Electric bikes are growing in popularity. Faster and more fun than regular bikes, while more energy efficient than cars, they are a great middle ground for those with shorter commutes.
They’re also the perfect way to get around for elderly or disabled people who may find regular pedal bikes too tiring or difficult.
However, electric bikes are a relatively new phenomenon, and as they get faster and more popular, issues are likely to arise around safety, traffic, and more.
If you live in Michigan and are looking to get an electric bike, it’s highly recommended that you make yourself aware of the relevant laws, to ensure you are able to travel safely and without posing a risk to others.
Interestingly, Michigan seems to be set to boom with industrial ebike production relocating from China to Detroit. If the trend continues the growing ebike industry could really benefit the state and in particular, the city.
In this post we will break down everything you need to know about riding electric bikes in Michigan, but first, the obvious:
What is an Electric Bike or E-Bike?
In some cases (popularly known as pedelecs), the rider pedals just as they would with a traditional bike, with the electric motor supplementing extra power to help the rider easily reach higher speeds.
In other cases, the rider doesn’t need to pedal at all – they instead activate a throttle and the electric power replaces human power entirely.
Beyond a battery and drivetrain, most electric bikes will look similar to traditional bikes, scooters or mopeds and may even be difficult to tell apart without looking more closely.
What Are the Benefits of Electric Bikes?
- E-bikes provide a way to get outside and get some light exercise for disabled, injured or elderly people who may find regular cycling too strenuous
- E-bikes are emission free and very quiet making them one of the most sustainable and low impact ways to travel
- Research suggests E-bikers ride for longer and more often than traditional cyclists
- Electric bikes allow you to arrive at work or other destinations significantly quicker than a traditional bicycle. They’re great for commuting short distances in the larger cities like Grand Rapids or Detroit.
- Electric bikes are easier to ride uphill, on uneven ground, or in other locations where riding a traditional bicycle may be difficult or impossible.
What are the Risks of Electric Bikes?
Unfortunately, since electric bikes have only recently become commonly used, there isn’t a great deal of data to answer this question.
However, the evidence that exists thus far does seem to suggest that accidents on electric bikes can typically lead to more serious injuries than those on regular pedal bikes.
The reason for this is likely the increased speed and ease of acceleration.
A trial carried out by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) found that electric bike riders are more likely to suffer from internal injuries or concussions compared to traditional cyclists.
However, this risk can generally be avoided or reduced by wearing a helmet, paying careful attention, and not riding too fast.
The only other risk carried by electric bikes that aren’t experienced by riders of regular bikes are technical ones. For example, the risk of a battery fire or stuck throttle – but these are typically easily avoided by appropriate maintenance.
Michigan’s Legal Definition of an Electric Bike
You can read Michigan’s official guidance here.
However, the most important definition of an E-bike can be found here:
“To qualify as an e-bike in Michigan, the bike must meet the following requirements:
- It must have a seat or saddle for the rider to sit.
- There must be fully operational pedals.
- It must have an electric motor of no more than 750 watts (or 1 horsepower).
Classes of Electric Bike in Michigan
In January 2018, in addition to the definition of an electric bike listed above, new electric bike laws split E-bikes into three separate classes.
Once an E-bike has been purchased, it’s illegal for the classification label to be altered or tampered with in any way.
An e-bike equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and disengages or ceases to function when the bike reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour.
An e-bike equipped with a motor that propels the bike, whether the rider is pedaling or not, to a speed of no more than 20 miles per hour, and disengages or ceases to function when the brakes are applied or throttle is released.
An e-bike equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and disengages or ceases to function when the bike reaches a speed of 28 miles per hour.”https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/things-to-do/hike-and-bike/ebikes
Electric bikes do not need any special license or insurance to ride an electric bike, however, you can see from the below table the following limitations do apply:
|Class 1||Class 2||Class 3|
|Minimum age to operate||None||None||14|
|Rider required to wear helmet||No||No||Yes if aged 14-18|
|Rider must pedal for motor to engage||Yes||No||Yes|
|Maximum speed for motor assist||20||20||28|
Where Can You Ride Electric Bikes in Michigan?
All of the three electric bike classes listed above can be ridden on any road that is open to regular bicycles – including both designated cycling lanes and regular roads.
- Class 1 electric bikes can also be used on linear trails with “asphalt, limestone, or a similar surface”, when not specifically prohibited on certain trails.
- Class 2 and Class 3 electric bikes can only be used on trails if authorized by the relevant local agency or authority.
However, all electric bikes regardless of class are prohibited from any trail that is designated as non-motorized or that has been made by grading the existing soil without adding surface materials – which includes mountain bike trails.
E-bikes of all classes are prohibited from Mackinac Island, without a specific permit from the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.
Individuals with disabilities who use electric bikes as mobility aids can disregard most restrictions and use them on roads and trails where they would otherwise be prohibited.
Do I Need to Wear a Helmet on an Electric Bike in Michigan?
Michigan state law dictates that Riders under 18 years old or riding a class 3 e-bike must wear helmets.
Adults riding other e-bikes do not need to wear helmets, however it remains highly recommended.
Tips on How to Stay Safe While Riding an E-Bike In Michigan
- Read the instruction manual before riding as there is a wide variety of different electric bikes, some of which may work in surprising ways
- Take extra care when mounting and dismounting, and ensure you are fully mounted and comfortable before riding or touching the throttle
- Begin stopping well in advance of stop signs and intersections, and allow enough time to come to a complete stop
- Watch our for the large curbs. Detroit, Glen Arbor and Drummond are known for high curbs that could easily puncture your tire.
- Ride slowly until you have gained confidence and have experience with the e-bike
- Use a helmet, lights, a horn, and any other safety features that are available
- Pay attention to the flow of traffic at all times (especially in Detroit at rush hour)
If you’ve enjoyed our article on electric bike laws in Michigan, you might want to read some of our other posts on electric bike laws: