Confused on the legal aspects of electric biking in Alaska? Here is the most up-to-date info
BY CARY SHIFLEA
Currently, throughout the United States, electric bikes exist in a gray area for motorized/nonmotorized use. The great news for Anchorage electric bike riders is that the Municipality of Anchorage has defined Low Speed Electric Bikes as a bicycle by AO 2016-67. The regulations state the eBike must meet the following requirements to be classified and regulated the same as a bicycle: No more
than a 750 watts electric assist; maximum self-propelled speed of 20 mph; and operable pedals.
The current challenge, though, is that the municipaltiy has not yet updated its regulations online or recognized the change, which some people say is confusing the public.
“The policy was changed right after I got onto the Assembly,” said John Weddleton, District 6 Assemblyman. “The soft-trails approval was an amendment to AO 2016-67. It was recognized that there was a mistake to the amendment, and we went back to the minutes, which reflects those changes (to approve low-power ebike use on soft-surface trails). We’ve been through this before, and it is way past time for this to be updated online.”
The amendment to AO 2016-67 allowing low-power ebike riders to use both paved and soft-surface pathways in the municipality was passed on June 27, 2016, by the Anchorage Assembly unanimously.
Weddleton said he was going into the June meeting prepared to oppose the use of low-speed electric bicycles on soft-surface pathways in Anchorage, but then was swayed after he test rode an ebike the day of the meeting.
“After the ride, I came around and supported the change, which allowed the (low-power) ebikes on pathways and soft-surface trails,” said Weddleton, an avid cyclist.
While the municipal web site has still not been updated to reflect the amendment of AO 2016-67 that allows low-power ebike riders to use both paved and soft-surface pathways in Anchorage, the Assembly minutes do reflect the approval of item 14J and can be found at the 2 hour, 38 minute mark of the audio minutes here: http://publicdocs.muni.org/sirepub/pubmtgframe.aspx?meetid=1124&doctype=agenda.
The significant part of the Anchorage Municipal Code is that “For purposes of this title, low-speed electric bicycles are not motor vehicles or motor driven cycles.” AO No. 2011-113(S).
Around the country and even here in Alaska there have been passionate arguments that electric bicycles should not be allowed on soft-surface trails like singletrack mountain bike trails, but according to an IMBA study, eBikes cause no more trail degradation than a standard bike when compared with that of a motorized dirt bike.
Currently the majority of eBikes being sold are defined as a Class 1 electric bike, which means there is no throttle, the max speed with assistance is 20 mph and there is no way to self-propel this type of bike other than using your legs.
Some urban models come with a throttle that allows the bike to be self propelled. According to the California State Law that has been adopted by seven states so far, this style bike is classified as a Class 2 eBike. A Class 3 eBike is designed with a top speed of assistance at 28 mph but no throttle so you always must be pedaling to get any assistance. Class 3 bikes are typically designed for the urban commuter in mind rather than traditional mountain bike trails.
On a state level in Alaska electric bikes are not defined.
At the federal level electric bikes have been defined and sold under the Consumer Product Safety Act since 2002 (Public Law 107-319) this act defines electric bikes as explicitly not “motor vehicles” and ensures electric bikes are manufactured, sold and regulated under the same guidelines as bicycles.
The average electric bike rider is often looking for ways that they can continue participating in the activity they love after dealing with various different physical and or mental limitations. I have often referred to the eBike as doing for biking what the chairlift has done for skiing. By opening up the activity to a broader range of participants we will have more advocates for sustainable trail development and safe biking facilities around Anchorage. The greatest benefit of all is that it will introduce a whole new segment of the general population who understands what it is like to ride bikes and have fun.
To learn more about eBiking in Anchorage or Alaska, visit People for Bikes eBike FAQ page for a national snapshot of rules and regulations throughout the United States, www.peopleforbikes.org/ou-work.e-bikes/policies-and-laws/
Editor’s note: Cary Shiflea is the owner of the Alaska eBike Store in Anchorage.