Bill Would Allow E-Bikes on Bike Paths

A bill that would give e-bikes access to bike lanes and off-street paths is making its way through the California legislature.

by Hannah Moore

June 16, 2015—A pending e-bikes bill could help unclog California roads.

Bill AB-1096, which re-defines e-bikes under state law and grants some of them access to non-motorized paths, unanimously passed the California Assembly's Transportation Committee last month.

If signed into law, the bill would divide e-bikes into three categories: pedal-assisted electric with a maximum 20 mph speed, pedal-assisted with capacity to run unassisted at 20 mph and pedal-assisted with a maximum 28 mph speed. The the first two categories would be allowed on bike paths such as Guadalupe River Trail and the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and on trails that allow mountain bikes, such as the Purisima Creek Grand Loop Trail. The third category would not be allowed on trails or bike paths but would be allowed in bike lanes.

Bill AB-1096 was authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach). The proposal is the first of its kind to reach consideration of any state government.

“Our California vehicle codes don’t have up-to-date rules for electric bicycles," says Judson True, Chiu's chief of staff. "With this bill, we're looking to encourage e-biking and other options for transportation."

Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition says e-bikes are "a very important way to expand bicycling to more people. Inappropriate regulation impedes their adoption.”

Emma Shlaes, policy manager for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, says the organization doesn’t have a published position on electric bikes, but she says she personally is all for them.

“They provide more opportunity for people to use bikes,” she said, adding that they also help riders who take routes filled with steep inclines.

Pontus Malmberg, sales manager at the Santa Cruz-based e-bike company Blix Bicycles, also praised Chiu's efforts. “The bill will clarify the definition of electric bicycles in California and hopefully help both consumers and bicycle retailers better understand what an electric bicycle is,” Malmberg says. “If that can be communicated clearly, then I believe even more people will start considering the e-bike as a great option for their daily commutes.”

E-bikes are now a standard mode of transportation in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia, according to Malmberg. He added that China currently has about 200 million e-bike riders today.