On Oct. 7, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill, AB 1096, into law that designates three classes of electric bikes or e-bikes. The bill distinguishes lower-speed e-bikes that reach motor-assisted speeds of up to 20 mph from higher-speed pedal electric cycles, which have pedal-assist motors that can go up to 28 mph. This class system allows the use of lower-speed e-bikes on bicycle paths and also grants local municipalities flexibility in regulating different types of e-bikes based on their own needs.

Status of e-bike laws in the United States

EBIKE Status

The e-bike market

According to a 2015 survey by Bosch eBike Systems, today’s e-bikes appeal to a broader spectrum of people such as baby boomers and seniors on fixed incomes who might benefit by not having to pay for a car and still be able to get around.

Age distribution and number of survey participants (e-bike owners only)

“Baby boomers” (50 to 69) appear to be the strongest e-bike consumer group
“Baby boomers” (50 to 69) appear to be the strongest e-bike consumer group

California e-bike policy

Ebike policy2

How e-bikes work

Practically everyone knows how a bike works. You push down on the pedals and the wheels rotate, propelling you forward. With an e-bike, compact electric motors are built into the hub of the front or rear wheel, or mounted in the center of the bike and connect to the pedal sprocket, which makes the wheel spin.

Main bike

The motor

There are three different types of motors found on e-bikes, and they are located on the front hub, rear hub or mid-drive.

Front hub

Front hub
Motor is located on front tire and provides propulsion by spinning the tire. The motor creates the sensation that the bike is being pulled forward.

Rear hub

Motor provides propulsion by spinning the rear tire. It pushes the rider forward.
Motor provides propulsion by spinning the rear tire. It pushes the rider forward.

Mid-drive

Mid-drive motors send power to the bike’s drivetrain instead of a hub. Its central location creates a more natural riding experience.
Mid-drive motors send power to the bike’s drivetrain instead of a hub. Its central location creates a more natural riding experience.

The battery

A typical battery can give you between 20 and 60 miles per charge depending on style of use (pedal only, pedal assist or electric only).

Pedal only

Bike is powered solely by the rider.
Bike is powered solely by the rider.

Pedal assist

Motor is only activated when the pedals are in motion.
Motor is only activated when the pedals are in motion.

Power on demand

The rider twists the throttle and the bike gets going much like a moped without any assistance from the rider.
The rider twists the throttle and the bike gets going much like a moped without any assistance from the rider.

Charging an e-bike

Charging the battery on an e-bike can be done simply by plugging it in to a wall socket. High quality batteries take two-four hours to charge and have a life span of about 700-1,000 charges. Low-end batteries take about six-eight hours to charge and last between 300-700 charges.

Charging an ebike

 

Sources: California Bicycle Coalition, explainthatstuff.com, RobertBosch LLC