Electric Bicycles Are Basically Motorbikes Now

Electric Bicycles Are Basically Motorbikes Now
Image: Cake

I never really cared about cars until after I bought my first one, but I’ve loved motorcycles for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of wide-eyed motorcycle adoration was when a couple of kids down the street from me got mopeds. Are they bicycles? Are they motorcycles? They’re both! These were not unattainable things from a far off land; these were kids on my street, who were my age, riding things that looked similar to my bicycle.

I never got a moped, but I do now own an electric mountain bike, and it probably goes faster than those old mopeds ever went. Electric bicycles are getting bigger, faster, and more powerful. The line between them and motorcycles is starting to get blurry.

Segway (yes, that Segway) is selling a dirt bike now. Sorry, Dirt eBike. A dirtybike? It “sits in between mountain bikes and traditional dirt bikes,” and appears to be more mountain bike than motorcycle. So it’s like a moped without pedals. It’s a mo.

Photo: Segway

It is an evolution of the Sur-Ron Light Bee, which is a mountain bike based electric bike that is sold as“road legal”, but can be easily modified to put out almost seven times the 750-watt limit that many states have for bike lane use. You can also buy a pedal kit for it. Segway doesn’t appear to be pretending its e-bike will ever be road, or bike lane, legal. So the Sur-Ron is a “bicycle” (wink-wink), but the Segway will be a “motorcycle” (wink-wink).

Do you like cake? Of course you do, who doesn’t like cake? Cake is an electric bike company that will sell you the Kalk& which is an electric motorcycle similar to the Segway in that it has a lot of parts that seem to come from the bicycle world. But this one is a legit street-legal motorcycle with lights, mirrors, and a place for an actual licence plate.

Should You Get An Electric Bike?

When I first heard about electric bikes, they struck me as the ultimate life hack. They allow you to commute relatively speedily without the hassle of public transportation, to get exercise without getting overly sweaty, to get from point A to point B without spending money on gas. As a longtime urban cyclist who’d sworn off bike commuting after a move put a sizable hill between me and the office, I wondered if electric bikes were the answer. I decided to find out.

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There are laws in many places about what power, speed, and features an electric bicycle can have and still use bicycle trails. This is why you often see bicycles with top speeds of 20 or 28 mph. There are several companies that will sell you an electric bicycle that exceeds these limits, or that can be easily modified to. My electric bicycle was limited to 20 mph before five minutes and a screwdriver turned it into 46 mph, which I do not recommend. Many of these bikes have pedals or kits to add pedals, which doesn’t really help to differentiate the bicycles from the e-bikes, or from the mopeds or motorcycles.

One of my “motorcycles”. This will break every speed limit in my town. (Photo: Matt Brown)

As batteries get smaller and power increases, it is going to be harder to tell the difference between an electric bicycle and an electric motorcycle. States are drawing the line with limits on power output, speed, and labels that indicate legal compliance.

I wonder if we even need a split between the two. As Bradley suggested earlier, more powerful electric bicycles might be a great solution for many commuters. If we want to limit congestion and pollution, maybe we should encourage people to ride bicycles that span the definition of bicycles and motorcycles. Maybe it is ok for a lightweight electric bike to go 20mph on a bike path, then turn onto a 35mph street and continue at a faster pace. Maybe not, but I bet we’re going to find out.

Just be sure to wear motorcycle safety gear.

This story originally appeared on Jalopnik.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • The one difference which is the most important you never mentioned and that is a throttle v pedal assist .I have a Emtbike and unless you pedal, the engine does not provide any power assist to the bike wheel, once you have a throttle and is pedal-less it becomes a motorbike.

  • xxMartyOne says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview, your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    im sorry, but you can’t call it an e-bike if it doesn’t come with pedals as part of the design and has suspension travel of more than 100mm then you can’t call it an ebike. period. ebikes, still look an function like a normal bike when the battery run’s flat. What happens with this when the battery goes flat. You have to push the humongous (and probably quiet heavy) electic motorbike.
  • Yet another LH article written for the US market, which has little or nothing to do with Australia. If you’re going to publish on the Australian LH site, the please do an Australian version of this article.

    Otherwise, don’t publish it.

  • DrSK says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview, your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
    I have a motorcycle licence and also ride an emtb and ebikes and motorcycles have nothing in common other than having two wheels. Completely different to ride. Emtb, is pedal assist without a throttle and speed limited and legal in Australia on mountain bike tracks and backed for this by National Parks. They ride like bicycles and the assist extends your range. All the other examples you mention are not legally bicycles in Australia and generally have a throttle meaning you don’t need a pedal. Use is illegal on the road without a motorcycle licence and illegal for use on mountain bike trails. Misinformation like this doesn’t help anyone, especially those who like me have spent over a decade gaining access for mountain bikes and new trails approved.
  • An electric bike limited to 250W and 25km/h cutout is not worth my effort. In Europe they have s pedelecs which can do 45km/h. I would be happy to accept registration and licensing for such a bike. However, the average person would probably go for a motorbike if they had to go through all those hoops.

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