electric Bike Bill into Law

by Cameron Newland

According to the California Bicycle Coalition, Governor Jerry Brown has signed one of the United States’ most progressive electric bicycle laws, which allows 28MPH-capable electric bikes in bike lanes and allows low-power, pedal-assist electric bikes to use bike paths except when prohibited by local law.

The legislation was a contentious one within the electric bike industry, as a large contingent of electric bike brands spearheaded by Accell North America executive Larry Pizzi prevailed in getting support for their bill over legislation that was supported by California-based Pedego. The disagreement between Pizzi and Pedego has everything to do with throttles: Pizzi’s contingent argued for treating throttle bikes differently than pure pedelecs (electric bikes with pedal-assist only), whereas Pedego, which sells to an older buyer demographic that prefers throttle bikes, argued for wording that was more favorable to manufacturers of throttle bikes.



This chart shows California agreeing with, and solidifying a legal trend in Federal law. If you are using PAS (applying power that is actuated by pedaling), you can legally have power up to 28-MPH (45-km/h). But, if you like a hand-throttle, you can only legally apply power on a street ebike up to 20-MPH (32-km/h)


Why the scorn toward throttles? It likely comes down to mountain bike trail access. If electric mountain bikes were to gain expanded off-road trail access, the electric mountain bike market would would see a corresponding increase in sales which would benefit ebike manufacturers. One of the biggest roadblocks to this expanded trail access for ebikes is the criticism coming from current trail users: mountain bikers and trail-going equestrians.

These groups argue that electric bikes are heavier and that they could damage trails more than mountain bikes do (though preliminary studies indicate this fear us mostly unwarranted). One way that the electric bike industry could make electric bikes seem less destructive to trails would be to remove throttles from the bikes that are allowed on these trails, and also to limit power output so as to reduce the potential for trail damage from the spinning of tires.

This bill, though ostensibly concerning electric bikes on roads and bike paths, also accomplishes some of the electric bike industry’s off-road goals, classifying electric bikes sold in the state so that in the future, one class might one day gain trail access and ignite a new phase of industry growth.

So what does the new law do, exactly?

First off, it clarifies the state’s laws on electric bikes that travel in excess of 20MPH and allows for the use of 28MPH-capable Class 3 electric bikes (a.k.a. S-pedelecs) on public roads, whereas before the law’s passing, federal law stated that the maximum assisted speed for an electric bike was 20MPH.

Helmet use for Class 3 electric bikes is required, and helmets will also be required for any electric bike rider under the age of 18. Class 3 electric bikes cannot be ridden by anyone under the age of 16, and Class 3 ebikes will also be banned from using Class 1 bike paths (a.k.a. ‘multi-use paths’) but may use bike lanes and protected bike lanes on public roadways.

Class 2 electric bikes that are equipped with a throttle and that can function even without pedaling will be limited to a top assisted speed of 20MPH, however, they will be permitted on bike paths, unlike their faster Class 3 counterparts.

With the successful campaign for the passing of the California law over with, the electric bike industry will now move onto lobbying other large states with restrictive electric bike laws, including New York and Michigan.

[end of repost]


These are the good guys for off-road ebikes.

These are the good guys for off-road ebikes.


International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA)

While researching for this article, I found some info about the IMBA. I was so used to getting instant hate from any bicycling organization (whether for road bikes or off-road), that I never really looked much at any of their publications, even when ebikes were mentioned (ebikes are cheating! the lazy bastards…).

I was pleasantly surprised at the position of the IMBA on off road ebikes. Trails will experience a certain amount of wear and tear from off-road bicycles, and the IMBA funded a study and published a fact that we already knew. E-bikes don’t cause any more damage than regular bicycles.

The one area where ebikes seem to be getting some traction, is to help riders get to the top of a downhill (DH) run (recently called a single-track). Like snow-skiing, the downhill part is fun and exhilarating, but…getting to the top without a “lift” is exhausting.

I recall many years ago reading a snow-skiing magazine that reprinted an article from many years ago, when the larger resorts had first begun to build lifts for their customers. Snow ski purists were publicly lamenting that now…skiers would not have to hike to the top of the mountains. Just anybody could start snow skiing, and adding lifts would obviously lead to the best runs getting more crowded.



Down-hilling and single-track courses are now big business, and I think they will be around for the foreseeable future.


It was only a couple of decades ago that ski resorts began using ski runs in the summer to host down hill mountain-bike runs, in order to make some money in the slow summer months by using the same properties. Now there are elaborate and exciting single-track runs that are not used for anything else.

