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, April 8, 2019 at 8:23 am

According to Iowa law and therefore RAGBRAI policy a throttle assist bike is legal as long as the motor only mode is limited to 20 mph. There is no speed limit when the motor is assisting you to pedal the bike but if the motor alone is propelling the bike the motor has to cut off at 20 mph. This is very easy to check before hand, you just get on the bike and twist the throttle on level ground. If it refuses to go faster than 20 mph unless you pedal, your bike is legal.

Just be warned that the RAGBRAI daily distances exceed the motor only range of a great many ebikes. And they are not guaranteed to be perfectly flat and windless. As a result, some pedaling may be required….


KenH, April 8, 2019 at 8:45 am

LawnchairMan: Iowa law is its own thing and it does not mention the industry class system at all. Industry classes are either reflective of the typical laws in other states or a reasonable set of progressively defined performance classes that lawmakers can write laws around, if they choose. Iowa chose to go its own way. Industry classes 1 and 2 do comply with Iowa law but ebikes that comply with neither industry class 1 or 2 will also comply with Iowa law. Iowa law requires three things:

1) Pedals that can be used to propel the bike

2) An electric motor of no more than 750 W output power

3) A motor only speed limit of 20 mph

I bought a Trek bike last fall and now I get email from them weekly if not daily. One recent email described their ebike offerings. A quick glance at a couple of them, Domane+ and Crossrip+, says that they have 350 W motors, no throttles that I can see, and a 28 mph speed limit in pedal assist mode. I don’t know what industry class that makes them (they are kinda class III but they don’t have throttles) but they are fully compliant with Iowa law and you can ride them on RAGBRAI.


mcpartla, April 8, 2019 at 11:34 am

Our local Pennsylvania bike club insurance carrier will not cover “throttle-assisted e-bikes” is the reason I brought up this. I don’t know the carrier’s rationale because these bikes are approved for road use by PennDot provided they meet the requirements but I guess they can set the rules for coverage.


Richard Arnopolin, April 8, 2019 at 11:43 am

“Beginning of the end?” More like the end of the beginning.


mcpartla, April 8, 2019 at 11:44 am

I have a Trek CrossRip with 500 mg battery and limited to maximum speed of 20 mph and it must be pedaled to get e-assist. Love it! I’ll carry my recharger on Ragbrai ‘just in case’ and Ragbrai officials advise there are recharging stations at most towns we pass through near where the free water is located. Having the e-bike this year makes a huge difference in my continuing to participate on Ragbrai. I’m happy to bike with the pack at 10 mph knowing I have the power assist if I need it. Makes me a safer rider too.


KenH, April 8, 2019 at 2:20 pm

ebikes are still relatively new to the scene. Lawmakers, insurance companies, ride organizers, clubs, consumers, … everyone is scrambling to adjust to something new and to something that is still evolving at a rapid rate. It is not surprising if Iowa law is different from Pennsylvania law is different from RAGBRAI policy is different from club insurance policy….

Your Crossrip is legal if it has a throttle or not, if it is limited to 20 mph in throttle only mode. There is no speed limit for pedal assist mode (although there is only so much that you plus a 350 W motor can do!) and according to Trek the 2019 models are not limited to 20 mph for pedal assist but they are limited to 28 mph. It is all so confusing that if you make a good faith effort to comply with the rules or laws as best you can I doubt that anyone will come down too hard on you.


LawnchairMan, April 8, 2019 at 6:27 pm

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

Ken H. I am going to try this one last time and then stop. I am sure that class ones are legal to be ridden in Iowa just as cars or motorcycles. It is the Iowa definition of “bicycle” that I think does not apply to class one e-bikes. I realize I am splitting hairs here, and it really doesn’t make any practical difference. But here I go:

When it says “whose maximum speed … when powered solely by such a motor while ridden” implies that the device has to have the capability of being ridden under power without pedaling. (it would also exclude momentum so you can’t just coast) Class one’s can’t do this. If you don’t pedal, the assist kicks out and you coast to a stop. I think the idea of this definition is to be able to determine how much assist is given to the rider. I don’t see a way to demonstrate how much assist there is on a class one ebike since you always have to pedal to get the assist. Class ones can’t be ridden powered solely by a motor, so my opinion is that they do not fit the definition of an Iowa bicycle.

I know you disagree, so let’s just leave it that way. I respect your opinion.


KenH, April 9, 2019 at 8:03 am

Lawnchair Man: I come at the same wording from a different direction I guess. You feel that an ebike without a throttle does not fall under Iowa law at all. I look at those same words and just see a list of things that an Iowa legal ebike has to comply with. From my point of view an ebike that does not have a throttle can never exceed 20 mph “when powered solely by such a motor” because there is no way to make it propel itself with the motor alone. So a class 1 ebike automatically fulfills that requirement of Iowa law by virtue of the fact that it cannot ever be powered by the motor alone.

In other words, I see nothing in the law that requires an ebike to have a throttle. What the law requires is that IF an ebike has a throttle, THEN it must cut off at 20 mph WHEN the throttle alone is being used to propel the bike.

Iowa law neither requires nor prohibits pedal assist mode. Iowa law imposes no speed limit on motor operation during pedal assist mode except by means of the 750 W motor power limit. Iowa law does require that the bike have pedals which the HUMAN operator can use to propel the bike however.

