The rules of electric bikes in California
Sometimes the rules of electric bikes can seem complicated, so we wanted to clarify and answer some of our most asked questions. Please note that these electric bike rules are specific to California only. Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding electric bicycles.
Something all states follow are the federal regulations regarding eBikes. Electric bike manufacturers offer a wide variety of styles, types, colors, and utility, but at their base, all electric bikes must produce less than 750 watts of power and have a speed limit of 20MPH on the motor alone (though California has some exceptions as you’ll see below). Most eBike manufacturers meet these specifications for their own liability.
So where do electric bikes fall legally? Do we use bike lanes, follow traffic laws, etc?
Electric bikes are considered “motorized bicycles” in California. And for the most part, they are subject to the same laws as bicycles. Stopping at traffic lights, using bike lanes, using hand signals to alert nearby drivers, all of the rules regarding bicycles also apply to electric bikes.
What are the California specific laws regarding different classes of eBikes?
On October 7, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 1096, legislation that clarifies the regulation of eBikes in California. There are three types of electric bikes that are described in more detail in the chart below.
This new CA legislation clarifies the state’s laws on electric bikes that travel in excess of 20MPH and allows for the use of 28MPH-capable Class 3 electric bikes on public roads. Before the law’s passing, federal law stated that the maximum assisted speed for an electric bike was 20MPH. Helmet use for Class 3 electric bikes is required, and helmets will also be required for any electric bike rider under the age of 18.
Class 3 electric bikes cannot be ridden by anyone under the age of 16, and Class 3 electric bikes will also be banned from using Class 1 bike paths (a.k.a. ‘multi-use paths’) but may use bike lanes and protected bike lanes on public roadways.
Class 2 electric bikes that are equipped with a throttle and that can function even without pedaling will be limited to a top assisted speed of 20MPH, however, they will be permitted on bike paths, unlike their faster Class 3 counterparts.
What are the age limits?
There is no minimum age requirement for Type 1 and Type 2 eBikes. For Type 3 eBikes, the minimum age to ride is 16.
Are helmets required?
Helmets are required on all types of electric bikes for children under the age of 17. For adults, they are only required for Type 3 eBikes.
Do you need a driver’s license to ride an electric bike?
No. Driver’s licenses, registration, insurance, and license plat requirements do not apply. An electric bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Though drinking and driving laws do apply.
How does it work on buses and BART?
You can transport your eBike on buses and BART just like you would a traditional bicycle.
How to stay safe on your bike in the city
As daily commuters ourselves, we know the road can be a bit intimidating, especially for a new rider. In fact, we’ve come to notice that many of the bicycle accidents that occur, actually happen for the same reasons! So we put together some of the most frequent bike accidents and a few “rules for the road” to make sure that you know how to stay safe when you ride.
It’s important to know the most common types of bicycle accidents so you can avoid them. We’ve listed them below.
The driver makes a right turn across the cyclist’s lane of travel
The driver makes a left at an unprotected left-turn
The driver fails to stop at a red light or stop sign
A vehicle or a bicycle passes on the right
The car “doors” the bicycle, essentially meaning a driver opens the door in a cyclist’s path
The cyclist runs into road issues
Now that you’ve identified the most common types of bike accidents, follow our tips to stay safe.
Get the gear
This is a given, but you’d be surprised at how often it is overlooked. To make sure that you’ve covered your bases, think first about yourself, then your eBike.
Helmet? Check. You can also choose to wear gloves. They can be especially helpful in cold weather to make sure that you can continue to grip the handles. And for your bike, make sure you have a horn or bell, headlights, reflectors, and working brakes!
Follow the rules
When you bike on the road, ride in the same direction as traffic (cyclists under 12 are the only ones allowed to ride on sidewalks!).
Stay on the right side of the lane, in a single-file line with other cyclists. If the street is too narrow for cars to pass, cyclists are allowed to ride in the middle of the lane to increase visibility.
Stop at red lights and stop signs, and obey all other traffic signs just as you would in a car.
Used marked bike paths whenever they are available.
Check out local municipal and state traffic laws. Rules may differ from state to state, and even amongst major cities! So make sure you are well versed before you hit the road.
Put down your phone
We shouldn’t have to say this, but we’ve seen it too many times to not mention. Don’t. Touch. Your. Phone. This includes talking, texting, and checking Instagram. We also suggest that you refrain from listening to headphones because they can make it more difficult to hear approaching cars and pedestrians.
Keep an eye on cars
This applies to both moving and parked cars. Have you heard of the concept of getting “doored?” That’s when you ride near a parked car and they open the door right in front of you. Ouch.
Keeping an eye on moving cars is more obvious. But to stay safe, stay out of the drivers’ blind spots, especially at traffic lights and stop signs.
Learn the proper signals to tell other drivers and riders what you’re doing and where you’re headed.
To turn left, extend the left arm straight out from your side, parallel to the ground.
To turn right, extend the left arm out straight from the shoulder with the elbow bent and the left hand pointing straight up. The arm should form an “L” shape.
To slow down, extend the left arm out straight from the shoulder with the elbow bent and the left hand pointing straight down. It’s the opposite of the right-hand turn.
If you stick to these rules, you’re good to go. Have fun and stay safe!