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Electric Bike Laws Around the World

The laws surrounding electric bikes are not always clear – some are downright vague.

Sometimes you are allowed to ride your e-bike in traffic, sometimes you have to stick only to special e-bike lanes. Go to a neighboring region or country though and suddenly you aren’t allowed to do the same as before.

And all of this is predicated on how the e-bike was built and what it is capable of? How can possibly grasp all of the different rules, regulations, and factors that go into e-bike lawmaking?

If this all seems confusing at first, you’re not alone – things always get tricky when it comes to international laws, evidently more so when it comes to electric bikes.

Let’s break things down into simpler parts. In this article, we’re going to be covering electric bike laws around the world in an attempt to find similarities as well as key differences. By the end, you should at least have a better idea of what to expect, whether you’re a resident of a country covered or planning on traveling there.

What is the legal definition of an electric bike?

Despite each country haivng its own definition for what electric bikes are legally speaking, they all generally say something similar:

An electric bike is a two or more-wheeled vehicle with a motor and pedal assistance system.

The key difference to look for between definitions around the world lies in how fast an electric bike can go and how powerful the motor is (in terms of wattage).

man riding an electric bike on the street

It’s also important to point out here that different countries might actually refer to electric bikes differently.

For example, e-bikes in the United Kingdom and European Union are legally referred to as EAPCs or electrically assisted pedal cycles. In Canada, they are called PABs or pedal assist bicycles. In the United States, electric bikes are referred to differently depending on if they have a throttle or not.

Some examples of legal definitions

  • USA“A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.” 
  • Europe “Pedal cycles with pedal assistance which are equipped with an auxiliary electric motor having a maximum continuous rated power of less than or equal to 250 W, where the output of the motor is cut off when the cyclist stops pedalling and is otherwise progressively reduced and finally cut off before the vehicle speed reaches 25 km/h.”
  • Australia“Bicycle that has an auxiliary motor with a maximum power output not exceeding 250 W without consideration for speed limits or pedal sensors.”
  • Canada“Two- or three-wheeled bicycle equipped with handlebars and operable pedals, an attached electric motor of 500W or less, and a maximum speed capability of 32 km/h from the motor over level ground.”
  • United KingdomAn EAPC must have pedals that can be used to propel it. It must show either the power output [and] the manufacturer of the motor. It must also show either the battery’s voltage [and] the maximum speed of the bike. Its electric motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts [and] should not be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph. An EAPC can have more than 2 wheels (for example, a tricycle).”

What parts of an electric bike are regulated?

There are four crucial aspects to pay attention to when it comes to the rules and regulations surrounding electric bikes:

  • Motor power – More specifically, the wattage. This indicates the maximum amount of electricity that can be supplied to the motor. The more wattage, the faster an electric bike can potentially go without extra effort or energy from the rider.
  • Top speeds – How fast an electric bike is permitted to travel before the motor cuts out. This is an important distinction as electric bikes aren’t necessarily propelled by their motors. Rather the motors make riding easier, which then enables riders to go faster.
  • Minimum – The minimum age that someone has to be to legally use an electric bike.
  • Throttle – A throttle is a feature that allows someone to accelerate an electric bike without actually pedaling, like a moped or motorized scooter. This is a heavily regulated aspect of e-bikes and is often not permitted.

Each country – at least those mentioned in this article – will have different requirements when it comes to the above features. Some may permit electric bikes to reach higher speeds than others whilst others may have stricter rules when it comes to age. Read on for a more comprehensive breakdown.

Do I need a license to ride an electric bicycle?

In most cases, no, you do not need a license to ride an electric bike. By merit of being called an “electric bike”, they are often treated like regular bikes, despite their obvious differences. Crucially, this means no licensing is required.

This is a fairly large generalization though. Electric bikes laws are subtly different across the world, especially when one starts to drill down to a more local level. In fact, certain jurisdictions DO require electric bike riders to have a license despite the national government not requiring the same.

woman legally riding bike outside with child

For example, Quebec requires that e-bike riders under the age of 18 must have a moped license to ride an e-bike. This is the only province in Canada with such a law.

TL;DR always check e-bike rules and regulations on a local level because they can quickly change from city to city, state to state, or province to province.

How much wattage is enough?

An e-bike’s wattage and top speed are somewhat misunderstood concepts. This is especially the case with new riders who are just learning how to ride their bike.

For one thing, more wattage doesn’t necessarily mean your bike will be faster. At the same time, a bike’s top speed is no guarantee that you will actually go much faster.

Aside from those with a throttle, most electric bikes require some sort of human assistance to accelerate. Some may need more human power, others might need less.

