Electric assist bikes?

OK, here is something to perk up the forum. We have seen a huge increase in electric assist bikes around here, and I imagine we will be seeing an increase of said bikes on RAGBRAI this July. I have an opinion concerning this, but I am more interested in what the forum community has to say. Is this the beginning of the end? Will this allow folks who would otherwise not be able to ride to make it happen? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Are there any “rules” regarding their use on RAGBRAI? What are your thoughts?

396 Replies

KenH, February 22, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Iowa Motor Vehicle Law

I can only hope that the Iowa legislature’s own website is authoritative enough for those of you who insist on treating this thread as a peer reviewed scientific journal!

The definitions of motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles can be found on page 15. A search of the document does not return any hits on “moped” so apparently Iowa does not use that term in its legal code. Mootsman’s summary above is a reasonable good faith effort to describe it in a few words. I will go further and it will take many more words.

Industry classifications and standards are frequently used in state/federal laws and are often adopted verbatim but Iowa does not. Iowa law defines three classes of vehicles that are relevant to this discussion on page 15 of the document linked above.

“Bicycle” means either of the following:
(1) A device having two wheels and having at least one saddle or seat for the use of a rider
which is propelled by human power.
(2) A device having two or three wheels with fully operable pedals and an electric motor
of less than seven hundred fifty watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved
level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles
per hour.

A few things to note about a bicycle under Iowa law:

* a human powered trike is not a bicycle! I assume this is an oversight but technically….
* “pedal assist” is not mentioned at all. It is not a requirement and the speed limit specification assumes or at least implies that the electric powered bicycle can be operated by a throttle alone.
* no definition is given on how effective the pedals must be, only that they be “operable”.
* no weight limit is given
* no range limit is given
* any electric moped with the appropriate power and speed limit is currently considered a bicycle under Iowa law
* the language is not identical with industry classes 1 and 2 but it is fair to say that these industry classes will meet Iowa’s definition of a bicycle as long as Iowa’s specific requirements are followed where they differ
* Iowa law discriminates against self powered bicycles that do not use electric motors but which otherwise comply with the requirements defining a bicycle
* This definition does not specify how the motor ratings are established, therefore they could potentially be produced by a software imposed limit

“Motorized bicycle” means a motor vehicle having a saddle or a seat for the use of
a rider, designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, and
not capable of operating at a speed in excess of thirty-nine miles per hour on level ground
unassisted by human power.

A few things to note about a motorized bicycle under Iowa law:

* this is basically industry class 3 but with a 39 mph speed limit rather than 28 mph
* industry class 4 vehicles that cannot exceed 39 mph are motorized bicycles under Iowa law
* no pretense of pedal power is required
* any self powered “bicycle” which fails to meet the bicycle definition in Iowa law solely because it uses a powerplant other than an electric motor presumably falls into this category
* there are no weight, range, or power limits on motorized bicycles

“Motorcycle” means every motor vehicle having a saddle or seat for the use of
the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground
including a motor scooter but excluding a tractor, an autocycle, and a motorized bicycle.

A few things to note about a motorcycle under Iowa law:

* industry class 4 vehicles that exceed 39 mph are considered motorcycles under Iowa law unless they meet the definition of an autocycle
* an autocycle is a three wheeled motorcycle with two wheels in front and some other features that distinguish it from a motorcycle. I suppose you would have the read the entire Iowa vehicle code to get a sense of why they are teated differently under Iowa law.

Some things to consider based on Iowa’s definitions:

1) An electric two wheeler like the upcoming 62 mile, 290 pound, 4 kW Vespa Elettrica is a motorcycle under Iowa law because it presumably can exceed 39 mph.

2) If an Elettrica were electronically limited to 39 mph it would be a motorized bicycle.

3) If an Elettrica were electronically limited to 20 mph and 0.75 kW and also fitted with pedals it would qualify as a bicycle. Now, this is unlikely to happen given the weight and price tag of an Elettrica but a somewhat lighter electric moped could easily be produced in a bicycle compliant model and there surely would be a market for it.

