Can an electric bicycle rider legally drive in the bike lane? Here’s what WA law says

·2 min read

Electric bicycles are quickly becoming a part of life in parts of Washington state. Electric motor-powered bikes are quickly becoming a popular form of transportation according to a recent study, leaving behind the old-fashioned mode of simply pedaling and replacing it with high-speed exploits that can sometimes see an electric bicyclist going as fast as a car.

But if cars aren’t allowed to cross into a bicycle lane unless entering or exiting driveways, why are these e-bikes permitted to fly down the bicycle lane and endanger those on ordinary bikes?

In some cases, they’re not.

There are three classes of electric bicycles as defined by Washington state:

Class 1: An e-bike that only provides assistance when the rider pedals and ceases to assist once the bicycle reaches 20 mph.

Class 2: An e-bike where the motor can be used to propel the bicycle even without pedaling, but it does not assist once the bike reaches 20 mph.

Class 3: An e-bike where the motor only provides assistance when the rider pedals but assists up to 28 mph and is also equipped with a speedometer.

Washington code also states that electric bicycles must have a power output of no more than 750 watts. The average bicycle rider can ride at around 15 mph, while someone who regularly rides and trains can hit 20 mph, meaning someone on an electric bike can hit those speeds without even trying.

Unless your city has specific e-bike laws, default Washington code is that Class 1 and 2 e-bikes can go anywhere a regular bicycle can, including bike lanes and sidewalks. Class 3 e-bikes are restricted from sidewalks and shared-use pathways — such as bike lanes — but are permitted on the sidewalk if there is no other safe option.

Class 3 e-bikes can primarily be used on trails and forest roads designated explicitly for motorized use. Class 1 and 2 bikes can be used on non-motorized trails with an American with Disabilities Act parking placard, or on motorized trails without one, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Class 3 e-bikes can primarily only be used on specially designated trails by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Class 3 e-bikes can primarily only be used on specially designated trails by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.