When it comes to wattage, the more you have, the easier and more quickly you will be able to accelerate. Only once you hit a certain speed, will the motor cut out and no longer help you accelerate.

man riding electric bike to work commuter in suit

So how much wattage do you actually need? To put things in perspective, riding on gentle terrain at 20 MPH requires about 220 watts of energy, either in the form of battery or human power. The average person would struggle to create this sort of output on their own. Thus the addition of a battery helps to supply the necessary energy.

If you generally ride on flat ground and don’t go much faster than 15-20 MPH, then 250-500 watts is probably enough for you. Granted, the e-bike will not accelerate very fast. Hills will also be a problem.

The biggest benefit of having a 500-750 watt motor is the conquering of hills. With this much energy, inclines are much less of a problem. Those who commute to work on e-bikes generally like the extra help 500-watt models provide. Ultimately, they want to avoid getting sweaty.

A 500+ watt e-bike will also accelerate a bit faster but top speeds will remain proportionally lower. Despite wattage doubling, you’ll only get an extra 4-5 MPH before the engine cuts out.

E-bike laws around the world

Country Minimum Age Max Wattage Top Speed License Required? Throttle Allowed?
USA 14-16 years 750 watts 20-28 MPH Depends Only Class 2*
Canada 12-16 years 500 watts 20 MPH Depends Yes
UK 14 years 250 watts 15.5 MPH No No
EU 12 years 500 watts 20 MPH No No
Australia 12-16 years 250 watts 15.5 MPH No Yes
New Zealand 14 years 300 watts None No Yes
Japan None?** 250 watts 15 MPH No, but registration, yes No
China None?* 400 watts 15.5 MPH Depends Yes

*In most (but not all) states, e-bikes are assigned a “class” based on their top speed and wattage. More on that in a moment.

**There isn’t much information online regarding laws around the minimum age to operate an electric bike in Japan or China. Based upon global e-bike laws, we estimate (and hope) that the minimum age in these countries is around 12-14 years. This is in no way an official number though.

USA

E-bikes are governed on a state-by-state basis. Each one has its own unique rules and regulations.

About half of the states use a class system that categorizes e-bikes based upon their features. Class 1 bikes are less powerful and are less regulated whilst class 3 bikes are the opposite. Below is a quick breakdown of the American electric bike classes and their rules:

Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Top speed 20 MPH 20 MPH 28 MPH
Pedal Assist? Yes Yes Yes
Throttle? No Yes Sometimes
Helmet Require? Depends Depends Depends
Minimum Age Depends Depends Depends

Of the three classes, the third is the most difficult to pin down as individual states have their own additional rules. These cover everything from minimum age to helmet use to throttle to where one can legally ride the bike. In California for example, class 3 e-bikes are not allowed to have a throttle or ride on slower bike paths. Helmets are also legally mandatory.

Helmet use and licensing are particularly variable across all states. Around half the states have helmet laws that apply only to adolescents and children. Others, such as Connecticut, are more strict and require everyone to wear one regardless of e-bike class.

As mentioned before though, not every state uses this 3-class system – some just use make their own rules.

In order to get the most comprehensive legal overview of your state, refer to this website here.

Canada

man riding electric bike in vancouver canada

Like the USA, Canadian provinces each have their own electric bike laws. Most of these provincial laws concern minimum age, licensing, bike functions, and where the bike is permitted to be used.

In Manitoba for example, e-bikes are banned from sidewalks whilst in New Brunswick they aren’t.

Provincial rules also really get into the nitty-gritty of how the-e-bikes work. Some regions require that the bikes work in very, very specific ways, such as the throttles cutting out certain speeds or there being certain minimum braking distances. These laws are quite meticulous so, as usual, it pays to do your research.

You can refer to this guide here for more details on provincial electric bike laws in Canada.

Despite the difference of laws on a provincial level, there are certain federal laws that almost all provinces follow. These are:

  1. All bikes must use a motor with less than 500 watts.
  2. Have a speed limit of 20 MPH.
  3. Everyone is required to wear a helmet.

UK

electric mountain bike somewhere in scotland uk

Electric bike laws do not vary greatly across the United Kingdom. All of the constituencies, even Northern Ireland – which had its own laws for a while – use the same rules.

e-bikes that are legally compliant are officially regarded as EAPCs (electric assisted pedal cycle) and are treated the same as regular bikes in the UK. They can go on the same roads, don’t require registration or licensing, and have the same age limitations.

It is possible to legally use electric bikes with more powerful motors, but they will not be considered EAPCs. Thus, you must apply for a special license to use them.

