E-Bikes Categorized As Bicycles Not Motor Vehicles

It’s no secret that the micromobility industry has its fair share of haters. Quite a few of my articles covering debuts of new electric bicycles are met with comments classifying them as electric motorcycles as against to electric bicycles. While it’s easy to see where these comments are coming from, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between e-bikes and electric motorcycles, and even e-mopeds. A big one. 

A recent ruling by the EU Court of Justice was just released which officially classifies electric bicycles as bicycles, and not motor vehicles. Technically speaking, electric bicycles, at least in Europe, are not allowed to have throttle-only modes, and can only be motorized as the cyclist cranks at the pedals. This lies at the very core of the ruling: e-bikes are classified as bicycles because they require the rider to pedal. Meanwhile, motor vehicles must be propelled exclusively by their motor. 

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An article by Forbes highlights that the root of this debate lies in an e-bike accident in Bruges, Belgium, where an e-bike rider was killed in an accident with a car. The case was then referred to the EU Court of Justice who finally determined that the individual on the e-bike was entitled to compensation as a “vulnerable road user” instead of a regular motor vehicle. The latter stipulates much less compensation as the former.

The EU Court of Justice’s ruling means that e-bike riders are exempted from motor vehicle insurance in Europe – something that’s a prerequisite for car drivers and motorcycle riders. On top of that, the court ruled that e-bikes are “incapable of causing damage comparable to motorcycles or cars.” Of course, this isn’t to say that e-bikes are super safe means of mobility. In Europe, e-bikes are limited to nominal outputs of 250 watts, and aren’t allowed to provide any assistance at speeds in excess of 25 kilometers per hour (15 miles an hour).

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All that being said, e-bike rules and regulations in the US are much more relaxed. In fact, a wide selection of e-bikes sold in the US produce power upwards of 500 watts, and a lot of them come standard with a thumb throttle. In such cases, the EU Court of Justice’s ruling seems to be inapplicable. At present, Class 1 and 2 e-bikes have a federally mandated top speed of 20 miles per hour on motor power alone, while Class 3 e-bikes have a limited top speed of 28 miles per hour. 

At the end of the day, regardless of where in the world you’re from, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. E-bike insurance remains a good idea against theft and accident damage. On top of that, wearing protective gear, not least of which is a certified helmet, may not be required just yet, but there’s nothing to lose when it comes to safety

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