E-bike Classes and U.S. Laws

E-bikes are generally classified into three performance tiers or “classes” in the U.S. — the key word being generally, as over a dozen states don’t use that system or use a variation of it. In truth, each state has its own peculiarities when it comes to e-bikes, with differences ranging from very particular regulations to almost none at all. Also, “street” e-bikes often have different rules than eMTBs or electric mountain bikes.

Finally, there is a “fourth” e-bike performance class that isn’t as well known that we will include.

Here’s a breakdown of generally accepted e-bike classifications for the US, followed by a closer look at some state-by-state exceptions. There are links below to more granular information on e-bike laws in any particular state.

The Three E-bike Classes

Let’s start with the commonly accepted e-bike “classes” or performance tiers that most states now use. Common to all Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes: A maximum motor power output of 750 Watts.

Class 1: Pedal Assist System with Assist Up to 20 mph and No Throttle

This is not the “lowest” tier of e-bike; it’s just the most simple. The only time the electric motor operates is when the rider pedals and the pedal assist system (PAS) tails off at 20mph, leaving it up to the rider if they want to pedal the bike above that speed. There is no “throttle” for activating the motor without pedaling as on a Class 2 bike.

Class 2: Pedal Assist System Up to 20 mph with Throttle Option

This mid-tier combines the assist level of Class 1 with a favorite feature: a throttle that lets the rider use only electricity to propel the e-bike, again up to a maximum of 20 mph. The throttle can be a “thumb throttle” slider on either handlebar grip and its power can vary according to the assist level chosen, depending on the e-bike.

Riders can also use the pedal assist system as on a Class 1 e-bike. This is perhaps the most popular e-bike category due to the throttle feature which lets riders use the e-bike like a very lightweight motorcycle.

Class 3: Pedal Assist System Up to 28 mph, No Throttle

Class 3 e-bikes are like Class 1 e-bikes, except they have a top pedal assist system speed of 28 mph instead of 20 mph. Like Class 1 e-bikes, they also do not have a throttle.

Note: Many e-bike makers offer “Class 2” e-bikes with throttles that can be “uprated” to 28 mph PAS Class 3 speeds, usually via an app. These bikes still retain the throttle feature, which is typically still limited to a maximum of 20 mph on just motor power alone.

Technically, these are “out of class” e-bikes from the start but are sometimes sold as Class 2 bikes with the caveat that the owner makes the ultimate call on how to set up the e-bike, legal or otherwise.

Class 4: E-bikes Above 750-Watt Motor Power

Classes 1 through 3 are by far the most common type of e-bike, but there is another tier recognized within the e-bike industry: Class 4.

This tier includes “Open” or “unlimited” e-bikes with throttles, no top speed limit and motor power beyond 750 Watts (often well beyond). While deemed illegal for street use in most states, the machines exist in a sort of legal gray area depending on where you live.

E-bikes in this category typically include those that can also qualify as mopeds or even motorcycles, yet they still have pedals and pedal-assist technology. They can look more or less like regular bicycles.

Some Class 4 e-bikes can be registered as motor vehicles and ridden in traffic like an electric motorcycle if they have the proper documentation (usually a VIN number) and DOT-spec equipment (horn, mirrors, turn signals, etc.), but again, it depends on local regulations.

Class 4 machines are also commonly sold as high-performance, off-road-oriented e-bikes. They may also be sold as machines used for rural farm work, not to be ridden on the street where they are typically not legal.

However, it’s a bit of a jumble around Class 4 (and even Class 3) bikes as to exactly what is “legal” and where. In all honesty, law enforcement in the U.S. is often well behind the curve on e-bike regulation and enforcement.

Check with your state and especially your city to see what regulations are in place around e-bikes. An excellent and often-updated source of e-bike laws state-by-state is PeopleForBikes.org, which keeps an organized, updated database of laws by state in handy downloadable PDFs.

Similar E-bike Laws For Most States

In the U.S., 36 states generally cleave to the “three classes of e-bikes” guidelines as shown above. But 15 don’t, and here’s a quick breakdown of how those states (and the D.C. area) view and regulate e-bikes.

