E-Bike Classes, Explained

Electric bike classes are regulatory designations that help riders determine where and how they can use their e-bikes. Different classes typically have different restrictions when it comes to using bike lanes, bike-only paths, certain mountain bike trails and other off-road terrains, and more. So let's learn about how your electric motor, pedal assistance, throttle, and maximum speed all contribute to your e-bike’s class, as well as how to customize and change classes to best suit the way you ride.

In this article, we’ll explore the history and define the e-bike classification system: what is each e-bike class and how are they different? Then we’ll help you choose the right e-bike class for your riding style.

A Brief History of Electric Bike Regulations in the US

What Are E-Bike Classes?

What Are The Key Differences Between Each Class?

Which Electric Bike Classes Does Magnum Offer?

How Do I Know Which Class My E-Bike Is In?

Which Is The Best Electric Bike Class For Me?

Federal Electric Bike Classification And Regulations

In 2002, Congress enacted HB 727 to amend the federal definition of electric bikes. It classified low-speed electric bicycles as, 

“A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”

A few things to note here:

1. “When powered solely by such a motor” is a key piece of the puzzle.

This means that the use of a throttle-only approach (where the motor power is the only energy: the rider doesn’t pedal) is capped at 20 mph. Any e-bikes with the top speed listed at 28 mph achieve that with a pedal-assistance system! Those are Class 3 e-bikes, which we’ll get into later. 

2. How about that “electric motor of less than 750 watts”?

Some e-bikes seem to have higher wattage capability than that, but let’s dive deeper. The Magnum Metro 750 has a motor nominal output of 750W. “Nominal output” is the wattage the motor can produce regularly without causing damage. When looking at this bike’s specs, you’ll also see a higher number of 1000W! That’s the motor peak output — the wattage the motor can produce in short bursts when needed. With e-bike classes, only nominal output matters! All Magnum Bikes have nominal motor outputs of 750W or less, so they all fall within the federal definition of an e-bike. Learn more about e-bike motor wattage in this post.

3. Lastly, “ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds”?

This just means that the e-bike may go slower or faster than that if the rider is heavier or lighter than 170 pounds… e-bike users don’t have to be exactly 170 pounds! 

Beyond the federal level, 44 states plus the District of Columbia have their own e-bike regulations, including many county and city laws enforced by local authorities. Most of these incorporate the class system when determining which e-bikes (if any) are allowed on certain types of roads and trails.

What Are E-Bike Classes?

The three main classes of electric bikes mostly have to do with your e-bike electrical system — how your motor, pedal assist system (PAS), and throttle (if your e-bike has one) work together to power your e-bike.

Any e-bike model can become any class with modifications — in fact, all custom-ordered Magnum e-bikes can be configured to any class you like! It’s all about the features you choose.

Keep in mind that different classes come with different regulations.

Learn your local e-bike regulations to ensure you’re riding safely. Pictured: Magnum Nomad.

Class 1 Electric Bikes

Class 1 e-bikes are those with a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. You can go faster than 20 mph, but the bike won’t provide any motor assistance beyond that speed. 

These bikes use pedal assistance only; they can’t have a throttle. 

  • Pedal Assistance: Yes
  • Throttle: No
  • Max Assisted Speed: 20 mph
  • Speedometer Required: No

Class 2 Electric Bikes

Class 2 e-bikes have a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour, just like Class 1. However, Class 2 electric bikes have a throttle and may also have a pedal assist system. In the case of Magnum Bikes, all of our e-bikes built to Class 2 specifications come standard with both throttle and PAS.

An e-bike with a throttle but no PAS is typically considered a motorized vehicle. This usually means that a Class 2 e-bike is not permitted on bike trails or multi-use paths.

  • Pedal Assistance: Optional (may be throttle-only)
  • Throttle: Yes
  • Max Assisted Speed: 20 mph
  • Speedometer Required: No

Class 3 Electric Bikes

Riders looking for high-speed electric bikes will love this class. These e-bikes can provide assisted speed of up to 28 miles per hour! 

Class 3 e-bikes usually do not have throttles, and that’s reflected in most state definitions of a Class 3 e-bike. But at Magnum Bikes, we build e-bikes that can provide pedal assistance up to 28 mph with throttles included.

While this higher speed restricts riders from using them on most bike paths, it can be an advantage for commuters following traffic flow in the streets.

Given their high speeds, Class 3 e-bikes are required to have a speedometer.

