Confusion over electric bicycles: rules advised, but not required by law

Hawai’s laws often need to play catch-up with new devices.

That includes e-cigarettes, e-books, and now e-bikes.

Electric bicycles are bicycles that come with a motor to propel the bicycle in addition to or even without pedaling.

We’ve learned electric bicycles don’t need to be registered. In fact, they’re somewhat in limbo. The state has tried to pass new rules for e-bikes, but so far every attempt has failed.

Until that changes, bike shops are telling customers to treat their e-bike like a regular bicycle.

Dean Kaeo just bought an e-bike to save money and to get to work “because I’m older now, and it makes it a lot easier to go farther with less effort.”

With the growing popularity of e-bikes, we wanted to know where they can be used. Do they need to be on a road, bike lane, or sidewalk?

“As long as you’re following the rules and regulations where you can go on a regular bicycle, you’re pretty much good to go,” said Roy Cho, co-founder of Ebikes Hawaii.

There are two types of e-bikes: ones that are pedal-assisted and ones that do all the work for you, which are known as full throttle. E-bikes can reach speeds of up to 28 miles per hour.

“On a throttle, you’re not really going past the limit of what you could be doing on a regular bicycle anyway,” Cho said.

But Chad Taniguchi of Hawaii Bicycling League says e-bikes are different.

“Bike lanes are defined for bicycles, and bicycles have a definition that e-bikes are not in that definition,” he said.

The current definition of a bicycle under state law is that it’s propelled solely by human power and has two wheels.

“(E-bikes) are in no-persons land. They are not considered a vehicle. There’s no way to classify them, so people are using them in the way that they use them,” Taniguchi said.

Since he opened shop three years ago, Cho has been pushing to get e-bikes categorized.

“On a federal level, these bikes, low-speed electric bicycles, that fall under the same category as a regular pedal bike, so that’s what we are pushing for,” Cho said.

This would also help with registration. Store owners say the city told them they can’t register e-bikes because the city does not identify e-bikes as either a bicycle or moped.

“This can cause problems because they want the piece of mind and the safety of having their bikes in the system,” Cho said.

State Rep. Chris Lee says there hasn’t been enough education, “but now that there is significant adoption out there, and a lot of public interest, we really have to catch our policies with what is happening with our roadways and bike lanes to make sure it’s the same rules for everyone.”

Lee says he will continue pushing for more clarification on e-bikes, and that they should be treated like regular bikes.

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