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Mass. e-bike legislation moving on Beacon Hill

Jana Pickard-Richardson, with her children, Téa and Clió, in tow, turned onto Glenway Street in Boston on her e-bike last year.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A bill that would regulate electric bikes as bikes instead of mopeds is one step closer to becoming a law.

Lawmakers Wednesday were moving legislation on e-bikes, which have electric motors to assist with propulsion. The bill would take the increasingly popular form of transportation out of a legal gray area and would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C.

The House Committee on Ways and Means advanced a bill that would classify e-bikes into categories based on their designs and top speeds. The Senate included a similar provision in its version of the infrastructure bond bill it passed, which is being reconciled with the House version in closed-door negotiations.

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Given the movement on such legislation, advocates are increasingly hopeful that the Legislature will pass some kind of regulatory framework for e-bikes, which in Massachusetts must be registered and are prohibited on bike paths, though bike advocates say the law is largely unenforced. They hope such a bill will advance to Governor Charlie Baker by July 31, the end of the Legislature’s formal session.

Executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition Galen Mook said he prefers the Senate version, but is thrilled the Legislature seems to be moving forward.

“We’ve been working on this issue for going on four years and know that e-bikes have the potential to bring more people out riding and experiencing the wonderful bike paths and bike lanes throughout the entire Commonwealth,” he said.

E-bikes have exploded in popularity across the United States in the past few years. Local sellers say at times they’ve struggled to keep up with the demand from customers who want to use an e-bike to limit their car use and bike longer distances.

Thirty-six states have adopted a three-class system to categorize e-bikes, according to the organization People for Bikes, which tracks e-bike legislation. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes. Ten other states and Washington, D.C., have adopted regulations that treat e-bikes and regular bikes similarly. Only four states, including Massachusetts, consider e-bikes mopeds or motor vehicles.

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Class 1 e-bikes are equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and stops providing assistance when the e-bike reaches at most 20 miles per hour. Class 2 e-bikes have a throttle-activated motor, meaning they do not require pedaling, and stop providing assistance when the e-bike reaches at most 20 miles per hour. And Class 3 e-bikes assist a rider only while pedaling, but stop helping at a max of 28 miles per hour.

The House version of the bill includes only Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes, while the Senate version includes all three. The Department of Conservation and Recreation and the federal government use the three classifications.

Transportation advocates hope bikeshare systems, like the Bluebikes system in Greater Boston, will add e-bikes if lawmakers free them from their current legal purgatory.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.