  • Pedal Assistance: Yes
  • Throttle: Optional (may be pedal-assist only)
  • Max Assisted Speed: 28 mph
  • Speedometer Required: Yes

Class 4 Electric Bikes

A relatively new addition, Class 4 e-bikes actually aren’t considered e-bikes — they’re motor vehicles, like a moped. Class 4 e-bikes have nominal motor output above 750W and aren’t limited to any max speed. They may have any combination of throttle and PAS.  

  • Pedal Assistance: Optional (may be throttle-only)
  • Throttle: Optional (may be pedal-assist only)
  • Max Assisted Speed: No limit
  • Speedometer Required: Yes

What Are The Key Differences Between Each Class?

Here’s a summary of the main differences.


Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Class 4

Throttle

N

Y

Optional

Optional (may be PAS-only)

Pedal Assist System (PAS)

Y

Optional

Y

Optional (may be throttle-only)

Max Motor Nominal Output

750W

750W

750W

No limit

Max Assisted Speed

20 mph

28 mph

28 mph

Over 28 mph

Typical Regulation Level

(varies by location)

Low or None

Medium

High

Highest


Which Electric Bike Classes Does Magnum Offer?

When ordering a custom Magnum e-bike, you can ask us to configure any model to Class 1, 2, or 3!  

If you order a Class 1 electric bike, your Magnum e-bike won’t have a throttle. You can purchase a throttle separately if you want that flexibility later on. To change between Class 1 and Class 3, go into your display settings (hold down the M function button) and toggle your maximum speed.

If you order a Class 2, your Magnum e-bike can easily switch between all 3 classes. To make it a Class 1, remove the throttle. Hold down the M function button on your display controller to toggle maximum speed.

Use your Magnum Display to toggle between speed settings. Pictured: Magnum Cosmo.

How Do I Know Which Class My E-Bike Is In?

Not all e-bikes can move between classes. Many manufactured e-bikes come with a label designating their default class, and some states require e-bikes to be manufactured or sold with a label designating their class.

If your e-bike doesn’t have a sticker or label designating its class, check for 2 things:

  1. Does your e-bike have a throttle? If so, it’s most likely Class 2, but it may be 3 or even 4. So, next…
  2. Check the settings on your e-bike’s display. What maximum speed does your e-bike allow? 
  • If 20 mph, it’s Class 1 without a throttle or Class 2 with a throttle. 
  • If 28 mph, it’s Class 2 with a throttle or Class 3 if there isn’t a throttle. 
  • If higher than 28 mph, it’s Class 4 or not classified as an e-bike. 

Which Is The Best Electric Bike Class For Me?

Who you are and the way you like to ride may give you some clues as to which of the three classes is your perfect match.

Young Riders

Depending on your location, riders under 16 are often prohibited from operating Class 3 e-bikes. In some cases, young riders are prohibited from operating e-bikes at all! 

So if you’re a teenager or parent of a teen, be sure to carefully review all your local legislation and restrictions when buying your e-bike.

Casual Ride

If you mostly ride for fun on flat, paved roads or bike trails, a Class 1 e-bike is perfect for you. As long as having pedal assist above 20 mph or using a throttle isn’t at the top of your wish list, you’ll love the freedom of riding your Class 1 e-bike in most of the same places that a regular bike is typically allowed, including multi-use trails.

City Commute And Bike Lanes

When it comes to riding in the road with the flow of traffic, you usually won’t face restrictions on an e-bike — just avoid high-speed roads where e-bikes can’t keep up!

However, some cities, counties, and states only allow regular bikes and traditional cyclists to use bike lanes and multi-use paths. Class 1 e-bikes are most commonly allowed, and so are Class 2 in many places; just be careful with Class 3 if that’s where you plan to ride.

E-bikes are typically permitted in street bike lanes — but always check your local e-bike regulations to be sure. Pictured: Premium 3 Low Step.

Distance Biking

You may benefit from higher assisted speeds or a throttle if you crave long-distance rides. These features can provide relief during your travels without compromising your progress. Consider a Class 2 or Class 3 e-bike for amazing long-distance rides. 

Trails And Off-Road Bike Paths

Class 3 e-bikes face heavy restrictions in state parks across the country, and Class 2 e-bikes aren’t far behind due to their throttles. And when it comes to national parks, e-bikes of any class are considered motorized vehicles — which means they aren’t allowed on pathways meant for mountain bikes and other regular bikes.

Your best bet for a trail-ready e-bike is a Class 1. We hope to see restrictions easing up in the coming years.

Just Not Sure

The best way to pick your ideal e-bike class? Go for a test ride! 

Magnum Bikes are available for test rides at our flagship stores as well as at trusted partners and dealers all around the US. Find a store near you to schedule yours now!