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FAQ: E-bikes and the law

A stand for electric bicycles. Stock photo by Getty Images

The electric bicycle is a contentious innovation that raises some legal questions. It’s bike that has a motor that can achieve a relatively high speed. As such, there’s some confusion over its legal status.

Here’s what the law says about e-bikes.

What is an e-bike?

The federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations define a “power-assisted bicycle” as one that:

  • has steering handlebars and pedals;
  • is designed to travel on no more than three wheels on the ground;
  • is capable of being propelled by muscle power;
  • has at least electric motor;
  • has a total power output of no more than 500 watts;
  • cannot use those motors to exceed a speed of 32 km/h;
  • bears a conspicuous manufacturer label identifying it as an e-bike.

Provincial laws add further requirements such as a maximum weight, wheel width and diameter.

Others add details about lights, specific brake requirements and other traits.

Do I need a helmet?

Yes. Provincial laws are consistent about use of helmets on e-bikes.

Is there an age restriction to operate one?

Yes, and these vary by province.

In Ontario or B.C., riders must be 16 years old, but Alberta allows riders as young as 12. Check your provincial laws.

Do I need a licence or insurance?

No. However, you may not be allowed to ride an e-bike if your driver’s licence is suspended.

Can I remove the pedals?

No. Pedals are included in the legal definition of a power-assisted bicycle. If you remove them, you’re driving an illegal motor vehicle and you’d need a licence and insurance.

Can I modify the bike for faster speeds?

No. Similar to pedals, that maximum speed is another aspect of the legal definition of an e-bike. If yours can exceed 32 km/h with motor assistance, it’s now a motor vehicle.

To clarify, it’s totally legal (and impressive) if you can achieve faster speeds strictly on muscle power. However, you cannot use the motor to help you go more than 32 km/h.

Where can I ride?

Approved riding areas can depend on provincial and municipal laws. You typically cannot drive them on sidewalks or highways. In Ontario for example, e-bikes aren’t allowed on any 400-series highways, Ottawa’s Queensway or Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Way.

They’re often banned even on bike paths and trails, so be sure to check your local laws.

What happens if I drive drunk?

Drunken e-biking still counts as driving while impaired under the Criminal Code, so you could face charges for drinking and biking.

 

Read more:

Federal Motor Vehicle Regulations

Electric bicycle regulations: