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How Fast Will it Go? A Comprehensive Discussion of E-Bikes

A common question that our guests have is "how fast do they go?" E-biking is growing in popularity and unlike when the industry was new, the e-bike community is comprised of riders from all age groups. Your reasons for wanting an e-bike are as unique as you are. And some of you are interested in going fast. (Full disclosure, the fastest I tend to ride is 15 mph unless I'm going downhill. But I hear from many different people who use e-bikes in many different ways.) Being that I live and breath e-bikes all day/every day, I can get into some bike nerd details.

For those of you who just want quick and dirty info - there are two different "speed limits" for e-bikes that can legally be called bicycles in the U.S. And that is 20mph or 28 mph. The difference there is basically where you can ride them - 28 mph e-bikes can't be ridden in as many places as 20 mph e-bikes. And anything marketed as an e-bike that goes faster than 28 mph isn't "street legal" as a bicycle.

For those of you who want to know the "why" behind that, let's do a deeper dive:

One common point of confusion? The differences between Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes. Let's break it all down, while also diving into the reasons some riders crave speedier bikes, the associated safety concerns, benefits for commuters, and that curious grey area where e-bikes and electric motorcycles/mopeds blur together.

Class 1, 2, and 3 E-bikes: What's the Difference?

1. Class 1 E-bikes: These are pedal-assist only e-bikes with functioning bike pedals and no throttle. The motor provides assistance only when you pedal and stops assisting when you reach 20 mph. You can usually ride them on trails and paths where regular bikes are permitted. 2. Class 2 E-bikes: Class 2 e-bikes are essentially the same as Class 1 e-bikes, with one little addition - the throttle that will propel the bike without pedaling. The motor will stop assisting at 20 mph, just like Class 1. This class is generally for those of you who want the option of coasting without having to pedal. 3. Class 3 E-bikes: Designed for the speed enthusiasts, Class 3 e-bikes are pedal-assist only but have a higher speed limit. The motor stops assisting at 28 mph. Some of you commute to work and prefer to get there faster and some you are speed demons, we get it!

Note: Some e-bikes come already equipped as Class 3, while some Class 2 e-bikes are made Class 3 ready, which means they can be upgraded to go faster. Such bikes will have the throttle that comes with a Class 2 e-bike, but the throttle is still limited to 20 mph.

Why Do Riders Want Faster E-bikes?

1. Time-Efficiency: Especially for commuters, a faster e-bike means shorter travel times. Often the reason why people don't want to use a bicycle as a mode of transportation. Class 3 e-bikes make those journeys more accessible to people with busy lives. 2. Expanded Range: A speedier e-bike allows riders to cover greater distances, expanding their range for both leisure and utility rides. 3. Adrenaline and Fun: Let’s be honest, the thrill of speed is invigorating. Speed demons - I see you!

Safety Concerns with Faster E-bikes:

1. Reaction Time: At higher speeds, riders have less time to react to obstacles or unforeseen situations. 2. Stopping Distance: Faster speeds mean longer braking distances. 3. Interaction with Traffic: Faster e-bikes on roads might surprise drivers not expecting bicycles to reach those speeds. What this means is that the driver who simply must pass the "slow" bicycle is likely to misjudge how much time they have, and risk a collision with you. 4. Skill Level: Handling an e-bike at higher speeds requires more skill and experience. For reference, the winner of 2023 Tour de France averaged about 25 miles per hour. Your Class 3 e-bike enables you to ride even faster without the lifetime of cycling practice.

5. Injuries: Remember in driver's ed when they taught us that you're more likely to die in a car accident at high rates of speed. Same thing on a bike; the higher your rate of speed, the greater the extent of your injuries if you crash.

Benefits of Speed for Commuters:

1. Competitive Commute Times: In some urban settings, a fast e-bike can rival the speed of cars during peak traffic. 2. Sweat Less: Faster speeds with motor assistance means less physical exertion, which can be beneficial for those heading to or from work. Showing up at work or dinner looking like came from the gym is not appealing to most folks. 3. Flexibility: E-bikes can often take advantage of bike lanes or paths, offering routes cars can't use. If you have a Class 3 e-bike, check local regulations first to make sure you can ride where you want.

The Gray Area: Fast E-bikes vs. Electric Motorcycles/Mopeds:

Some products marketed as e-bikes, but with max speeds exceeding 28 mph start entering a grey area where they closely resemble electric motorcycles or mopeds in terms of power and speed. And some have foot pegs instead of those functioning pedals that make them bicycles. Here's where the distinction gets tricky:

  • Regulation: The legal classification of e-bikes and electric motorcycles/mopeds varies by location. In many places, e-bikes that exceed 28 mph might require registration, insurance, and even a special license. And you generally must ride on roads with cars as opposed to in the bike lanes.

  • Purpose and Design: While some e-bikes are built for speed and power, they're still designed primarily as bicycles. Electric motorcycles, on the other hand, are more akin to traditional motorbikes in design and intent.

Note: We have seen products made with bicycle parts, but with motors that propel the rider at far greater speeds than 28 mph. And why that matters from a safety perspective is that bicycle components were not designed or manufactured to withstand that strain. The product could wear out faster, break, or get the dreaded speed wobbles.

Conclusion: E-bikes are great! They can be used by so many people for so many different reasons. For high school and college students, a cheap and reliable form of transportation that doesn't require you to exercise all the time. For workers with a short commute, you can save money on gas an insurance, do you part for the environment, and not look gross at work or happy hour. For those of you planning for or already in retirement, a form of fitness that's easy on the joints and a fun way to get your doctor to stop bugging you about exercise. For families, you can keep up with your kids and grandkids so that you can make memories together. From Class 1 to 3, with many sizes and style options, there's an e-bike out there for everyone. However, as with any mode of transport, safety should always be paramount. If you're considering getting into the world of e-bikes, ensure you're informed, prepared, and always ride responsibly. Have fun out there!

If you're ready to start your adventures, come see us for a test ride. Not ready for a test ride yet? Come by or call us with your questions - we're happy to help.

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