E-bike Rules Regulations Tips and Tricks


by Maureen Gaffney

Electric bicycles, or “e-bikes”, have been a hot topic of discussion lately. Their popularity has continued to skyrocket, but what exactly is an e-bike? Per the California vehicle code an electric bicycle is a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor not exceeding 750 watts. As many consumers have noticed, this simple definition has created seemingly countless varieties of e-bikes for sale, and getting the facts straight can be overwhelming. Here are the basics:

There are three types, or classes, of e-bikes, which define the features of the e-bike as well as the rules and regulations that apply to it. 

  • Class 1 – has a top speed of 20 mph and is pedal assist only
    • Ex. Cannondale Adventure Neo 4
  • Class 2 – has a top speed of 20 mph, and has a throttle as well as pedal assist
    • Ex. Rad Power Bikes RadRover
  • Class 3 – has a top speed of 28 mph and is pedal assist only
    • Ex. Gazelle Medeo T10+

Okay, so what the heck does “pedal assist” mean? The motor on a pedal assist bike will only engage when pressure is applied to the pedals. Most e-bikes have three levels of assist—eco, trail and turbo are common names for the differing levels, though some brands use other nomenclature. In general, the more you give (in effort applied to the pedals), the more assistance you get. Class I and Class 3 bikes are ridden exactly like an ordinary bike, you’ll just feel bionic. A mistake that many first-time riders make is thinking that they do not need to shift on an e-bike. Shift for heaven’s sake! It’s just like a regular bike. Shift to an easier gear going uphill, a harder gear for flats for downhill. 

The e-bike provides no assistance or advantage going downhill unless you are pedaling like a madman/woman. Other important things to note: when working on the bike, inspecting anything at all, particularly on the back half of the bike, TURN IT OFF. Any accidental press of the pedal will engage the motor and the rear wheel. If your fingers are in any of the works at that moment, you will be sad. 

It is important to note that some vehicles that are sold as e-bikes do not meet the above definition, either because of a lack of pedals or due to a motor over 750 watts. If either of these conditions is not met, the device is considered a “motorized bicycle” and is not permitted in bike lanes or on multiuse paths.


While Class 2 e-bikes do not have a legal age restriction, throttle e-bikes are not recommended for children under 16 years of age. 

Recently passed legislation (Assembly Bill 1909) essentially allows all classes of e-bikes on multi-use pathways like the Vine Trail, in addition to bike lanes. There are, of course, caveats and provisos pertaining to—among other things—pathways within California State Parks, so be aware of special regulations or superseding rule-making and don’t come hunting me down if the law has changed by the time this article goes to print.


Can I carry a passenger?

The short answer is yes, but there are a few rules. On all classes of electric bicycle, the passenger must have a separate seat from the operator, and both parties must be wearing a helmet if they are 17 or under. On a Class 3 e-bike, both the passenger and operator must be wearing helmets even if they are both 18 years or older. 

Transporting an e-bike

E-bikes are heavy. Weighing in at approximately 50 lbs., heaving the thing into the back of your car like you do with your regular bike is going to be a real pain. Getting it onto your existing bike rack, if it is rated for such a weight, is also no picnic, though here is a tip I learned from my non-bike nerd step-mother: heft the front wheel up onto the rack first, then bring the rear up in a second maneuver. That being said, you’ve got an e-bike—just ride there! 

Storing an e-bike

This should go without saying, but don’t leave your fancy new machine out in the elements. Store it in a dry, secure location, ride it lots and tell it how pretty it is. 

If you’re thinking about buying an e-bike it’s always best to visit your local bike shop to test ride various models and get advice from the pros, so you can ride confidently knowing you have a bike that’s properly sized and has all the features you need to get the most out of your ride. Also, most shops will only service brands they carry.