Keep in mind that while these are state-level laws, many cities and towns may have different restrictions, regulations, and rules for e-bikes and e-bike riders. Be sure to check your city’s laws before you ride.

Alaska defines e-bikes as “motor-driven cycles,” requires a license to ride them and the minimum age is 14. Teens can get an instruction permit at age 14 in Alaska to ride legally.

For e-bikes, Alaska does not currently require registration, insurance, or a helmet to ride. Also, e-bikes are NOT allowed on public sidewalks and bike trails.

In Hawaii, e-bikes are allowed everywhere a regular bike is allowed, including on bike paths. However, they must be registered ($30) by an adult at a city hall satellite location or at the state business registration location. There are no other restrictions.

In the state of Kentucky, e-bike riders must follow the same rules of the road as regular bicycles. Otherwise, there are no e-bike-specific rules or regulations, and no restrictions.

In Massachusetts, e-bikes are defined as “motorized bicycles” if they can go 25 mph at most (that would be a Class 3 bike). The state requires e-bike riders to have a license and registration, but does not require insurance.

Bike helmet use is required by law and e-bike riders must be 16 or older. E-bike riders must stay off public sidewalks and bike paths.

In Montana, an e-bike is defined as an “electrically assisted bicycle” with a top motorized speed of 20 mph (Class 2 bikes). Otherwise, there is no regulation beyond that.

There is no legal requirement for a license, registration, or insurance, and no age limit or helmet law. E-bikes can use bike paths and sidewalks.

E-bikes are defined in Nebraska as “electric assisted bicycles,” so long as the motor is under 750 Watts and the e-bike has a maximum motorized speed of 20 mph with fully operable pedals. There are no age limits or helmet requirements.

E-bikes are allowed on bike paths and sidewalks.

New Mexico
New Mexico defines e-bikes as “mopeds” and riders must be 15 or older, have a license/permit, register the e-bike, and carry insurance. They are not allowed on sidewalks and may be restricted from certain paths or trails.

North Carolina
E-bikes are defined as “electric assisted bicycles” and must have pedals, an electric motor under 750 Watts, and a maximum speed of 20mph. The minimum age is 16 and helmets, registration, insurance, or a license are not required.

Basically, e-bikes can be ridden wherever regular bicycles are allowed.

In Oregon, e-bikes are classified as “electric assisted bicycles,” and are regulated like bicycles but with a maximum power output of 1,000 Watts. They must have pedals, with a top motorized speed of 20 mph.

E-bikes can use bike paths but not sidewalks, and a rider must be 16 or older. There are no registration, insurance, helmet, or license requirements.

E-bikes are defined as “pedalcycles with electric assist,” with a motor under 750 Watts. They must have pedals, go 20 mph maximum on a level surface, and weigh under 100 pounds.

Riders must be 16 or older and there are no license, insurance, helmet, or registration requirements.

Rhode Island
E-bikes are defined as “electric motorized bicycles” with a power output of less than 1,491w (which equates to 2 horsepower), and a maximum speed of 25 mph under power. They do not need to be registered but have to follow road laws as they apply to “vehicles,” but not “motor vehicles.”

There does not appear to be an age limit, nor does there appear to be documentation or helmet requirements.

South Carolina
E-bikes with motors that have a power output under 750 watts are exempt from the definition of “moped” in South Carolina and do not require a license or registration. There do not appear to be any state-level restrictions or regulations around age, helmets, or bike path use, but local laws may be different from city to city.

Washington, D.C.
An e-bike is defined as a “motorized bicycle” in D.C. and must have operable pedals, and a combined human and motor power-assisted maximum speed of 20 mph. The minimum rider age is 16 and no registration or insurance is required to ride.

There is no helmet requirement, either.

Stay Aware of Changes to E-bike Laws

Keep in mind that laws are going to change over time. For now, most states are using the “three class” approach, but unless there’s a federal mandate on e-bike regulation (unlikely), states, cities, and towns may have their own special laws, regulations, and restrictions.

Be sure to check with your local government about e-bike laws where you live.