It’s not true (yet) that everyone is riding an e-bike these days, but sales have soared in recent years.
Reasons to get an e-bike (the pros):
The motivations of e-cyclists vary, but the following are oft-cited reasons you might want to consider an e-bike:
- You think riding a bike is fun and healthy, but don’t want to be limited by hilly routes, long distances or the logistics of arriving sweaty at your destination.
- Speaking of fun—new e-bike riders tell us all the time that riding one is simply a blast to do.
- You want to keep up with a friend or partner who is an avid rider.
- You want to commute to work, and you’re motivated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, get exercise and have more fun along the way.
- You want an alternative to jumping in your car for around-town errands.
The common denominator here is that an e-bike simply opens up more possibilities for people: new parents who are hauling young kids in a trailer on up to older or injured riders who aren’t as strong as they were in their youth. Commuters can keep up with the flow of traffic. Mountain bikers no longer have to rule out routes with steep hill climbs. And shoppers can haul more bags of groceries home from the store.
It’s worth noting that e-bikes do not rob you of a good workout. (Learn more about that in our article on e-bikes and exercise). It’s certainly true that a given ride might be easier, but e-bike riders are also going farther, pedaling with a faster cadence, climbing steeper hills and riding more often than they ever did on a conventional bike. It’s also worth noting that (most) e-bikes are called “pedal-assist” bikes because the motor typically only works when you’re moving the pedals—that means that your body is still doing a significant amount of work.
Cons of e-bikes compared with traditional bikes:
- E-bikes cost more than their non-electric counterparts—low-end prices are north of $1,000. (If your e-bike replaces car commutes and errands, though, then you can recoup that investment.)
- Greater weight means that hefting and transporting (car racking) an e-bike can also be challenging.
Where Can You Ride E-Bikes?
The universal answer to where one can ride any type of e-bike is “on the street.” After that, though, things are less clear because laws and regulations are still evolving.
The other key thing to keep in mind about e-bike access is you need to research local rules and regulations for your class of e-bike for the places you plan to ride it.
Understanding e-bike access rules starts with an understanding of the three classes of e-bikes. Most bike manufacturers and state, local and other entities have adopted this system, which defines e-bikes as a low-speed bicycle with fully operational pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (about 1 horsepower).
- Class 1: The motor on this e-bike kicks in only while you’re actively pedaling, and the motor stops providing assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
- Class 2 : These e-bikes have a pedal-assist mode up to 20 mph; they also offer a throttle-powered mode that doesn’t require pedaling.
- Class 3: Like a class 1 e-bike, the motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28mph.
Class 1 e-bikes are the most universally accepted. That’s one reason why they are also the most popular choice. But class 1 bikes aren’t allowed on all bike paths, especially ones where the speed limit is 15 mph. Some mountain-bike trail systems also forbid all classes of e-bikes, though access is generally beginning to open up for class 1 e-bikes.
Class 2 e-bikes may be allowed where non-electric bikes go, unless otherwise prohibited. Some municipalities, for example, may ban the use of these throttle-powered e-bikes. Any mountain bike trail where motor-powered vehicles are prohibited also won’t allow class 2 e-bikes. City streets and off-road vehicle areas are your sure bet for class 2 access.
Class 3 e-bikes are primarily allowed on city streets. The greater speed their motor assist provides, though, can be an advantage when you want to keep up with vehicle traffic when you commute or run errands on your e-bike.
Resources for finding out where you can ride:
Regulations are rapidly changing, so be sure to consult your local and state jurisdiction for rules specific to your area.
PeopleForBikes, an advocacy group for cycling (and REI grant recipient) publishes a state-by-state e-bike guide to help you sort through e-bike regulations around the country. (Check this list, too, for licensing, registration and age regulations in each state.)