Electric bicycles have become exceedingly popular in recent years. Indeed, according to TheRoundup.org, consumers bought 3.7 million e-bikes in 2019 alone. By 2030, that number might be as high as 10 million. Moreover, many cities in the U.S. have e-bike-sharing programs that give nonowners ready access to e-bikes.
As e-bikes become more popular, their legal status becomes even more important. After all, whether an e-bike is a motor vehicle affects insurance, registration, licensing and other legal requirements. As of now, though, electric bicycles are not motor vehicles under California law.
At the beginning of 2022, an amendment to the California Vehicle Code became law. Among other things, this amendment clarified the legal definition of “bicycle.” Specifically, the Vehicle Code now explicitly states that the term, “bicycle,” includes e-bikes, provided each of the following is true:
- The e-bike has fully operable pedals
- The e-bike’s motor produces no more than 750 watts or 1 horsepower
- The e-bike’s motor assists the rider with forward motion
- The e-bike’s motor disengages when the rider activates the brakes
If an e-bike meets these technical specifications, it is probably a bicycle, not a motor vehicle. This means its rider does not need a driver’s license to operate the e-bike. Likewise, the e-bike’s owner probably does not have a legal duty to register the bicycle, affix a license plate or carry liability insurance. Depending on the type of e-bike, though, there may be some restrictions on where the rider can take it.
Ultimately, even though there may not be a legal requirement for e-bike riders to have liability coverage, they continue to have legal liability for any injuries they cause.