Electric bicycles. What are they? Where are they allowed? What do I need to operate one legally?
As warmer weather approaches and outdoor activities ramp up, e-bikes are becoming a more common sight in our communities. Whether as a commuting option to avoid rising gas prices or as a way to make recreational rides more enjoyable, e-bikes are a popular global phenomenon that is gaining acceptance domestically.
What Is an E-bike?
For starters, let’s define what an e-bike even is.
An e-bike (sometimes called an electric-assist bike) is a traditional bicycle that has been fitted with a battery-powered motor to produce low-speed propulsion. The battery is charged by plugging into a standard outlet for about 5 hours. How far you can go on that charge varies anywhere from 15-60 miles and is dependent upon many factors such as terrain, use of throttle vs. pedaling, size of motor, etc. While e-bikes can still be pedaled like a traditional bike, the boost from the electric motor makes hills easier and higher speeds more attainable.
There are three basic classifications of e-bikes. Though sometimes labeled differently, the three categories are universal throughout the US.
- Class 1: Pedal-Assist. A “pedal-assist” e-bike will ONLY supply power while you are pedaling. Some bikes in this category may have a throttle, but that throttle will only work while you are pedaling. On class 1 e-bikes, the motor will stop providing assistance once you reach 20 mph.
- Class 2: Throttle-Assist. Also known as “throttle-only” or “power-on-demand,” class 2 e-bikes have a throttle to control their power with no pedaling necessary. These bikes have the flexibility of being used as a simple pedal-assist or as a completely motorized vehicle. Class 2 e-bikes also stop providing motor assist at speeds of 20 mph or higher.
- Class 3: Pedal-Assist 28mph. A class 3 e-bike is similar to a class 1 in that the motor will only work when the operator is pedaling, though it will provide motorized assistance up to a speed of 28 mph. This class may or may not have a throttle but is required to have a speedometer. The extra speed of this category makes class 3 e-bikes a popular commuter size but subjects them to more regulations.
Within these three classes there is much variety. Street bikes, mountain bikes, and tricycles are all available as e-bikes with prices ranging from $500 to $15,000. Some models are hybrids with features of two different classes. E-bikes have been gaining a following for only about 20 years, so it is an ever growing and evolving field.
What Are New Hampshire’s E-bike Laws?
E-bikes are considered bicycles in New Hampshire, so operators are subject to all of the state bicycle laws. No special license, registration, or insurance are required to operate an e-bike in our state, but operators age 16 and under must wear helmets (in accordance with the bicycle laws). More stringent regulations for class 3 e-bikes require operators to be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet if under the age of 18.
Roads vs. Trails
Many people enjoy e-bikes for taking advantage of the multi-use trail systems in New Hampshire. Class 1 and class 2 bikes are allowed on all bike trails and multi-use paths unless specifically posted otherwise. Any state or local agency does have the authority to restrict the use of e-bikes in certain areas if they deem it necessary, so it’s always smart to check the local regulations.
Class 3 bikes on the other hand are only allowed on roadways. Though bike trails and multi-use paths are typically off-limits for this group, there are exceptions, so be sure to check out the local restrictions before you ride.
A Couple Exceptions
E-Mountain Bikes: E-mountain bikes (eMTBs) are designed for off-road enjoyment where e-bike authorization varies significantly. The US Forest Service classifies eMTBs (even class 1 and class 2) as motorized vehicles; therefore eMTB operators may only access motorized trails on federal land within our state. Laws concerning eMTBs are ever changing, so keep your eyes out for new state and federal trail information.
Out of Class Electric Vehicles: New Hampshire’s e-bike laws define an e-bike as “a pedaled vehicle equipped with an electric motor of less than 750 watts” that falls into one of the three class categories and speed limitations. Some manufacturers make e-bikes that exceed the 750 watt limit and can reach speeds of 40 mph. These e-bikes do not fall within the state e-bike definitions and are categorized as “Out of Class Electric Vehicles” (OCEV). In New Hampshire, these vehicles fall under the Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle (OHRV) regulations and are subject to those laws. OHRVs are subject to certain operator restrictions and are not allowed on public roads or mountain bike paths, but only on private land, OHRV parks, and other designated areas. More info on the state OHRV laws can be found here.
The Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire is a great resource that offers a convenient printable brochure summarizing New Hampshire’s e-bike laws. Follow their website or their Facebook page for more helpful information on ongoing bike legislation and e-bike friendly trail info.
As we see electric cars gaining popularity, e-bikes are close behind providing yet another electric travel alternative. As their popularity grows, let’s make New Hampshire a welcoming place for this fun new outdoor option.