Is it Legal?
- An electric bike is legally just a bicycle as long as the motor does not exceed certain power or speed limits
- The rider does have to be 14 or older for any electric bike
In summary, yes, an electric bike is legal within reason! As long as an electric bike complies with certain limits, then it is legally categorised in the same way as a bicycle. This means that, as long as these limits are respected, there are no requirements or restrictions on the use of an electric bike compared to those of a bicycle, with one sole exception: the rider must be at least 14 in order to ride any electric bike. Therefore with an electric bike...
- You can ride on cycle and shared use paths in the same way as a bicycle (although one should of course be a courteous rider...as with a bicycle)
- There is no requirement for insurance, tax or MOT (although of course it is good practice to maintain it as you would a bicycle)
- There is no specific requirement to wear a helmet or other items (although it is good practice to wear hi viz and/or helmet...again as a bicycle)
- Maximum continuous power must be rated by a relevant technical standard or authority (within reason, typically the manufacturer) at not more than 250 Watts maximum continuous, and the motor must be marked accordingly. Detail of the BBS01 motor provided by Empowering E-Bikes is shown with this marking (in addition to voltage (36V), conformity to European Safety Standards and QC data). Note that the continous power rating is less than the maximum power, which for the BBS01 is 36 volts x 15 amps = 540 Watts. As with any motor however, an electric bike motor is not intended for running continuously at maximum power).
- The bike must not be powered at speeds greater than 15.5 mph / 24 km / hr. With the BBS01, the display unit has control functions, including limiting the speed that the PAS system will turn at. All bikes provided by Empowering E-Bikes will have this programmed in line with this limit (Note however that if you have a kit which you are installing then this is the responsibility of the user to program...the limit feature measures the RPM of the wheel as an indicator of speed; if the wheel size has not been correctly programmed then the speed limit will also be incorrect). Note that the restriction is on how fast the motor is capable of driving the bike under power, not on how fast the bike is ridden. It is therefore perfectly legal to ride an electric bike at any speed that you can pedal it or freewheel it downhill, subject to speed limits and common sense!
- Previously, regulations allowed operation by throttle or pedal assist (i.e. some form of activation of the motor via movement of the pedals); current regulations also specify that it must not be a throttle only system (i.e. like a motorbike) but must have pedal assist (as on the BBS01), and that activation must be via a device "biased to the off" (as on the BBS01 and most systems)
- There is no specific requirement for a system cutout device. However, it is good practice to include at least one of these: by default and unless specified, all Empowering E-Bikes are provided with either one or two E-brake levers (or comparable devices), which cut power to the motor whenever the bike brake is activated (or other relevant action performed).
It is possible to obtain much more powerful electric bike motors, for (an extreme) example the Greyborg Cromotor (aka Hubzilla) which is claimed at 10,000 Watts (100 volts / 100 Amps...incidentally, this would likely rip the bike apart without some serious care in the design!). However, if a bike is fitted with a system more powerful than the specified limits, then it is not exempt as an electric bicycle and is categorised as a moped, subject to tax, insurance, motorcycle helmet, use on road, MOT (or in practice, as a one off, customised vehicle, a type approval). There is certainly a case for the creation of a 'fast electric bike' category; however at this point in the UK this does not exist. Also note if using an electric bike in other countries that the regulations differ according to country.
All Empowering E-Bikes are based on the BBS01 system unless otherwise agreed and specified. While Empowering E-Bikes can assist with sourcing and fitting according to customer requirements, any system outside the standard offering is subject to the customer taking responsibility for bike design and use in an appropriate fashion and location.
In addition to legal requirements for the motor system, electric bikes are subject to the same safety regulations as bikes.The legal status of these are in terms of sale of new bikes rather than legal requirements on the rider or of second hand bikes. Therefore, bike riders are generally free to modify the bike subsequent to purchase according to user preference (although note that, for example, the Lighting and reflector requirement is specifically a user requirement). However, all Empowering E-Bikes offerings will be assessed and recommendations made in line with this guidance except in so far as requested / specified specified by the customer.
All riders (and drivers) should also be aware of the provisions of the Highway Code with regards to cyclists (and other motor vehicles interacting with cyclists). Please also refer to the Riding Safety page.