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California Electric Bike Laws

Electric bicycles look like standard bicycles, except they have motors and batteries that propel them rather than pedals alone. Electric bikes allow riders to ride faster and longer without as much physical energy. Most electric bicycles use motors to augment the pedals, but some use motors exclusively. Our San Jose personal injury attorneys know obeying specific electric bike laws in California can help riders avoid accidents. It can also protect riders from legal trouble in the Bay Area.

What Is an Electric Bike in California?

In 2015, California updated its bicycle laws to accommodate electric bicycles. Assembly Bill 1096 defines an electric bicycle as a bike with fully operable pedals and an electric motor up to 750 watts. Three classes of electric bikes now exist in the state, with laws as to where each type may operate. Class 1 eBikes are low-speed pedal-assisted electric bikes. They have motors that only assist when the rider pedals. The maximum speed of Class 1 eBikes is 20 miles per hour. Riders may use Class 1 electric bikes on any paved surface where regular bicycles can operate.

A Class 2 eBike is a throttle-assisted electric bike with a motor that exclusively propels the bike, up to 20 miles per hour. Class 2 eBikes may operate on any paved surface where regular bicycles may ride. A Class 3 eBike is a speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle. It has a motor that only propels the bike when the rider stops pedaling, but it can reach a top speed of 28 miles per hour. Operators of these eBikes must be 16 or older and wear helmets. Class 3 eBikes may not operate on Class 1 bicycle paths.

Do You Need a License to Drive an Electric Bike in California?

No, you do not need a driver or operator’s license to use an electric bicycle in California. You also do not need to register the bicycle or put on a license plate as you would for a moped or motorcycle. However, you must obey traffic laws when using an electric bike, as you would on a regular bicycle. You must follow stop signs, traffic signals, rights-of-way rules, speed limits, and other laws.

Do You Have to Wear a Helmet on an Electric Bike in California?

You must wear an approved helmet while operating or riding on an electric bicycle in California if you are 17 or under. If you are 18 or older, you do not need to wear a helmet on a standard bicycle, Class 1 eBike, or Class 2 eBike. You must, however, wear a helmet while riding a Class 3 eBike, moped, or motorcycle. An approved helmet has a Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker ensuring it meets federal safety and quality standards.

Can You Ride an Electric Bike on the Sidewalk in California?

You may only ride an electric bike on the sidewalk in California if you could do so with a regular bicycle. This eliminates most downtown areas. Although California does not have a statewide law prohibiting bicycles on the sidewalk, local ordinances exist in most cities banning bicycle use on sidewalks in downtown business districts. You can ride an eBike on a sidewalk in California if street signs expressly grant this right, or if you are in a region that permits this action, such as on private property.

How Fast Do Electric Bikes Go?

Most electric bikes max out at a top motor-assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. However, speed eBikes can reach 28 miles per hour using their electric motors. Electric bicyclists must obey posted speed limits as they would if they were driving motor vehicles. Otherwise, they could receive speeding tickets from local law enforcement.

Can I Modify My Electric Bike?

It is against the law in California to modify or otherwise tamper with electric bicycles in a way that changes the speed capability, unless the rider also changes the bicycle’s classification. Electric bicycles with motors of more than 750 watts are technically motorcycles according to the law and require Class M licenses and helmets.