#1300033

David C., February 22, 2019 at 2:04 pm

I agree with *some* of this interpretation. A speed pedelec with an electric motor no more than 750W/1 hp in power but without a throttle, limited to e-assist speeds of no greater than 28 mph, e.g. a Class 3 device using the non-binding industry standards discussed here, is legally a bicycle in Iowa.

I don’t agree electric mopeds are bicycles in Iowa unless they have pedals and they are limited to speeds of 20 mph on flat ground unassisted by the rider. Scooters are not bikes which is part of the controversy with HSB38.

To suggest Class 3 devices in Iowa are governed by motorcycle/moped law, however, is simply mistaken.

I also noticed human powered trikes are not bicycles. However they are not vehicles either. Iowa Code 321.1(90).

This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by David C..

#1300035

David C., February 22, 2019 at 2:07 pm

I agree with some of this interpretation. A speed pedelec with an electric motor no more than 750W/1 hp in power but without a throttle, limited to e-assist speeds of no greater than 28 mph, e.g. a Class 3 device using the non-binding industry standards discussed here, is legally a bicycle in Iowa.

To suggest Class 3 devices in Iowa are governed by motorcycle/moped law is simply mistaken.

I also noticed human powered trikes are not bicycles. However they are not vehicles either. Iowa Code 321.1(90).

#1300036

mcpartla, February 22, 2019 at 2:22 pm

I agree some are taking the topic way too seriously and making unnecessary judgements about the people who choose an e-bike. I bought an e-bike after last July’s Ragbrai because for the first time in 15 consecutive Ragbrai I did not finish due to unexpected heslth issues. Half way through on Wednesday I knew to stop and have my b.p. checked and spent the next 2.5 days in an Ames hospital. The e assist makes biking for me fun again and extends my active bicycling life a little longer. I’m looking forward to 2019 and further discussions as we ride. Look for me on a black Trek CrossRip riding with the Out-of-Staters charter. I hope to maintain a steady pace and complete the entire ride one more time!

#1300038

KenH, February 22, 2019 at 2:33 pm

I disagree because industry class 3 can go to 28 mph whereas the Iowa code limits “bicycles” to 20 mph. Throttle or no throttle makes no difference at all other than if the bicycle does not have a throttle, if the battery only applies power to the motor when you are pedaling then there appears to be no way to demonstrate compliance with the requirement “whose maximum speed on a paved
level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles
per hour”. If the bike has to be pedaled for power to be applied then there is no way to operate it in a mode where it is powered solely by the motor!

As I said, industry class 3 and part of industry class 4 production exceed 20 mph and therefore cannot be considered bicycles in Iowa, they are motorized bicycles. As far as RAGBRAI has said bicycles only are allowed on the ride, motorized bicycles are not.

Interestingly Teams and Clubs are now required to enforce the e-bike rule as you can see here.

#1300041

mootsman, February 22, 2019 at 3:10 pm

Really good information KenH. I didn’t know there was an “in-between” category called motorized bicycle. Same outcome though as TJ said OK for RAGBRAI to his particular class-1 e-bike experience, leaving class-2s as a gray area currently for RAGBRAI. If e-bikes were bicycles they’d just be called bicycles. SO RAGBRAI is morphing from a bicycle tour to a bicycle/e-bike tour. E-bikes are allowed to follow the laws for bicycles under Iowa law, but don’t fit Merriam’s definition of a bicycle. I’m not sure what additional laws apply to motorized bicycles. Probably short of motorcycle laws but beyond bicycle laws. But the class-3/4 discussion is moot for RAGBRAI as they are not allowed. Maybe 100% human powered completed RAGBRAIs should earn a special patch going forward. We all love patches. 🙂

This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by mootsman.

This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by mootsman.

#1300044

David C., February 22, 2019 at 3:22 pm

KenH-I thought this was where we were in agreement. Respectfully, sadly, we must now agree to disagree then.

Nowhere in the code, the caselaw, nor the administrative code are bicycles limited to 20 mph without qualification as you suggest. The 20 mph limit has to do not with overall maximum speed but speed of the device when powered solely by the motor on level, paved ground. The statute at Iowa Code 321.1(40)(c)(2) qualifies the maximum 20 mph speed:

1. “On a paved, level surface”
2. “When powered solely by such motor”

There’s no way to power a speed pedelec solely by the motor; it requires pedaling. The law prohibits throttle equipped vehicles from exceeding 20 mph on level paved ground.

