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Portland firm releases free legal guidebook for electric bicycles

Posted by on August 1st, 2018 at 1:56 pm


Electric scooters are hogging headlines right now; but e-bikes are Portland’s quiet transportation revolution. In the past few years the number of people riding with pedal-assisted motors has skyrocketed and local shops have seen a big increase in sales.

While e-bikes have carved out a safe space in Portland’s street culture, they — like their unmotorized brethren — still exist in somewhat of a legal Twilight Zone. Are they bicycles or “motorized vehicles”? Can they be ridden on sidewalks? Those are just some of the questions people often have about them.

A new legal guidebook by the law firm of Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost aims to answer those questions.

Oregon E-Bike Rights: A Legal Guide for Electric Bike Riders was written by Ray Thomas, Cynthia Newton, Jim Coon, and Chris Thomas. You might recognize that first name as the lawyer behind Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists, which is now in its 10th printing and is widely considered Oregon’s bike law bible. Thomas and Newton are also BikePortland contributors (and the firm is a major supporter of bike advocacy in Portland, including a sponsor of our work).

TCNF’s 49-page guide is a comprehensive look at laws that govern the use of electric bikes in Oregon. In addition to a rundown of the relevant Oregon Revised Statutes, the guide also covers insurance policy questions, advocacy efforts to change existing e-bike laws and create better ones, and offers a resource guide if you want to probe further.

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Excerpt from the guide.

Here’s more from the author’s blurb:

Sometimes treated by law as a bicycle, sometimes as a motor vehicle, the bicycle with a battery powered electric motor has created a legal hybrid that defies easy and logical categorization. The Oregon Vehicle Code defines a low-powered “electric assisted bicycle” to be a bicycle, not a motor vehicle, but then also prohibits it from being lawfully ridden on sidewalks statewide. Oregon State Parks rules define the electric powered bicycle as a motor vehicle and restrict its operation to motor vehicle routes.

E-bike law in Oregon and elsewhere is very much a moving target… It is time for the laws to create a more hospitable legal environment for electric bicycle operators and coordinate the use of legal terminology and rules at the local, state and federal level to reduce presently existing confusion about where e-bikes can and cannot legally go.

The guide is available as a free PDF download and you can grab a hard copy from the TCN&F office at 820 SW 2ND Ave, Suite 200.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • maxD August 1, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    can electric scooters and/or bikes be legally ridden on the esplanade or in a park?

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    • idlebytes August 1, 2018 at 3:10 pm

      Electric scooters and electric bikes cannot be ridden on the Esplanade as I understand it’s considered a sidewalk. A regular bicycle can and so can segways which is interesting since they have the same max allowed speed as the scooter.

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      • John Lascurettes August 1, 2018 at 3:17 pm

        But when is an electric bicycle not an electric bicycle. If you disengage the e-assist, is it a full bicycle capable and allowed to ride on a sidewalk or a MUP (which is what the esplanade really is isn’t it) as the case may be?

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        • idlebytes August 1, 2018 at 5:23 pm

          Oh ya MUP that’s what I was forgetting. That little graphic doesn’t address those but I assume it would be fine then certainly the springwater is. I don’t think an electric bicycle stops being one till you remove the motor which is what makes it an electric bicycle under the law.

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        • q August 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm

          By that same logic you should be able to drive a car on the sidewalk as long as you’ve got enough of a downhill and the car’s engine isn’t running. Because after all a car that isn’t running is just a cart with wheels right? Wrong.

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          • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 3:53 pm

            Fasle equivalency. I’ve hardly seen one bigger. I can already coast on a bike on a sidewalk, I can ride slowly on a bike. I’m already limited to how fast I can ride on a sidewalk on a bike (any time I cross a driveway). I can do both those things on an e-bike too. So what’s your point?

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            • q August 3, 2018 at 2:10 pm

              My point is keep your moped “ebike” off my bike path.

