When does an e-bike become a motorbike? Well in Australia the laws are quite clear, although unlike mandatory helmet laws, are not well understood. Below we identify the rules that govern e-bikes in Australia.
Why the need for e-bike laws?
When motor vehicles were powered by engines and bikes were powered by pedal power, it was pretty easy to differentiate a bike from a car or motorbike. However, the advent of the the electric bike or the ‘e-bike’ changed this. Today we have motorbikes powered by electric motors and bicycles powered by electric motors.
As a result some clear rules need to be put in place to differentiate the two, or we’d end up with a world where e-bike riders needed special licenses and their bikes registered, which nobody wants!
What are the laws for e-bikes?
The laws for e-bikes in Australia are quite simple. To be ridden on public roads, e-bikes must:
- Have a motor that is 250 watts or less.
- If it has a throttle (that powers the bike without pedalling), have a motor that is 200 watts or less.
- Be speed limited to 25km/h
How did the laws come about?
Australia’s e-bike laws have been modelled off European standards. They were introduced here in 2012.
Do they make sense? Yes and No.
Using Watts as a unit of measurement is a simple yet ineffective way of measuring power. Just as a modern 10w LED light globe shines significantly more light than a old style 60w light globe, measuring power by watts is sub-optimal. Additionally, broad brush wattage limits do not consider extra power required to haul heavy loads (hello cargo bikes!). European standards have since been updated to provide exemptions to certain classes of bikes, but Australian Governments do not seem overly interested in innovating in this space, particularly with a powerful car lobby likely discouraging innovation in laws that may impact them.
However, sometimes we need to be protected from ourselves. where the risk of serious injury in a modern car with 7 airbags, lane detection and object detection technology at 60km/h speed limit is extremely low, there’s still 30 year old cars on the roads without all this. We look at Australia’s e-bike laws in the same manner. Using wattage limits at least in theory will keep extremely high powered bikes, that are really motorbikes off the roads… in theory, more below.
The private property loophole - enter at your own risk!
It is possible to purchase e-bikes with much higher than 250w power in Australia. There’s nothing stopping these being sold, but they just cannot be ridden on public roads. Most sellers of these bikes have in really tiny fine print on their website something like below:
*to be ridden on private property only.
This is dangerous territory. If you live on a farm and want to ride your bike around the farm, go for your life, but the reality is most people will be riding their high powered e-bike on public roads. We’ve seen bikes that are clearly designed to be ridden on roads with these disclaimers, and sellers attempt to disclaim themselves of any liability of selling a bike which is illegal to ride on roads with a 7 word statement hidden in the T&Cs of their website! This is even a grey area for mountain biking where many mountain bike parks are in National or State Parks where motorcycles are specifically not allowed.
According to the road rules, this is a motorbike. It needs to be registered, you need 3rd party insurance and you need a special license to ride it. If you cause an accident you will be in a lot of trouble!
Stick to the law
In our opinion it’s simply not worth the risk to break the road rules for some more power on your bike. It’s true you’re unlikely to be pulled over by the police unless you’re doing something totally reckless, but the risk, whilst small of causing an accident on your illegal e-bike has huge repercussions.
As a result we’ll always be compliant with the Australian e-bike laws and will never attempt to circumnavigate these rules with silly disclaimers.
Modern 250w motors have plenty of power. Our Tribe Original Electric Plus bike gets up most hills adequately. Stick to the law, have fun on your e-bike and put your mind at ease!