Getting Away with Riding an Illegal Ebike:10 Tips

April 27, 2013

With the introduction of production electric bikes that are illegal on city streets because of their high top-speed and power (read our article on 10 illegal production ebikes 2013), it is time to question if and how you can get away with riding these bikes on the streets. Its nothing new for the DIY ebike community to ride illegally-fast electric bikes on the streets, and some have been using the following strategies for years to avoid getting ticketed…or their ebikes confiscated.

Always remember this simple rule: “It’s an ebike…if you can ride past a cop and not get pulled over.”  Here are some tips below to help you on not getting pulled over, while other tips might save you after you are stopped.


Know Ebike Law


Educate yourself. Start with our article on ebike law.  Read the wiki entry on ebike law. Research local laws in your state and city. The first thing you should ask yourself  “Is my ebike legal”?


Learn the art of “Clown Pedaling”

clown pedal

“Clown Pedaling” means to pedal the bike as fast as you can at top speed to give the illusion that you are an incredible athlete who is actually pedaling your bike at that amazing speed. Of course, pedaling at 40-MPH does not make much sense. For any single human,  pedal output at this speed is almost meaningless (you would be better served to focus on ducking down into an aerodynamic position), and secondly, most ebikes are not geared high enough to add any pedal assistance at this speed. However, it is a great idea for legal protection to appear as if you are pedaling and not just motoring.

Put a misleading sticker on your ebike

getting away with it-9189

The ebike in the above picture is, as of this writing, the fastest electric bike in the universe. (see our list of 10 fastest electric bikes)  However notice it has a “super slow bicycle” sticker on its down-tube  just in case it falls into view of police eyes.

Other good stickers are:  “750 watts” or “250 watts” depending on what the laws are where you live.

These stickers could give you great arguing points if pulled over the the police, and maybe help convince him that your ebike is within legal limits…even if it isn’t.


Wear a helmet…but not a full faced helmet

getting away with it-03053

Full faced helmet screams “motorcycle”.   Most bicyclists do not wear full faced helmets…neither should you. But you should wear a bicycle helmet if most bicyclists in your area wear helmets, especially if required to do so.


Buy or build an electric bike that looks as much like a bicycle as possible


If you are buying a production illegal ebike: Shop for one that is as stealthy looking as possible. TheSpecialized Turbo, the Stromer ST1, and even the Optibike are good examples. If you are building an electric bike, pick a small hub motor like this builder did for his mountain bikes, hide all your components, and pick a motor system that is quiet.  Having your electric bike appear like a bicycle will really protect you if you’re riding in hostile territory.

Have a hidden “turbo” switch

turbo switch

For those James Bond types a hidden turbo switch can be cool. This way you know if you get pulled over the cop can’t test ride your bike and deem it illegal and then confiscate it. In reality this never happens…but its cool to brag to your friends that your bike has a “secret turbo switch” just in case of a cop test ride.

Do not ride on a Motorcycle looking ebike

If it looks like it needs registration, insurance and paperwork…that is bad. Anything that looks like a motorcycle is bad, including the Hanebrink Hustler. By the way, the Hustler actually has pedals hidden under the fairings so you can at least argue that you are an electric bike when you are pulled over…good luck with that.

getting away with it-02910

And including electric Vespa style scooters with pedals…bad bad bad. Trade this bike in as fast as possible for something that looks like a bicycle.

ebike with pedals

Do not ride like a Hooligan


Obey traffic laws. Do not do tricks. Do not ride like a jackass.  Avoid congested roads. Do not endanger others when you ride. And for heavens sake do not be like this guy and rid with an open container: (read DUI on electric bike)

dui electric bike


Learn the right ways to talk to to the Police

getting away with it-03963

Learning to talk to the Police is mandatory for anyone who decides they want to ride on the margins of what is legal or not. Keep a copy of the vehicle code in your pocket. Have a prepared statement as to what you are going to say, and practice being respectful (which may be hard to do when you are suddenly and unexpectedly upset). Watch the following educational video which pertains to car stops, but with a little common sense can be applied to ebikes:


Getting pulled over a lot? Then rethink the way you are presenting yourself

e-bike tickets.JPG

Can you tell what this guy is doing wrong? That green thing behind him will never pass as an electric bike.  If you get pulled over and ticketed  a lot you  are probably doing something wrong.

