Electric Bike Bills Now in the Hopper

Electric bicycles are coming on strong and Wisconsin law needs to catch up with them.

While still only a small percentage of bicycle sales in America, e-bikes have taken off in Europe and they are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. market. The European Union countries reported 98,000 e-bike sales in 2006 and a whopping 1.6 million in 2016. Sales in the U.S. were 200,000 in 2016, but growing fast.

There are a number of reasons for that, but two that stand out are demographics and technology. With 77 million baby boomers in the U.S. there is a built in market for folks who want to remain fit as they age. Which leads into the technology. The new generation of electric assist bikes is just that: they assist the rider but the motor doesn’t operate at all unless the rider is pedaling. The result of the demographics and the technology could be a big part of the reason for the recent growth and the bullishness about the future.

Electric bikes are a fast growing part of the U.S. market.

Which brings us to the Wisconsin law. Our current law lumps electric bikes in with combustion engine motor bikes. So, for example, operators of some types of motor bicycles must have operator’s licenses, and motor bicycles may not be used on bike paths unless they are powered solely by their pedals. Our laws need to catch up with modern technology.

So, the Bike Fed is working with the industry group People for Bikes and with Trek Bicycle to develop new legislation. The bill would establish three categories of e-bikes. Class 1 e-bikes are e-assist bikes with a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 2 bikes would also have a 20 mph maximum speed but they can be operated without pedaling. And Class 3 bikes would be e-assist with a maximum speed of 28 mph.

Class 1 and 2 bikes could be operated on bike paths with the electric motor engaged. Class 3 bikes could not be operated in the same manner unless that was allowed by the governmental unit with jurisdiction over the path. So, basically the bill legalizes the use of electric bikes everywhere as long as the motor does not operate after a maximum speed of 20 mph has been reached.

The bill has a few other provisions. Class 3 bikes could not be operated by children under the age of 16 and they must come with a speedometer. Manufacturers need to clearly label each e-bike with its maximum speed.

This is model legislation that has already passed in a handful of states, including California and Colorado. These bills have been bi-partisan.

In Wisconsin identical bills have now been introduced in each house of the legislature. They are Assembly Bill 886 and Senate Bill 741 and each bill has sponsors from both parties. The bills have been assigned to the corresponding transportation committees in each house. We’ll keep you up to speed on the bills’ progress.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

3 thoughts on “Electric Bike Bills Now in the Hopper

  1. Thanks Dave,
    I have been e-bikeing for over a decade and had been fearing more draconian restrictions.
    This compromise meets my needs and I am glad the Wisconsin Bike Fed helped bring it about.
    Thanks Again,
    Joe I..

  2. Thanks for the update. I agree that sensible e-bike legislation is overdue, and by and large the proposed provisions make sense. I am somewhat concerned about Class 2 bikes on bike and multiuse paths. When I lived in Montreal, you would regularly encounter electric scooters on the bike path. While they had pedals and could theoretically be propelled with those pedals, it was pretty obvious that they were scooters, not bikes. Example picture: http://fr.canoe.ca/archives/voyages/destinations/quebec/weekend/media/2013/06/20130603-142510-a.jpg

    I personally don’t think this is a huge issue, but be prepared for these machines to show up on Madison’s path network shortly, as they may also be able to bypass the moped parking restrictions that the city just enacted. Some people walking and biking may have a very negative reaction to that.

  3. I’m glad there is official legislation in the works for e-bike regulation. I’m very supportive of any opportunity to allow more people to realize the benefits of bicycling, and e-bikes are instrumental in that effort. However, I think there are some problems with the legislation that lend themselves to a vigorous and healthy public debate.

    For one, I think that the speeds that e-bikes will be allowed to operate up to are far too high. If Google’s metrics are to be believed, 12 mph is a good estimate of a person’s average speed on a biologically powered bicycle. 20 mph is more than 60% faster than this average speed. I think that e-bike speeds should be speed limited to not more than 16 mph, which is just over 30% faster than the average cyclist.

    I also think that allowing e-bikes designated as “class-2″ should not be allowed on our trails. They are effectively “motor vehicles” in the sense that no physical effort is necessary in their operation.

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