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California Assembly Bill No. 1096 (AB 1096) makes three important classifications in the world of electric bicycles. According to this bill, each of these e-bikes has different features as well as restrictions all users must be aware of.
The first type of e-bike AB 1096 recognizes is pedal-operated bikes that can reach a maximum of 20 miles per hour. Secondly, lawmakers designate e-bikes that can reach 20mph using a handlebar throttle. The third e-bike design classified in AB 1096 is similar to Type 1 e-bikes, but these pedal-operated bikes can reach a max speed of 28 mph.

Rules & Restrictions For Three Bike Types

AB 1096 makes it clear that e-bikes have the same legal rights and restrictions as bicyclists in California. This means e-bike users must follow the same rules of the road all other cyclists do such as following the speed limit, safely passing other vehicles, and giving the right of way to pedestrians. E-bike users also don’t have to worry about getting a license plate or having a driver’s license to use their bike.
There are, however, a few nuances for what’s allowed depending on what type of e-bike you’re using. For instance, the minimum age for using a Type 3 e-bike is 16 years old. By contrast, Type 1 and Type 2 e-bikes don’t have a minimum age restriction. Also, Type 3 E-bike users must wear a helmet regardless of age, but only teens younger than 18 need to wear a helmet on Type 1 and Type 2 e-bikes.

What Paths Can You Ride Your E-Bikes On

While we’re on the subject of the different restrictions e-bike types face, it’s important for cyclists to understand the four major bikeways in California and which bikes are allowed on each lane. First off, Class 1 Bike Paths are for the exclusive use of cyclists and pedestrians and are off main roads. Probably the most famous Class 1 Bike Paths are paved roads in nature areas. Only Types 1 and 2 e-bikes can go on Class 1 Bike Paths.
Class 2 Bike Lanes are the protected one-way bike lanes you see on various streets and highways. You will be able to see lines on the ground designating a Class 2 Bike Lane. All three e-bikes are allowed to use Class 2 Bike Lanes.
Third, Class 3 Bikeways are on roadways, but they don’t have any special markings on the road and can be used by motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. Usually Class 3 Bikeways are designated with a sign. Class 3 Bikeways are split into 3A and 3B, where 3A refers to shared lanes on arterial or parallel streets and 3B refers to bikeways in residential areas. All three e-bikes are allowed on Class 3 Bikeways.
Finally, Class 4 Bikeways are like Class 2 Bikeways, but they are protected from vehicular traffic with either a space or barrier such as curbs, a parking lane, or a sidewalk. Sometimes people refer to these lanes as “cycle tracks.” Only Types 1 and 2 e-bikes can use these lanes.

How To Figure Out What E-Bike You’re Riding

Thankfully for cyclists in the Golden State, California law requires that e-bike manufacturers clearly list key information like the bike’s top speed and design type on a label. If the info is not on the e-bike for some reason, then bikers should get in touch with the manufacturer to be sure of the type of e-bike they are riding.

Side Note: What About Mopeds?

While motorized bicycles (aka mopeds) are similar to e-bikes in many ways, they are considered in the same category as motorcycles under California law. Thus, everyone who uses a moped must have either a M1 or M2 motorcycle license to operate their vehicle. Moped riders must be at least 16 years old, wear a helmet at all times, and order a one-time license plate & ID card from DMV. Just like Type 3 E-bikes, mopeds aren’t allowed on Class 1 and Class 4 bike lanes.
To read more about California’s laws regarding mopeds, please take a look at CVC §406 and CVC §12804.9.