Electric Bikes

The use of electric-assist bicycles (“e-bikes”) has grown rapidly over the last 5 years. Modern e-bikes often look indistinguishable from a “regular” bike but have robust batteries and technology which are capable of sensing when a rider needs a helping hand over a hill, into a headwind, or accelerating from a stop. While e-bikes have existed for years, recent advances in technology have allowed batteries to become smaller, lighter, cheaper, and longer range, enhancing the usefulness, appeal, and affordability of these machines. E-bikes appeal to many types of people but particularly for those who use them as a tool to overcome limited physical fitness, for people running everyday errands who want to carry heavier loads, and for parents transporting children. In addition, several bike share systems have begun adding e-bikes to their fleet in Pioneer Valley, in the LimeBike network, and elsewhere around the system, enhancing the appeal of bikeshare for everyday riding.

Unfortunately, in Massachusetts the laws around e-bikes were written with mopeds and scooters in mind, before the widespread adoption of modern battery technology. As e-bike sales continue to climb and bike share operators seek to integrate these into their fleets, opportunity for conflict and confusion with existing laws will grow.

Current E-Bike Law in Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts state law, an e-bike can be interpreted as being a “motorized bicycle” which would make e-bikes subject to different rules of the road from regular bicycles, such as:

E-bike riders must carry a driver’s license and are subject to registration requirements.
No one under 16 years of age can use an e-bike.
E-bikes are prohibited from all bike paths, as well as all sidewalks, regardless of local context.

Our Proposed Changes:

MassBike is proposing to update Massachusetts’ e-bike law to differentiate between low-speed and higher-speed electric bicycles. While regulatory control would remain with the juridictions, landowners, and departments, MassBike suggests low-speed electric bicycles be treated like regular bicycles, while higher-speed e-bikes would have additional safety requirements.

The same rules of the road would apply to both e-bikes and human-powered bicycles when it comes to speed, proper passing, following local traffic laws, obeying posted speed limits, and other state and local ordinances.

The proposed change would be consistent with laws already passed in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

Our proposal would define an electric bicycle as a device with 2 or 3 wheels which has a saddle and fully-operative pedals for human propulsion and an electric motor having a power output of not more than 750 watts. An electric bicycle would meet one of the following three classes:

CLASS 1: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
CLASS 2: Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
CLASS 3: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.

Cities and towns would retain the right to restrict, regulate, or prohibit the use of e-bikes in parks, paths, and trails. MassBike recommends that in the absence of local ordinances, the slower Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes would be allowed on paths and trails, while the Class 3 e-bikes would only be allowed on roadways.

The e-bike class model also allows municipalities to permit e-bikes on paths or bikeways where they are traditionally not allowed, for example, in the event that an alternative route is considered hazardous.

These regulatory updates would also mean that:

  • E-bikes and e-bike riders would not be subject to the provisions of the code relating to financial responsibility, vehicle insurance, driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, or certificates of title.
  • Helmets would be required for riders of Class 3 e-bikes
  • Persons under 16 years would not be able to ride a Class 3 e-bike, unless as a passenger on a bike designed for that purpose.
  • All e-bike manufacturers must apply a standard label to each e-bike specifying its type and wattage.
  • Any tampering or modification of the motor would require replacement of the standard label.
  • The definitions of motorized bicycle or motor vehicle would exclude that of an electric bicycle.

Want to read more about e-bikes? Click here for our in depth FAQ.


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