Is Riding an Electric Bike Legal in New York City?

Getting an electric bike is no small investment. However, once you finally purchase one, your everyday commutes are entirely changed for the better.

Every ride relaxes your body, helps you benefit from a cardio exercise without tensing your leg muscles, and helps you reach your destination on time and cost-effectively.

However, before you get too excited about buying an electric bike, you must check the regional laws. This is especially important for New Yorkers, as the city has a strict limit on the kind of e-bike one has.

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Is Riding an Electric Bike Legal in New York City?

In today’s post-pandemic economic crisis, all governments worldwide are trying to encourage their citizens to shift to electric vehicles to protect the people against rising fossil fuel costs and save the environment from CHG emissions.

Hence, no country, state, or city has put a complete ban or restriction on the use of electric bikes, mopeds, electric scooters, electric cars, etc.

However, most countries and cities have clear laws and limitations regarding the type of electric bike one can ride on roads.

These restrictions are usually not stretched to private property and are only limited to public areas for multiple reasons.

Similarly, riding an electric bike is legal and highly encouraged in a technologically progressive city like New York. This is especially true considering the vast amounts of traffic that move throughout the city.

The number of electric bikes in NYC has more than doubled within a year and a half and has gone from 2.7 million in 2020 to a staggering 6.7 million in 2022.

However, people are still encouraged to research electric bike legality in NYC before paying a hefty price to buy an e-bike just so that their investment does not go to waste.

This is important because while electric bikes are legal in NYC, not every electric bike will be permitted to go on public property.

If you live in NYC or plan to move there, it is essential to know that only class 1 and 2 electric bikes are permitted in the city. There are reasons for this, of course, which we will get into later on in this article.

If you have a high-speed class 3 electric bike, you will only have the option to ride it on private grounds; otherwise, you will be fined, and the authorities may confiscate your electric bike.

But what are electric bike classes, and why is not the use of all e-bike classes legal in all cities and countries?

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Continue reading below to learn more about electric bike classes, what every class is capable of, and why class 3 electric bikes cannot be used publicly in NYC.

Moreover, the article also sheds light on what one can do if they have already paid for a class 3 electric bike.

Let’s get started!

Read Can You Ride an Electric Bike on the Sidewalk?

What Are Electric Bike Classes?

When a person plans to buy a four-wheeled vehicle, they have options between buying a standard sedan, a high-power SUV, or a high-performance sports car.

Similarly, when you buy an electric bike, you need to select different kinds of electric bike types.

All electric bikes are divided into three classes or categories based on their design mechanisms, abilities, and intended uses.

The electric bike class one selects will depend on the rider’s preference, budget, electric bike riding experience, and the laws of their region of stay.

Class 1 Electric Bike

Class 1 or pedal-assist electric bikes are the most common types of electric bikes found all around the world. These are relatively cheaper than other electric bikes and rentable in many countries.

The pedal-assist electric bike faces the least legal restrictions due to its safety mechanism and design. People who wish to ride an electric bike for the first time are usually advised to initially start riding a pedal-assist electric bike.

As the name suggests, the pedal-assist electric bike is designed to offer motorized electrical assistance to a rider’s pedaling motion.

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As soon as the rider stops pedaling their electric bike, the motor will turn off automatically. No more electrical assistance will be offered to keep the electric bike in motion. As a result, the e-bike will come to a halt.

Hence, the pedal-assist electric bike depends on the rider’s pedaling and will only perform if the rider continues to pedal the bike. This is how the mechanism of class 1 electric bike works:

  • As the rider pedals the electric bike, the motion sensors built into the bike detect this pedaling motion and pass the signals to the electric motor.
  • On receiving the signals, the motor is triggered to turn on automatically.
  • The motor starts its function by discharging the electric battery of its stored chemical energy and converting it into kinetic energy and heat.
  • The e-bike energy transmitters transfer the kinetic energy to the electric bike’s tires, and, as a result, the rider’s pedaling is assisted by the punch of additional kinetic energy.

All class 1 pedal-assist electric bikes come with two to three modes of pedal assistance. Some electric bikes allow the rider to choose their preferred mode of pedal assistance through the touch screen or by switching the gears on the e-bike’s handlebar.

At the lowest mode of pedal assistance, the rider has to do most of the work to keep the electric bike in motion, and the motor offers only minimal assistance.

On the contrary, in the highest mode of pedal assistance, the motor assists the rider’s pedaling by offering the highest amount of kinetic energy.

This allows the electric bike to reach its highest speed while requiring minimal pedaling from the rider.

Most class 1 electric bikes come with 250-Watt or 500-Watt motors, which allow the e-bikes to travel at a top speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour, which is within the permitted riding speed in NYC. 

Class 2 Electric Bike

A class 2 or a pedal-free throttle electric bikes are relatively more expensive and bulkier than class 1 e-bikes.

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Although pedals are present on class 2 electric bikes, the e-bike’s mobility does not depend on the rider’s pedaling.

Instead, the rider can either pedal the electric bike like a class 1 e-bike or ride it like an electric motorcycle without pedaling.

