What is a Superfast Electric Bicycle?

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Electric bicycles are excellent for convenient, quick, and enjoyable transportation. However, what happens when the motor, typically modified or retrofitted as a kit, assists the rider beyond the legal speed limit for motor assistance (usually 20mph in the USA and 15.5 mph in Europe)? This raises concerns for riders and other road users, potentially leading to undesirable situations.

What are Superfast E-bikes?

In the US (Class 1 & 2), the legal limit for e-bikes’ motor assistance is 20mph, while in Europe, it’s 15.5mph. Beyond this limit are classified as ‘speed’ pedelecs or s-pedelecs (Class 3 in the US), capable of pedal-assisted speeds up to 28mph. These bikes fall into a category between traditional e-bikes and motorbikes.

While resembling e-bikes in pedelec design, offering exercise benefits and a bike-like riding experience, they differ from regular 20mph e-bikes. Speed pedelecs have additional legal requirements to be ridden on public bike lanes and roadways, and they are often restricted on low-speed pedestrian/bike paths.

With proper regulations, speed pedelecs can be useful for enjoying the benefits of e-bike riding while reaching destinations faster or covering longer distances. However, any ‘e-bike’ exceeding the 28mph limit is not legally considered an e-bike, offering fewer exercise benefits and a different riding experience.

Types of Superfast E-bike

Superfast illegal e-bikes generally fall into three categories.

1. Chipping/Tuning: Some older e-bike models had easily accessible speed limiters, but modern designs have integrated speed limits. Chipping or tuning involves fitting an electronic device to a legal e-bike, making it run illegally fast. This process often voids warranties and may lead to costly damages.  

This process involves installing a small electronic device onto a legal e-bike to increase its speed illegally, commonly referred to as chipping or tuning. Typically, it requires some level of disassembly of the e-bike’s electronic components, often voiding any warranty and potentially causing costly damage.

While these modified bikes may not surpass the 28 mph limit allowed for speed-pedelecs, it’s crucial to note that this doesn’t classify them as true speed pedelecs. For safety reasons, genuine speed pedelecs should be designed specifically for higher speeds from the beginning and registered accordingly with the relevant authorities. It’s worth mentioning that some chipped bikes may indeed exceed the 28 mph limit.     

2. Off-the-shelf Models: Some companies advertise complete ‘e-bikes‘ with speeds exceeding 28mph, attempting to imply legal advantages while disregarding the e-bike speed limit. 

3. Retro-fit Kits: These kits, often hub kits, may modify the motor’s software and gearing to achieve illegal speeds. Hub motors are not influenced by the bike’s gearing system, and these kits may pose safety risks to the donor bike.      

Why are the companies that sell such goods often not prosecuted? Many sellers of illegal products claim they are for “use on private land only,” providing a paper defense that places the legal responsibility on riders. Despite this, the majority of illegally fast e-bikes are used on public roads, raising concerns about safety and legal compliance.

Obviously the vast majority of illegally fast e-bikes will not be used in this way, but it introduces a ‘paper’ defense that puts the legal onus on the riders of such machines.