Christian Angelo - Sept.8, 2021
In the U.S., laws for electric bicycles vary from state to state. From definitions, classes, age requirements, helmet requirements, to licensure and registration, there is no uniform e-bike law. This article focuses on e-bike laws in Michigan.
Michigan is one of the 40+ states who has a distinct definition for electric bicycles. The state also uses the three-tier classification system for electric bicycles, just like 25 others.
An electric bicycle, or e-bike for short, looks like your regular bicycle but with the addition of a small rechargeable electric motor that provides assistance to the pedaling rider and on some types can propel the bike completely without pedaling. The following requirements are required in order to qualify as an electric bicycle:
For riding trails, you must first consider several factors at play:
Electric bicycles are categorized into three classes (1, 2 and 3) according to specific attributes of each type. All electric bicycles must have a visible label that indicates what class it belongs to. Any person who buys an electric bicycle shall not tamper or alter the classification label in any way.
The first class of e-bike is equipped with an electric motor that can only provide assistance to the rider when he/she is pedaling. This is also known as “pedal-assist or pedelec”, which can be activated with a switch. This electric assistance stops when the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour.
The second class of e-bike is equipped with an electric motor that can propel the bicycle even without the rider’s pedaling.This type is also known as throttle mode, which works just like a motorcycle or scooter. To activate this, the rider has to click or shift the switch. The electric motor disengages when: the bike reaches 20 miles per hour, the brakes are applied, or the throttle switch is released.
The third class of e-bike works similarly with the first one. The main difference is the speed limit at which the motor can be engaged - 28 miles per hour.
There are age and helmet requirements for each e-bike. Here is the breakdown for the classes and requirements:
|Class 1||Class 2||Class 3|
|Minimum age required to operate||None||None||14|
|Helmet requirement for rider||None||None||Ages 14-18|
|Rider must be pedaling to engage the motor||Yes||No||Yes|
|Maximum speed for provided assistance||20||20||28|
E-bikes are generally allowed on roads where traditional bikes are allowed, but there are certain prohibitions depending on the area. Here is a breakdown of where e-bike riders can legally enjoy their bikes:
|Class 1||Class 2||Class 3|
|Roads and bike lanes||Allowed||Allowed||Allowed|
|Linear paved trails||Allowed, with regulations||Prohibited, can be authorized||Prohibited, can be authorized|
|Non-motorized, natural surface trails (ex. mountain bike trails)||Prohibited, can be authorized||Prohibited, can be authorized||Prohibited, can be authorized|
|Motorized, natural surface trails (ex. ORV trails)||Allowed||Allowed||Allowed|
All classes of e-bikes can be operated on any roads that allow non-electric bicycles. E-bike riders may also operate on any part of a highway that is open to a bicycle, for example, a bicycle lane or the shoulder.
Michigans are full of linear and rail trails that bicycle enthusiasts and hobbyists enjoy. Here are the trails and their regulations on e-bikes:
Class 1 e-bikes are allowed on a linear trail that has an asphalt, crushed limestone, or similar surface, or a rail trail. The use of e-bikes can be regulated or prohibited by the local agency or authority as long as it is under its own jurisdiction.
Some of the linear trails where class 1 e-bikes are allowed include:
Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are prohibited on a linear or rail trail unless it is allowed by the governing authority or agency.
All classes of e-bikes are prohibited on trails that are designated for non-motorized activities such as hiking, and mountain biking. E-bikes shall only be ridden in these trails if it is authorized by the governing authority or agency.
Electric bicycles are easier to pedal because of the help from the motor. Because of this, many riders may be tempted to go faster, or beginners may be surprised at the speed when riding for the first time.
The higher speeds of e-bikes are attributed to certain accidents where e-bike riders are involved. The lack of specific regulations, guidelines, and bicycle lanes also increases the risk of accidents. This is why safety is always the utmost priority when riding your e-bike. Here are important safety reminders for you:
The first and one of the most important benefits of electric bicycles is that it offers a wide range of people an easier, longer, more enjoyable riding experience. People who may not be physically fit to use a regular bike can fully enjoy an electric bicycle because of the electric assist.
There are different ebike state-specific laws in the US. Michigan has a specific definition for electric bicycles, and also uses the three-tier classification system. Class 3 e-bikes must only be operated by persons that are age 14 and above. Helmets are required for riders that are ages 14-18. E-bike operations in roadways and trails may vary.
Safety is your primary concern when riding your e-bike. Make sure to follow the safety guidelines. E-bikes have lots of benefits, and the most important one is that a wide range of people can enjoy them.