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              • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 3:03 pm

                Oh, it’s yours is it? You sound like one of those people who say that others can’t use the free parking in front of his house.

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              • Dubois August 8, 2018 at 1:27 am

                Lol. No. That’s the great thing about eBikes. You can use the road, bike lanes and bike paths. If i just wanted to travel in the street I’d ride a Vespa.

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    • Gary B August 2, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      If only a team of highly-trained and specialized lawyers could answer that question for us in a free publication! (sorry for the sarcasm)

      On page 16: “”Shared-use paths” are not defined in the Oregon Vehicle Code. There is therefore no state law against riding an e-bike on a shared-use path, and the classification of “electric assisted bikes” as bicycles rather than motor vehicles provides an argument for e-bike use on shared-use paths, as long as those paths are not within the definition of “sidewalk.”6 Thus, for now, by omission, e-bikes are probably allowed on shared-use paths that are not part of the road right-of-way. “”

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      • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm

        That was how I interpreted it too. There is no definition of MUP or multi-use path that I can find in ORS. But the definition of “bike path” is when the path is separated from the roadway (not a bike lane) with directions for bicyclists to follow that path. That pretty much sounds like any MUP (especially all the bridge paths) is fair game for an e-bike to use.

        Still … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  • B. Carfree August 1, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    All of the e-bikes I have ridden have a motor cut-out at around 20 mph. However, the law appears to only require that the motor not be able to propel the bike faster than 20 mph by itself on flat ground. That should mean that the motor should stay engaged even if the rider adds enough power to take the speed over 20 mph.

    Before anyone decries speeds over 20 mph as unsafe, let me say that I regularly ride my standard bicycle well over 20 mph. I also slow to whatever speed is called for in the interests of safety. (Show me a child on a bike path and I’ll show you just how slowly a bike can be ridden, including just stepping off. Anyone who scares a child needs a time out, imo.) However, there are roads on which speed greatly enhances my safety, so it seems wrong to have the motor cut out below that speed. We don’t do that to cars; we expect, perhaps over-optimistically these days, that drivers will exercise reasonable judgment.

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    • soren August 1, 2018 at 10:43 pm

      on all the class 2 bikes i’ve ridden the motor cuts out entirely when the speed exceeds 20 mph. when i buy an e-bike it will almost certainly be a class 3 e-bike that i hack to remove any speed limitation.

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      • BikeRound August 2, 2018 at 7:11 pm

        You just provided the perfect explanation why no motorized vehicle should ever be allowed on a sidewalk.

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        • soren August 3, 2018 at 7:43 am


          riding in the roadway is an argument for riding on a sidewalk?

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        • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 12:38 pm

          Tell that to the Segways.

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    • colton August 2, 2018 at 8:02 am

      “so it seems wrong to have the motor cut out below that speed. We don’t do that to cars”

      I’m told by owners of Toyota trucks who drive over 100 regularly (think Montana) that there is a speed limit (governor) somewhere north of 100, around 105-120.

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      • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 8:57 am

        womp womp.

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      • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 9:29 am

        I want to do that with cars. Yes, I do. In fact, with so many cars with GPS on board, there’s no seriously reason to not have governors on cars that would limit them to the actual speed limit as if it were a limit and not a minimum. I’m sure people will point out the the “gubment” would then track our every movement. Hello, they can already to that in so many ways already if they have a warrant.

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        • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 10:07 am

          * “There’s seriously no defensible reason to not have governors …”

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          • Brian August 2, 2018 at 11:57 am

            Medical emergencies?

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            • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 12:04 pm

              Call 911

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            • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 12:59 pm

              I’m guessing driving 100mph is the cause of more medical emergencies than it is the solution to medical emergencies.

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              • Brian August 2, 2018 at 2:16 pm

                I hear ya. I’m not against the idea of a governing device of some sort. I was just thinking about times I am camping pretty deep in the woods with my son. If there was no service and I needed to get him to a hospital, I would want every tool at my disposal (including speeding).