Class 3 devices are therefore bicycles in Iowa as long as they have no throttle and an electric motor of 750W or less.

#1300049

mootsman, February 22, 2019 at 3:36 pm

The classes (1-4) I listed are from e-bike industry standards and are not statutory. The various state laws do not use those classes but usually follow them. While class-1s & 2s can be pedaled or coast over 20 the motor cuts out at 20. The Iowa law reflects this also, at least what has been posted to this thread. If you want, do your own research on the classes on google.

And more importantly, TJ only sanctioned e-bikes that follow his experience riding one. And he specifically said 20 mph limit and pedal assisted. Class-2s are not specifically allowed either, but I thought they just might pass. Not that you can tell one from another by looking at them.

This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by mootsman.

#1300053

David C., February 22, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Mootsman – agreed. The industry classes are non binding. But they were a useful addition to the discussion. I agree with you that they are not statutory. They have been helpful to me but they are, indeed, nowhere in the code.

Neither is an unqualified 20 mph speed limit.

Which is why I was disappointed to read RAGBRAI directing teams to enforce the definition of bicycle while introducing yet another statutorily undefined term: ebike, which is at odds with the statutory definition.

I think it confuses things to direct teams and clubs to enforce the definition of a bicycle and also to tell them an ebike is speed limited to 20 mph. RAGBRAI can limit ebikes to 20 mph without qualification but then don’t also tell teams and clubs to enforce the definition of a bicycle. They’re not the same.

#1300059

mcpartla, February 22, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Technical input suggests some people think an e-bike can go a maximize 20 mph … or 28 mph in a different classification. This is incorrect but the E-assistance does cut off when the maximum speed is reached. Guys in my bike club thought this too until they watched me accelerate in the Turbo mode from a stop sign quickly reaching in excess of 40 mph with little effort. Some bikes in a different classification have a gear for continuous automated pedaling with no pedaling effort. Juiced brand offers this. Tour de France sowed this a couple years back when one of the racers fell and his bike pedals continued to rotate. But who really cares what another rider chooses to use as long as it does not interfere with other riders bicycling?

#1300060

David C., February 22, 2019 at 7:09 pm

Kenh: “If the bike has to be pedaled for power to be applied then there is no way to operate it in a mode where it is powered solely by the motor!”

Bingo. It therefore cannot exceed 20 mph when powered solely by the motor. It is a legal bicycle. However, if it cuts out pedal assist at 28 mph, it isn’t a motorized bicycle (moped) because it won’t travel more than 39 mph.

Otherwise delete “when powered solely by such a motor” from the statute. This language simply cannot be ignored in the interpretation of the law because “it doesn’t matter.”

I’m not going to ride an e-assist bike on RAGBRAI. I never was going to do so and have not done so.

My only dog in this fight is that I believe the flyer contributes to misinformation about what a legal bicycle is in Iowa. RAGBRAI can do what it wants as far as limiting bicycles and ebikes. However, their flyer doesn’t just do that; it cites behind what the law defines as a bicycle while offering a more restrictive definition.

KenH, respectfully, and the RAGBRAI flyer are, in my view, simply mistaken.

#1300082

Jason Stoller, February 22, 2019 at 9:47 pm

I disagree because industry class 3 can go to 28 mph whereas the Iowa code limits “bicycles” to 20 mph. Throttle or no throttle makes no difference at all other than if the bicycle does not have a throttle, if the battery only applies power to the motor when you are pedaling then there appears to be no way to demonstrate compliance with the requirement “whose maximum speed on a paved
level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles
per hour”. If the bike has to be pedaled for power to be applied then there is no way to operate it in a mode where it is powered solely by the motor!

As I said, industry class 3 and part of industry class 4 production exceed 20 mph and therefore cannot be considered bicycles in Iowa, they are motorized bicycles. As far as RAGBRAI has said bicycles only are allowed on the ride, motorized bicycles are not.

