Legislators take spin on e-bikes at State House

Demonstration provided ahead of House vote Thursday on bill establishing rules of the road for e-bikes


Rep. Rebecca Kislak, left, sponsor of the bill to regulate use of electric bicycles, gets some instruction from Susan Sparks of Trek before trying out an e-bike during a demonstration at the State House.


STATE HOUSE – Legislators zipped around the State House parking lot on a variety of electric bikes as part of demonstration recently hosted by Rep. Rebecca Kislak and the Rhode Island Bike Coalition.

The demonstration with bikes provided by Legend Bicycle, Trek, and Mission Electric Bike, gave lawmakers a chance to see how e-bikes operate and feel ahead of a House vote scheduled Thursday on legislation sponsored by Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence) to establish laws regulating the use of e-bikes in Rhode Island. The House passed similar legislation, also sponsored by Representative Kislak, last year.

E-bikes have become an increasingly popular transportation and recreation option, but without regulations, questions remain about where and how riders are allowed to use them.

The legislation (2023-H 5220) would adopt standards that have been passed in 39 other states to regulate the use of e-bikes on roads and bike paths. The bill updates Rhode Island law to reflect modern electric bicycles and establishes that they are to be considered bicycles, not motor vehicles, in the eyes of the law.

The legislation answers the question of whether electric bikes — which vary in technology, but generally can achieve top speeds of 20 or 28 miles per hour — are allowed on pedestrian and bike paths: yes, as long as they comply with posted speed limits. On paths without posted speed limits, the bill imposes a 20 MPH limit for e-bikes.

“Electric bikes have opened up bicycling for many people who might not otherwise try it, and it has made bicycling a more attractive transportation option for lots of people. E-bikes have become common on our roads and recreation paths, so we need to update our laws so everyone — riders, law enforcement and our cities and towns — is on the same page about what an electric bicycle is and what you can do with one,” said Representative Kislak. “Importantly, this legislation makes it clear that e-bikes are bicycles, not motor vehicles, so their riders should follow the rules that apply to bikes. This is how e-bikes are being regulated in many other states that have updated their laws.”

Electric bicycles have a small electric motor that assists the bike rider, who can also pedal. In recent years, they have developed into three classes:

·         Class 1: Pedal-assist electric bicycle — The rider must be pedaling for the motor to engage, has a top speed of 20 miles per hour.

·         Class 2: Throttle-assist electric bicycle — The motor can provide power independently of whether the rider is pedaling, has top speed of 20 miles per hour.

·         Class 3: Pedal-assist electric bicycle with a top speed of 28 miles per hour.

The legislation would recognize the three-class system, aligning Rhode Island with federal laws and laws in 39 other states, and require that new e-bikes bear a permanent label from by the manufacturer indicating their class, top speeds and other motor information. Class 3 e-bicycles would also be required to be equipped with speedometers.

The bill would also require helmets on any rider 15 or younger on any type of e-bike. It would prohibit those under 16 from riding a class 3 e-bike, except as a passenger.

To maintain uniformity throughout the state for riders, the bill prohibits cities and towns from imposing additional limits on e-bikes, except by regulating speed limits.

“I’m proud of this bill, because it safely encourages the use of a healthy, zero-carbon form of transportation that many more Rhode Islanders will be adopting as time goes on. As we work toward our goals of reducing carbon emissions, e-bikes will help expand opportunities for some people to replace some car trips with bikes,” said Representative Kislak.