I wasn’t there when the law was written and debated. I am just an engineer commenting on the technical requirements delineated in the law that was written. From what was written I can surmise that the intention was to prevent a “bicycle” from approaching the performance of an electric motorcycle or a Vespa-like gasoline powered scooter too closely. Obviously bicycles are permitted on trails and other facilities where road licensed vehicles are excluded so there needs to be a clear demarcation between the two groups of vehicles even though both are permitted on Iowa’s public road network.

If you use an ebike like a motorcycle or scooter by twisting the throttle then you are limited to 20 mph, a speed that many cyclists can achieve at least briefly on flat sections of multi-use trails. The trails near me in NE Illinois typically have a 15 mph speed limit which cyclists routinely ignore. But Iowa law puts ebikes in that same speed range when used in throttle mode so I can see where it makes sense to have that limit in place on vehicles that can be used on mulit-use trails.


mcpartla, April 12, 2019 at 2:17 pm

I asked the Ragbrai insurance company (McKay Group) if they insure bike clubs for e-bikes and if “Throttle-assist” e-bikes are covered and response “e-bikes are acceptable during club activities as long as the bike requires pressure to be applied to the pedals”. Some “Throttle-assist e-bikes” have the option to turn this feature off but how would it be proven if there is an incident claim. Sticky topic in many states these days so buyer beware.


mcpartla, April 17, 2019 at 10:16 pm

Good for you but of course everyone is not so lucky and some of us need a little more help to keep the pace due to heart disease or Lung issues or maybe we weren’t as fortunate in the genes department or we incurred a curve or too from Mother Nature. Would you really want to deny someone with less skills the thrill of riding across Iowa with thousands of others?


Kelli Libby, April 21, 2019 at 7:59 am

Lost and Found Adventures is one of the oldest charters with RAGBRAI.
We provide transportation for e-bikes, tandems, and trikes.
Our charter offers a number of options…
We are a family owned and ran business.
1. Airport pick up and drop off is provided this year by Holiday Inn / Ameristar, for our riders convenience.
2. An air-conditioned Charter coach bus from Keokuk back to Council Bluffs, the start town.
3. Baggage support across Iowa.
4. Camp showers daily (where permitted).
5. Ice cold refreshments.
6. Hot coffee in the AM.
7. Tent service, small set up, or Large all inclusive.
8. Check us out. http://www.lfadventures.com/home-page.html


garywilk, April 22, 2019 at 1:51 pm

I support them 100% but please ride safe. They will create a few additional issues. It also gives those with issues, or age like my father in his 70’s to try to get to doing another crossing added enjoyment.
If using one, please keep the pace reasonable. It will give some riders with less skills the capability of going fast and hurting someone. I know there are several fast riders but now this will be a heavier bike with an rider with most likely less skills. I am a Volunteer firefighter/EMT and bring several pairs of gloves in my back pockets and have had to use them every year I have rode. I enjoy helping others but I really hope this year will be the first I can make it a week without putting nitrile on my hands.

The other big issue will be where to charge. Outlets are already at a premium. Again, if using one, keep the pace with others and ride right. Thanks


Bob Braigar, April 22, 2019 at 2:06 pm

While training the other day, on a human powered bike, I was passed by two different e-bikes, there was some wind that day. Both of those machines, blew by my like I was on something completely different than what they were riding. It wasn’t even close, two completely different things. While I am all for people doing as they please, I certainly felt as though I was being somehow less than smart, providing all the power the old fashioned way, by myself, as they sped by me with the greatest of ease, quickly vanishing over the horizon. After reading all the comments in this thread, count me as one vote for RAGBRAI being a human powered event. What I saw, was a whole lot more than, a little more help. I’ve ridden one also, night and day. Its not hard to image many able bodied riders, whizzing by, no need to get in shape, in search of pie.


mcpartla, April 22, 2019 at 6:01 pm

I understand your point and agree 100 percent but the issue with bicyclists pedaling faster than the pack supplies equally with conventional pedal power bicycles. I’ve participated on Ragbrai since 2004 and been passed by plenty of speedsters on their lightest weight possible racing machines. And how about Lance Armstrong and his friends in years past showing off for his fans in years past? I was a fan of Lance too but racing and yelling st people to stay out of their way was not in keeping with what Ragbrai is about. I drive my bicycle … conventional or e-bike the same way I drive my car … responsibly and with care to other road users.


mcpartla, April 22, 2019 at 6:21 pm

The same thing was happening to me last year but by cyclists on pedal powered bicycles. I knew something was wrong my first day on Ragbrai when my legs failed me and just about everyone on the ride passed me. Day 4 I was at the halfway point when I stopped st a fire station for a b.p. check and the lady medic convinced me to get in her ambulance. Many tests later nothing conclusive was determined other than possibly my statin and Aleve twice a day along with the stress of biking in the heat and humidity and age caused my kidneys to shut down. Hmmmm … has not happened since and I moved to an e-bike for a little more assistance.

I’m convinced an e-bike makes me a safer bicyclist. It means I can bike and stay with the pack with less stress. Plus the ride is cooler because I’m able to cycle at a faster pace .. like having a fan on me. Less stress in staying up enables me to look out for debris and other hazards. Plenty of time to avoid dangerous situations. Climbing a steep hill with a headwind and traffic behind us … I can simply ‘click’ to another gear and get away from the pack, allowing more distance between riders for a driver to pass more easily.


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