It was a breath of fresh air to see an organization like IMBA publicly supporting ebikes in a very reasonable manner. I am mentioning them here because they deserve credit and more recognition for their efforts. They are one of the good guys.

Kudos to the IMBA, the California Bicycle Coalition, People for Bikes,, Accel/Currie, and Pedego


In following links about ebike laws, I also came across a great blog about off-road bicycles called

It is published and was started by Jeff Barber and Leah Barber. He wrote a very positive editorial about ebikes on off-road trails, but at the same time, he also published a “counter point” against ebikes from another writer (Greg). Doing this can allow both sides of this issue to more clearly understand the high points of the various issues that are causing concern.




This doesn’t mean that one side will ever persuade the other, but…I believe good communication is the best first step. For those who enjoy listening to a podcast on another tab while you look at email on another tab, here is singletracks’ 22-minute podcast on ebikes.

In my reading and listening to off-road enthusiasts, it sounds like the biggest concern is that…many places around the country are starting to restrict unpowered pedal-only mountain bikes, and there is a fear that ebikes would speed up this process (at the 13:13 point on the podcast). A key internet search term would be “trail access”.


What does Say?

We are now living in a golden age for electric bike enthusiasts. Most police are too busy looking at cars, and most of the time don’t see any difference between a pedal-bike or an electric bike when they pass by. If they were ticketing electric bikes for misbehaviour, it doesn’t bring in much revenue, so you would have to cause an accident with serious injuries before they would start caring.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t approve of hooligan riding in traffic…we’re just saying that if you are riding a little too fast, and using an illegal 1200W on the street, and yet…you are riding safely? The police are not trying to hunt you down. At least…not yet. (please ride safely! we want this attitude to last as long as possible!)

Over time we have seen several trends evolve organically, without any laws guiding them. Off-roaders seem to like having a hand-throttle option, so they can do a slow crawl over a technical obstacle without needing to reposition their pedals for the next “nudge”. There are controllers that have both a PAS option coupled with a hand-throttle. I tried these at Interbike, and I liked having both.



Here is one example of a speed sensing PAS. This model uses 12 small magnets that pass by the frame-mounted sensor, and this forms a type of “throttle” to apply power to the wheel.


PAS is a Pedal Assist System. This means when the pedals start moving, the controller senses that and applies power to the motor. there are two types right now. A “speed sensing” system uses a ring of magnets on one side of the bottom brackets pedal-axle. As those magnets pass by the frame-mounted sensor, the controller can tell which direction the pedals are moving, and how fast they are moving. These are the most common due to low price, and are more often found on affordable street ebikes.

The second PAS style is a “torque sensing” system. They are more expensive and less-common, but they are often found on upscale off-road ebikes. They have a more instant and smoother transition of applying power.



Here is one example of a torque-sensing PAS from TDCM. Another well-regarded model is from Thun. They both use a sensitive “strain gauge” mounted directly on the axle, which flexes a tiny amount when pressure is applied to the pedals.


If we must have ebike laws, the new California laws are not bad. And…now that we are starting to see a large and influential state like California clarifying and enacting laws that are inline with the federal regs? We can move on to the next phase of of the evolution of ebike laws, the part where lawsuits resulting from accidents further modify and solidify our ebike laws into something more like their eventual final form.

We’re not talking about denting your front wheel rim on a car bumper…an accident involving a bicyclist and a car can result in someone ending up in the hospital, or even dead. Also, if you hit a pedestrians at 28-MPH, it wouldn’t make the accident less harmful if you were on a pedal-only bicycle, or a legal PAS electric bike, but…if you have an electric bike with a hand throttle, how will you prove you were not using the hand throttle when insurance lawyer tries to blame you for the injuries?

Liability insurance and lawsuits are why Europe insists on laws for street ebikes with low speed limits and also PAS-only throttles. Over there, you can pedal 40-MPH if you want, but…you can only get motor-power by pedaling, and only getting that up to 16-MPH. Any speeds above 16-MPH you will be using all leg power.

Depending on the country, the power limit in the European Union (EU) is anywhere from 250W up to 500W, which is nuts. If you are riding safely and obeying the speed laws, why would anyone care how much power you are using? What about a fully-loaded cargobike with a child and two bags of groceries in the mountains? The federal law in the USA is a power limit of 750W, and hilly Oregon allows a much more reasonable 1000W.


Back to the New Laws in California

Riders 17 and under must wear a helmet, and cannot go over 20-MPH (32-km/h) no matter what type of ebike they are on.

Ebikes with a hand-throttle can only use that throttle to apply power up to 20-MPH (32-km/h).

