E-bikes are everywhere these days, and seemingly serve every purpose: e-cargo bikes for lugging groceries home, e-mountain bikes for flattening steep single track, e-road bikes for those with bad knees, e-fat bikes for out-of-town tourists, and e-commuters for those who live far from work but still want to ride. Because electric bikes are such a new thing, relatively, there is a lot of confusion about where they’re allowed to be, and what laws govern their use.
History of E-Bikes
The earliest E-bikes, at least in the form we would recognize, originated in the 1990s, according to Cycle Volta. With lead-acid batteries, these early beasts were expensive, weighed well over 60 pounds, had short ranges of less than 15 miles, and topped out at 20 miles per hour, depending on the model. E-bikes have come a long way in the past three decades, with the most notable technological advancement being high powered, lightweight, and relatively cheap lithium-ion batteries. Cost has come down, while e-bike speed, ease of use, and functionality has increased.
The Rise of the Modern E-Bike
E-bikes can now be found everywhere: mountain bike trails, bike paths, city bike lanes, campsites, county roads, and parked in front of grocery stores. While there was an initial pushback within the cycling community against e-bikes, many have changed their minds. After all, e-bikes make commuting faster and easier, enable older cyclists and people with injuries/physical disabilities to continue riding, and are a great way for people who would otherwise be in a car to try out life on two wheels.
Few predicted the dramatic rise in e-bike popularity. In fact, E-bike sales are on a rise so dramatic that they are on-pace with the mountain biking boom of the 1980s and the carbon fiber road bike craze of the 1990s. E-bike sales in 2020 totaled $457 million—twice that of 2019, according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. And, in 2021, e-bike imports into the U.S. were 55 percent higher than in 2020 (e-bikes also outsold electric cars and hybrid plug-ins combined in 2021, per unit), according to Bloomberg.
The Future of E-Bikes and E-Bike Regulations
The international E-bike market is projected to be valued as high as $80 billion by 2026, according to Markets and Markets, with the greatest increase in e-bike ridership taking place in North America (the current market value is $47 billion). With so many new cyclists out on the road using e-bikes, there will be a steep learning curve not just for cyclists, but also for drivers, law enforcement, and even lawmakers. Current laws may see changes in the near future, given the changing landscape of electric bikes and other personal transportation devices, such as electric scooters.
What is Classified as an E-Bike?
Colorado is one of at least 27 states that has specific laws governing the use of e-bikes. To start, an e-bike is only classified as an e-bike if it has:
- Two to three wheels;
- Has an electric motor that does not exceed 750 watts; and
- Has fully functioning pedals.
If an e-bike, for example, has a motor larger than this or does not have pedals that function like a bicycle's, it may be classified as a moped or a motorcycle.
There are three classifications of e-bikes under Colorado law:
- Class 1—Pedal assist motor cuts out at 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2—Pedal assist or throttle motor cuts out at 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3—Pedal assist motor cuts out at 28 miles per hour. Class 3 e-bikes must also have a speedometer.
What is Classified as an E-Scooter?
To be defined as an electric scooter under Colorado law, a scooter must:
- Weigh less than 100 pounds;
- Have handlebars and be powered by an electric motor; and
- Top out at 20 miles per hour on a paved level surface when powered only by the motor.
Where Can I Legally Ride My E-Bike?
While class 1 and class 2 e-bikes are allowed on all roadways that conventional cyclists can use, including bike lanes and protected bike lanes, local municipalities have the right to make their own rules regarding what soft trails, hard-surfaced bike paths, and single-track e-cyclists can use. You can assume that you are allowed to use your e-bike on a given path, unless that path or trail states otherwise. If you are in doubt, keep an eye out for posted signs. Typically, if a trail or bike path doesn’t allow e-bikes, it will be posted somewhere obvious.
Depending on your local jurisdiction, there may be more restrictions for class 3 e-bikes, though they are always allowed on roadways and bike lanes where conventional bikes are permitted.
What About My E-Scooter?
It is a state law that local municipalities cannot have more restrictive rules for e-scooters than they have for e-bikes. As such, e-scooters are permitted to share the road with motor vehicles, go in the bike lane, and use bike paths and sidewalks that allow class 1 e-bikes.
What Laws Must I Follow While Riding an E-Bike on the Road?
Generally speaking, the same rules apply to you whether you’re on an e-bike or a conventional bike. You must hug the right side of the road or bike lane (when it is safe to do so), except when making a left turn, passing a slower vehicle or cyclist, ride no more than two-abreast with another cyclist, and signal your intention to turn or stop (only if it is safe for you to take a hand off the bars). E-bike riders must obey speed limits and other road signs in the same way that conventional bike riders do. Colorado’s Safety Stop applies to e-bikes—e-bike riders can treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs if it is safe to do so and as long as they do not take the right of way from another road user.
If You Were Hit While Riding an E-Bike, Call Colorado Bike Law Today
Unfortunately, drivers are just as unaware of e-cyclists as they are of traditional cyclists. Those riding e-bikes can still get doored, hit from behind, cut off, or intentionally run off the road. Because of the higher speed achieved on an e-bike, the victim’s injuries are often severe. Traumatic brain injuries, fractured bones, and extreme lacerations are all too common. If you were injured by a driver or other road user while riding an e-bike, call ColoBikeLaw to discuss your case with bike crash attorney Brad Tucker today.