By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer

In the last year I’ve noticed more and more electric bikes on the street and in bike lanes. E-bikes are fantastic for getting around quickly and provide an efficient, environmental alternative to more traditional forms of transportation. They also open up cycling to people who may be less inclined to bike due to the physical demands. With a battery assisted motor, you can ride further and carry more gear.

One of the questions we get asked a lot at The Cycling Lawyer is what the rules are for e-bikes. The rules vary from province to province, but basically it comes down to the type of bike you are riding.

What Qualifies as an E-bike?

Under Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, an e-bike is defined as a “power assisted bicycle” or “PAB”. In order to be considered a PAB, a bicycle must meet the following requirements:

  • have handlebars and be equipped with pedals
  • can have no more than three wheels in contact with the ground
  •  be capable of being propelled by muscular power
  • have one or more electric motors that has, singly or in combination, the following characteristics:
    • a total continuous power output rating of 500 W or less,
    • if it is engaged by the use of muscular power, power assistance immediately ceases when the muscular power ceases,
    • if it is engaged by the use of an accelerator controller, power assistance immediately ceases when the brakes are applied, and
    •  it is incapable of providing further assistance when the bicycle attains a speed of 32 km/h on level ground
  • have one of the following safety features,
    • an enabling mechanism to turn the electric motor on and off that is separate from the accelerator controller and fitted in such a manner that it is operable by the driver, or
    • a mechanism that prevents the motor from being engaged before the bicycle attains a speed of 3 km/h
  •  cannot have a gas engine
  • must have a label stating that it is a power-assisted bicycle that meets all the requirements

The most important points to remember are that an e-bike is a two or three-wheeled cycle with a seat, pedals and an electric motor with a maximum power of 500 watts.

An e bike or PAB cannot be gas-powered.

The E-bike Classification System

 Now that we know how an e-bike has been defined in Canada, it is necessary to understand how the bikes being built by the bike industry conform to the Canadian safety regulations.  The following is the classification system adopted by the bike industry.  

Class 1 E-bike

 A Class 1 e-bike means a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling (pedal assist) and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 32 kilometers per hour. A Class 1 e-bike has a maximum continuous wattage output of 500 watts.

 Class 2 E-bike 

A Class 2 e-bike means a bicycle equipped with a motor that can be used exclusively to propel the bicycle (throttle equipped) and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 32 kilometers per hour.

Class 3 E-bike 

 A Class 3 e-bike means a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling (pedal assist) and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 45 kilometers per hour.

If you have been paying attention you will immediately notice that two of the three types of e-bikes created by the industry potentially fall outside the scope of the definition of a power assisted bike (PAB) as defined by Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations.  Many Class 2 e-bikes will not fit the description of a PAB and by definition Class 3 e-bikes are not PAB’s at all. Because of this, there is a large grey area around e-bikes.

Manufacturers are building and dealers are selling many Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes that are technically not legal to ride.

This is why it is recommended to buy an e‑bike that bears the label stating it is a power assisted bicycle that meets the requirements under the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations.  Riding an e-bike that does not meet these regulations could put you at risk of increased liability in the event of a crash.  You could also be subject to fines and ticketing.

Am I Required to Have a Licence?

In most cases, you are not required to have a licence to ride a PAB. However, in some provinces (such as Ontario and BC) you must be at least 16 years of age to ride a PAB on the road. In Alberta, you only have to be 12 to ride a PAB. So, check with your local province. But, as always, wear a helmet at any age, obey traffic laws and practice good cycling safety rules!

Limited-Speed Motorcycle/Scooter

Gas powered cycles and electric cycles without pedals do not qualify as e-bikes or power assisted bicycles. Also, e-bikes that exceed 32 kilometres per hour may not qualify. These can be more accurately referred to as limited-speed motorcycles, “LCMs” or scooters. An LCM must be registered, licenced and insured as a motor vehicle. The driver of an LCM must have a driver’s licence and wear a motorcycle helmet.

And, to state the obvious, you cannot ride an LCM or scooter in a bike lane!

Being a Good Bike Citizen

When riding your e-bike on a bike path or shared path, always observe signs posting the maximum speed allowed and slow down to safely maneuver around other cyclists and pedestrians. Be respectful and remember to stay safe on the road while cycling!

For more cycling news and your #respecttheride intro pack join our cycling community here.

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