Interestingly Teams and Clubs are now required to enforce the e-bike rule as you can see here.

I was not going to reply any more to this thread as I stated earlier but unfortunately due to recent discussion and what I see as a very unfair turn of events that has happened which I personally suspect has been prompted by a Minority and not a Majority of people that participate in Ragbrai.

First and foremost there seems to be a clique that exists that is focused on doing whatever they can to restrict e-assisted bikes from even participating in Ragbrai.

In addition to that somehow there was enough pressure applied where e-assist regulation with some restriction has been added to the Ragbrai Regulations/Rules.

Granted it makes sense that Ragbrai wants to insure that every rider is as safe as possible who participates and rides a bicycle no matter what kind during Ragbrai.

So I ask! If Ragbrai is going to attempt to control and regulate the speed of E-assisted bikes which they have now published, are they going to do the same for Tandems? High Speed Pace lines? ( Wait those do not exist do they? ), and Individuals whom are capable and do right at speeds faster than 20mph?

Are there now going to be officials that will be sitting at different places on the Ragbrai course with Radar Guns?

Will those individuals caught violating the speed rules be ejected and banned from participating in Ragbrai for Life?

Lets go a step further:

What about intoxicated Riders? Why is that OK? We all know it goes on.
Should there be a Breathalyzer test and Ragbrai penalty?

Last year I had a guy who was clearly intoxicated and should have not even been on a bicycle ride into the rear of mine and do damage. The year before another fell over and through the canopy on top of my Trike was a hand hold for him until he ended up touching my head and I stopped rolling to help pick him up off the ground.

You know there are seriously bigger problems to deal with than e-assisted bikes and for the life of me I do not understand why a few people got a burr in their saddle about them.

While I am not happy that after last years Ragbrai I was told I have Leukemia, but maybe its a blessing. Ragbrai used to be a wonderful event I looked forward to every year. TJ knows I had to overcome more than one hurdle to participate. E-assist bikes are not as big an issue as many of you are attempting to make them out to be. Unfortunately there are too many people there are uniformed and misinformed about them. I would not be surprised if the ones protesting the most, have the least real time experience with an e-assist bike and have never owned one or used one long term. Experiences something for 15 mins, or an hour is not the same as using something for a month or 6 months.

The same goes for those in this forum who have only ridden Two wheel upright bikes and never have ridden a Recumbent Bike. They just do not understand them, their advantages, or how they really work.

My purpose to not the change the subject here but if some so called experts that ride Ragbrai actually did their home work they might find Recumbents have been around a very very long time.

God help them if they ever come across Velomobiles. By the way there have been that have surfaced during a few Ragbrai’s ( by the way they go faster then 20mph just pedaling) and they are bicycles. Yes human powered. Several have been pulled over by police in different states. If you do not believe me do a google search.

So all I ask, if you are going to start targeting particular types of bikes and riders who Participate in Ragbrai, be fair! Target the other groups too!

Jason

#1300086

David C., February 23, 2019 at 4:01 am

Jason Stoller – I think you’ll be okay if you upgrade to a Bosch STEPS system. It won’t assist past 20 mph and has no throttle. It has an automatic transmission with di2 electronic shifting on a rear Alfine 8 hub. I’m not sure if you can get the STEPS with the Alfine 11. I know the Alfine 11 will work with di2 however.

I still think the GoSwiss S-Ped system on the Scorpion FS 26 is a legal bicycle in Iowa. But it appears you will run into flak on RAGBRAI with it. If you want to ride RAGBRAI with a factory e—assist on HP, I think you have to get the STEPS.

Don’t give up on your quest for a RAGBRAI compliant ebike. I think it can work. I want to see your new e-trike when you get it.

I agree with others that no matter what system you get, you have to figure out when and where to charge on RAGBRAI.

Thank you to all of you who disagreed with me. I learned a lot during the exchange and look forward to seeing you all out there when you pass me by.

