Federal legislation stipulates that any low-powered electric bike, defined to have less than 750 watt motor, functional pedals and with a maximum speed of less than 20 mph, falls under the laws of regular bicycles.
It also stipulates that federal law will supersede any local law regarding low-speed bicycles.
For that reason, the LEV Association, a group that promotes the use and development of light electric vehicles, recommends riders keep a laminated copy of the law on them while riding.
The result is a cacophony of vague, overlapping pieces of legislation that make it difficult for the NYPD to enforce.
“If a cop stops you, he wouldn’t know what kind of ticket to give you,” Damon Victor, president of Greenpath Electric Bicycles, said.
Many legal codes fail to distinguish between "throttle" bikes and "pedal assist" bikes, the latter which only send power to the wheels when the cyclist pedals. Meanwhile, increasingly streamlined versions of the product make e-bikes more difficult to spot on busy streets.
First popularized in China, electric bicycles are favored by delivery men on city streets for their longer range and speed. The heavier build of e-bikes make them more dangerous to pedestrians.
“Electric bicycles are not bikes,” Councilman Daniel Garodnick bak in April when the legislation was introduced. “They are deceptively fast because of their sudden acceleration, and that is why they are illegal.”
Victor, 58, sells electric bicycles across the northeast from his Brooklyn-based retail store, said the bills discriminate against the elderly who make up the bulk of electric bike buyers in the United States.
He relates to people who cannot handle regular bikes for health reasons and want to use e-bikes for commutes, recreational purposes or as an alternative to public transportation.
“I used to be able to ride, but I can’t ride from Park Slope to Coney Island anymore,” he said.