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


  1. Epic

    • Cat = out of the bag.

  2. I might also add, “Be extra vigilant with the usual bike regulations.” On my regular bike, I may sometimes forget to stop at stop signs. But on an e-bike that could get you in even more trouble. In many cases, the local authorities will just give you a lecture & a warning, but if they notice you’re on an e-bike, they may step it up a notch.

    I was very fortunate. One time I was riding my electric Trikke back from morning coffee and completely blew through a stop sign…and there was a cop sitting right there at the intersection. I had to ride within a couple feet of his open window. He took one look at the Trikke and said, “That looks like a lot of fun… but you still have to stop at the stop signs.”

    And that was it. I got off easy that time, but it could have been worse.

  3. Cautionary tale from the ultralight airplane community in the US. We messed with the regulations and eventually found ourselves in the spotlight. In that case it was one-seater aircraft (legal) vs two-seater aircraft (not legal). We were awarded an exemption from FAR 103 (the section of federal aircraft regulation that pertains to ultralights) to allow for two-seaters that carried more gas and had a higher weight limit. These were to be for training purposes only but we all became trainers and flew our spouses around for fun (we were training them of course). Soon, legal one-seaters were rare. Sure enough, the hammer fell and we are now required to obtain a special pilot license and aircraft certification to operate our two-seaters. The expense and hassle decimated the sport overnight.

    Reading this article on fast ebikes reminds me of the “wink wink nudge nugde” attitude that we had towards the regulations as we pushed on the boundries for years. We even had stickers on our aircraft for the regulators that said “for training purposes only”. When you were flying solo you were performing a “safety check” – it was all a charade not even thinly disguised. We got lucky, I suppose. In our case, FAR 103 stayed intact – you can still fly a legal one-seater without a license or aircraft certification. But a proliferation of illegal ebikes? Seems to me new regulations, if they were to occur, would likely affect the legal bikes as well – they are not so easy to differentiate as a two-seater aircraft. Plus the FAA is generally not as nutty as your local city council. Be careful folks…

  4. Dear Jackytar: I appreciate hearing about your experience with two-seater ultralights and comparing it with the situation the e-bike owners find themselves in now. I cannot agree with you more that if the e-bike manufacturers and customers persist in flaunting traffic laws with a “wink and nod” and run high power illegal 30-50mph bikes on the public roads, inevitably, like the now heavily regulated ultralight operators, we’re all going to face punitive regulations as a result. And now let me share this experience with you. Recently I was on my street legal 500w e-bike , traveling a stretch of road at top speed,. The police were out with their speed gun. When I passed, having maxed out at 21mph, I was saluted by a cop with a thumbs-up and a smile. Now imagine If I were traveling, say, 25-45mph– it might have been a far less pleasant outcome for me. My point is, If I’m so eager for speed on a battery powered conveyance, say 80-90mph, then I might want to consider spending $12,000 for an electric motorcycle.

  5. according to california law cant sell a motorized bike faster than 30mph. but it says nothing about building a faster than 30mph ebike..

    • You might find that building one is prohibited completely! I’m going the petrol route personally, trying to make as quiet and hidden as possible, and obviously turn the motor off when in built up areas

      • you have to read carefully Jim. The law says one cant sell it doesnt say one cant make it. meaning you can build one for yourself

    • ahh ok duffus…my yamaha R1 has 1000 cc and160 ps. but ill only drive it under 30 mph so i can ride with no reg. no license and no lights or signals….please dont post your stupidity online for the whole world to see…

      • What’s a duffus? Is that something like a doofus? Or were you actually talking about the town in Scotland? Actually, I think you were just trying to be an immature little prick. How do you take ANYTHING that this man just said about motorized bikes, and compare that to a production MOTORCYCLE? Look, stop trying to be cool, because you’re not. You’re a tool. Be gone you fetid refuse!

    • actually the law is 20 mph or 32 kmh after which the motor must cut off. if the motor is tuned with software to go faster than 20 mph . a DL i required and lights, helmet, signals etc…or risk having the bike impounded….that is a lot to risk if you just spent 4 gs on a e bike. so , as soon as a cop sees you going fast….the bike will most likely be impounded. as i know for fact,,if your bike can go fast, therefore you will. selling these things will get a person into a lot of trouble with the law. not to mention law suits.if one person gets into an accident with a bike that was bought .that is when the big trouble starts. criminal charges. law suits list goes on.

