Demystifying Ebike Classes

US eBike classes may sound like a complicated topic, but they’re actually pretty straightforward. Let’s break it down:

Class 1: These are the bikes that kick in some motor assistance when you start pedaling and cut it off once you hit 20mph.

Class 2: These have a handy throttle-activated motor, but like Class 1, they also stop assisting at 20mph.

Class 3: These eBikes give you a boost while pedaling, but they keep going until you hit 28mph before they call it quits.

I think probably the most confusing thing is that classification isn’t just about speed: it’s also about the type of assistance you can get from the motor. Let’s simplify each class even further:

  1. 20mph maximum assist. No throttle.
  2. 20mph maximum assist. Yes throttle.
  3. 28 maximum assist. No throttle.

Want a bit of a history lesson? Probably not, but here it is anyway. People for Bikes, an advocacy group, stepped in to the wild and unregulated world of electric bikes and brought together industry people, advocates, and policymakers to create a 3-class system. Since about 2014, most U.S. states have adopted these regulations, so knowing which class your ebike falls into is helpful before you hit the road or trails.

Do You Really Need a Throttle?

Do you want your ebike to be more like a motorcycle and less like a bike? Then you probably want a throttle. But not all throttles are the same, and throttles can drain your battery faster. The benefits of a throttle boil down to less effort on your part to get assistance from the motor: you can take off faster, or pedal with less effort (or not pedal much at all).

What Does Pedal Assist Even Mean?

It means that in order to get help from the motor, you have to be pedaling. How much power the motor contributes depends on your ebike, and how you’re using it. Most ebikes, regardless of the motor type, give you an interface on your handlebars to choose how much help you want. Different motors also deliver their assistance based on cadence and/or torque. That’s “how quickly are you pedaling” and “how hard are you pedaling” in totally oversimplified terms that someone who is much more of an expert would probably scoff at. Typically, hub motors only care about cadence, and mid drive motors care about cadence and torque.

But Of Course, There Are Edge Cases

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Some manufacturers have blurred the lines between classes with ebikes that have throttles but only work when you pedal. Others can pedal up to 28mph but only have throttle support up to 20mph. And there are even ebikes labeled as Class 3, but they can easily be modified to hit speeds well over 50mph! That’s way faster than other cyclists, and it can be a real hazard if it’s not used responsibly.

If you’re having a hard time figuring out “which class” the ebike you’re looking at is, it’s likely an edge case or an exception to the rules. Not everything always fits into neat little boxes, and ebikes are no different. Just keep in mind that as their popularity increases, so will regulations: and having clarity on your ebike class will make it a lot easier to understand where and. how you’re allowed to ride.