I've heard that electric bikes are illegal in New York City. Can I ride an electric bike in NYC?

In regards to your question regarding the NYC laws, electric bikes have been subject of much controversy in New York City for a number of years.

Many of the issues surrounding electric bicycles started to come up as a result of poor riding behavior exhibited by the food delivery personnel in Manhattan who often ride on the sidewalks or against the traffic using scooter-like electric bikes. Such bikes have barely functioning pedals that are there simply to avoid having to register them as motor vehicles. They are big, heavy, and - if they are used improperly (i.e. ridden on the sidewalk) - can be dangerous.

Unfortunately there are still many misconceptions about the electric bicycles among the population and politicians who tend to make no distinctions between scooters with electric powerful electric motors weighing 100-200 or more pounds and bicycles with small electric assist motors. These misconceptions are what caused e-bikes to have a poor image in New York City as a consequence.

In 2009, electric bicycles have been banned from the streets of New York City. The ban, however, was generally not enforced and existed primarily on paper. There's been an interesting article on that subject in New York Times: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/despite-ban-electric-bikes-gain-favor-on-city-streets/.  

This happened again in 2011 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576319074060030458.html?mod=googlenews_wsj ) and then in mid-2013 (http://evworld.com/blogs.cfm?authorid=12&blogid=1140  ).

This current law is not really a new development. In short, there seems to be a trend - every couple of years a new fine or a law gets passed which results in a lot of media coverage discussing the status of the electric bicycles in New York City.

However, at this time, there are two bills currently working their way through the New York Senate and Assembly that will eventually define and legalize electric bicycles in New York State and therefore New York City.

One can be found here: http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S390-2013. The other can be found here: http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A05058&term=&Summary=Y&Text=Y 

These bills, when passed, will define and fully legalize electric bicycles in New York City as long as they meet the federal guidelines which state that an electric bicycle is to be classified as a bicycle and not a motor vehicle (therefore enjoying all of the same privileges as traditional cycles such as no license requirements to operate one, no insurance or registration requirements and an ability to be ride them on the bike paths) as long as it conforms to the following rules/specs:

  • Has functioning pedals;
  • Does not exceed the speed of 20 miles per hour;
  • Has a motor that does not exceed 750 Watts.

Today, there are multiple stores in New York City that have been selling electric bicycles for years and continue to do so. Their customers, who typically buy $2,000 - 3,000 electric bicycles and use them responsibly, are generally not hassled. Likewise, we have never had a complaint from any one of our customers in the New York area who's experienced a problem or has been fined. That said, electric bikes have been officially under a ban in New York City for quite some time, so while this law is not really a new development, customers should still make their decisions at their own risk.

Overall, as a company, we cannot advise you on what you should or should not do if you want to ride an electric bicycle in New York City, as we cannot be held liable for the decisions of our customers. We want to show you all sides of the current situation in New York City in regards to the ban. However, if you do purchase an electric bike, it should be done with a clear understanding of all of the risks and consequences involved.

We, as well as all of the other companies in the electric bike industry, will continue to support the effort to change the laws in New York City to reflect the Federal standard and grant the e-bikes the same rights and privileges as regular bicycles.

To the extent that we can, we'll be happy to answer any questions.

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