  6. Well here in ontaireo we can only go 32kmh but every new scooter out there has 2 or 3 speed buttons we class them as a hill climbing gear /passing gear when stoped by a cop and if that fails you just explain when climbing a steep hill with no sholders to ride on and trafic cant pass on a hill you have to use your hill climbing gear to maintain a safe speed up the hill without obstructing traffic think about it your going to ride a scooter up a hill at 5kmh with 10 cars behind you someones going to try to pass and cause a car crash

  7. “If it looks like it needs registration, insurance and paperwork [not to mention, I, the poster, might add, a DRIVER’S LICENSE!]…that is bad. Anything that looks like a motorcycle is bad…And including electric Vespa style scooters with pedals…bad bad bad. Trade [this bike] in as fast as possible for something that looks like a [REAL!] bicycle.”

    Well…THAT just KILLED MY (precious, but TWISTED) dream of getting a Vespa scooter-style electric “bicycle” (which, come to think of it, is NOT REALLY a TRUE bicycle at all and after all!), which here in Florida, is also known as a so-called “DUI scooter”. Now, THANKS to the author of this article, I’ll just have to settle for an e-bike that TRULY looks like a bicycle (or else, considering my current age, one of those…GULP!…THREE-WHEEL “FAST” MOBILITY SCOOTERS!!! 😮 )! Now, I know BETTER, and, like GI Joe used to say back in the day, “knowing is HALF THE BATTLE!” Thanks again, and take care! 😉

  8. It is not that hard to get a motorcycle endorsement, so why not do that and license your creation as a motorcycle and relax about getting busted? In Michigan, where i live, there is a 15 hour course (5 classroom hours and 10 hours on a range with provided motorcycles) that cost the princely sum of 25 bucks–everything included. And it teaches you a lot of REALLY valuable things about how to sTay alive without a cage around you. It teaches you things you would never think of such as, when stopping in traffic do not pull up close to the car in front of you…stay back and park slightly angled so if someone behind you is not stopping, you can pull up alongside the vehicle in front of you to avoid becoming sandwich meat.

    • how can you license a DIY bike?

    • You want to put turn signals, brake lights, a horn, mirrors, get expensive insurance, pay registration, wear a motorcycle helmet, get a license plate, and have a DOT headlight on all the time on your bike?

    • I understand your point. You can learn a lot form driving courses that may help save your life. But some people may want to build and ride an e-bike to avoid paying high insurance costs which discourages someone form getting a safe car in the first place. For example they may live close to work or perhaps live in a city with high insurance premiums.

  9. not good if u get involded in a accident

    • That is what the brakes and common sense are for with every form of locomotion. Don’t ride like a hooligan is the best advice.

  10. also f*ck the police. No victim? No crime! #roadpirates just want your money!

  11. Here in St. Clair,Missouri…we can have electric & gas powered vehicles, that go up to 25 mph legally on the roads & w/out licencing…motorized has to be 50cc or less.However,the so called “pocket rockets” are illegal for road use,gas or e-powered.
    Reg. bicycles are not meant to exceed continuous speeds of 20 +mph…their frames are not manufactured to withstand the stresses of the higher speed…talk about stupid & wreckless. Want speed free-ride down a big hill.!!!

    • Here in Delaware, e-bikes are considered bicycles, have to be under 750 watts, and less than 20 mph. However, on my hybrid bike, I’ve done well over 30 mph on pedal power, alone. I had no issues with my frame handling the speed.

      • I once had my old Trek 7.3 FX at 48 mph on a downhill run, and climbing until I got pulled over by the local police. I know it was 48 mph because the policeman showed me the speed gun and ticket. It matched what my CatEye was reading, LOL! Judge dismissed the ticket, thankfully… “She was going– how fast?? 48 mph on a BICYCLE?”

        The frame, tires and brakes all stood up to the test. 🙂

        • Well, I’ve had my e-bike (a trek as well, 3900) well over 40 mph continuous speeds for 12 miles. No issues with frame stability, tire wear, brake fade. All working like a proper bike. Correct me if I’m wrong… But weren’t motorcycles first bicycles with engines?

          • Hi Chad, I have a Trek 3900 & would like to convert it to electric. Could you point me in the right direction as to what kit you used? Thanks.