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              • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 2:54 pm

                In Oregon, even ambulances have limits:

                “Must not exceed any designated speed limit to an extent which endangers persons or property.”

                I think driving over 100mph on any road with other users fits this description, and I’m assuming you don’t drive an ambulance with warning lights & sirens 🙂

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              • Brian August 2, 2018 at 3:31 pm

                Nah. I’m nowhere near that cool.

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              • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 5:40 pm

                Who ya gonna call??

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 12:22 pm

          Why do you mock people concerned with civil liberties? Would you, in this era of Trump, prefer the government have more power over what you can say and do?

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          • Dan A August 2, 2018 at 12:54 pm

            Would you say that a 100mph speed limiter is infringing on someone’s civil liberties?

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 1:18 pm

              That’s not what you were mocking:

              >>> I’m sure people will point out the the “gubment” would then track our every movement. <<<

              Government mass surveillance is a very legitimate issue in our age.

              A 100MPH governor is really neither here nor there in our context; the difference between someone driving 90MPH and 101 MPH down SE Clinton is purely academic.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 1:19 pm

                (sorry, not what John was mocking)

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              • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 3:36 pm

                You can already be tracked in literally dozens of ways, from your phone, to your credit card use, to the tire pressure monitors on a car (and that one HAS been used by law enforcement), to using public security cameras to do facial recognition. Every one of these requires a search warrant to be done legally. The doom and gloom of the government tracking our every move is a straw man. The point is that the tools are already there to do it, one other is not going to be the thing that is going to bring liberty and freedom to a crashing halt — but it would have a very serious, measurable impact on traffic safety.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 5:38 pm

                I don’t buy the “you can already be tracked so more tracking doesn’t matter” argument. We should not be doing anything that makes mass surveillance easier. It’s coming, it may already be here, but that doesn’t mean we should surrender any more privacy than we need to.

                You could make a much more convincing argument by pointing out that, using existing technology, cars could be limited to the speed limit without granting any new ability to monitor movement by the government or a private entity.

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              • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 7:06 pm

                You just said it yourself then. It could be mandated to be set up that way. But I’m cynical that it couldn’t just later be hacked to be exploitable — much like the TPMS or just about any IOT device. I trust the government a LOT more than I do private corporations around privacy.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 8:15 pm

                Gaining something small (making it more challenging for people to hack their own vehicles) in exchange for something very dear (ability of the government to track everywhere we drive) is a terrible deal.

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              • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 9:45 am

                You’re kind of missing the point. They already can, do, and will with a warrant. Anyone with OnStar or similar can already be tracked by law enforcement too.

                The technology that would allow us to auto-govern a vehicle is already in nearly in all new cars. This isn’t about installing some new listening device. I’m simply saying that we could use that existing technology to automatically govern the speed of the car based on the posted speed limit. Instead, we have tech-bros like Elon Musk giving us “Ludicrous” speed. Everything we need is already there except the regulation to make it required. When I drive with directions, I use Waze and I have it set to audibly tell me every time I enter a new speed zone (like on rural highways were it jumps from 55 to 45 to 35 and back up to 55 again).

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 10:02 am

                Tracking individuals with a warrant is good. I have no fundamental issue with vehicles having a database of speed limits, and they themselves limiting their maximum speed on that basis. My objection is doing it in a way that adds another tool for mass surveillance.

                However, this whole conversation is kind of pointless. Such governors will not be implemented before autonomous driving appears on the scene, which will make them unnecessary. Furthermore, my concerns about tracking will likely rendered moot if such vehicles are deployed in fleets, like Uber, rather than sold to individuals. They will be tracked.

                The part of this that remains relevant is that I am fundamentally bothered by your expression of mocking disdain for people who believe civil liberties are of primary importance. How many times in the past century did we see civil rights stripped away in the name of public safety? History has a lot to teach in this department.

