In 2015, the California Bicycle Coalition sponsored AB 1096 (Chiu) to clarify the definition of electric motor-assisted bicycles (e-bikes) and update the regulations to treat certain low-speed electric bicycles more like regular bicycles, and provide their users with the same health and access benefits that users of bicycles enjoy.
Status: AB 1096 was signed by the Governor and is now law.
Fact Sheets: The following fact sheets were prepared by our partners People for Bikes. Just click on each to download.
In 2002, federal law was amended to distinguish bicycles with low-speed and low-power electric motors from motorcycles, mopeds, and motor vehicles. These modern electric motor-assisted bicycles, or electric bikes, are designed to behave almost exactly like a regular bicycle — just easier to pedal. Unfortunately, however, in California these bikes are still regulated as “motorized bicycles” with restrictions that bar their use on most bicycle paths. Ambiguous language in the description of electric bikes creates confusion for manufacturers and consumers in this fast-growing market.
Electric bikes are quickly becoming the “vehicle of choice” for thousands of Californians who are discovering the health benefits of bicycling while helping to reduce the environmental impact of our state’s transportation system. Electric bikes benefit people new to cycling who may be discouraged from riding a traditional bicycle due to limited physical fitness, age, disability or convenience. They are often a “gateway” to fully self-propelled bicycling. Electric bikes are especially important for senior citizens, parents with children, people with disabilities, and people whose trips involve steep hills or whose work commutes are within the 5-20 mile range and who traditionally drive.Electric bikes use green battery technology and would be an important addition to California’s growing energy-efficient transportation system. These quiet and low-speed transportation devices also benefit small business owners by providing a cost-effective alternative to cars and trucks when used for equipment transport and deliveries.
CalBike’s Development Director Jenn Guitart’s family gets around on the Yuba Spicy Curry, an electric cargo bike. (Photo credit: Jenn Guitart)
For more information on the growth of e-bikes as a transportation solution, see this People for Bikes article.
What AB 1096 Accomplished
AB 1096 clarified the definition of electric motor-assisted bicycles by defining three specific classes of e-bikes: bikes with a top assisted speed of 20 mph that must be pedaled to operate; those with a top assisted speed of 20 mph that can be operated without pedaling; and bikes with a top assisted speed of 28 mph. By regulating these bikes differently than mopeds, AB 1096 enables a reexamination of the access restrictions imposed on users of these bikes in order to permit more access to bicycle paths, where appropriate and safe. By eliminating ambiguity in the regulations, AB 1096 abets the fast-growing electric bike industry in California, where the headquarters of the largest national companies are located. Clarifying the definition of and updating the regulations around low-speed electric bicycles is critical to the expansion of their use by Californians, and therefore important to our goals of enabling more bicycling for the health, safety, and prosperity of all Californians.