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


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