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              • John Lascurettes August 3, 2018 at 10:42 am

                We agree on the sanctity of our civil liberties. We disagree on the government’s roll or reach in violating them. I fear the corporatocracy more than the government. I only fear the government as much as private money has its hooks in our representatives (which, unfortunately is pretty deep).

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty August 3, 2018 at 2:38 pm

                One difference is that corporations do not have the power to arrest or imprison me.

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  • B. Carfree August 1, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Just a little e-bike fyi: I recently went for a ride with a local e-bike retailer and my Congressman’s district manager. During the course of our yapping, I learned that the tariffs that are coming/in place are going to dramatically increase the price of e-bikes. If you’re on the fence, now might be a good time to jump in. We’re talking hundreds of dollars per bike, apparently.

    Personally, I’m hoping to go another twenty years before I jump in, but considering I almost opted for knee surgery this Spring, perhaps it’s going to be a bit sooner. It’s so hard to know how long these vintage parts will last.

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    • Mike Quigley August 1, 2018 at 6:19 pm

      An E-bike dealer in Boise jumped his price $150 since last week on existing stock.

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  • Mike Quigley August 2, 2018 at 6:00 am

    One thing you have to remember about electric bikes is the high cost of replacement batteries. Often costing up to one third the price of a complete bike. And the batteries can take only about 500 or so rechargings before they begin to lose power and die quickly. Plus, with model obsolescence happening so fast you may have a hard time finding a replacement.

    I had to buy a replacement battery from China for my Kalkhoff. It cost $600 and didn’t last as long as the original. I sold the bike as is for 200 bucks just to get rid of it. Of course that was three years ago. Things may have changed by now.

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    • Gary B August 2, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      I’ve wondered about replacing the cells. They jut use a big stack of what look like AA batteries to make up that battery pack. I think it may be possible to open it up and do a replacement of the insides using generic cells.

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  • Pedego PORTLAND August 2, 2018 at 6:50 am

    Outstanding resource! Everyone should read cover to cover. If you are a doubter about all the benefits of an electric bicycle, try one! Renting one is a great way to try…you will have fun!

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  • Zeppo August 2, 2018 at 6:56 am

    Has anyone else been passed on the Springwater by a guy going 30-35 mph on an e-bike? He’s pedaling but the thing must be hacked or souped up somehow. Looks like he’s commuting and in a hurry to get home. I was riding about 15 mph and he passed me so quickly that it unnerved me a bit – at first I thought it must be a very quiet motorcycle.

    Recently I visited a bike shop where a modified racing e-bike was on display. The salesman showed me the slender battery and said the bike could go 40 mph on level ground with the battery assist. This was not an e-bike shop but a regular high-end bike shop.

    Will e-bikes that go over 20 mph spook regular riders, joggers, families and children walking, parents pushing strollers, etc and cause a backlash against *all* e-bikes? I fear they will. I’d like to see some speed enforcement and fines against the scofflaws, before the backlash happens. Look at how the scooters are already being criticized. They weren’t here for five minutes before WW started trying to whip up a backlash against them.

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    • idlebytes August 2, 2018 at 9:37 am

      “Will e-bikes that go over 20 mph spook regular riders, joggers, families and children walking, parents pushing strollers, etc and cause a backlash against *all* e-bikes?”

      Probably but then again people do that on regular bikes everyday and it already creates a backlash. This morning 3 other cyclists around me bombed down to the Hawthorne bridge blowing by pedestrians giving maybe a foot of space going 20+ Those same people on ebikes are going to do that as well. They’re probably not very considerate drivers either. Outside of strict enforcement and engaging them on an individual basis to try and get them to have some empathy I don’t see them changing their habits.

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    • rainbike August 2, 2018 at 9:47 am

      I’ve been passed by that guy. Also been passed on the Springwater by a guy on a scooter that can get close to that speed. No warning from either of them. I agree, it’s a bit unnerving.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 11:40 am

        Does this sort of thing affect the 8 to 80 crowd?

