E-bikes in New Jersey

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are growing in popularity around the globe. They allow riders to travel farther with less effort than a traditional bicycle, making them ideal for commuters worried about looking unpresentable, riders with mobility issues that make traditional cycling impossible or daunting, and delivery workers with long shifts.[i] Using e-bikes for trips usually made by car can decrease emissions of greenhouse gases and particulate matter; they fit in with national efforts to live greener and healthier lives.[ii] In China alone, there are at least 200 million e-bikes on the road. Why are they slow to catch on in the United States? It may have to do with our legislation and regulations, which have been slow to adapt to changing technologies.

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An electric bicycle. Photo source: Instagram user @wohnblogat

What are e-bikes?

E-bikes generally come in two forms: throttle and pedal assist. On a throttle bike, you can engage the throttle to propel forward by the motor. Pedal assist bikes give you extra power while you’re already pedaling. There are also e-bikes which are equipped with both. The presence of motors creates a question about where e-bikes fall on the motor vehicle spectrum. This causes confusion between e-bike riders, law enforcement, and the motor vehicle commission over such matters as the need for a license, insurance, registration, etc.

What are the laws in New Jersey?

As part of the Consumer Product Safety Act, Public Law 107-319 makes e-bikes legal to purchase and sell in the United States. Under this federal law, a low-speed electric bicycle must have fully operable pedals, an electric motor with less than 750 watts (equivalent to 1 horsepower), with a maximum speed of 20mph when ridden by a 170-pound person on a level surface. The e-bike can have two or three wheels.[iii] Any e-bike fitting this description is subject to the same federal regulations as a traditional bicycle. This law supersedes any more stringent state laws.

In New Jersey, e-bikes fall under the definition of motorized bicycles: a pedal bicycle with a motor with cylinder capacity of less than 50 CC, or a motor with no more than 1.5 brake horsepower, or is powered by an electric drive motor, and cannot be capable of more than 25mph on a flat surface.[iv] Laws regulating motorized bicycles are found in Title 39:4-14.3. Title 39:4-14.3j states that motorized bicycles must be titled and registered with the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC).

In order to be registered with the MVC, an e-bike needs to have a cubic-inch displacement of at least 50CC’s. Motors on e-bikes do not have any cubic-inch displacement, so they cannot be registered.[v] Additionally, New Jersey’s regulations are more stringent than the Consumer Project Safety Act, so they can potentially be nullified. These issues leave e-bikes in a gray area: they are legal to buy, but illegal to ride due to this gap between the law and the registration process, and it is unclear if they should need to be registered.

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Electric bicycles can look just like a regular one. Photo source: Zweirad-Industrie-Verband e.V.

In 2010, NJ Bill A2581 was introduced to the state legislature in an attempt to close this gap. The bill would make e-bikes legal to ride on roadways and bicycle paths, but the operator would need to be aged 15 or older and to have passed a low-speed electric bicycle license exam. The bill defined low-speed electric bicycle similarly to the federal definition, with specifications that the bike must have two wheels and the motor must weigh less than 100 pounds.[vi] A2581 was not enacted. Later that year, Title 39:1-1’s definition of motorized bicycle was adapted to include the phrase “or is powered by an electric drive motor,” making it encompass e-bikes.[vii] This language didn’t quite clear things up, and in 2013, Bill S2942 attempted to make the same clarifications as A2581, but it was not passed either.[viii]

So what will happen if I get an e-bike?

In Ocean City, Denise Baj rides an e-bike with a maximum speed of 20mph as her primary mode of transportation. She has been issued nine tickets and has been to court three times (as of 2012) for driving an unregistered vehicle. The MVC would not register the vehicle because they considered it a bicycle.[ix]

Meanwhile, the Town of Morristown the Township of Verona have recognized electric bike sellers, Marty’s Reliable Cycle and Electric Spokes Company, respectively, for their contributions to creating a more sustainable New Jersey.[x] [xi] Electric bicycle sellers’ recognition in response to their contributions to cleaner transportation in the state, despite e-bikes being illegal to ride, makes it clear that the e-bikes are not illegal due to an issue with their use or purpose, but due to murky wording that can be changed.

