You have probably seen electric bicycles around California communities, and maybe even own one yourself. Electric bikes have gained significant popularity over the last several decades. They make it easier to navigate steep inclines and other obstacles while having no more negative impact on the environment than traditional bicycles.
While applying the existing Vehicle Code to e-bikes was initially difficult, as of 2015 there have been amendments to clarify the definition of an electric bicycle as opposed to a motorized bicycle. The amendments to the law defined three classes of electric bicycles. They also required distributors and manufacturers to communicate information about each bike’s class, top speed, etc. with a permanently affixed label in a prominent location on its body. It is important to know the class any electric bicycle you intend to ride because restrictions apply to some but not others.
Uniquely among the three classes, a class 3 electric bicycle has a speedometer. It reaches a top speed of 28 miles per hour. Prior to that point, the motor provides assistance when you are pedaling, but not otherwise. If you ride a class 3 e-bike, you must wear a helmet and cannot be under 16 years of age.
The low-speed throttle assist of the class 2 electric bicycle can propel the vehicle on its own, without the need for you to pedal. A class 2 e-bike reaches a top speed of 20 miles per hour, after which point the throttle disengages.
A class 1 electric bicycle has a pedal-assist similar to a class 3 e-bike, but the top speed of a class 1 e-bike is only 20 miles per hour. Upon obtaining this speed, the motor no longer provides assistance as you pedal.