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  1. #1
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    California laws on ebikes

    Different states have different laws on electric bicycles. Sine I'm in San Diego, I was interested in California's.

    Interestingly, I found two different definitions of motorized bicycles, one right after the other in the Calif Motor Vehicle Code (quoted below).

    Definition (a) says it's a bike with a motor, that can't go faster than 30mph on level ground under its own power. Definition (b) says it's a bike with pedals and an electric motor that can't go faster than 20mph, even if you help it by pedaling. (See the exact law, quoted below)

    Strange to have two different definitions in the same law.

    So, can I legally ride my ebike in California?

    It has a 1000W electric motor, so seems to fit that part of Definition (b)... but, of course, its top speed is about 30mph, so doesn't meet all of definition (b) after all.

    How about Definition (a)? That seems to say that, if the bike has an electric motor, it must have NO pedals! It also seems to require an "automatic transmission". Well, my ebike doesn't have a clutch. In fact, it's direct drive, with only one "speed" (one gear ratio, 1:1). Can you get any more "automatic" than that?

    Definition (a) also says the motor must produce no more than 2 Brake Horsepower. Since 1 horsepower = 745 Watts, my 1000W hubmotor is basically a 1.3 horsepower motor. It fits!

    Finally, under definition (a) it can have a max speed up up to 30mph. Mine topped out at 29mph yesterday during my full-throttle test runs with a fully-charged battery

    Sounds to me like, if I unscrew the pedals on my ebike, it becomes legal to ride in California!

    Anything blatant I'm missing here? (There must be, this seems too good to be true.)

    ----------------------------------------

    Found at the Calif. government website:

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d01/vc406.htm

    Motorized Bicycle

    406. (a) A "motorized bicycle" or "moped" is any two-wheeled or three-wheeled device having fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, or having no pedals if powered solely by electrical energy, and an automatic transmission and a motor which produces less than 2 gross brake horsepower and is capable of propelling the device at a maximum speed of not more than 30 miles per hour on level ground.

    (b) A "motorized bicycle" is also a device that has fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power and has an electric motor that meets all of the following requirements:

    (1) Has a power output of not more than 1,000 watts.

    (2) Is incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour on ground level.

    (3) Is incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power is used to propel the motorized bicycle faster than 20 miles per hour.

    (4) Every manufacturer of motorized bicycles, as defined in this subdivision, shall provide a disclosure to buyers that advises buyers that their existing insurance policies may not provide coverage for these bicycles and that they should contact their insurance company or insurance agent to determine if coverage is provided.

    (c) The disclosure required under paragraph (4) of subdivision (b) shall meet both of the following requirements:

    (1) The disclosure shall be printed in not less than 14-point boldface type on a single sheet of paper that contains no information other than the disclosure.

    (2) The disclosure shall include the following language in capital letters:

    "YOUR INSURANCE POLICIES MAY NOT PROVIDE COVERAGE FOR ACCIDENTS INVOLVING THE USE OF THIS BICYCLE. TO DETERMINE IF COVERAGE IS PROVIDED YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY OR AGENT."

    Amended Sec. 1, Ch. 804, Stats. 1995. Effective January 1, 1996. Supersedes Sec. 2, Ch. 342.
    '72 Schwinn Sports Tourer, original except for seat and 116psi tires
    48V 1000W black unbanded rear hubmotor kit from YXM Corp, 48V 20Ah LiFePO4 batt
    '79 Schwinn Twinn Sport 10sp tandem, 47#, now 14-speed with 12/34, aero wheels
    '07 Trek 7700 hybrid, 27sp, 20" frame, Conti UltraSport 700Cx28 116# tires, sweet
    '04 Trek 7500 hybrid, 17.5" frame, soon to be 48V 1000W rear-hubmotor electric bike

  2. #2
    Senior Member nwmtnbkr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little-Acorn View Post
    Different states have different laws on electric bicycles. Sine I'm in San Diego, I was interested in California's.

    Interestingly, I found two different definitions of motorized bicycles, one right after the other in the Calif Motor Vehicle Code (quoted below).

    Definition (a) says it's a bike with a motor, that can't go faster than 30mph on level ground under its own power. Definition (b) says it's a bike with pedals and an electric motor that can't go faster than 20mph, even if you help it by pedaling. (See the exact law, quoted below)

    Strange to have two different definitions in the same law.

