Why Are Electric Bikes Illegal In NYC?

Electric bikes are becoming quite popular these days. They are a smarter, more efficient way of traveling from one place to another. However, many people still think that these bikes are not safe for use on the roads.

But did you know that the New York City council did not recognize throttle-based e-bikes and scooters as legal modes of transport until recently? They cited security and safety as one of the key reasons for not allowing these vehicles in the city.

However, in April 2020, the New York City council finally allowed throttle based e-bikes as legal modes of transport with a new set of rules and regulations for riders to follow.
This is the story of the big apple’s love-hate relationship with e-bikes.

The Case For E-Bikes in NYC

Living in the most densely populated city in the country has its perks and disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages are high amounts of pollution and traffic.

It would not come as a surprise to anyone who has lived in New York that the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard places New York City amongst the top three most congested cities in the world.

Electric bikes are a convenient way to move through traffic and reach your destination on time.

These bikes work on clean energy and are easy to maintain while having a small footprint, easy enough to traverse the enormous traffic jams that the city is infamous for.

The Politics of E-bikes in NYC

Perhaps the most vociferous group that vouches for E-bikes in NYC is migrant food delivery workers. These delivery guys use full throttle e-bikes for quick and reliable delivery all the time.

E-bikes with a pedal-assist and top speed of fewer than 20 miles per hour were legal in NYC (as long as you got them registered with the state council). However, full-throttle e-bikes, such as the ones preferred by the food delivery personnel, were illegal.

In the past, these delivery workers have pointed out that blanket banning E-bikes for speeding is hypocritical because even motorcycles and cars can be caught speeding. They claim that this is outright persecution since it impacts their livelihood.

The council, however, had different views till recently. They cited public opinion about safety concerns, such as a 2015 survey of American respondents, where 72% claimed that their top concern with e-bikes was for safety.

So, How Safe Are E-Bikes?

If we look at research on e-bikes, the results are mostly inconclusive. A study done in Sweden claimed that average e-bike speeds are five mph higher than traditional cycles.

However, another study done by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville claimed that their internal e-bike sharing system’s analysis did not portray any significant difference between regular bicycles and e-bikes.

A third study on the probability of accidents with e-bikes versus regular bikes pointed out no significant difference, except a higher risk at intersections because of slightly higher speeds.

One of the reasons that the research is so contradictory is the multitude of factors that go into such a broad term as “safety.” Law enforcement, infrastructure, cultural mores, and various other aspects determine average speed and safety.

So, How Did E-Bikes Become Legal in NYC?

Till recently, there was a $500 fine if you were found operating a full-throttle e-bike or scooter in NYC. Years of lobbying and fate intervened to finally remove these fines and make these vehicles legal on 1st April 2020 (Fool’s day, no less).

It took a pandemic to storm the Bastille finally! With e-bike popularity soaring as people started public transportation, NYC mayor Bill De Blasio first suspended the NYPD crackdown on e-bikes, and eventually ended the legislation that kept NYC out of the e-bike revolution that has been going around the world.

New Laws For Electric Bikes In NYC

So what exactly do the new laws say? State law has been changed to legalize e-bikes, but localities can still decide how to regulate them. Throttle based e-bikes are now legal. Dockless scooter service (The Bird’s and Lime’s of the world) need municipality permission to operate.

Scooters are still illegal in Manhattan, but the city will hopefully overrule even this last provision in some time.

The top speed of these bikes should be under 25 miles per hour. The fine for going at a higher rate has been lowered to $250, and confiscation of the vehicle.

After this legalization of all classes of e-bikes and scooters in NYC, some new rules and regulations were set up by the New York City council.

The New York City council recognizes three classes of e-bikes and has deemed them to be legal.

Now electric bikes, scooters, and mopeds are a part of the road safety act.

This road safety act comprises all the rules laid down for different vehicles operating on New York City roads. These three classes are as follows.

  • Class 1

Electric Bikes with pedal assist fall under this category. The top speed of these bikes must be less than 20 miles per hour. These bikes must not have a throttle assist and should have a motor with power less than 750 watts per hour.

  • Class 2

Electric Bikes with throttle assist and top speed less than 20 miles per hour. They must not have a pedal assist and should have a motor with power less than 750 watts per hour.

  • Class 3

Electric bikes with throttle assist and a top speed of 25 miles per hour.
Electric scooters have a speed limit of 15 miles per hour. For riders below the age limit of 18, they must wear helmets.

Riders of class 3 electric bikes also necessarily have to wear a helmet. The new rule also states that bikes that go faster than 25 miles per hour are not permitted. These authorities can confiscate these bikes.

Additionally, the offender also has to pay a fine of $250. These rules even include that every e-bike or scooter must wear a protective helmet and additional gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a license to ride an electric bike in NYC?

It is not necessary to have a license for riding an electric bike in New York City. Earlier, there were some complications where you were required to register pedal-assist electric bikes with the authorities, and throttle assists electric bikes were not legal.

Under the new laws, it is unnecessary to register your bikes with the authorities, and you don’t need to have a license.

How old do you have to be to ride an electric bike?

In America, children under the age of 14 are allowed to ride an electric bike, but only on private land. These children must have the approval of the owner of the private land. This exception is made as road traffic laws do not apply to private land.

Earlier the minimum age for electric bike riders was 16, which is now recently reduced to 14 years.

Are electric unicycles legal in NYC?

No, electric unicycles are not street legal in New York City currently. However, you can ride an electric unicycle on your private property as the public road safety laws do not apply to private land or property.

You can also ride an electric unicycle on someone else’s private land if you have their permission. As a means of transport, electric unicycles are not yet legal.


The story of how NYC finally legalized E-bikes is nothing short of a Hollywood blockbuster. There were many plots and subplots, twists and turns, and ultimately, a happy ending!

Perhaps both sides of the debate around legalizing e-bikes have some truth in what they are saying. Throttle e-bikes do go at a reasonably quick speed, and safety is a genuine concern that many people have.

But that does not mean that banning them and putting hefty fines on their use is the right way to go about it. E-bikes are here to stay, and there are stable laws around them in many countries globally, and in fact, many other states in the US itself. They operate safely and carry around millions of riders every day.

It took a pandemic for the city to realize that these efficient, low maintenance, environment friendly, easy to use, and noise-free personal vehicles should be made legal. We hope that things stay that way for the time to come, and the use of e-bikes cuts down both traffic and pollution in the city!


[1] Planning-Population-NYC Population Facts – DC

Written by Lee Hill

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