E-bikes are most frequently “pedal-assist” or “muscle-assist,” meaning the rider must be pedaling for the electric motor to engage. E-bikes may also come equipped with a throttle that allows the bike to be propelled without pedaling.
The bicycle’s low-speed electric motor provides a boost of power to climb hills, extend the range of trips where a bicycle can be used, allow current bicycle users to bike more often and farther, provide a new recreation option for people who want to bike and in general, extend the range of any ride.
Low-speed e-bikes are as safe and sturdy as traditional bicycles and move at speeds similar to conventional bikes. E-bikes are emissions-free, low impact and operate silently. E-bikes vary widely in terms of shape and size, but the different types closely align with those of regular bicycles. E-bikes resemble traditional bicycles in both appearance and operation and do not function similarly to mopeds, scooters and other motorized vehicles.
According to a 2018 bicycle industry analysis, e-bikes sales increased 83 percent between May of 2017 and May of 2018, and e-bikes made up 10 percent of overall bikes sales in the U.S. for that time period. While the Asian and European e-bike markets are more robust, industry advocates hope to continue to expand U.S. e-bike sales.. Most major U.S. bicycle brands sell e-bikes, and bicycle manufacturers have moved or are positioning themselves to move to the U.S. to capitalize on the growing market.
Electric bicycles cost on average $2,000 - $3,000, versus a $1,000 average investment for a mid-range traditional commuter bicycle. An investment in an electric bicycle is appealing to those who are looking to replace short trips typically made by car, therefore the investment can be justified if the buyer factors in the reduced cost of car maintenance and fuel.
Reasons for purchasing an e-bike vary, with some looking for a cheap commuting mode and others looking for a less physically demanding bicycle option or help bicycling through hilly areas. E-bikes may also provide a more attractive and feasible choice to take short trips. According to U.S. Department of Transportation survey data, half of all trips in the U.S. are three miles or less in length, a distance widely regarded as bikeable for most adults and even more feasible for electric bicycle riders. Seventy-two percent of those trips are currently made by cars and fewer than 2 percent by bicycle. E-bikes also provide a new transportation and recreation option for people with disabilities and those with physical limitations.
At least 25 states and D.C. have some sort of helmet requirement for e-bike riders and passengers. These often apply to riders under a certain age.
- . Connecticut has the strictest requirement, requiring operators and passengers for all classes of e-bikes to wear protective headgear.
- . Florida, Maine and Maryland require any e-bike operator or passenger under 16 years of age to wear a helmet, while New Jersey requires any e-bike operator or passenger under 17 to wear a helmet and New York requires any e-bike operator or passenger under 14 to wear a helmet. Moreover, Delaware requires any e-bike operator or passenger under 18 to wear a helmet.
- . California, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia require the operator and all passengers of class three electric bicycles, regardless of age, to wear protective headgear.
- . Arkansas requires operators and passengers of a class three e-bike under age 21 to wear protective headgear.
- . Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah require helmets for those under age 18 operating or riding on a class three e-bike. Additionally, in South Dakota, any passenger on a class three e-bike, regardless of age, must wear a helmet.
However, 25 states do not have helmet requirements for any class of e-bike. Of which, at least eight, including Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, have enacted specific e-bike laws without such requirements.
Twenty-two states and D.C. have helmet laws that apply to all bicyclists, including e-bike riders, under a certain age, ranging from under 12 to 18 years of age.
- . Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and D.C. require riders under age 16 to wear a helmet.
- . In California, Delaware and New Mexico, riders under 18 must wear a helmet.
- . In New Jersey, riders under 17 must wear a helmet. In West Virginia, riders under 15 must wear a helmet and, in New York, riders under 14 must wear a helmet. In Louisiana and Pennsylvania, riders under 12 must wear a helmet.