Ontario considers e-bike rules

What is an e-bike? It is an electric bike with a battery-powered electric motor. It can reach speeds of up to 20 mph. A rider can pedal an e-bike like a conventional bicycle without any power assist.

Most jurisdictions treat these e-bikes like a conventional bicycle and not as motor vehicles. So they can be ridden on public roads.

Ontario will be completing a three year test pilot project for e-bikes on October 3, 2009. Legislation will then be enacted to define how e-bikes will be regulated on public roads.

At this point in time Ontario treats electric bikes like ordinary bicycles. You are not required to register or license an e-bike. The rider of the e-bike does not require a driver license so does not have to take a road safety test.

The limitation is that you must be 16 years or older and we a safety approved bicycle helmet. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (OMT) has forbidden the use of electric bikes on certain controlled-access highways such as those reserved for multiple lane traffice, higher speeds, or trucker delivery routes.

At this point an e-bike driver does not need public liability and property damage (PLPD) insurance. This differs from mopeds. A moped driver must have a legal driver's license and must be insured. The moped has to be registered and carry a valid license plate. These plates have a label for limited speed motorcycles (LSM/MVL).

The OMT maintains that mopeds are faster and heavier than e-bikes. The maximum speed of a moped is 31 mph compared to an e-bike at 20 mph. Mopeds can weigh as much as 121 lbs. Most e-bikes weigh about 61 pounds. Mopeds do have pedals, but most are driven solely by motor.An e-bike is designed to be pedaled with a power-assist.

The lighter weight and lower speed capability leads one to believe that an e-bike is more like a conventional bicycle. The moped is considered as a limited-speed motorcycle. This means that the moped must meet motorcycle equipment and safety standards, and also requires insurance.

What about the risk of accidents? One has to consider the speed that an e-bike can reach. An e-bike gains speeds when going downhill. Can an e-bike cause an accident? Certainly there is that possibility. Should e-bikes also be required to carry PLPD? The insurance answer is that a decision has been made that at this point it time you do not require coverage. Public opinion and claims experience will determine if this continues.