Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Ebikes are like regular bikes, but with a motor, battery, dashboards, and a few sensors. The result is they can go faster than a bike without a motor, and therefore a little coaching and training can be helpful. It is a good motto - Safety First.
To help insure bike path and pedestrian safety, the vast majority of states are adopting a 3-class ebike system that defines at what speed you can ride. Adopting common standards is helpful in reducing consumer confusion about ebikes, and helps increase ridership. Here are the current classes:
- Class 1 E-bike:
The motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling (referred to as Peddle Assist - PAS) and that assistance stops when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).
- Class 2 E-bike:
The motor provides assistance in two ways – with a throttle where no pedaling is required,
or when the rider is pedaling. Pedal assist ceases when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20
miles per hour (32 kph), and throttle speed is governed to cease also at 20 mph.
- Class 3 E-bike:
The motor provides pedal assistance up to 28 miles per hour (40 kph). Class 3 has no mention of throttle – it is PAS only.
- Unofficial Class 4 E-Bike:
This is not an officially recognized class, but is commonly referred to for bikes that have motors at the 1000 watt level or greater, and also have pedals. These bikes have become more common and in use by first responders, hunters, ranchers, and others. A 1000 watt motor without pedals would be a moped or motorcycle, requiring licensing and registration.
In most states, Class 1 and 2 ebikes are allowed the same route access as regular road bikes and mountain bikes, while class 3 ebikes are only allowed on roadways and in designated bike lanes. Most municipalities follow the state laws. Just like regular bicycles, ebikes are not allowed on many sidewalks or pedestrian pathways, although local jurisdictions may have different rules.
Almost all ebikes sold today have both a pedal assist mode and a throttle – not one or the other, but both. Many ebikes can have their motor speed (wattage output) easily reprogrammed via the bike display to limit the top-end speed (referred to as governing), so speed limit compliance is easily accomplished. Not only can the wattage be programmed down to a Class 1 level of 20 mph, when capable of much higher, but even lower settings are possible (seniors might consider 10 or 15 mph).
On the opposite end, for off-road, private property, and law enforcement use, some Class 4 ebikes (1000 watts and beyond) can be programmed to go at speeds well beyond 28 mph. They can also have their top speed easily lowered when complying with local regulations. If you remove your battery or turn off the motor, you are at zero watts, of course, and it is just a bike with a little more weight from the battery and motor (we call it class zero ebike!). Another option, when concerned about local compliance, is to remove the throttle and only use PAS. Or the simplest – personal responsibility says restrict your use of the throttle on paths, keep under the speed limit, and enjoy your ride!
Ebikes, like regular bikes, have mechanical gears. The most common gear setups on today’s bike have 7 gears. Some remember the days of a single-speed bike with one gear, and your upgrade options back then were a 3 speed or 10 speed. An ebike, unless a single-speed, has two ways to assist you navigating the terrain – the gears, and a battery powered motor. The low mechanical gears are good for going up hills, and the higher gears are good for downhill. Bikes go faster downhill, and most ebikes, like regular bikes, allow the rider to manually shift into higher gear, resulting in downhill speeds beyond what the motor speed is programmed to. Ever seen a biker going 40 mph? It was probably a steeper downhill terrain, they were shifted into a high gear, and they were braking to keep their speed down. Just because the ebike is a Class 3 with a 28mph top-speed, it can still go downhill much faster. There is no automatic braking to keep it at, or under, a set speed on an ebike.
Regarding bike speed, in our opinion, “speed” is for different vehicle types, not so much a bicycle (ATV's and side-by-sides come to mind). A bike is more about the open-air experience, and exercise. How fast do you want, and need to go on a bike? Wrecking on bikes at 20 mph – not pretty, so speed on a bike may be your enemy. We love speed, but safety and common sense - MAKE SENSE!
Regarding common sense - we recommend everyone always wear a helmet – pot holes and rugged terrain can be unfriendly to bikes. If you live in a pot hole haven, or along rugged roads, consider a fat-tire bike model. Mountain trail biking is an athletic experience we love, but it is often for the more experienced rider. If you ride your bike on paths and trails with pedestrians, walkers, and joggers, you definitely want to keep speed down and be able to react and ride responsibly, while enjoying the outdoor exercise experience.
Selecting the right ebike starts with the question … “Where are you primarily going to ride – on roads, paths, or trails?” The answer to this question determines the best ebike fit for you – a dozen or so categories exist, from lightweight cruisers on city roads, to powerful off-road and rugged fat-tire bikes, foldable bikes for portability, dual motor ebikes for great traction, along with many more that we stock. This first question is focused on function, but bikes are fashionable too. You have choices on looks, colors, sizes, and various component options.
Second Question ... "How far are you going to ride on a regular basis?" The answer here determines the required battery and motor capacity. The most expensive component on an ebike is the battery, and longer mileage rides means a need for more expensive, larger capacity batteries, a spare battery you carry, or the willingness to ride the bike without assistance for a ways (in Class 0).
How frequently are you going to ride … daily, on the weekend, twice monthly, etc., or perhaps infrequently? This can help determine your budget – you probably don’t want an expensive bike if you only ride it twice a year, and only go ten miles. We have economical ebikes for occasional riders. A regular rider will appreciate accessories that improve comfort, such as seat, suspension, etc.
There is good news in 2020 for bike riders – more bike paths and trails are developed and put to use every day across the globe – below are some of the types of routes bikers ride on. It is always good to be aware of the regulations for your routes by first checking with your area governing agencies:
- Local: Town, city, & county – streets, roadways, and paths
- State: Inside state parks & on state highways
- Federal - National Parks & Monuments, BLM land, and Forest Service land
Here are route types for you to examine in the area you will ride in. A common question is “Where should I ride my bike?”
- The ideal path is a paved bike path.
- A wide bike lane on a paved street is nice, and even a street with a narrow, painted
lane without a lot of traffic can be ok too. The wider the lane, the better.
- An unpaved street is ok, and today’s bikes with fat tires and front and rear suspension make
the ride comfortable. Watch your speed on unfamiliar routes, and we suggest becoming
comfortable and familiar with your bike before beginning longer and more challenging rides.
Get ready for a great experience, but safety first!
- Certain towns may restrict bicycle access on walking paths – check with local authorities.
Most allow mixed use – joggers, walkers, bikers.
- County roads provide both paved and unpaved roads, and many are scenic and low in traffic.
- On state and US highways you end up mixing bikes with high speed vehicle traffic –
be careful and aware.
- With many state parks, there are both paths and roads, so check with park management
when you first enter. Most have maps and rules and regulations printed. If you need to
transport your bike, there are many good bike carrier options today, and also foldable ebikes
that can slide right in the back of a vehicle.
- Off-road on BLM land – check with the area office to see if their rules are different than the
- Off-road on Forest Service land – again, check.
- National parks – now consider ebikes as regular bikes, and allow Class 1 use
alongside regular bikes.
Here is a quick overview regarding current states laws in our area:
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Used Motorcycles for Sale, and Cheap Electric Bikes for Sale