Electric Bikes: Is it a Bike? Is it a Motorcycle?

Electric Bikes: Is it a Bike? Is it a Motorcycle?

Early Adopters Take the Biggest Beatings

When snowboarding was introduced back in the late 70's and all throughout the 80's, it was vilified and snowboarders were generally an ostracized culture of rebellious and dangerous character's who were engaging in an unacceptable activity. Fast forward 30 years later and on almost all ski hills, snowboarders are now an accepted and adopted way of experiencing and enjoying the hills and the early branded stigma is mostly gone (with some exceptions still eg. Alta, Deer Valley). Progress causes waves, and it takes time, sometimes generations, to change the viewpoint of a new idea, gadget, technology, etc. The early adopters in the snowboarding space took the cultural beating so that the rest of us that enjoy the sport can now enjoy the new found acceptance.

Something similar is happening in the electric bike space. We make bikes that turn heads, we pride ourselves on that. Most of this is positive attention that our owners can enjoy, and I would imagine it would be similar for other brands as well. But we often hear stories of our customers hearing under the breath, snide comments as they pass other bikers (non ebike), runners, or pedestrians on shared trails and pathways. Sometimes these comments aren't under the breath, they are out loud going as far a hurling insults like "cheater" and "why don't you try getting some exercise!" and other such things that you would normally only see in unmoderated chat forums where slinging insults is the norm. 

Today's electric bike riders are still in the early adopter portion of the curve and are taking that same cultural beating that the snowboarders took. We will reach acceptance when the pragmatists and conservatives start to fall into place and start to ask the early adopters "have you ever ridden an ebike? They're super fun!" (early adopters roll their eyes and bite their tongue). 

That's a Motorcycle not a Bicycle

We see this over and over. Frankly, it's annoying. This is entirely our opinion, so take it or leave it. But we think that Electric Bikes are neither bicycles nor Motorcycles and the desire to put them in one camp versus another is pointless. It's just a silly way that people want to force a binary categorization for their own understanding of a subject instead of thinking out of the box. 

An Electric Bike is an Electric Bike. Period. It is neither a Motorcycle nor a Bicycle. We think it is best to think of it this way as a category of it's own. The enjoyment of riding one has elements of both bicycling and motorcycling, but is still different from both of those categories. With ebikes there is the freedom from having a light (as compared to a motorcycle), easily maneuverable vehicle that can legally travel anywhere down pathways, trails, and roads that you can also enjoy on bicycles. But there is the engine power, speed, acceleration and enjoyment of those things that you get from a motorcycle. It is a little bit of both, but somewhat different at the same time. 

We say, just call them all electric bikes and then accept that there is a range of performance within the ebike category. But ebiking is ebiking and if you haven't tried it yet, you should stop complaining about them and go try it. 

Just a Motorcycle With Pedals

Some electric bikes being sold right now look a lot like dirtbikes, go just about as fast or as fast as dirtbikes, and for all intents and purposes are a "dirt bike". Some that come to mind are the Sur Ron, almost all the bikes made by Cake, and a lot of the DIY bikes that utilize the stealth bomber frame. Lots of people want to put these bikes into the category of "a motorcycle with pedals". As I said above, for someone to understand a subject the tendency is to want to categorize it close to something they already know so that it makes sense to them. But it isn't binary and you should avoid this. 

Dirt bike lovers will get different enjoyment and a different ride experience between the Sur Ron and their KTM or Yamaha. These two experiences are getting closer and closer to each other, but electric bikes in this genre are around half the weight of their combustion engine counterparts and therefore provide a very different riding experience. Ebikes like this are still ebikes, they're not motorcycles. 

Ride Within the Speed Limit Wherever You Are

Where the problem happens, is when the owners of these types of bicycles decide to ride them in their off-road, unlimited speed mode down a bike path and recklessly put people in danger. In general too, while light (100-150lbs), these are still heavy vehicles that can cause serious injuries when they hit someone on a pathway or bike lane. When this happens, people will be quick to point out that this ebike is a motorcycle. That cheesy superhero line comes to mind here "With great power comes great responsibility". People that own dirt bikes wouldn't hurtle them down a bike lane at 40mph, ebikers shouldn't either. This type of behaviour is what will have the regulators cracking down on all our fun quite quickly. Speed limits exist for everyone's safety and knowing them and abiding by them is important whether you are a bicycle, electric bicycle or motorcycle. 

Speed, Power, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Regulators have already decided in most places that electric bikes are gaining in popularity to limit both the power and speed for electric bikes. In Europe and Australia, electric bikes can reach a maximum speed of 25kmh (16mph) and have a maximum engine power of 250W (nominal). In the United States, most places allow up to 750W(nominal) and a maximum speed of 20mph (32kmh) for Class 2 bikes and 28mph (45kmh) for Class 3 bikes. In Canada, all electric bikes are regulated to 500W (nominal) and a maximum speed of 32kmh (20mph). 

I would say that most of our customers ask us for more than this amount of power no matter where they live. We have generations of "power" and "speed" knowledge baked into us now since humans have been propelling ourselves with human made engines. Naturally this translates into the ebike space and we admit, we love the power and speed too and have personal electric bikes that well exceed these limits (15000W 120kmh machines to be exact!). But where we ride them is what is important. I only ride these on dirt trails behind my house that travel up and over mountain passes and I almost never go to the top end of the speed on these. I NEVER ride these bikes that fast on a bike path, I am happy to engage the limiter on these occasions and ride within the legal bounds. 32kmh is plenty fast on a bike pathway. 

This need for speed is a fun urge to satisfy, but we all need to be responsible operators, going beyond these limits is quickly putting electric bikes closer to where everyone will want to understand them more in the "motorcycle" camp. 

Looks are Deceiving 


Our Lyric Heartbreaker models have all the elements of an old school bobber motorcycle. But they have engines within the legal limits in North America and aren't out to set any speed records. They're still quite fast, don't get me wrong, we love riding them at top speed. It's pure enjoyment, but people tend to think of them as a lot faster than they are because of how they look. 

Similarly, some bikes like the Super 73 S1 or the Monday Anza "look" like motorcycles so people want to put them in that category right away. But similarly to the Lyric Heartbreaker, these are bikes that travel within legal speed limits and should be thought of as electric bicycles, not motorcycles. Looks are deceiving, it's best to try these machines and see what you think yourself. If you still want to consider it a motorcycle, that's fine. It isn't, but if it helps you understand it better while we move towards widespread acceptance of these machines then that's fine. 


Don't judge a book by its cover, these are electric bikes and they don't belong in either of the other categories. They are pleasure, commuting, and working vehicles that before recently did not exist and they are providing new forms of enjoyment, transportation and options for many people. They are replacing some people's second vehicle. They are driving foodstands, food delivery, and other businesses around. They are getting people outside and exercising where they didn't have an enjoyable option before. They are opening opportunities that bicycles and motorcycles never did before, and for that reason they are a category all on their own.
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