This is how the mechanism of class 2 electric bike works:

  • The rider has to turn on a switch, pull a plug or a lever, or press a button on the LCD screen to turn on the electric bike’s motor.
  • As the motor is turned on, it uses the battery’s stored chemical energy to make kinetic energy, which is then passed to the tires via the energy transmitters.
  • If riders wish to save battery charge, they can pedal the electric bike.
  • However, if the rider wants to ride at higher speeds without physically pedaling the electric bike, they can switch to a higher mode of pedal assistance and enjoy an effortless e-bike ride.

Most class 2 electric bikes come with a 500-Watt to 750-Watt motor, which allows them to go at a top speed of 20 to 28 miles per hour.

Although the speed limit for an electric bike in NYC is 20 miles per hour, electric bikes with top speeds of 30 miles per hour are permitted to be used as long as the rider respects and follow the 20-mph speed limit.

Class 3 Electric Bikes

All pedal-assist and pedal-free throttle electric bikes with a high-powered motor are categorized under Class 3 electric bikes.

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These electric bikes are highly expensive, heavy, and have motor sizes between 1000-Watt to 3000-Watts. This means they can output far more power than class 1 and class 2 electric bikes.

Hence, the class 3 electric bikes usually have top speeds between 33 to 50 miles per hour due to the powerful motor. As a result, the use of class 3 electric bikes in NYC is a punishable offense.

Read Are Electric Bikes Allowed on Bike Paths?

Why is the Class 3 Electric Bike Illegal in New York City?

As mentioned above, NYC has laws permitting the use of electric bikes with a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, while the maximum speed limit is 20 miles per hour.

As a result, people who have spent a fortune on their class 3 electric bikes usually complain about the strict regional laws and regulations.

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However, the governing body for NYC has multiple justifiable reasons for placing a ban on the use of class 3 electric bikes. Some of these reasons are as follows:

  • Class 3 electric bikes have huge motors which allow them interrupted motion and extremely high speeds. While some people love the thrill of riding such a high-speed e-bike, the potential dangers of this choice cannot be ignored.
  • Not all riders can handle such high speeds. If a rider makes the mistake of riding a class 3 electric bike at high speed without prior practice, an accident can be fatal.
  • Even if the rider is used to riding at high speeds, this does not eliminate the chances of accidents and road crashes.
  • As a matter of fact, there have been three electric bike accident deaths in NYC in 2021 alone.
  • The class 3 electric bikes can be extremely heavy. Even if a person is used to riding fast, balancing a heavy vehicle while going at high speeds is a whole new challenge.
  • Moreover, the rider is not the only person at risk. Instead, the class 3 electric bike threatens other riders, pedestrians, vehicles, animals, etc., on the road.

Hence, for these reasons, using a class 3 electric bike in a busy and highly populated place like NYC is illegal.

What Type of Electric Vehicles are Permitted for Usage in New York City?

According to the recent EV laws, riding the following vehicles is permitted in NYC:

  • Class 1 and class 2 electric bikes
  • Electric scooters
  • Low-powered electric motorbikes
  • Converted electric bikes (as long as the speed limits are being followed)
  • Mopeds

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What Type of Electric Vehicles are Permitted for Usage in New York City?

As per the recent laws, riding the following vehicles is prohibited in NYC:

  • Class 3 electric bikes
  • Electric ATVs
  • Electric dirt bikes
  • Converted electric bikes that conceal the bike’s true speed and can be deceptive to the system.

How to Ride an Electric Bike More Safely?

  • Always follow your regional laws and ride within the legal speed limit.
  • Check the regional speed limit riding laws on your electric bike when traveling to a new city.
  • Always wear a high-quality helmet and proper riding gear when riding any electric bike.
  • Follow the traffic rules to eliminate the chances of an accident and to keep others on the road safe.
  • Keep the lights on and wear reflective riding gear when riding the electric bike at night.
  • Refrain from riding your electric bike at high speeds when the road is wet and slippery.
  • Refrain from always riding the electric bike at high speeds.
  • Practice riding your electric bike at low speeds and gradually move up to high modes of electrical assistance.
Is Riding an Electric Bike Legal in New York City
Is Riding an Electric Bike Legal in New York City

Final Thoughts

An electric bike can be a fantastic luxury if you are always on the go. When you ride an electric bike, you save yourself from the expenses of filling gas, and also do your part to protect the environment.

Whether you need to ride to work, school, the mall, or by the sea, an electric bike can offer you a gentle yet effective cardio workout while allowing you to reach your distance on time.

Always check the regional laws before purchasing an electric bike to avoid any problems later.

However, if you live in NYC and you have already invested in a class 3 electric bike, you can do the following:

  • Consider selling the class 3 electric bike and buy a class 1 or 2 e-bike instead.
  • Ride your class 3 electric bike on private property if you have enough space.
  • Move to another city where the regional e-bike riding laws are less strict.
  • Take a vacation to another state or country with lenient riding laws and enjoy a high-speed e-bike ride while you are there.

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