Written by Chris Dolan
This week’s question comes from Lawrence from Marin County, CA, who asks: I have seen kids (ages 12-15) ride e-bikes resembling motorcycles. Some kids wear full-face helmets, while others wear regular helmets. I’m no stranger to riding motorcycles with full gear, but I have concerns when I see e-bikes on the sidewalk, local parking lots, bike paths, and fire roads. These kids have good handling skills doing wheelies on the sidewalk. Seems dangerous to me. Are these e-bikes considered bicycles? How are they classified? Do you need a license to operate one? They can travel at high speeds. I have concerns that someone will be seriously injured, both the rider and pedestrians.
You are not alone. Many people, especially sidewalk pedestrians, have safety concerns. We should briefly touch on what e-bikes are and how they are classified. Another problem is that the next wave of electric vehicles is approaching fast, and we are now seeing what appear to be electric motorcycles zooming past the e-bikes.
An electric bicycle (e-bike) is a bicycle with an electric motor that assists in the propulsion of the bike instead of being propelled solely by the pedaling of its rider, as with a traditional bicycle. In California, e-bikes’ motor must be less than 750 watts. This rule may sound familiar, as we have previously discussed the e-bike classifications on our blog. Right now, let’s focus on this new wave of electric motorcycles and talk about why they are not e-bikes according to the laws in California.
There are several other classifications of bicycles in California, and this new wave of electric motorbikes will likely fall into one of these classifications. The difference between these below classifications is the type of license needed and how fast the vehicles can be.
California licenses have three important endorsements: M-1, M-2, and Class C.
- An M-1 endorsement allows a licensed driver to operate any two-wheel motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized scooter and all vehicles listed under Class M2;
- An M-2 endorsement allows a licensed driver to operate any motorized bicycle, moped, or motorized scooter. These are the slower of the motorized bikes;
- Class C licensees, a standard driver’s license, may only operate a motorbike if it has a sidecar attached, is three-wheeled, or is a motorized scooter.
Knowing these three classifications informs us already that the riders of these motorized bikes should have a license. If they don’t, they could risk legal trouble or hurt others due to the lack of necessary precautions and training.
California Vehicle Code § 406(a) defines a motorized bicycle and moped as any two or three-wheeled device with fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power or no pedals if powered solely by electrical energy. Further, a motorized bicycle has an automatic transmission, a motor (electric or not) with some restrictions on horsepower. It can propel the device at a maximum speed of not more than 30 miles per hour on level ground. A valid driver’s license with at least an M-2 endorsement is required for a motorized bicycle like this.
California Vehicle Code § 405 sets forth yet another classification of bikes: Motor-Driven Cycle. These have a motor of less than 150cc. These are one step above the motorized bicycles and require an M-1 endorsement to ride. This is the same endorsement required for a standard motorcycle.
California Vehicle Code § 400 defines a motorcycle and it is important to know that these vehicles have more than 150cc of power in their engine. An M-1 endorsement is required to ride a motorcycle.
As a society, we have built a world of cars, trucks, and other massive, metal, high-speed tools that can devastate, injure, and kill at a moment’s notice. This devastation is amplified when someone is riding on an unprotected, two-wheeled, hard-to-see machine. These new motorized bikes are not “e-bikes” and certainly not bicycles. At Dolan Law Firm, we see this devastation and its impact on many lives. Even the most careful riders can be impacted by motorized vehicles’ dangers. It is very important to recognize why these bike classifications exist and why license endorsements are a requirement to ride motorized bikes.