When is an e-bike a moped?

When is a bicycle not a bicycle? Make sure you are up to day with the terminology around e-bikes

When is an e-bike a moped?

May 9, 2016

This might sound a bit obvious, but if you are considering buying an electric bicycle, make sure it is just that!  Just because it looks like a bicycle, it doesn’t mean it is.

Power output dictates how an e-bike should be classified and new terminology is being encouraged to make sure consumers know what’s what.

It’s quite straight forward really, according to the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) and the Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BA). Both are encouraging the following terms to be used by all sellers, so that customers know exactly what they’ve bought:

  • E-bikes – a generic  term referring to all electric powered 2 wheelers
  • Electric bicycles – referring to e-bikes of 250W and below
  • Electric mopeds – referring to e-bikes over 250W up to 4kW
  • Electric motorcycles – referring to e-bikes producing 4kW or more

To inform or not to inform, that is the question

Dealers who sell bikes over 250W and don’t explain that they are not legally bicycles are misselling, for which there are clear penalties.  And not understanding the regulations is no excuse for a dealer.

The impact for the customer is no less severe if caught riding an electric moped anywhere other than on private land.  As with a car, a moped is governed by the Road Traffic Act and riding an electric moped without the necessary documentation, appropriate licence, compulsory motorcycle helmet, tax and insurance is a breach of multiple traffic laws and regulations.  Being caught could lead to a conviction and penalty points on a driving licence and potentially a driving ban in certain circumstances!

UK Law – keeping it simple

In the UK, pedal cycles with electrical assistance up to 250W can be legally ridden by anyone over the age of 14 without any of the regulations of a motorcycle. Output is measured by the manufacturer as part of the bike’s compliance and e-bikes should have a CE marking and be labelled accordingly.  When a bike is greater than 250 watts of continuously rated power, it ceases to be an electric bicycle and becomes, in the eyes of the law, an electric moped.  That means all the regulations which apply to mopeds and motorcycles kick in – licence, tax, insurance, helmet and they can can’t be ridden on paths or trails meant for bicycles.  Indeed, if the power is over 4kW it becomes an electric motorcycle.

Sales are on the up

It is good to understand the legal classifications around e-bikes, as you are going to see a lot more of them.  Sales of electric bikes are booming everywhere.  In China, where many are manufactured, over 200 million e-bikes take to the streets every day.

In Europe, estimates suggest around 500,000 e-bikes have now been sold and the market is growing in excess of 10% every year.  No one has any doubt that in most European markets, e-bikes will be an important part of a greener transport mix.

The picture in the UK is just as healthy, with big brands like Raleigh seeing e-bikes as having major appeal to all sectors of the cycle market.  Terry Blackwood of Raleigh UK endorsed this recently in an interview with online magazine Bike Europe in saying that “Electric bikes will be the biggest growth area in the immediate future in the UK market.” 

If you are tempted to join the electric revolution, just make sure you know what you are buying and don’t be fobbed off by any seller who tells you there is a ‘grey area’.  There isn’t!

plugging in electric bike compressed


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