Ebikes with a PAS capability can legally ride a PAS-equipped ebike on the public roads up to 28-MPH (45-km/h)

28-MPH capable PAS ebikes are illegal for any rider that is 16 and under.

Helmets…everyone must wear a helmet and can receive a citation for not wearing a helmet on public roads, except for: pedal-only bicyclists who are 18 or older. Ebike in California = helmet.


Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, November 2015




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. Well it is fine for these bureaucrats to make up rules to justify their pay checks, but if you are 72 with weak knees and live on a steep hill they can really mess a guy up.

    Of course the hot rod contingent are going to do their best to make these rules necessary.

    Luckily I live in Oregon where the rules are acceptable.

  2. I’m not sure I know what is best here. I am getting a e fat bike because i no longer felt safe on a motorcycle. Also, I have arthritis and thought an e bike might provide some safe and sane outdoor enthusiasm with a bit of cardio thrown in. I thought off road e riding would be part of the equation, but apparently not.

    It seems to me that an e mountain bike restricted to 20 mph should pretty much equal the performance and level of environmental impact common to conventional mountain bikes. Many mountain bikers ride up a hill slowly, and then bomb the hill on the way down. I, on the other hand, were I even to make it to the top of such a hill, would descend it a speeds way slower than those of your more athletic mountain bikers.

    As far as e bikes being heavier, were that a real issue, persons over a specific weight should as well be excluded from the trails. “If you can’t fit into these shorts, you can’t fit onto this trail.”

    Do I think some e bikers will in fact effect the environment and riding atmosphere on the trails? Yes, I do think there will always be the hot dogs who ride dangerously fast. Am I one of them? No! Were I allowed to ride my e bike on the trails, my environmental impact would equal that of your more maneuverable moose.

    Blessings, Damon †

  3. I was wondering when you were going to cover this. Good article as I hadn’t previously realized the politics and why they differentiated Type1 and Type 2 ebikes. I’m still trying to figure out it this also legalized ALL electric multiwheeled variations that qualify as bikes.

    It should also be noted that legislation was also passed to legalize “electrically motorized boards” (aka. electric skateboards). Here’s a quick summary for electric skateboards (also covers stand up electric scooters):
    1. Must be sixteen years of age or older.
    2. Helmet required.
    3. Max. 15 mph on road (and the boards must be limited to 20mph)

  4. Great article, I’m and avid ebiker as well as a long time mountain biker and I just have one thing to point out. Off road electrics may not be any worse per trip when it comes to erosion, but they do allow the user to make more trips in a given amount of time, therefore increasing erosion. Unlike ski hills, mother nature does not melt the dirt at the end of the
    day and put it back up on the hill in the form of precipitation. Once
    dirt has been pushed down hill, it tends to stay down hill. I hope the off-road ebike scene evolves a strong trail maintenance credo, as they will certainly contribute increased wear.

  5. The only thing that exceeds the ignorance of this law is the complete lack of character and ethics of the mentally retarded morons that sponsored this law. We need less law’s, not more law’s. I honestly believe we could do away with 70% of our law’s and our country would be much better off!

  6. For a ski area lacking the funds to install detachable lift with bike racks purchasing a rental fleet of e-bikes might be a viable way to develop a trail system and bring in some off season revenue. Our local ski area replied to a request to develop trails on and surrounding the leased federal land of their operation that it would be at least 10 years before a new lift could be fitted in the master plan. Maybe the requirement for a lift is going to go away!

  7. Great article. I live in Massachusetts and the ebike laws here are arcane, with the RMV making no differentiation between any type of ebike and a gas powered 50cc motor bike. They must be registered as a motor vehicle and require a driver’s license to operate. I have not registered, nor do I have any intention of registering my pedalec ebike to ride on the roads. I have yet to even see another ebike on, or off the roads, and I am contantly on the lookout for them. There are many miles of trails in the town forest directly across the street from me that are used by (and a percentage are owned by) the local NEMBA club that I cannot use. The NEMBA folks are sympathetic (sort of) but their position is that since the town does not allow them on their trails, then we won’t allow you on ours because you would have to use the town trails to access the NEMBA trails. I should have done my homework on this before I bought my bike. Nevertheless I am finding other areas where I can ride off road that are nearby……around an industrial park and power cuts, etc.
    The town’s reason, I’m most certain, is to keep mini bikes, dirt bikes, and quads out of there by their signs “NO MOTOR VEHICLES ALLOWED”, but since the registry considers my ebike a motor vehicle, then I’m screwed.
    I will send a copy of the new California legislation to my state congressperson.
    I’m 70, and would hope to see our state laws changed sooner than later… there anything else that I can do to raise awareness?


