Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Igor Karni
Do you already have an electric bike or do you want to buy one? Is this an e-bike, which is assisted by a motor to go up to 25 km / h? Or does it allow you to reach a higher speed, while still being assisted by a motor? Can you use this e-bike to ride on a bike pathway? Do you need insurance to use this e-bike?
Electric bikes are already very popular. To take an example of Belgium, half of 503,119 bicycles sold by conventional bike dealers last year already had an electric assistance system in place. E-bikes are especially popular with the 30 to 50 age group, which mostly uses them to commute between home and the workplace.
What is the difference between a traditional e-bike and a speed version (speed pedelec)? There are e-bicycles with an assisted pedaling motor speed of up to 25 km / h and e-bicycles with an assisted pedaling motor speed of up to 45 km / h. If your e-bike can go up to 45 km/h, it is called speed pedelec.
Need for a driving license
An e-bike with an assisted pedaling motor speed of up to 25 km/h in most countries is considered a classic bicycle. This means that the rider does not need a driving license, does not have a need to install a license plate, is not required to wear a helmet (although, this is highly recommended for all cyclists), must always ride on the bike path, and does not have an obligation to take out specific insurance.
Although rules are still somewhat dependent on a specific country, there are general trends. Most countries will soon adopt common rules that would allow you to judge whether you have to follow certain regulations or not.
Regarding speed pedelecs (or speed e-bikes), which provide an assisted pedaling motor speed of up to 45 km / h, the situation is different. Riders of such e-bikes must register their two-wheelers with the Vehicle Registration Authority, just as they must do for their car (example of Belgium, Switzerland, and several other countries).
Then, speed e-bike owners will receive a small number plate that they will have to install on their e-bike. If you want to use such an e-bike, you must also have a driving license. This license needs to be for the class of mopeds or for cars. A driving license for agricultural vehicles will not be suitable for riding a speed e-bike.
Having a license means that a rider needs to be at least 16 years old to ride a speed pedelec. Wearing a helmet is mandatory in the case of a speed pedelec (while it is highly recommended for all cyclists). These obligations are applicable because speed pedelecs are considered mopeds.
However, the legislation introduces a special category for this purpose, which is called “P-category moped” (again, a Belgian example and similar regulations exist in other countries).
The insurance obligation
There are further differences for speed e-bikes. For a conventional electric bike with an assisted pedaling motor speed of up to 25 km / h or a pedelec speed with an assisted pedaling system up to 45 km / h, you do not have to take liability insurance. Liability insurance covers the damage you would cause to another road user in case you cause an accident.
Easy tip: if you cause a bicycle accident, you can also be held responsible. Therefore, it is better to have insurance in place. In some cases, you can be insured via your existing household policy (family liability insurance).
There is also an exception to the above rule. Some electric bikes also allow you to ride without having to pedal (throttle-assisted e-bikes). In this case, liability insurance for mopeds (and this e-bike is a moped in this case) is always required, no matter how fast you are able to go.
Where can you ride?
Where can you ride with your speed e-bike? Speed pedelecs can be ridden on public roads where speed is limited to 50 km / h for all traffic. You can ride your speed e-bike both on public roads and on bike paths. If the speed limit is higher, you must ride on the dedicated bike lanes. Since May 31, speed pedelecs can ride side by side with cars on public roads. However, please follow additional signs, which can complement traditional road signs, as other local rules may also apply.
Easy tip: Sidewalks and mixed cycle paths, indicated by blue round signs with a cyclist and a pedestrian on the sign, are forbidden for speed e-bikes.
On one-way streets, you can only ride with the help of your pedaling system, if an additional sign with the letter “P” explicitly shows it. This also applies to conventional bicycles with or without motor-assisted pedaling.
E-bikes are available in all price categories, and they cost 1,500 – 2,500 euros on average. For ultra-fast speed pedelecs, the amounts vary from 4,000 to 6,000 euros.
However, banks give very advantageous rates for a bike loan. This can be explained in part by the fact that e-bikes are environmentally friendly. As a result, rates are similar to the rates for green cars.
A compulsory speedometer for e-bikes?
This example is given for Switzerland. Similar regulations could exist in your country. Please check your local legislation.
In terms of speed, the riders of electric bicycles currently escape the law. In the areas with speed limits of 30 km / h, e-bikes overtake cars at higher speeds and this is currently perfectly legal. A regulatory gap makes this possible. But it will soon be closed.
30 km / h zones are now an integral part of Swiss cities. In Zurich, for example, this speed limitation concerns about half of the 673 kilometers of the road network. This trend is rising and the picture is similar in other Swiss cities.
A similar rising trend is valid also for electric bikes. As a result, in the city center, we are now more and more often encountering situations that surprise motorists. While car and motorcycle drivers respect the speed limit of 30 km / h, e-bikes pass them swiftly on the right and on the left.
Are e-cyclists subject to a fine?
Are cyclists also fined when police checks their speed? “No,” says Michael Walker of Zurich City Police. “For cyclists, the maximum overall speeds indicated by the signs are not directly applicable because they do not have a calibrated speedometer.”
Nevertheless, in exceptional cases – if the inadequate speed endangers pedestrians or other road users – the police can intervene. “There may also be reported cases of speeding on the roads, in heavy traffic or in bad weather conditions,” says Walker.
E-bike speedometer soon in place
The current situation is not satisfactory for the police, which would like to have a set of rules that applies equally to all road users.
The Federal Office of Roads (FEDRO) is now responding to this situation. “Introduction of an obligatory speedometer for e-bikes is being tested,” explains Guido Bielmann, spokesperson for FEDRO.
It is now a matter of clarifying the possibility of equipping e-bikes with speedometers. And especially to identify, which e-bikes are suitable for these additional controls. “These measures will be subject to further consultation towards the end of the year. It will then be up to policymakers to develop a solution,” adds Guido Bielmann.
These additional measures are also of great importance for FEDRO due to the growing number of accidents, that involve e-bike riders. In 2018, a record level of such accidents was reached with 12 dead and 309 seriously injured. The proportion of senior people among the victims is particularly high: 106 of the riders were over 65 years old.