  12. you are an idiot…posting online to help people do thing that are against the law. the law is there to help protect and keep people safe….

    • Where did you learn grammar, the back of a cereal box? How about you get a better grasp of english, before you go around lecturing people about laws and safety. Just by being here, you have already broken the law of “Survival of the Fittest”, dumb people were supposed to get eaten.

    • Free men do not ask permission. In a free state the government asks the sovereign citizens permission. What this means is in the USA we are not ruled over by government. We have rights we have at birth that predate government. Being a free people we (not you) understand we do not need permission from government to do a little tweaking to our bikes. We do know enough not to look for trouble but we are also not afraid of a government that has overstepped its authority and would like to regulate everything we do. You keep being a good little Nazi, the rest of us will be bike pirates and scoff laws like our rebellious ancestors who tossed superior tasting tea into the harbor while illegally importing inferior tea and other goods. What! You mean they didn’t follow every law back then either! Oh the humanity. 😉 lol

  13. @Chad P. ..oh i am so sorry that i offended your english..As this is the WWW (WORLD WIDE WEB ) many countries and languages are spoken NOT ONLY ENGLISH!!!
    as i speak 4 languages and english not being, my native language , i think i do pretty well with it…but for you to poke fun at me on a public forum as to my english skills is down right disrespectful and very TROLL like….when you become the 1% of people in this world that can speak 4 or more languages,,then please go ahead and belittle my englsih skills. if you have nothing more constructive to offer besides being a TROLL and a grammar Nazi..then i suggest TROLL someone else….good bye.and have a great day. 🙂 duffus

  14. I don’t know about everywhere else, but apparently in Canada, you can drive any vehicle which is 50cc or less or limited to 50km per hour or less, without a license, registration or insurance. That green gio probably goes faster than the limit for legal use without a license.

  15. I want an ebike that will assist me in changing the speed range of my travel. I do not want help starting out nor at low speeds as my legs are all the power I need. I want assist at higher speeds not at low speeds where I do not need or want help. I want an ebike I can pedal hard that is useful where I can go 30mph on 15mph effort. I have no use for a useless government ebike that destroys its purpose in an attempt to save us from ourselves. That leaves me with either modifying one or making one. I love making things and it sounds like the least expensive route. If things like “Clown Pedaling” will help me avoid unnecessary contact and improve my pirate ebike experience then that’s how I’ll roll. 🙂

  16. I couldn’t agree more with Paul Nourse. I have built and I ride fast e-bikes (30-40 mph) in the Bay Area myself, and I would love to get together with like-minded people. The monetary and environmental benefits of these light vehicles are unmatched among motorcycles or cars, even electric ones. You don’t need 150 horsepower to get from A to B in an urban environment in a decent time. 3 HP are sufficient. I love to be able to ride on bike trails (not hooligan-style) and then switch to the road and float with the cars where necessary, without being an obstacle. My daily commute from Foster City to South San Francisco (17 miles) is a breeze, half the distance covered on bike path along the bay (again- I pay attention and am curteous to pedestrians, other bikers and people with dogs), the other half on the public roads where I travel at the same speed as the surrounding cars. The car commute on highway 101 takes me sometimes more than 1 hour (heavy traffic) and the environment is ugly, the bike takes 45 min through state parks and along the water – the relaxation effect is enormeous. It seems that the benefits clearly outweigh the risks of this mode of transportation, and it deserves more promotion to become a legal alternative to how we commute. Is there actually a group on the San Francisco Peninsula I can join to push forward the interests of the fast E-bike community ?

  17. The issue that I’d be most interested in is actually how to move forward making “fast” electric bikes a legal thing on public roads. I put fast in quotation marks because they are not really “fast” or “dangerous”. In my opinion, 40 mph is safe to ride on a bike on public roads when the bike has good hydraulic disc brakes. If it requires a moped insurance and license, so be it. A fully enclosed motorcycle helmet though is a bit ridiculous and defats the purpose of being on a bicycle. I do not want an electric motorbike, I want a fast bicycle that I can ride safely and legally on public roads. Right now, I am forced by law to do it illegally…
    By the way, I liked the comparison of the E-bike revolution with the Boston Tea Party further up in the comments. Sometimes you need to do things that are against the ruling law, to advance the common good.

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