E-Bike Smart Marin Buyer’s Guide: Power Up With an E-Bike

Electric bicycles offer a fun and efficient way to get around town and help to improve the mobility of our community members, all while reducing traffic emissions! If you’re interested in buying an e-bike for yourself or a loved one but aren’t sure where to start, this guide is for you. 

We always recommend talking with the pros at your local bike shop. Not only can they ensure the bike is sized properly, they can also service your bike when you need help with mechanical or electrical issues. Many bike shops will not service brands they do not sell, keep that in mind when buying online.

Before We Dive In

From the California Highway Patrol’s Electric Bicycle Safety and Training Program: “Parents are legally and financially responsible for the actions of their children. This includes when their children operate e-bikes.” 

Please consider your child’s physical and cognitive abilities before purchasing an e-bike. Younger students with little or no experience on standard bikes should not operate e-bikes and should be given more practice in bike handling and following the rules of the road. 

Buyer be Aware

Some manufacturers are selling products online and in shops that are marketed as e-bikes but are actually considered to be “out of class” devices. Any device equipped with a throttle and capable of going faster than 20 mph on motor assistance alone is not street-legal. Law enforcement is starting to crack down on these devices. 

If the motor exceeds 750W, and/or the device is capable of reaching motor assisted-speeds greater than 20mph (Class 1 & 2) or 28mph (Class 3), it is not a legal e-bike.

Read on to learn more about what makes an e-bike.

Three types of E-Bikes 

By definition, electric bikes are bicycles with fully operable pedals and an electric motor not exceeding 750 watts. 

There are three types, or classes, of e-bikes. 

Class 1 – Top speed of 20 mph, pedal assist only

Class 2 – Top speed of 20 mph, pedal assist and throttle. Recommended 16+ to operate

Class 3 – Top speed of 28 mph, pedal assist only. Must be 16+ to operate

Questions to Ask Before You Buy

Can I carry a passenger?

Passengers must have a separate seat from the operator. Both passenger and operator must follow helmet laws according to their age and e-bike class. 

Helmets are required for all ages on Class 3 e-bikes.

Where can this bike be serviced?

Any bike shop that sells you an e-bike should also offer maintenance services that cover both mechanical and electrical diagnostics and repair. Generally, shops will not service brands they do not sell. Keep this in mind when buying an e-bike online from a direct-to-consumer retailer. 

How can I transport this bike?

If the bike cannot fit directly in the back of your vehicle you will need a hitch rack that is designed for the heavier weight of an e-bike. 

Where will I store this bike? 

No bike wants to be left out in the rain, and e-bikes are especially sensitive to the elements. Keeping your bike in a secure area that is protected from the weather will help keep it in good working condition and help prevent theft. 

Keep in mind that e-bikes can weigh between 40-80 lbs and may be cumbersome to get up and down stairs.


To recap, e-bikes must fit the following criteria to be considered street-legal electric bicycles:

  • Functional Pedals

  • Electric motor not exceeding 750W

  • Top speed of 20mph (Class 1 & 2), or 28mph (Class 3)

If the product you are considering does not have pedals, an electric motor exceeding 750W, or is capable of traveling at a speed greater than its defined Class, it is no longer classified as an electric bicycle and will be subject to rules and regulations applied to “motorized bikes”, such as not being permitted in bike lanes or on multiuse paths and are illegal for those under 16.

Marin County Bicycle Coalition is proud to offer one of our newest programs, E-Bike Smart Marin. This is a comprehensive program that covers all things electric bikes, including a teen-specific safety and education program. E-Bike Smart Marin launched in early 2023. 

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the legalities and definitions of electric bicycles, take a look at our article; Electric Bikes: Watts The Deal.

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If you’re curious to learn more about e-bikes and e-bike safety, sign up here to get the latest information on E-Bike Smart Marin, our newest program which will be launching early 2023. 

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We’re working to make Marin more bike-friendly for people of all ages and abilities. Are you with us?

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