How can this be solved?

Some states have already passed legislation clarifying e-bikes’ place on the road. PeopleForBikes and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA) are leading the charge to clarify state laws regarding the use of e-bikes. The BPSA developed a three-tier system for defining e-bikes: class one defines low-speed pedal assist bikes, class two defines low-speed throttle bikes, and class three defines speed pedal assist bikes, which go up to 28mph and have a speedometer.[xii]

In October 2015, California passed Assembly Bill No. 1096 utilizing these classifications. It requires labels on each bike describing its top assisted speed, motor wattage, and classification number. It states that operators are not subject to a driver’s license, registration, license plate requirements, and financial responsibility.[xiii] Class three bicycles are subject to some additional requirements: the operator must be at least 16 years of age, the operator must wear a helmet, and a class three electric bicycle is prohibited on specified trails and paths. The clear-cut definitions and minimal restrictions on class one and class two e-bikes are great examples for other states to follow when updating their legislation.


*This article was written by BPRC staff and not written by an attorney, and the accuracy of the content is not warranted or guaranteed, nor is it endorsed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. If you wish to receive legal advice about a specific problem, you should contact a licensed attorney in New Jersey.


[i] Timmons, Heather. 2013. “Consider the e-bike: Can 200 million Chinese be wrong?”. Retrieved from http://qz.com/137518/consumers-the-world-over-love-electric-bikes-so-why-do-us-lawmakers-hate-them/.

[ii] GoPedelec! Manual. 2012. Go Pedelec Project Consortium. Retrieved from http://www.gopedelec.eu/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=226.

[iii] Consumer Product Safety Act. Pub. Law No. 107-319. 2002. Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ319/pdf/PLAW-107publ319.pdf.

[iv] N.J.S.A. Title 39 § 39:1-1. Retrieved from http://lis.njleg.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/om_isapi.dll?clientID=117095138&Depth=2&depth=2&expandheadings=on&headingswithhits=on&hitsperheading=on&infobase=statutes.nfo&record={ECE4}&softpage=Doc_Frame_PG42.

[v] Mulshine, Paul. 2013. “When it comes to e-bikes, the Trenton crowd is preserving bureaucracy, not energy”. Retrieved from http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/11/when_it_comes_to_e-bikes_the_t.html.

[vi] A. 2581. 2010. 214th Legislature. Retrieved from http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/A3000/2581_I1.HTM.

[vii] N.J.A.C. 13:25 Amendment. 2010. Retrieved from http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/About/rule-10-04-2010.pdf.

[viii] A. 2942. 2013. 215th Legislature. Retrieved from ftp://www.njleg.state.nj.us/20122013/S3000/2942_I1.HTM.

[ix] Degener, Richard. 2012. “Ocean City woman will fight again for electric bike”. Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved from http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/cape_may/ocean-city-woman-will-fight-again-for-electric-bike/article_652715a6-6a6a-11e1-9225-001871e3ce6c.html.

[x] 2016. “Verona recognizes two local businesses for their sustainable practices”. Tapinto Verona. Retrieved from https://www.tapinto.net/towns/verona-slash-cedar-grove/articles/verona-recognizes-two-local-businesses-for-their.

[xi] “Morristown’s Gran Fondo NJ recognized for sustainability”. Green Morristown. Retrieved from http://morristowngreen.com/2014/12/18/morristowns-gran-fondo-nj-recognized-for-sustainability/.

[xii] “Electric Bicycle Law Basics”. PeopleforBikes. Retrieved from http://www.peopleforbikes.org/page/-/uploads/E-Bike%20Law%20Primer%20v3%20(1).pdf.

[xiii] AB. 1096. 2015. Retrieved from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1096.

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