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

Chris King, March 8, 2019 at 6:28 am

Sure, why not? Let us not be grumpy old men.


Bluestreelguy ., March 9, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Electric Harley here i come!


Jboz, March 10, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Sad news to report and I thought it belonged in this thread. Jason Stoller, who posted passionately on this topic, sadly has passed away. This news breaks my heart. Jason was a very unique person, and he had an enormous heart. Jason and I spoke frequently, but had kind of lost touch last year. I saw him on Day 6 of RABRAI last year. In a sea of riders, I instantly recognized him by the American flag waving on the back of his trike and his signature watermelon helmet. We rode together for about 10 miles and got caught up, and I’m so glad we did. Since then we stayed in regular contact. But about 2 weeks ago my texts started going unanswered and I knew something was wrong. Jason was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, even if you didn’t need a shirt, but especially if you did. I knew he was battling leukemia along with several other issues, but his upbeat demeanor never revealed how serious his condition was. The world, and our community, has lost a genuinely special person.


mcpartla, March 10, 2019 at 4:05 pm

I did not know Jason personally but I remember seeing a guy with our American flag on the back of his bike on more than one occasion a time or two and I may have even exchanged greetings with him too. Condolences to Jason’s family and friends. I’ve also enjoyed the discussion on e-bikes to which Jason contributed since my experience last year (I got put in an ambulance at almost exactly the halfway point ending my 2018 trek) and this led to my purchasing my first e-bike in early August so I could continue enjoying bicycling with friends at home and it will help me to participate in my 16th consecutive RAGBRAI again in 2020. I’m sure we’ll be talking about “e-power” with many as we ride again across Iowa.


LawnchairMan, March 10, 2019 at 6:40 pm

OK, I know I have said that this topic has been beaten to death, but I just took another look at the Iowa code and am confused. Perhaps someone could help me.

First here is the code:
Section 321.1 ( 40)( c )(2) provides that a “bicycle” can be “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.” Iowa
Code§ 321.1(40)(c)(2) (2009).

This seems to talk about a ‘bicycle” that can be operated without using the pedals. Previous discussions have stated that most ebikes are power assist, so if they were “powered solely by such a motor” they wouldn’t move. Can power assist bikes be switched to operate solely on electric power so they could be tested? If this law does not pertain to power assist bikes, then are they bicycles?

What about an ebike that propels a 200 pound man at nearly 20 miles per hour to qualify, but is given to a 100 pound teenager? Who is going to check? Who is going to check any of it?

Another part of this that concerns me is that this law sounds like an ebike could add almost 20 miles per hour to whatever speed the cyclist could do on his own. Since I can do 20 on the flats without assist, would I do 40 with assist? I frequently do 45 downhill, so with assist?… I know that air resistance increases exponentially with speed, so it wouldn’t be a direct add, but the actual results could still be scary. My club member who rides an ebike said something about the assist kicking off at 20 mph, but the law says nothing about this.

Do I make sense interpreting this law the way I am? I know this won’t make a difference about ebikes being allowed at Ragbrai, but I thought it was food for thought. I would appreciate your opinions.


mootsman, March 10, 2019 at 8:41 pm


E-bikes in order to fit into the manufacturer classes have software that limits the speed, in this case to 20. Irrespective of the rider weight. There are enforcement issues though as class-3 e-bikes can go 28 and class-4s well over. Most you can’t tell jut by looking at them which class they are. The motor cuts out at 20 for class-1s & 2s. 2s require no pedaling, 1s do.


LawnchairMan, March 10, 2019 at 9:53 pm


Thank you for the explanation of ebike classes. From that it sounds like class ones would not fit the description of what the Iowa law refers to, so I would not consider them to be Iowa bicycles. Class 2 would. The law says nothing about limiters, so if, as Ken says, the software can be modified, even class twos could run faster than 20 when pedaling and satisfy this law. Maybe there are other laws about tampering with ebike limiters. Again, who would know?


KenH, March 11, 2019 at 8:08 am

I am very sad to hear of Jason’s passing. Even though we disagreed on some things I think his good heart was evident in the passion he had for this topic and the reason’s he expressed for his opinions. It is always a sad day when we learn that a brother or sister cyclist will ride with us no more.


KenH, March 11, 2019 at 8:48 am

LawnChairMan: There is confusion on this topic because of three things that do not agree with each other. Iowa law is one. Various people’s reading of Iowa law is the second. And the industry classes are the third. Iowa law does not follow industry classes exactly. People who are familiar with ebikes that they can buy tend to interpret Iowa law based on their experience with the ebikes they can buy. The ebikes that you can buy tend to follow the industry classes because laws are fluid and vary from state to state in the US and from country to country around the world. There is some safety in numbers for ebike manufacturers by following industry classes since no matter what local laws may dictate you are no worse off than your competitors if you all offer the same thing. Some day industry classes and state laws may evolve to a state of perfect harmony and the situation will be much simpler for manufacturers, consumers, and law enforcement. But that day is not today, not in Iowa.

Iowa law makes no reference to pedal assist at all. It does require “operable pedals” but it does not stipulate in any fashion how the force the rider applies to the pedals interacts with the power applied by the electric motor. When it says “whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles per hour.” it is imposing a speed limit for throttle only operation. It does not impose any explicit speed limit for pedal assist operation.

If your ebike does not have a throttle, a control of some kind that you can use to activate the motor without pedaling, then your ebike cannot violate the 20 mph speed restriction because it has no operating mode where it is propelled solely by the electric motor. In pedal assist mode your bike is being propelled by both your legs and the motor, the motor is not acting alone to propel the bike, and Iowa law is silent about the speed limit in this mode.