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        • Clicky Freewheel August 2, 2018 at 11:49 am

          I’ve been passed by people on e-bikes and e-kick-scooters going at least twice as fast as me. This is especially un-nerving when riding on a narrow shared path such as the Hawthorne Bridge. I also had a group of e-kick-scooter riders nearly crash into me on the sidewalk in a different city.

          Anything with a motor and throttle makes me uneasy. They unequivocally should not be sharing the same space as pedestrians and leg-powered devices.

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        • CaptainKarma August 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm

          Of course it does. There are so many jerks in the world. The e-bikes and probably scooters WILL be hacked and driven recklessly because “my freedumb” and “MY rights”, not yours.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 1:21 pm

            People hack things like scooters because it’s fun.

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          • Clicky Freewheel August 2, 2018 at 1:26 pm

            That is certainly their right to do with their own property what they choose. As long as it doesn’t infringe on my or anyone else’s right to personal safety. Rights and freedoms are a two-way street.

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  • Eric Leifsdad August 2, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Given that a MUP is technically a sidewalk, it’s probably not strictly legal to ride an e-bike on most of PBOT’s “protected” “bike” infrastructure. Moody, tilikum way, SW Multnomah. How about the bit of sidewalk bikeway behind the streetcar stop on 5th?

    Then again, most of the e-bike (and e-scooter) specific laws are class D violations, the same class as failure to use a turn signal. If you’re getting harassed, it would probably take less than 5 seconds to spot someone in a car doing a class D violation.

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    • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 9:32 am

      And so that would also include all the bike routes on the bridges too if true. That means e-bikers going on the Hawthorne need to ride the grates in the roadway. Broadway riders risk stuffing their wheels in the tracks.

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      • soren August 2, 2018 at 1:33 pm

        I don’t need a handbook to understand that most of Oregon’s bike-specific statutes are discriminatory, unnecessary, ridiculous, and/or unenforced.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty August 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm

          Most vehicular traffic laws can be similarly described.

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        • John Lascurettes August 2, 2018 at 3:39 pm

          I predict a modification, if not unification, to the laws in the near to moderate future. That is, it’s too confusing to have to consult the PDF table put out by PBOT to know what is and isn’t allowed. Vehicles with mostly human-powered motivation or equipment that requires nothing more than a bike helmet (as opposed to a DOT helmet) should probably mostly be treated the same. Like others have pointed out, all the e-assist or bike-helmeted devices are motor-limited to 20 mph. I can do faster than that on my bike on the regular.

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  • Jim Lee August 2, 2018 at 11:33 am

    The traditional bicycle powered by a highly efficient, very long range, immensely durable organic prime mover will be with us forever!

    Dingbat electric stuff? Grab it while you can, for it is not long for this planet!

    Gibbs free energy rules!

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  • any2wheels August 6, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Really great summary of ebikes and ebike laws. I would be curious if the authors gathered information on citation statistics, as well as a summary of whether violating the various rules constitutes infractions, misdemeanors or felonies.

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  • BLin September 13, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Insurance doesn’t seem to have been commented on. One assumes if you buy a bike its personal property and covered by homeowners or renters insurance. We have purchased 2 eBikes in the last 2 years from different retailers and not heard a word about possible insurance problems. We’ve now had damage to one of them (its totaled) and our insurance says they consider it a VEHICLE, therefore we have no coverage at all on it. We would need to go through our auto insurance for special coverage. Very big surprise. Hope folks know they should make sure they have protection as these cost a lot of money. Seems like a scam that by law its a bike but insurance industry gets away with calling it a vehicle.

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    • BLin September 14, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      Update: We are still arguing with insurance. They are stuck on whether the bike goes 20 or 28mph. We will see what happens. Unexpected issue for sure, insurers seem to be all over the map, worth checking your policy!

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