Bike ride, anyone? Electric bicycles – e-bikes – are
quickly growing in popularity as technology improves and prices
fall, and regulations are working to catch up. Currently, a
patchwork of laws, regulations, and even definitions abound,
confusing what types of bikes can be used where. Generally,
e-bikes, which have an integrated electric motor for propulsion,
are classified in four categories in the U.S.:
Class I "Pedal Assist": The
electric drive system is activated while pedaling by a sensor
measuring pedal movement. This class is limited to a motor powered
speed of 20 mph and a motor wattage of fewer than 750 watts.
Class II "Throttle on
Demand": The electric drive system can be activated through
pedaling or through a throttle such as a motorcycle-style
grip-twist, trigger or button. This category is also limited to 20
mph and 750 watts.
Class III "Speed Pedelec":
These bikes also have a throttle, but allow the cyclist to move at
faster speeds – up to 20 mph on motor power or as fast as 28
mph if the rider is also pedaling.
Class IV – These are grouped
with mopeds and motorcycles. They can move over 28 mph both by
throttle and pedal assist, and motor wattage can exceed 750
But these definitions are not universally accepted. Each state
regulates e-bikes differently, federal regulations apply on federal
land, and local governments apply their own laws.
In 2009, Colorado lawmakers passed rules allowing low-powered
e-bikes – those limited to 750 watts and 20 mph – in
bike lanes and on streets without the license, registration and
insurance that motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds are required to
carry. But, local municipalities are allowed to govern whether the
bikes can be used on bike trails with the pedal-assist electric
motors turned on. Adding to the mix, conservation easements granted
using GOCO funds, for example, may prohibit the use of motorized
vehicles on subject trails thus restricting e-bikes from those
trails. In general, Colorado's laws allow Classes I and II on
city streets and bike lanes, if local laws allow. Few
municipalities currently allow e-bikes on trails, a hindrance to
the growth of this particular part of the cycling economy.
In addition to the patchwork of laws which govern, cyclists'
opinions on e-bikes are in a state of flux. Some mountain biking
enthusiasts may be adamant that e-bikes not be allowed on dirt
trails, for example, while other cyclists note the utility of
e-bikes on streets and paths as replacing car trips to the office
or grocery store. It is possible that Colorado's legislature
will re-engage this winter to clarify where e-bikes can be used in
the state. Colorado's Director of Outdoor Industry, Luis
Benitez, is a supporter of e-bikes and is pushing for the
development of the industry in Colorado. It will be interesting to
see how this latest technology innovation adapts to the roads and
trails and whether e-bikes will shape the cycling economy of the
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