Different ebike classes mean certain speeds and features.
As electric bikes continue to gain popularity, we’re starting to see most major brands offer a model to fit any rider’s needs. eBikes come in all shapes, sizes, and speeds, and if you’re considering buying one, you’ll want to know about the different electric bike ‘classes’ and what each one means.
Pedal-assisted ebikes use a big battery and motor to help you explore new trails, ride further, haul cargo and kids, or enjoy a bike like never before. So, if you’re ready to shred some trails or feel the wind in your hair, here’s what you need to know about electric bike class levels.
The different ‘classes’ for an electric bike are a way to categorize the speed, power, throttle levels, or if a bike has a throttle at all. 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’s only one class allowing ebikes to use a 250-watt motor, speeds top out at 15MPH (25km/h), and you can’t have a throttle. All the electrical power comes from pedal assistance. In the United States, ebikes can go faster, have bigger motors, and come with an optional throttle similar to a motorcycle.
Many first-time buyers think a higher class means a bigger bike, but the class levels aren’t about the physical size. Instead, it’s about the level of electric components.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that at the federal level, an ebike must have pedals and can’t exceed 20 MPH when you’re only using 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 ebike laws, and most are relatively similar across the board. Remember that some state and local regulations may differ slightly from the three classes outlined below.
According to U.S. state laws, ebikes can be designated as Class 1, 2, or 3. That determines what you can ride, where, and how fast the bike helps you go.
Class 1: Motor works while you pedal, and the pedal-assist boost only helps to 20 mph.
The first ebike class is the closest to a regular bicycle experience. With a class 1 ebike, the bike’s motor can help make it easier as you pedal. Pedal-assist only works to 20MPH, and then it cuts off.
You can ride these bikes at speeds above 20MPH, but the motor can’t help once you exceed the 20MPH limit. Many class 1 ebikes do not come with a throttle of any kind, but we’re seeing more brands add one, making things even more confusing.
Some states require class 1 bikes to have a motor under 750 watts.
Class 2: Offers pedal-assist mode but also allows for only using a thumb throttle (no pedaling) up to 20 MPH.
The next step is a class 2 bike, and it’s not any more difficult to ride than a class 1. The only difference here is that most states define class 2 as a bike with pedal assist (like class 1) plus the option to use only a throttle to reach those speeds. Basically, you don’t have to pedal at all, and you can still achieve a top speed of 20 MPH.
On a class 2 electric bike, the motor cannot help the rider exceed 20 MPH and will cut out once you reach that threshold. Again, you can ride faster than that, but the motor can’t help you along the way.
Potential buyers can find all sorts of excellent and affordable class 2 ebikes for sale, as it’s one of the most common options stateside.
Class 3: The most popular (and fastest style) provides motorized assistance while the rider pedals and reaches speeds upwards 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 on a class 3 electric bike are it can reach a top speed of 28MPH with pedal assistance or throttle, and most states require a speedometer, for apparent reasons. Some states require class 3 users to wear a helmet, too.
Many states or laws don’t mention a throttle in the definition, which makes things unclear for manufacturers and riders. Most class 3 bikes on the market have a throttle, allowing you to reach those speeds purely by the throttle, assistance while pedaling, or a combination of both.
More importantly, you do not need a driver’s license to operate any of these electric bikes, including on roads. As a result, they’re a popular form of transportation for many people.
During the early days of electric bikes, a lot of bikes only had one class, and that’s it. Now, many brands offer what is known as a “multi-class” bike. This means it’ll be locked to one class out of the box, but owners can use the app or bike display to unlock offroad, trail, or an undefined class 4 mode to go faster than regulations allow.
For example, many bikes come pre-programmed in the Class 2 mode, which allows for throttle operation and pedal-assist riding up to 20mph. However, they can also be changed into Class 1 or Class 3 to fit different state or local laws.
Additionally, those multi-class bikes will let you unlock something like “off-road” mode and use the throttle to reach speeds beyond 28 MPH. I’ve had my Super73-Rx Mojave up to 34 mph while pedaling downhill and using the throttle. And some, like the ONYX RCR above, easily go over 28MPH and are closer to a motorcycle than a bike but have pedals to meet some regulations.
The idea here is you can get a stylish class 2 ebike from many brands, but owners can unlock more power, speed, and potential while they’re off-road or outside city limits. There’s no one stopping you from doing this in the city, but that is against the law.
It’s up to you to check your local or state laws and abide by them. Furthermore, some national parks have different rules for ebike users, so keep that in mind while traveling.
As we said earlier, these rules and class systems can change in certain states, and the requirements may differ where you live and ride. Some states even have additional rules regarding helmets or age restrictions.
With how fast electric bikes are growing in popularity, I have a feeling electric bike laws and regulations will continue to evolve or change. Considering many of these bikes are closer to a moped or a motorcycle, it’s only a matter of time before the laws and regulations adapt.
So while these are the basic electric bike class systems and what they loosely mean, you’ll still want to check your local laws. Then, subscribe to our free daily newsletter to stay informed moving forward.