What Are Ebike ‘Classes’ and What Do They Mean?

A few ebikes try to work around these restrictions by adding a mode that limits the speed to 20 miles per hour so you can ride them on multi-use trails and paths. Toggle the setting or remove a special physical key to unlock the bike’s full potential.

Examples of Class 3 Ebikes:

How About Unlocking Higher Top Speeds?

There’s also an unregulated trend of ebike manufacturers doing whatever they want. Did you know that there are ebikes that go 60 miles per hour? At that point, they’re basically electric motorcycles with superfluous pedals attached. A growing number of very fast ebikes are capable of blowing past 28 miles per hour and yet still have found a way to technically, legally, fit into the classification system with a switchable setting and a little rider cooperation.

It’s the honor system. A lot of ebikes, like the Wing Freedom 2 and X, will let you remove the top-speed restriction in exchange for a promise that you won’t ride them in bike lanes. Or they’ll give you a notice that you should only unlock them if you’re on private property. Unlocking is easy and is usually done through the bike’s display screen or, if the bike has one, a companion app. Most only go a few miles per hour over their class limit, but others, such as the HPC Black Lightning, can go much faster than 28 miles per hour. It’s how some manufacturers can sell a 40 mile-per-hour ebike with a motor many times more powerful than normal and still be compliant. You toggle a setting and suddenly it’s a Class 2 or 3 ebike, at least by legal definitions.

Don’t use ebikes unlocked on a bike path or around parks with pedestrians if they aren’t set up to comply with local regulations. You don’t want to mow anyone down, and for your own sake, you shouldn’t be going so fast that you don’t have time to react when an inevitable person, pigeon, or Porsche wanders into your path.

Ebike or Electric Motorcycle? Scooter or E-Scooter?

The terminology of these electric vehicles has gotten out of hand because everything these days has wheels. Laws vary by state and country, but ebikes still fall into a murkier legal gray area than most vehicles. First off, ebikes are not a kind of scooter.

Ideally, we’d refer to kick scooters, like the Unagi Model One Voyager (8/10, WIRED Recommends), as scooters and call things like Vespas “mopeds.” A moped is already a common term for these. And you’re unlikely to mix up an ebike and an electric kick scooter, which has much smaller wheels and requires you to stand instead of sit.

As with electric motorcycles, e-mopeds don’t have pedals. Most states classify these as scooters rather than motorcycles if they have a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour and, if gas-powered, a maximum engine displacement of 50 cubic centimeters. You generally don’t need a motorcycle license to drive a moped if it tops out at 30 miles per hour, but you do need a regular driver’s license.

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