Faster E-Bikes Pose Regulation Dilemma

Categories: Bike

As a growing number of devices fall outside of traditional vehicle classes, policymakers must decide how to classify and regulate high-speed e-bikes.

As e-bike manufacturers build increasingly fast and powerful “hyperbikes”—a term coined by Dutch builder VanMoof to describe its V model bike—policymakers must grapple with how to define and regulate the devices. As David Zipper writes,

Motorcycles and mopeds are often subject to an array of laws and restrictions that e-bikes aren’t, such as license plate mandates, helmet requirements, and special driver’s licenses. Such distinctions break down for the new class of high-speed e-bikes. After all, any two-wheeled vehicles traveling at 40 mph likely create comparable risk to the rider as well as other street users.

The e-bike market, which had been growing pre-pandemic, exploded during the last two years as people sought alternatives to public transit.

Regulations, meanwhile, have largely not kept up with the proliferation of new devices that blur the line between bicycles and the higher-powered class of mopeds and motorcycles. Federal rules in the U.S. classify e-bikes as having under 750 watts of power and top speed of 20 miles per hour, according to Zipper, but leave it up to states to regulate registration and insurance requirements.

For now, devices like the 700-watt, 37-mph VanMoof V largely fall outside of existing state and federal statutes. Advocates want to see clearer regulation, expressing concerns that leaving so many vehicles out of designated classes could lead to backlash and blanket bans on e-bikes, cargo bikes, and other forms of new mobility that, despite their usefulness, “don’t fit cleanly into the bike/car dichotomy,” writes Zipper.