I missed this when it happened, probably because I have been a little slow to embrace eBikes, but I think it’s important and so it’s something I want to share with you today. I’m talking about A.B. 1096, commonly known as California’s eBike Law. It was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last October 7 and has been the law of the land in the Golden State for a year now.
eBikes are currently the fastest growing segment of the bicycle market. Though they have been slow to gain traction in the United States, they’re already quite popular in Europe and Asia. Manufacturers know this, and so companies as disparate as Ford and Polaris are getting into the eBike business. They see big profits ahead and the only way that’s going to happen is if American bike shops (and car and RV dealers) start selling a lot of eBikes. I think they will.
There are a lot of different types of eBikes. All are motorized…some more so than others. A few of these vehicles blur the lines between traditional bicycles and motor vehicles and that has all sorts of legal implications. Should eBikes be licensed? Should there be a minimum age for operators? What sort of safety equipment (helmets, head and tail lights, turn signals) should be required? Can you ride them on shared paths or only in the street?
A.B. 1096 addresses these issues by defining three types or classes of eBikes. Different rules relating to users and access to infrastructure apply for each class of bike but it basically boils down to top speed. Type 1 and 2 eBikes are limited to a top speed of 20 mph. For all intents and purposes, A.B. 1096 views these vehicles in the same manner as human powered bicycles. Type 3 eBikes have a maximum speed limit of 28 mph. The rules here are slightly different due to the higher top speed. If it goes faster than 28 mph, it’s not an eBike, at least not in California.
So how’s it working out? Overall, pretty well in spite of the potential for some confusion. Type 1 and 2 eBikes are allowed on Class 1 Bike Paths (think shared use trails). Type 3 are not. All are allowed on bike routes and paths on the streets (Class 2-4) whether they be painted, buffered or protected. Type 1 bikes are also allowed on many mountain bike trails and other public lands. Local officials can override state law and have in some cases. There have been few controversies. In fact, mountain biking website MTBR forum posts marveled that “peace had broken out” after the law passed. That’s no small thing.
By defining what is and isn’t an eBike, California officials have laid out a clear framework that other states can adopt…with or without modification. They have also distinguished between eBikes and motor vehicles like scooters, mopeds and motorcycles. The idea is not to create an unworkable bureaucracy but rather to keep the public safe as new classes of vehicles hit the roads and bicycle paths.