Except that Iowa law does stipulate a maximum of 750 W of motor assist power and this coupled with physics does impose an implicit speed limit. A fit young rider on a time trial bike could exceed 40 mph in pedal assist mode with 750 W of help from an electric motor, according to popular online bicycle speed calculators. This is twice the speed limit that is often given for Iowa legal ebikes.

The belief that Iowa legal ebikes will not apply motor assist above 20 mph seems to be driven by the facts that 20 mph is mentioned in Iowa law and that industry class 1 and 2 ebikes do have a 20 mph speed limit in pedal assist mode. But that is a decision by the industry to give its member companies a standard they can build to and have the maximum amount of acceptance under the laws of the various states and nations of the world. It is not required by Iowa law and it would be a fairly simple job for either the manufacturer or a hacker to modify the code in an ebike to allow it to provide the maximum assist allowed under Iowa law.

In other words industry classes 1 and 2 are both completely compliant with Iowa law and since the industry makes them in large numbers and the other two industry classes do not comply with Iowa law they are the types of ebikes you are most likely to see in Iowa. But operation outside of industry classes 1 and 2 is also allowed by Iowa law and therefore you cannot discount the possibility that competition for sales will result in the marketing of ebikes in Iowa that provide all the performance that Iowa law allows.


mootsman, March 11, 2019 at 9:28 am


I think according to the Iowa Statute and RAGBRAI’s definition both class-1 and class-2 e-bikes are allowed. Of course you can’t tell a class-1 from a class-3 just by looking at it either which is an enforcement issue.

Class-1: Pedal assist only. Rider must pedal and motor cuts out at 20mph.
Class-2: Identical to class-1 but adds a throttle and rider does not have to pedal (at all).
Class-3: Identical to class-2 but motor does not cut out until 28mph.
Class-4: Identical to class-2&3 but motor does not cut out. Some e-bikes are rated and 50mph.

Someone brought up I think an important safety issue. Riders that can pedal bikes a fair bit faster then 20 usually have the experience to do that safely, especially in a group. E-bikers who don’t have that skill set can just purchase that speed now. And I’d think some of the hard drinkers RAGBRAI is noted for just might make that purchase.

Some have also faulted faster human powered riders with causing the same issues and a few may be the issue. We had a saying when I rode Cat 4 races, “more strength then brains” for those. But the majority of the safety conflicts on RAGBRAI have to do with slower riders not paying attention. As on a freeway in a car, you pay attention to your line of travel (keeping it straight) and should check the other lane before changing your line. Even if you are riding slow. I’ve had riders gripe at me for getting too close. But every time they had abruptly moved left without checking causing the close call. And no, we can’t call out “on your left” all day long literally a thousand times. I’ve also been griped at for actually calling it out.

And many slower riders even when its clear on the right ride far too far left. They have this “watch out for me so I don’t have to” attitude. We all play a big part in safety. If you always blame others your won’t learn. I’ve learned on RAGBRAI to watch out for riders approaching the rider in front of them. They are likely candidates to make a sudden move left without looking. But they should look. That’s why I have a mirror on RAGBRAI, to check first, move 2nd..


LawnchairMan, March 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Ken H, and Mootsman,

Thank you for your information about ebike classes and industry standards. It puts it in better perspective for me.

The point I was trying to make is that I think the Iowa bicycle code does NOT apply to class one ebikes. Since class ones cannot be “powered solely by such a motor while ridden”, they are not acknowledged in this code. I point this out because way earlier in the topic a poster quoted the Iowa definition of a bicycle as if it included all ebikes that met the power limit, so end of discussion. Yes Ken, I don’t doubt that people interpret the code in different ways. The way I read it, class ones do not qualify as bicycles.

This is all moot of course. I’m sure there will be several class one ebikes at Ragbrai and no one will challenge them.
I hope to see you guys somewhere along the route. I’m building a windmill for my helmet. Say hi if you see me!


Evin Thompson, March 11, 2019 at 7:57 pm

I have followed this thread for a while.

To hear a member of RAGBRAI nation has passed creates great sadness in my soul

So the choice to all that want to continue to post in this thread

1. Are you posting to honor Jason?
2. Are you posting for your own ego’s?
3. Or do we remember Jason with no more posts and let this very virotle thread die?

You will not hear from me again, I vote #3.

God Bless Jason, RIP!



LawnchairMan, March 12, 2019 at 12:06 am


If those are the choices, then I would have to go with the second. I agree that this thread has gone on too long, but trying to guilt or shame us into stopping it just makes me want to continue from spite. When my friend passed I handed out mourning bands at the start of the Mile of Silence. I didn’t try to coerce others to change. I quietly did my own thing. If you think your silence on this thread honors Jason, then that’s great for you. Just don’t expect others to honor him the same way.

Jason didn’t start this topic. This is a thread about ebikes of which Jason contributed. I think it would honor him just as much to continue one of the last things he was part of. I didn’t know Jason, but I do remember some of his posts from years past. I may think of him at this year’s Mile of Silence. I still reserve the right to post when I choose. In no way will it dishonor Jason.


dalebob, March 13, 2019 at 3:04 pm

In what turned out to be our last correspondence, Jason and I chatted about people being grumpy on the forum and how he just takes everything in stride. I ended with ‘see you on the ride.’I hope everyone who is riding, whatever you are riding, will think about those we have lost and hold close the ones we still have. Peace all.


mcpartla, April 7, 2019 at 9:38 pm

What about Throttle-Assist e-bikes … are these legal in Iowa roads? New term to me but My understanding is these bicycles run automatically and require no pedaling to propel the bike and rider.


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