    So, can I legally ride my ebike in California?

    It has a 1000W electric motor, so seems to fit that part of Definition (b)... but, of course, its top speed is about 30mph, so doesn't meet all of definition (b) after all.

    How about Definition (a)? That seems to say that, if the bike has an electric motor, it must have NO pedals! It also seems to require an "automatic transmission". Well, my ebike doesn't have a clutch. In fact, it's direct drive, with only one "speed" (one gear ratio, 1:1). Can you get any more "automatic" than that?

    Definition (a) also says the motor must produce no more than 2 Brake Horsepower. Since 1 horsepower = 745 Watts, my 1000W hubmotor is basically a 1.3 horsepower motor. It fits!

    Finally, under definition (a) it can have a max speed up up to 30mph. Mine topped out at 29mph yesterday during my full-throttle test runs with a fully-charged battery

    Sounds to me like, if I unscrew the pedals on my ebike, it becomes legal to ride in California!

    Anything blatant I'm missing here? (There must be, this seems too good to be true.)

    ----------------------------------------

    Found at the Calif. government website:
    Section 406 needs to be read in conjunction with section 24016, which only exempts those motorized bicycles described in 406(b), i.e., top speed is 20 MPH or less, from complying with Vehicle Code requirements pertaining to financial responsibility, registration and insurance. Your bike seems to fall within section 406(a) so you may be compelled to be properly licensed and insured. (Specifically, 24016(b) provides : All of the following apply to a motorized bicycle described in subdivision (b) of Section 406. . " and 24016(b)(3) provides: "A person operating a motorized bicycle is not subject to the provisions of this code relating to financial responsibility, driver's licenses, registration, and license plate requirements, and a motorized bicycle is not a motor vehicle. . .")
    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d12/vc24016.htm

  3. #3
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    Good catch, nwmtnbkr. Sounds like that's exactly the case. I knew it was too good to be true.

    Hmmm... wonder what it takes to register this critter. Do I have to call it a "motorcycle"? Turn signals, windshield, DOT tires? Can I get a motorcycle rider's license by riding it before the inspector? What will Geico say about it? etc. etc.

    So much fun when the gummint gets involved......
    '72 Schwinn Sports Tourer, original except for seat and 116psi tires
    48V 1000W black unbanded rear hubmotor kit from YXM Corp, 48V 20Ah LiFePO4 batt
    '79 Schwinn Twinn Sport 10sp tandem, 47#, now 14-speed with 12/34, aero wheels
    '07 Trek 7700 hybrid, 27sp, 20" frame, Conti UltraSport 700Cx28 116# tires, sweet
    '04 Trek 7500 hybrid, 17.5" frame, soon to be 48V 1000W rear-hubmotor electric bike

  4. #4
    Senior Member nwmtnbkr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little-Acorn View Post
    Good catch, nwmtnbkr. Sounds like that's exactly the case. I knew it was too good to be true.

    Hmmm... wonder what it takes to register this critter. Do I have to call it a "motorcycle"? Turn signals, windshield, DOT tires? Can I get a motorcycle rider's license by riding it before the inspector? What will Geico say about it? etc. etc.

    So much fun when the gummint gets involved......
    It looks to be a fairly painless, one-time registration fee of $18 and you have to have an M2 license. If insurance is required, you may have a bigger hassle with your insurance company if they ask what brand your "moped" is and you have to explain that you modified a bicycle.

    From the DMV's website:

    Mopeds

    * A "motorized bicycle" or "moped" is any two-wheeled or three-wheeled device having fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, or having no pedals if powered solely by electrical energy). CVC Sec. 406(s) 406 (b)
    * A Motorized Bicycle is issued special license plates and identification cards, which require a one-time $18 fee. No renewal required. (M2) moped/scooter only license or an M1

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/motorcycles/motorcycles.htm

  5. #5
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    Sure enough, nwmtnbkr. Sounds like I need to take this little beastie to Calif DMV and ask them what I need. I gather they will tell me to pay $18, thank you sir and here's your Moped plate and ID card. No inspection of the bike needed (I think). By the way, sir, you do have a moped driver's license, don't you? What, you don't? Well, step over here and take this written test.

