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Electric bikes (e-bikes) have speed limiters that restrict their maximum speed, typically around 25km/h. Tampering with the speed limiter is illegal, riding an e-bike without a speed limiter on public roads is generally prohibited. Efforts are being made to make e-bikes tamper-proof and discourage the removal of speed limiters.
For many commuters, e-bikes are the dream – all the thrill of a cycle ride without any of that chain grease on your suit trousers. However, those considering an e-bike are often unsure how fast they can really travel. Will an e-bike get them to where they need to be as quickly as, let’s say, a bus or tube train?
In this article, we explore the speed of e-bikes, investigating the speed limits laws in various countries, as well as the ways that e-bike owners circumnavigate these, often illegally.
How Fast Can E-Bikes Go?
While it’s tempting to imagine yourself rocketing past of your fellow commuters, there are limits on the speed your e-bike can travel. The top speed available depends largely on the country of purchase. In the UK, European Union, and Australia, the limit is around 25km/h, but if bought in the US, your e-bike can take you up to 32km/h or 20mph.
This discrepancy is due to national vehicle laws. Many governments set limits on e-bike speeds both for safety and licencing reasons – and bike manufacturers tailor their products accordingly. This explains why, online, a model can have a different maximum speed if purchased through retailers in different countries.
Electric Bike Speed Limit Laws
Worldwide, speed limit regulations vary dramatically. The maximum speed in the UK is 15mph or 24km/h, but in Belgium, some e-bikes are able travel as fast as 45km/h. In all markets, e-bike motors are designed to cut out once they reach a maximum threshold. You can travel faster than this threshold – for example, because you are rolling downhill – but the motor won’t be there to help you.
Governments have a number of reasons why e-bikes have speed limits. Some cite safety concerns – the severity of injuries sustained on e-bikes is higher than that of manual bicycles. Others say that beyond a certain speed, a bike behaves as a motor vehicle does and should be licensed and regulated as such. Of all the jurisdictions, the US, as we’ll explore later, arguably has the most complex speed limit laws.
E-Bike Speed Limited in USA
In the US, the maximum speed of an e-bike is regulated on a state level – and ranges from 20mph to 28mph. As of 2022, twenty-six out of the forty-four states had adopted a tiered system of classification. The tiered system essentially groups e-bikes into three classes.
Class 1 and 2 bikes are your typical recreational e-bikes and are either powered solely through a pedal-assist, or throttle control mechanism. They can attain speeds of 20mph, after which point, the motor must cease to assist the rider.
Class 3 e-bikes are more commonly known as ‘pedelecs’ . Like a regular e-bike, the motor must only provide power if the rider is pedalling. However, they are able to travel faster – up to 28 mph, in fact. This increased maximum speed is accompanied by stricter safety regulations, and many states require ‘pedelec’ riders to have a driver’s licence and meet a minimum age requirement.
Surprisingly, in the states which don’t use this system, e-bikes are not distinct from other motor vehicles by law. This means your nifty, new bicycle may be classed as a motorcycle or moped and will be unusable on cycle paths and pedestrianised streets.
E-Bike Speed Limited in UK
The maximum e-bike speed in the UK is 15mph – a limit set by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. As in the US, the motor can only operate when the rider is pedalling– and once this speed limit is reached, the motor must cut out.
If the bike can travel faster than 15mph, it is no longer grouped as an “electrically assisted pedal cycle”, or EPAC. It will need to be regulated, taxed and insured just as a car is.
To be classed as an EPAC, an electric bike must also:
- must have a maximum power output of 250 watts
- not be throttle operated
E-Bike Speed Limited in Europe
A directive from the EU governs e-bike speed in Europe and sets a limit at 25km/h. However, many member states have their own rules as to how to use an e-bike, and who exactly can ride them. In Belgium, for example, the minimum age of rider depends on the power of the motor, and the Danish even allow ‘speed e-bikes’ – with a max speed of 45km/h on their cycle paths.
Although they are not in the EU, Norway and Turkey follow largely the same rules when it comes to e-bike speed limits. In Norway, the maximum is slightly lower than the directive at 20km/h – and the bikes can only be used on designated cycle infrastructure. In Turkey, the EU standard has been adopted as the basis of their entire legislation.
E-Bike Speed Limited in Australia
In a landscape as diverse and rugged as Australia’s, it makes sense that there is a range of e-bikes available. However, regardless of the build, all electrically assisted bikes must conform to the same standards as European e-bikes. That’s to say, the motor must cut out once the bike hits 25km/h and only work when accompanied by the pedals.
Do Electric Bikes Have Speed Limiters?
Yes. If you’re buying your bike from a bricks-and-mortar store in the UK, EU or America, your bike will come fitted with a built-in speed limiter. This becomes more complicated when buying bikes online.
If you buy a bike manufactured in China – for example – it’s possible that the speed limiter will carry you beyond 25 km/h. This is because it is manufactured in accordance with Chinese regulation which sets the maximum speed higher . Remember, though, that just because your e-bike can travel faster than the limit in your home country, it doesn’t mean you can ride it legally.
Can You Remove Speed Limiter on Electric Bike?
The short answer is that you can. Like all restrictions, there are people who’ve found ways of getting around them. It’s a bit like that friend who’s given up chocolate for a New Year’s resolution but claims a handful of M&Ms is fair game. However, we don’t endorse this approach at Discerning Cyclist.
Tampering with a speed limiter – or ‘dechipping’ and ‘tuning’ as it is also known – is illegal in nearly all countries. In France, modifying an e-bike even makes you liable for a fine of up to 30,000 euros, or one year in prison.
How to Remove Speed Limit on E-Bike
There are content creators on YouTube who claim that removing a speed limiter is a quick and simple process – although it’s not something we can say we’ve ever tried. ‘De-chipping’ videos have taken off in recent years as new e-bike owners look to make their bikes faster and more powerful. However, with modified bikes reportedly able to reach speeds of up to 150km/h, there are many cycle safety advocates calling for a crackdown.
Is it Illegal to Remove Speed-Limiter on E-Bike
Yes and no. Obviously, the law surrounding speed-limiter removal varies from country to country. British bike charity, Cycling UK, for example, says that owning a bike without a speed limiter isn’t illegal in itself, but riding it on a public highway is. In other words, you wouldn’t be able to ride your e-bike on roads, and off-road paths, like bridleways or cycle lanes. The only available space would be on private land, to which the public have no access.
The bike industry also sees ‘de-chipping’ as damaging to the public perception of e-bikes. The Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, or CONEBI, for short, has issued a pledge to crack down on the trend. It outlines the efforts that its members, including 68 European bike manufacturers, are taking to make their products tamper-proof, and explains how they are collaborating with local authorities to make the trade of dechipped e-bikes obsolete. As well as the “Companies Against Tampering” manifesto, some countries, as mentioned, have made removing a speed limiter punishable by jail time.