A Great Big City

Department of Transportation to Clarify E-Bike Rules

NYC street style
NYC street style via eventphotosnyc on Flickr

Official action will seek to end confusion over the legality of riding electric bikes in NYC.

As e-bikes have proliferated across the city, there has been dispute over what restrictions and laws apply to various models of bikes. According to an announcement today by the Mayor's office, a new DOT rule will aim to clarify which e-bikes are legal to ride on NYC streets.

"E-Bike" is a convenient nickname, but they have not yet fit in to the existing legal categories defining mopeds and scooters from bicycles. Under the new proposed DOT rule, e-bikes that can operate without pedaling in a "throttle-only" mode will be banned from city streets. These are the models most used by delivery persons that the NYPD confiscates from business owners.

E-bikes used by recreational riders only apply power from the motor while the rider is pedaling, and those pedal-assist models would be deemed legal under the proposed rule.

While there is a 20mph limit mentioned in the announcement, the precise wording of the DOT rule remains to be seen. Many electric bikes sold to consumers follow e-bike classification levels, with Class 1 having a 20mph limit and a motor strength of 750watts or less. These bikes use a speedometer to detect 20mph and turn off the pedal-assist at that point, but still give the rider a strong push at low speeds so they can safely ride with the flow of traffic on city streets.

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