Governor Brown Signs California Electric Bike Bill Into Law

BY Cameron Newland

According to the California Bicycle Coalition, Governor Jerry Brown has signed one of the United States’ most progressive electric bicycle laws, which allows 28MPH-capable electric bikes in bike lanes and allows low-power, pedal-assist electric bikes to use bike paths except when prohibited by local law.

California Electric Bike Laws

An explanation of California’s new electric bike laws

The legislation was a contentious one within the electric bike industry, as a large contingent of electric bike brands spearheaded by Accell North America executive Larry Pizzi prevailed in getting support for their bill over legislation that was supported by California-based Pedego. The disagreement between Pizzi and Pedego has everything to do with throttles: Pizzi’s contingent argued for treating throttle bikes differently than pure pedelecs (electric bikes with pedal-assist only), whereas Pedego, which sells to an older buyer demographic that prefers throttle bikes, argued for wording that was more favorable to manufacturers of throttle bikes. Why the scorn toward throttles? It likely comes down to mountain bike trail access. If electric mountain bikes were to gain expanded off-road trail access, the electric mountain bike market would would see a corresponding increase in sales which would benefit ebike manufacturers. One of the biggest roadblocks to this expanded trail access for ebikes is the criticism coming from current trail users: mountain bikers and trail-going equestrians. These groups argue that electric bikes are heavier and that they could damage trails more than mountain bikes do (though preliminary studies indicate this fear us mostly unwarranted). One way that the electric bike industry could make electric bikes seem less destructive to trails would be to remove throttles from the bikes that are allowed on these trails, and also to limit power output so as to reduce the potential for trail damage from the spinning of tires. This bill, though ostensibly concerning electric bikes on roads and bike paths, also accomplishes some of the electric bike industry’s off-road goals, classifying electric bikes sold in the state so that in the future, one class might one day gain trail access and ignite a new phase of industry growth.

So what does the new law do, exactly?

First off, it 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 (a.k.a. S-pedelecs) on public roads, whereas 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 ebikes 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.

With the successful campaign for the passing of the California law over with, the electric bike industry will now move onto lobbying other large states with restrictive electric bike laws, including New York and Michigan.