You Must Be This Tall (and This Old) to Ride an Ebike

Finding the right kind of transportation can be like selecting a ride at the carnival: no matter how fun the ride may be, there might be a host of disclaimers that mean you can’t go on it. “You must be this tall to ride the Whirlybird.”

The same goes for e-bikes -- there are a whole host of considerations you have to keep in mind, from what kind of e-bike you can ride, where you can ride it, and whether it’s even legal to have it at all.

Let’s break down some of the most common legal and logistical hurdles you’ll have to climb before you can strap yourself into your new e-bike and hit the road.

 

Article Quicklinks

     

    A national standard?

    When it comes to e-bikes, only one federal law on the books applies. It prescribes the maximum speed an e-bike can travel propelled by the electric motor alone. Beyond that, there are no nationwide laws that apply to e-bikes. More to the point, there isn’t a single federal statute that says who can and cannot ride an e-bike. Because of this, we must look to the individual states to know who can ride and under what circumstances.

    Bike classifications

    In the United States, e-bikes can be divided into three separate classifications.

    They’re defined as follows:

    • Class 1: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
    • Class 2: Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
    • Class 3: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.

    Not all states use these classifications, and some of the states that utilize them don’t use all 3 categories.

    Currently, 28 states use no classifications at all. They are:

    Twenty-one states employ all three of the categories of classification. They are:

     

    One state, New Jersey, utilizes the Class 1 and Class 2 categories but does not have a Class 3 designation in any of its laws.

    A license to ride

    A handful of states have passed laws requiring that people operating e-bikes be licensed to do so. In some states, this is because they’re legally considered to be in the same class of transportation as vehicles like mopeds. Other states have specifically written laws requiring licensure for e-bikes.

    The following nine states require a license to use any kind of e-bike:

    • Alaska
    • Arkansas
    • Louisiana
    • Massachusetts
    • Missouri
    • New Mexico
    • North Dakota
    • West Virginia
    • Wisconsin

     

    Hawaii does not require a license but does require the user to be registered and pay a 30-dollar registration fee.

    Michigan requires no licensure except in Mackinaw State Park. There, a rider would need to acquire a specific permit to use the e-bike within the park.

    The other 39 states currently have no licensure requirements on the books.

    Age of the potential rider

    By far the area where states have the most laws regarding the use of e-bikes surrounds the age of those who might be riding them.

    22 states have no age restrictions at all. They are:

    • Arizona
    • Delaware
    • Hawaii
    • Idaho
    • Illinois
    • Iowa
    • Kansas
    • Kentucky
    • Maryland
    • Mississippi
    • Montana
    • Nebraska
    • Nevada
    • New Jersey
    • New York
    • Ohio
    • Pennsylvania
    • Rhode Island
    • South Carolina
    • Utah
    • Vermont
    • Wyoming

     

    Alabama, Alaska, North Dakota, and Virginia require all operators to be at least 14 years old. Tennessee requires all operators of Class 3 e-bikes to be 14 or older but has no age requirements for Class 1 or 2.

    Michigan similarly has no restrictions for Class 1 or 2 e-bikes. For class 3, however, operators must be over the age of 14. If the person’s a passenger on Class 3, however, they may be any age.

    In Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, and West Virginia, all operators must be at least 15 years old. Georgia, Indiana, and Texas have no restrictions for Class 1 or 2 operators, but all Class 3 drivers must be 15 or older. However, you can be any age if you’re a passenger on Class 3.

    16-year-olds can use any kind of e-bike in Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin. In South Dakota and Washington, the rule’s also 16 unless you’re a passenger on the e-bike in which case you can be any age.

    Colorado limits Class 3 to those only 16 years old and above. California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma also do not allow anyone under 16 to drive a Class 3 e-bike, but they may be a passenger at any age.

    In Arkansas, a rider must be over the age of 16 to use a Class 3 e-bike.

    Finally, Maine requires all drivers of Class 2 and 3 e-bikes to be over 16. Passengers and users of Class 1 e-bikes have no age restrictions.

    Put a helmet on

    The final determining factor in who can ride an e-bike and who can’t is helmet usage. States vary in terms of age and class of vehicle being used as determining factors for who needs to wear helmets and who does not.

    In six states, everyone must wear a helmet while riding an e-bike. Those states are:

    • Alabama
    • Alaska
    • Connecticut
    • Louisiana
    • Massachusetts
    • West Virginia

     

    Four other states—California, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee—require helmets for anyone using Class 3 e-bikes.

    By contrast, 32 states do not require anyone to use a helmet while they ride. Those states are:

    • Arizona
    • Florida
    • Idaho
    • Illinois
    • Iowa
    • Kansas
    • Kentucky
    • Maryland
    • Mississippi
    • Missouri
    • Minnesota
    • Montana
    • Nebraska
    • Nevada
    • New Jersey
    • New Mexico
    • New York
    • North Carolina
    • North Dakota
    • Oklahoma
    • Oregon
    • Pennsylvania
    • Rhode Island
    • South Carolina
    • South Dakota
    • Texas
    • Utah
    • Vermont
    • Virginia
    • Washington
    • Wisconsin
    • Wyoming

     

    Hawaii and Maine require anyone under the age of 16 to use a helmet while on an e-bike. Delaware and Michigan set their bar at under 18 for everyone and every class of e-bike.

    Indiana and New Hampshire require helmets for under 18 individuals, but only if they’re using a Class 3 e-bike.

    Finally, Arkansas and Colorado require anyone under the age of 21 using a Class 3 e-bike to be wearing a helmet.

    An evolving situation

    The above information on bike laws and classifications is accurate as of the time of this writing. But as The National Conference of State Legislatures makes clear, we’re likely in for a lot of changes in e-bike laws as they become increasingly popular.

    The more e-bikes that are out there, the more legislators can see how and what makes sense to guide the vehicles’ use.

    While it’s unlikely we’ll ever have to worry about the “You must be this tall” sign governing who can ride an e-bike, that doesn’t mean we won’t be in for some changes in existing laws over the next five years.