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5/11/2023 House approves bill to regulate e-bikes in RI
STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak and passed by the House of Representatives today would establish the rules of the road for electric bikes.

E-bikes have become an increasingly popular transportation and recreation option, but without regulations, questions remain about where and how riders are allowed to use them.

The legislation (2023-H 5220) adopts standards that have been passed in 39 other states to regulate the use of e-bikes on roads and bike paths. The bill updates Rhode Island law to reflect modern electric bicycles and establishes that they are to be considered bicycles, not motor vehicles, in the eyes of the law.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) is sponsoring companion legislation (2023-S 0326).

The legislation answers the question of whether electric bikes — which vary in technology, but generally can achieve top speeds of 20 or 28 miles per hour — are allowed on pedestrian and bike paths: yes, as long as they comply with posted speed limits. On paths without posted speed limits, the bill imposes a 20 MPH limit for e-bikes.

“Electric bikes have opened up bicycling for many people who might not otherwise try it, and it has made bicycling a more attractive transportation option for lots of people. E-bikes have become common on our roads and recreation paths, so we need to update our laws so everyone — riders, law enforcement and our cities and towns — is on the same page about what an electric bicycle is and what you can do with one,” said Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Importantly, this legislation makes it clear that e-bikes are bicycles, not motor vehicles, so their riders should follow the rules that apply to bikes. This is how e-bikes are being regulated in many other states that have updated their laws.”

Electric bicycles have a small electric (not gas) motor that assists the bike rider, who can also pedal. For many users, they make bicycling possible in more situations, such as running errands or commuting to work without the workout-fresh look. They also make bike riding possible for people whose health or abilities might otherwise discourage them from bicycling.

 In recent years, they have developed into three classes:
  • Class 1: Pedal-assist electric bicycle — The rider must be pedaling for the motor to engage, has a top speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 2: Throttle-assist electric bicycle — The motor can provide power independently of whether the rider is pedaling, has top speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 3: Pedal-assist electric bicycle with a top speed of 28 miles per hour.
The legislation would recognize the three-class system, aligning Rhode Island with federal laws and laws in 39 other states, and require that new e-bikes bear a permanent label from by the manufacturer indicating their class, top speeds and other motor information. Class 3 e-bicycles would also be required to be equipped with speedometers.

The bill would also require helmets on any rider 15 or younger on any type of e-bike. It would prohibit those under 16 from riding a class 3 e-bike, except as a passenger.

To maintain uniformity throughout the state for riders, the bill prohibits cities and towns from imposing additional limits on e-bikes, except by regulating speed limits.

“I’m proud of this bill, because it safely encourages the use of a healthy, zero-carbon form of transportation that many more Rhode Islanders will be adopting as time goes on. As we work toward our goals of reducing carbon emissions, e-bikes will help expand opportunities for some people to replace some car trips with bikes,” said Representative Kislak.

On Friday, Representative Kislak and the Rhode Island Bike Coalition hosted an e-bike demonstration in the State House parking lot with a variety of models provided by Legend Bicycle, Trek, and Mission Electric Bike. Lawmakers, staff and others had a chance to ride to learn how e-bikes operate and feel ahead of the House vote.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923