Electric bikes have been popular in California as a mode of transportation and recreation for some time. You are likely to see them in urban communities such as Oakland and San Francisco. Perhaps you own one yourself.

Electric bikes have battery-powered motors that assist with pedaling over steep hills and other obstacles. In the past, the Vehicle Code in California lumped e-bikes together with vehicles such as mopeds, restricting where e-bikes can go as well as imposing other requirements. In 2015, the California Legislature passed amendments to the Vehicle Code, easing some of the restrictions on e-bikes.

The amendments redefine e-bikes and set guidelines for them but give individual communities the right to set their own limits.

Electric bike classes

There are three classes of e-bikes. Reaching speeds of up to 28 miles per hour, class 3 e-bikes are the fastest. They have more restrictions on them than class 1 and class 2 electric bikes. Similarly to mopeds, you generally cannot take a class 3 e-bike on recreational trails or bike paths that are not adjacent to a roadway.

Local ordinances

The Vehicle Code as amended gives local authorities the right to set their own ordinances governing e-bikes. They can prohibit all classes of e-bikes on paths where class 1 and class 2 e-bikes could otherwise go. They can also choose to authorize class 3 e-bikes on paths where state law would prohibit them.

In Oakland, following a successful pilot program in 2017, you can ride class 1 and class 2 e-bikes on selected trails, including:

  • Marsh Creek Trail
  • Iron Horse Trail
  • Contra Costa Trail
  • George Miller Trail

You can ride a class 1 or class 2 e-bike on Alameda Creek Trail, but only the paved portion. The city does not allow class 3 e-bikes on any of these trails.