Can you ride your electric bike on the sidewalk?
Seems like a simple question, right? Something with either a Yes or No answer?
Of course. And this is the case if you are approaching your local council, police or transportation department for the solution in your local area.
But if you’re after a one-size-fits-all answer for everywhere you might ride, this is definitely not the case. But don’t despair; you’ll find everything you need to know to get your head around the essential factors here.
No matter what country, state or municipality you’re in, you’ll find that the regulations can differ widely.
Most places have well-sanctioned laws that are policed accordingly for regular bicycle use.
Many, however, haven’t updated these to distinguish between electric- and human-powered cycles.
Know this first!
Knowing what classification your eBike fits into, in the area you’ll be riding is the most important piece of information you’ll need.
If you know this straight up, you may limit the amount of leg work you need to do to make this decision.
If your ride is in any way considered a ‘vehicle,’ you can forget about riding on sidewalks of any kind.
Armed with this information, you can stop reading and get busy planning the most enjoyable route for your ride. However, if that’s not you, read on!
While you may know about federal laws that relate to your electric bike, most governments let each state or local municipality make changes to these.
In principle, this allows them to create legislation that fits with their communities. As such, your eBike can be classified in a number of ways and subject to a number of different laws.
For regulatory purposes, your electric bike may be considered
- A pedestrian – with the corresponding applicable rules and regulations
- The same as a standard, non-motorized bicycle – with the corresponding applicable rules and regulations
- As a motorized/electric bicycle –
- no power or capacity classifications – with the corresponding rules as conventional bicycles
- no power or capacity classifications – with different rules from conventional bicycles
- As a motorized/electric bicycle – with power or capacity classifications (see our 3 Class System article here for further information on which rules apply)
- As a motorized vehicle/motorcycle – with the corresponding applicable rules and regulations
- As a vehicle – with the corresponding applicable rules and regulations
So, what do you do if your local area has no specific rulings for eBikes?
If the specs of your cycle are lower in power and capacity than those stipulated as ‘motorized vehicles or motorcycles, it’s easy. Follow the mandatory rules and responsibilities that relate to traditional bicycling.
A comprehensive chart detailing sidewalk riding laws for each state in the USA was compiled by the League of American Bicyclists in 2018 and is a handy go-to if your local area doesn’t have specific regulations for electric bikes.
Additional factors that influence whether you can ride on the sidewalk
In addition to the specifications of your bike, the following are the other factors that might be policed by the legislation where you ride.
- Age of rider
- Size of bicycle wheels
- Whether there is an adjacent designated bicycle lane
- Shared pathway designations
- ‘Give way’ and warning rules
- Direction of travel
- Speed limit of the adjacent roadway
Age of Rider
As a general rule, children can ride on the sidewalk.
This is considered a much safer option than having young and small riders on the roads, near vehicular traffic, or in designated bike lanes.
What does differ from place to place, though, is the age at which this is no longer legal.
In Canada, for instance, you can’t legally ride an eBike if you’re under 16 and, once you’re over 14, you can’t be on the sidewalk.
So, unless otherwise stipulated by local bylaws, there’s no riding an electric bike on the sidewalk in Canada.
In the UK, both their current Highway Code and the original Highway Act of 1835, on which it is based, prohibit riding on the pavement (sidewalk).
This ordinance applies across the board, regardless of the age of the rider. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with scorn, as riders as young as 4 have been chastised by law enforcement agents.
As Cycling UK points out, “Children under the age of 10 are below the age of criminal responsibility. Therefore, they cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence.
They cannot be issued with a fixed penalty notice either as they cannot be given to anyone under the age of 16”.
In Australia, unless otherwise indicated, the laws applying to low-powered electric bikes at this time are the same as for traditional bicycles.
Some states stipulate sidewalk riding only in signed areas. In others, it is legal unless otherwise signed and also, may have the caveat that warning signals and Give Way rules apply.
In only two states, is it completely illegal to ride on the sidewalk.
Size of Bike Wheels
Rather than stipulating the maximum age of a rider, some places base sidewalk riding rules on the size of the wheels. As children’s bikes often have smaller wheels than adult bikes, it leaves them free to pedal on the sidewalk.
Many electric bikes – especially the folding varieties – have much smaller wheels.
Some as little as 12 or16 inches. If this is the case with your bike, make sure that none of the other criteria prevents you from riding on the sidewalk before heading out amongst the pedestrians.
Is there an adjacent designated bicycle lane?
In many places, if there is a designated bike lane next to the sidewalk, you have to ride there.
These laws stipulate that a bicycle, whether electric or traditional, must be ridden in the bike lane to ensure the safety and unhindered progression of pedestrians.
Most often, you will be able to travel faster in a bike lane than on a sidewalk anyway. But if your local legislators allow it, then legally, you will have the option.
Certain areas may have sidewalks designated as ‘shared pathways’. These you can legally ride traditional and low-powered electric cycles on. Quite often, their use is also governed by the Give Way and warning rules mentioned below.
Give Way and warning rules
When sidewalks are shared between pedestrians and cyclists, the cyclists – no matter whether they are human- or electric-powered – must give way to pedestrians.
The use of a horn or bell is even mandatory in some locations to warn pedestrians of their approach. Make sure you know what rules apply in your area so you can not only stay safe but prevent incurring a fine.
Direction of travel
When legally using a sidewalk on your electric bicycle, you must be riding in the same direction as the traffic in the lane adjacent to you. Do not ride against the flow.
Speed limit of the adjacent roadway
In some localities, if the speed limit of an adjacent roadway is above a certain amount (e.g., 25 mph or 40 kph), you can legally ride on the sidewalk. However, you must divert back to the main carriageway when the speed limit of that road drops below that prescribed level.
Like all laws concerning traffic and transportation, they differ widely between jurisdictions. For peace of mind, safety, and to avoid being fined, you need to know what applies in the areas you ride in.
Get locally-specific information from the police, council or transportation department.
In all cases, common sense and general consideration for others will ensure your bicycling etiquette keeps you on the right side of the law.
- Use a horn or bell as a warning to alert pedestrians, especially when you approach them from behind.
- Lower your speed as you pass others.
- Give pedestrians the right of way.
- Ride in the same direction as the traffic flow, regardless of what country you are in.
Should electric bikes use bike lanes?
So, that covers the sidewalks.
But what about bike lanes?
Unless an eBike falls into the same category as a motorcycle, riding in a bike lane is both legal and safe. An electric bike is often referred to as a ‘motorized vehicle’ or motorcycle when its power output is above a minimum capacity.
If your eBike falls into the same category as a motorbike, it is not classed as a bicycle. These may legally only be operated where conventional vehicles are allowed. No bike lanes for you, I’m sorry to say.
Where to ride electric bikes
Regardless of the particular legislation in place, the League of American bicyclists recommends that cyclists ride on the road because of the troubles that often arise when sidewalk-riders cross roads, driveways and crosswalks.
“Riding on the sidewalk is a significant cause of bicyclist-motorist crashes and creates unnecessary conflicts with pedestrians”.
The League, among other road-riding advocates, suggests that motorists aren’t as aware of cyclists riding on the sidewalk, especially when it comes to main thoroughfare crossings.
They also suggest that as long as you are obeying general road rules, you are far safer on the road than the sidewalk.
As with any type of law, there can be subtle or obvious differences from place to place, and they change over time.
So, do check with your local police, council or transportation department to get the most up-to-date and relevant information for wherever you’ll be riding.
And stay safe on the sidewalks.