    An M2 license is for powered bicycles and scooters. An M1 is a full-fledged motorcycle license, for the Hondas, Harleys etc. Calif DMV puts out a booklet for them - both kinds are dealt with in the same book. Actually the book is mostly for full-fledged motorcycles, I think they added in the moped/scooter stuff later. It can be found at:

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl655/dl665mcycle.pdf

    So, it looks like 30mph ebikes ARE legal in California, if you register them ($18, no special equipment or tires needed). And you need a Moped license to ride them, again pretty painless (written test and road test, which means slaloming thru some cones slowly, riding in a circle, and riding in a straight line). I'm going to call my Geico guy and find out how painless the insurance part is, and whether Calif requires insurance on a 30mph ebike.

    For ebikes that can only go 20mph, nothing at all is needed. No permits, no plates, no license, no slaloms or circles, no insurance.

    Situation isn't perfect, but it sounds manageable.

    Thanx for the pointers and help, nwmtnbkr!

    P.S. The booklet I referenced here, says that a 30mph ebike is legal WITH OR WITHOUT PEDALS. I was wondering about that.
    Last edited by Little-Acorn; 12-31-09 at 09:05 PM.
    '72 Schwinn Sports Tourer, original except for seat and 116psi tires
    48V 1000W black unbanded rear hubmotor kit from YXM Corp, 48V 20Ah LiFePO4 batt
    '79 Schwinn Twinn Sport 10sp tandem, 47#, now 14-speed with 12/34, aero wheels
    '07 Trek 7700 hybrid, 27sp, 20" frame, Conti UltraSport 700Cx28 116# tires, sweet
    '04 Trek 7500 hybrid, 17.5" frame, soon to be 48V 1000W rear-hubmotor electric bike

  6. #6
    Senior Member nwmtnbkr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Little-Acorn View Post
    Sure enough, nwmtnbkr. Sounds like I need to take this little beastie to Calif DMV and ask them what I need. I gather they will tell me to pay $18, thank you sir and here's your Moped plate and ID card. No inspection of the bike needed (I think). By the way, sir, you do have a moped driver's license, don't you? What, you don't? Well, step over here and take this written test.

    An M2 license is for powered bicycles and scooters. An M1 is a full-fledged motorcycle license, for the Hondas, Harleys etc. Calif DMV puts out a booklet for them - both kinds are dealt with in the same book. Actually the book is mostly for full-fledged motorcycles, I think they added in the moped/scooter stuff later. It can be found at:

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl655/dl665mcycle.pdf

    So, it looks like 30mph ebikes ARE legal in California, if you register them ($18, no special equipment or tires needed). And you need a Moped license to ride them, again pretty painless (written test and road test, which means slaloming thru some cones slowly, riding in a circle, and riding in a straight line). I'm going to call my Geico guy and find out how painless the insurance part is, and whether Calif requires insurance on a 30mph ebike.

    For ebikes that can only go 20mph, nothing at all is needed. No permits, no plates, no license, no slaloms or circles, no insurance.

    Situation isn't perfect, but it sounds manageable.

    Thanx for the pointers and help, nwmtnbkr!

    P.S. The booklet I referenced here, says that a 30mph ebike is legal WITH OR WITHOUT PEDALS. I was wondering about that.
    I had read in the past about some riding e-bikes that look like scooters that did not have pedals being stopped by police, who thought the lack of pedal meant the vehicle had to be classified as a motorcycle. Perhaps that's why the California legislature stuck in the reference to no pedals. You're right that there's no inspection requirement for mopeds. It will interesting to see if your insurance company is reasonable to deal with and whether they demand you add signals, horn, etc. If so, it's not hard or expensive to do. I was concerned about drivers not understanding hand signals and added inexpensive LED strobes (about $7.00 a pair with free shipping--I got 2 so I can have 1 set in front and 1 in back). They run off 1 9V battery and I use a center off toggle mounted on the handlebars to control them. I also added a red LED strip in the back as a brake light, it's triggered by a micro lever switch attached to the rear brake cable (it runs off a separate 9V battery). I also added an Airzound air horn. I've got 2 Magic Shine lightheads on the handlebars and a bright blinkie in the rear. Good luck. Let us know what the insurance company says.

  7. #7
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    I'm also interested in how you come out with the insurance companys. My Townie will do 36 mph and I'm always afraid I'll get a ticket some day.

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