    Tom K.
    Holliston, MA

  8. If you ask me E-Bikes should be allowed to go up to 30-35mph with throttles and pedal assist, rider under 21 must wear helmet no license required a one time registration fee with DMV is optional for documentation and theft protection purposes. As long as the E-Bike don’t have Gas Engine mounted to the frame I don’t see a problem with a E-Bike having a throttle that maxes out at 30-35 miles per hour. Every body cant afford a new car every year, a E-Bike with pedal assist with a top speed of 30-35 miles per hour can help the community in many ways especially high school kids, college students, those with low-income, and the senior community. It can change their lives in terms of transportation getting to-and-from school, work and around town, to their destinations etc.

  9. I’m 60 years old with two heart attacks in the last 10 years. I ride my ebike on trails to get my required cardio exercise and loose weight doing something I like before I leave this world. My friend is 82 years old and goes with me. He has logged over 6000 ebike miles. Not sure where the younger twenty somethings get off claiming that it’s ok for them to use the trails but not me. It is simply age discrimination or selfishness. Sort of an entitlement mentality. I would venture to guess that more of my taxes paid for those trails to be protected in the first place than my younger counter part. I would not be able to enjoy mountain biking without pedal assist on the grades. The trails are for everyone to enjoy not just the young and athletes. I take offence to the attitude I get on the trail. Luckily I live in CA were we seem to have progressive laws that seem to allow my use of the trails for now. On a positive note I noticed once I tell the younger mountain biker that my friend is 82 and I am over 60 they think about their fathers and start to consider that maybe there is a legitimate need for ebikes on the trail. Although I receive comments like we are going to ruin it for everyone (them they mean) or those bikes are not legal. Based on these interactions I think that this is an education problem. As ebike riders we have to explain to them why these bikes are needed. To provide equal access to all more people. This education needs to be directed the non-ebike riders and senators and local ordinance makers too.

    Ebikes are safe and do not cause any more damage to the environment than non-assist bikes. It is the individual rider that is either respectful of the environment and others or not. ebikes serve a segment of our population that otherwise would no longer be able to ride bikes due to age fitness or health. To ban ebikes from bike trails is to discriminate against older age, poorer fitness or poorer health individuals. If the law does not recognize that where you live that sucks. Get the word out, it is a matter of educating the uninformed. No body died and left the trails to the young, get over it and learn to share these resources that belong to all of us not just you. “We are going to ruin it for everybody” give me a break.

  10. It should not make a difference what is providing the power to a bicycle. What should be considered in future vehicle legislation is the speed limit a bicycle should adhere to in different terrain since it has the ability to go on pedestrian paths. For example a 15 mph speed limit on sidewalks and parks for all bikes would be wise. Bikes SHOULD be able to go the same speed as cars in 45 mph zones. The only thing limiting the bike at this point is the rider’s own safety and the physics of the bike. The bike itself is not creating a larger hazard than a car or a motorcycle. Hypothetically if you could make an e-bike stable enough to operate at 60 mph so that you can operate it on expressways then there should be a path for making it legal on the street that is less cumbersome than registering it as a motorcycle. If states are truly serious about fighting climate change then they need to put their money where their mouth is and offer free registration on bikes that wish to operate faster than 30 mph.

  11. In the Netherlands where I live, there are indeed the 250W and 500W limits for bicycles, but for mopeds the limit is 4000W. That number is so high to allow for cargo trikes and quads. These moped-ebikes require a license plate (and thus testing by authorities), physically-limited top speed of 45 km/h, moped-insurance and a helmet.

  12. The Ebike community needs to be proactive ang get in front of bike laws. I would recommend that all ebikes be equipped with certified controllers or a certified device like EZ-Pass that allows the authorities to verify the bike’s motor as a 750W or less and the bike’s mode of operation for the past 30 minutes to 1 hour. For example. In CA a police officer could check the device and verify the motor rating and determine if it has been operating as Class 1, 2, 3, or unrestricted as far back as 30-60 minutes. This would allow a bike rider to operate unrestricted in off-road and private property environments and also program their bikes to Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 operations as necessary for other times and locations. The controllers or device must be tamper-proof

    • It seems to me this is something you could do with a smart phone app easier than any other means. It wouldn’t be reasonable to ask for a governor or something like that, but instead be concerned with how they are used instead.

    • Yeah, and while they are at it, they can insert a “certified” device into your body to also verify that you did not go places without the bike you should not be. Maybe also have you wear a camera “for safety”, just like many police are now required to……

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