Of particular note is that a throttle of any kind is not allowed in the United Kingdom. All e-bike motors must only work when someone is pedaling and must cease to work beyond 15.5 MPH. E-bikes can feature a boost mode though, which gives the rider a little extra power so long as they are still pedaling.

In the UK, electric bikes with a throttle are often referred to as “twist-and-gos”.

EU

two italians talking about electric bikes europe

As you’d expect, each member of the European Union has its own e-bike rules and regulations. Yet each one still follows certain universal laws, such as those pertaining to speed limits and wattage. This makes the situation in the EU very similar to that in the USA or Canada.

Most of the European Union treats valid e-bikes as regular bikes. This means that they do not require any sort of special licensing and can be ridden anywhere a normal bike could. Helmet laws are also quite lax generally speaking and only apply to younger riders (below the ages of 18-14).

Because biking is so popular in Europe, there are a ton of different e-bike models available. A lot of newer models are much more powerful as well, resembling more motorbikes than e-bikes. Obviously, these are often not strictly compliant but various countries have already started to make special rules for high-powered e-bikes. Finland and Denmark are two examples.

Refer to this article for more information about e-bike laws around Europe.

Also, remember that Switzerland is NOT a part of the EU so it has its own e-bike laws.

Australia

someone riding electric bike in the outback australia

Australia has two sets of laws that apply to e-bikes depending on their motor and drive system:

  1. e-bikes that have a throttle and no pedal assist must be limited to 200 watts.
  2. e-bikes that have a pedal system are limited to 250 watts and may have a throttle but they can’t exceed 3 MPH when used alone.

Beyond that, all electric bikes in Australia are limited to 15.5 MPH. Riders must also follow common bike laws such as:

  1. Mandatory helmet use at all times.
  2. The bike must have a bell or some other device to alert people.
  3. Must have the proper visibility accessories.
  4. Only ride where bikes are permitted.

Of course, if you’re in the market for a more powerful e-bike, you can buy one in Australia. You’ll just need to go through the extra bureaucracy of registering it and getting licensed.

Interestingly, all of the above doesn’t actually apply to e-bikes when used off-road. This means it’s actually quite easy to find 250 watt + bikes for sale in Australia – they’re all just sold for “offroading”. If you were to use one of these in the city though, you would be subject to regulations again though, and failing to go through the proper channels could result in a fine.

New Zealand

electric mountain bikes on the trail

There is a lot of misconception surrounding electric bike laws in New Zealand it seems. This is probably due to the fact that the rules here are a bit different from other countries.

For one thing, there is no speed limit for electric bikes in New Zealand, at all. The limit is whatever is posted on the road. That means you could potentially find a model here with a motor that doesn’t cut out once you hit a certain speed like is the case in the USA and EU.

Does that mean that you’ll be going insane speeds whilst riding in New Zealand? Probably not as the motors are capped at 300 watts, and you can only get so much out of that.

Worth noting too is that, like Australia, there are practically no applicable laws when riding an e-bike offroad in New Zealand. You’re only bound by the law when the laws exist i.e. in urban areas.

Japan

a buddhist monk riding an electric bike somewhere in asia

Japan draws the line between electric bikes and mopeds by looking at their means of propulsion. If the bike has a pedal assist, it qualifies as an electric bike. If it has a throttle, it is considered a scooter and then requires the necessary registration and licensing.

For a long time, electric bikes were fairly unregulated in Japan or, if there were laws, no one bothered to uphold them. People just rode wherever they wanted, seemingly following their own rules.

But those days are over as Japan recently snapped out of its lull and started laying new laws, some of which carry harsh penalties. Tailgating, cell phone use, riding on sidewalks are all actions that could result in a fine while riding an electric bike. These laws also, somewhat absurdly, apply to regular bike riders as well, much to their frustration.

China

China and Japan have very different electric bike laws.

For one thing, registration and licensing is much more prevalent, at least in certain Chinese cities.

For another, there are strict standards when it comes to defining what an electric bike actually is. E-bikes in China must have pedals, must weigh less than a certain amount, and have a certain speed limit. These rules, which are relatively new, are meant to govern e-bikers seriously. Apparently, previously terrible behavior on the part of e-bikers was causing pandemonium in the cities.

Some cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, have actually banned e-bikes altogether in certain areas.

Wrapping Up

As electric bikes become more popular and start to integrate more deeply into cities, laws governing them are only going to become more numerous.

If you are a regular e-bike user, it will pay to be ahead of the curve. That way, you can avoid trouble and continue to ride as freely as possible.

And we at Linky are all about freedom of mobility 🙂

Have you encountered any strange or tricky laws while traveling around the world? Let us know in the comments below! And thanks in advance for the warning.

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