This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by David C.. Reason: Autocorrect thinks it knows things

#1300087

Jason Stoller, February 23, 2019 at 1:14 pm

Jason Stoller – I think you’ll be okay if you upgrade to a Bosch STEPS system. It won’t assist past 20 mph and has no throttle. It has an automatic transmission with di2 electronic shifting on a rear Alfine 8 hub. I’m not sure if you can get the STEPS with the Alfine 11. I know the Alfine 11 will work with di2 however.

I still think the GoSwiss S-Ped system on the Scorpion FS 26 is a legal bicycle in Iowa. But it appears you will run into flak on RAGBRAI with it. If you want to ride RAGBRAI with a factory e—assist on HP, I think you have to get the STEPS.

Don’t give up on your quest for a RAGBRAI compliant ebike. I think it can work. I want to see your new e-trike when you get it.

I agree with others that no matter what system you get, you have to figure out when and where to charge on RAGBRAI.

Thank you to all of you who disagreed with me. I learned a lot during the exchange and look forward to seeing you all out there when you pass me by.

David, I am aware of the Bosch system and thank you for your suggestion. I have been involved in the different configurations and construction of e-assist bikes for several years now. I actually personally built my own system and have participated in Ragbrai from Start to finish including the Karras loop. My e-assist motor runs silent or nearly silent. My Trike can be pedaled completely manually, use torque assist, be programmed to use cruise control if I wish, or use a throttle over ride if I choose. Some people who claim to be knowledgable believe that the size or wattage of an electric motor will limit the speed of e-assist. They also believe that understand battery chemistry and I have seen them lump all Lithium battery chemistries together without bothering to explain any differences. They also have not bothered to explain to explain different battery chemistries either although they tout years of expertise in the field. I think that speaks for itself.

There are different versions of the Steps motors, Bafang motors, and so on. Not all rear hub motors are Direct Drive. A Copenhagen Wheel can be bolted on many different bikes to provide electric assist. So can a Falco motor or many others that exist out there. Golden Motors makes many motors that are bolt on that can be programmed.

So much for the so called experts in this forum. If I remember right I think I posted much earlier in this thread that there has been a lot of Misinformation posted by a lot of So-Called Experts touting Engineering Degrees, Expertise, Familiarity, Great Wealths of Knowledges , who really did not have any real substantial valid hands on experience with e-assist or how it actually functions.

David, in the end it does not matter for me. As I have stated, even though I completed last years Ragbrai with E-assist including the Karras loop (and I believe I was the only ebike to do so), and I pedaled throughout Ragbrai, I was diagnosed with Leukemia (AML M5) week later. I had fought to attend last year as I mentioned after over coming a heart revision surgery that was botched by a prominent hospital in Chicago. In the past I have attended without e-assist on the same Trike after overcoming 4 back surgeries where I had been fused in my neck and lower spine. So I have done it both ways. I am not Superman but I am a Ragbrai Fan. I am also a Veteran as well as a Member of the Masonic Lodge if that matters to anyone.

While I cannot speak for the founders of Ragbrai, I would have hoped that would have wanted to Promote the Participation of People to Enjoy Ragbrai and Bicycling, no matter what type of Bicycle they ride and set aside their petty differences.

David I would attempt to participate this year even with Leukemia but the Cancer has migrated and my Doctors have already told me no.

I hope you and the others enjoy Ragbrai this year. I will be out there with you in Spirit.

Jason

#1300098

KenH, February 24, 2019 at 5:05 pm

David C, I agree with you on the motor only speed limits in Iowa law. I did not at first but after reflecting on what you said and looking at some information on the Juiced Bikes website it dawned on me that Iowa’s speed limits are based on the unassisted motor operation mode only. Various people have said the opposite here so often that they had me convinced otherwise. But as you say, that is not what Iowa law actually requires. The eBikes that people can currently buy and ride may cut off pedal assist at 20 mph but Iowa law does not require that. People that are interested can use one or more of the various online bicycle speed calculators to make their own calculations but if you add 750 W of motor assist to the 150 W a fit young cyclist could generate then 34 mph in pedal assist mode on an entirely legal Iowa ebike is entirely possible. Even higher speeds are possible in pacelines where you can pull a higher power briefly when your turn comes up and then draft on the others to rest before it comes up again.

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