What Are Ebike ‘Classes’ and What Do They Mean?


A few ebikes try to work around these restrictions by adding a mode that limits the speed to 20 miles per hour so that you can ride them on multiuse trails and paths. Toggle the setting or remove a special physical key and you can unlock the bike’s full potential.

Examples of Class 3 Ebikes:

How About Unlocking Higher Top Speeds?

There’s also an unregulated mania where ebike manufacturers are doing whatever they want. Did you know there are ebikes that go 60 miles per hour? At that point, they’re basically electric motorcycles with superfluous pedals attached. A growing number of very fast ebikes are capable of blowing past 28 miles per hour and yet still have found a way to technically, legally fit into the classification system with a switchable setting and a little rider cooperation.

It’s the honor system. A lot of ebikes, like the Wing Freedom 2 and X, will let you remove the top-speed restriction in exchange for a promise that you won’t ride them in bike lanes or they’ll give you a notice that you should only unlock them if you’re on private property. It’s easy and usually done through the bike’s display screen or if the bike has one, a companion app. Most only go a few miles per hour over their class’ limit, but others, such as the Vintage Electric Roadster and the HPC Black Lightning, can go much faster than 28 miles per hour. It’s how some manufacturers can sell a 40 mile-per-hour ebike with a motor many times more powerful than normal and still be compliant. You toggle a setting and suddenly it’s a Class 2 or 3 ebike, at least legally.

Don’t use ebikes unlocked on a bike path or around parks with pedestrians if they aren’t set up to comply with local regulations. You don’t want to mow anyone down, and for your own sake, you shouldn’t be going so fast that you don’t have time to react when an inevitable person, pigeon, or Porsche wanders into your path.

Ebike or Electric Motorcycle? Scooter Or E-Scooter?

The terminology of these electric vehicles has gotten out of hand because everything these days has wheels. Laws vary by state and country to country, but ebikes still fall into a murkier legal gray area than most vehicles. First off, ebikes are not a kind of scooter.

Ideally, we’d refer to kick scooters, like the Ninebot ES2, as scooters and call things like Vespas “mopeds”. A moped is already a common term for them anyway. You’re unlikely to mix up an ebike and an electric kick scooter, which has much smaller wheels and requires you to stand instead of sit.

Like with electric motorcycles, e-mopeds don’t have pedals. Most states classify these as scooters rather than motorcycles if it has a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour and, if gas-powered, a maximum engine displacement of 50 cubic centimeters. You generally don’t need a motorcycle license to drive a moped if it tops out at 30 miles per hour, but you do need a regular driver’s license.

The difference between an ebike and an electric motorcycle largely centers on the fact that an ebike has pedals and a motorcycle doesn’t. Even fast, nonclassed ebikes are technically considered bicycles in many US states because they have pedals. Legislators haven’t given much thought to 40 mile-per-hour ebikes, because they’re uncommon. For now, they’re in legal limbo in a lot of places.

State Variations and Federal Land

Effective August 2, the state of New York made it legal to ride an ebike on roads that post a speed limit of 30 miles per hour. While it doesn’t directly regulate an ebike’s top speed, it effectively means you’re restricted to 30 mph, unless you like speeding tickets. California, aside from having a ban on throttles for Class 3 ebikes, also says an ebike’s electric motor must be less than 750 watts. Washington state says it must be 750 watts or less, which effectively rules out those ultrafast ebikes. Beyond that, they’re considered electric motorcycles. A few manufacturers make California-compliant versions of their higher-end ebikes.

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