As electric bikes continue to gain in popularity, we’re beginning to see most of the major brands offer a model to suit any rider’s needs. eBikes come in all shapes, sizes, and speeds, and if you’re considering buying one, you’ll want to learn about the different “classes” of electric bikes and what each one means.
Whether you’re looking for a folding electric bike, a commuter model, or a full-fledged eMTB, there’s something for everyone. However, you’ll want to choose a bike that’s right for you, your state, or where you ride.
Pedal-assist electric bikes use a large battery and motor to help you explore new trails, go further, carry cargo and kids, or enjoy riding like never before. So if you’re ready to hit some trails or feel the wind in your hair, here’s what you need to know about e-bike class levels.
Electric bike ratings
The different “classes” for an electric bike are a way of categorizing speed, power, acceleration levels, or whether a bike has acceleration. Electric bike classes are primarily for regulatory reasons and help manufacturers offer models that reach certain speeds while adhering to local and state laws or different park rules and regulations.
For example, in Europe, there is only one class that allows electric bikes to use a 250-watt motor, top speeds of 15 MPH (25 km/h), and cannot have a throttle. All electrical power comes from pedal assistance. In the United States, electric bikes can go faster, have larger motors, and come with an optional throttle similar to that of a motorcycle.
Many first-time buyers think that a higher class means a bigger bike, but class levels have nothing to do with physical size. Instead, it is about the level of the electrical components.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that, at the federal level, an electric bicycle must have pedals and cannot exceed 20 MPH when using only the electric motor. However, the definition is broad enough that states and manufacturers have some wiggle room. We’re not going to get into how each state handles things, but know that 44 states have e-bike laws, and most are relatively similar across the board. Remember that some state and local regulations may differ slightly from the three classes described below.
Under US state law, electric bikes can be designated as Class 1, 2, or 3. That determines what you can ride, where, and how fast the bike helps you.
What is a class 1 electric bike?
Class 1: The motor runs while you pedal, and the pedal-assist boost only helps at 20 mph.
The first electric bike class is the closest to a regular bike experience. With a class 1 electric bike, the bike’s motor can help make it easier while you pedal. The pedal assist only works at 20 MPH and then cuts off.
You can ride these bikes at speeds over 20 MPH, but the motor can’t help you once you exceed the 20 MPH limit. Many class 1 electric bikes don’t come with any kind of throttle, but we’re seeing more brands add one, which makes things even more confusing.
Some states require class 1 bikes to have a motor of less than 750 watts.
Electric bike Class 2 Meaning?
Class 2: It offers pedal assist mode, but also allows you to use just a thumb throttle (without pedaling) up to 20 MPH.
Next up is a class 2 bike, and it’s no more difficult to ride than a class 1. The only difference here is that most states define class 2 as a pedal-assist bike (like class 1). plus the option to only use a throttle to reach those speeds. You basically don’t have to pedal at all and you can still hit a top speed of 20 MPH.
On a class 2 electric bike, the motor cannot help the rider go above 20 MPH and will shut off once that threshold is reached. Again, you can go faster than that, but the engine can’t help you down the road.
Potential buyers can find all kinds of great and affordable class 2 electric bikes for sale, as it is one of the most common choices in the United States.
What is a class 3 electric bike?
Class 3: The most popular (and fastest) style provides motorized assistance while the rider pedals and reaches speeds in excess of 28 MPH.
If you want to go fast, you’ll want to find a class 3 electric bike like the Super73-RX, which is one of the bikes I own. The two main differences in a class 3 electric bike are that it can reach a top speed of 28 MPH with pedal or throttle assist, and most states require a speedometer, for apparent reasons. Some states require class 3 users to also wear a helmet.
Many states or laws do not mention a throttle in the definition, making things unclear for manufacturers and riders. Most class 3 bikes on the market have a throttle, allowing you to reach those speeds with just the throttle, pedal assist, or a combination of the two.
More importantly, you don’t need a driver’s license to operate any of these electric bikes, even on the roads. As a result, they are a popular form of transportation for many people.
What about multiclass travel modes?
During the early days of electric bikes, many bikes only had one class, and that’s it. Many brands now offer what is known as a “multi-class” bike. This means it will be locked into one class out of the box, but owners can use the app or the bike screen to unlock off-road, trail, or an indefinite class 4 mode to go faster than regulations allow.
For example, many bikes come preprogrammed in Class 2 mode, which allows throttle operation and pedal assist up to 20 mph. However, they can also be changed to Class 1 or Class 3 to accommodate different state or local laws.
Also, those multi-class bikes will let you unlock something like “off-road” mode and use the throttle to hit speeds over 28 MPH. I have had my Super73-Rx Mojave up to 34mph while pedaling downhill and using the throttle. And some, like the ONYX RCR above, easily top 28 MPH and are closer to a motorcycle than a bicycle, but have pedals to meet some standards.
The idea here is that you can get a sleek class 2 electric bike from many brands, but owners can unlock more power, speed, and potential while off-roading or outside city limits. There is no one stopping you from doing this in the city, but that is illegal.
Check your local laws and wait for changes
It is up to you to check local or state laws and comply with them. Also, some national parks have different rules for e-bike users, so keep that in mind as you travel.
As we said earlier, these rules and class systems may change in certain states, and requirements may differ where you live and travel. Some states even have additional rules regarding helmets or age restrictions.
With how quickly electric bikes are growing in popularity, I have a feeling that electric bike laws and regulations will continue to evolve or change. Considering that many of these bikes are closer to a moped or motorcycle, it is only a matter of time before laws and regulations catch up.
So while these are the basic e-bike class systems and what they loosely mean, you’ll still want to check your local laws. Then sign up for our free daily newsletter to stay informed in the future.