Sep 26, 2021

eBikes, Mopeds, and Motorcycles: Is There A Difference?

eBikes (“e-bikes”?) are becoming the most dangerous vehicle on the road, despite eBikers claim that bicycles and eBikes are not “vehicles.” Hint: if you are not walking and you are moving you are in or on a “vehicle.” "noun: vehicle; plural noun: vehicles 1. a thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land, such as a car, truck, or cart." A bicycle/eBike is definitely “a thing” and even if you are just moving about recreationally you are being transported. This is, perhaps, the dumbest aspect of eBike promoters argument against regulating and licensing eBikes. If you like dumb arguments, you’ll love this doofus: Bolton Bikes.

If you’ve stuck with me for a while, you’ll know I think motorcycle licensing in the US is idiotic. And by that I mean any idiot with $13 and bare-minimal skills can get a motorcycle endorsement and, based on local traffic, I’d say every idiot in Minnesota has a motorcycle endorsement.

eBikes: Federal law in HB 727, a 2002 law enacted by Congress, defines an electric bicycle as “A two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.” Most states adopted that definition of eBikes and most also adopted the federal park regulation that allowed eBikes fitting that description access to bicycle trails and bike lanes. In some states, eBikes are excluded from the legal definition of “motor vehicles.” That, mostly, is for the purpose of minimizing licensing requirements.

State bicycle/eBike helmet laws are inconsistent, irrational, and unequally enforced. If there are bike helmet requirements, most likely they will only be applied to whatever the state decides are “children.”

Mopeds: Mopeds are probably the most misleading named vehicle on the planet today. A moped is legally defined as "[a] vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface." You’ll notice, I hope, that nothing is mentioned about pedals in the moped description. A zillion years ago, mopeds were mostly bicycles people had stuck un-muffled 2-stroke motors to, leaving the pedals to fool lazy cops (as if there is another kind?) and piss off as many pedestrians, neighbors, and property owners as possible. State laws about mopeds are all over the place. Some states require a license plate and motorcycle endorsement for any vehicle that meets the definition of moped and above (anything not legally a bicycle or eBike) and some states only require a license for under-16 or under-18-year-old riders. Most “mopeds” are just small (50cc/under-30mph) scooters. Moped horsepower definitions vary by state from anything over 1 h.p. to 5 h.p. Some states (Colorado, for example) have a weird undefined area between 750W and “4,476 watts for electric motors” (6 h.p.) where the vehicle is neither an eBike or a moped. I can’t imagine what kind of nutjobs wrote those laws, but I’ve pretty much given up on at least half of the fools in this country so I’m not inconvenienced.

Likewise, helmet requirements are all over the place for mopeds. Like motorcycles, there is no rationale behind moped helmet laws. Most states require helmets for 18-and-under, but states like Minnesota rarely bother to enforce those laws (or any other laws that don’t get cops into non-white people business).

Motorcycles: Motorcycles are pretty much everything else, including some 3-wheeled vehicles, like the Polaris Slingshot and Can-Am Spyder, that are “motorcycles” because that is how the manufacturers slithered past car safety regulations. The lesson there is “If you don’t care how many of your customers you kill, call your vehicle a 'motorcycle.’” The Bolton goober claims there “are no horsepower limits on motorcycles.” Of course, he’s about as useful a source as I am on particle physics. In 2010, the EU limited production motorcycles to 100 h.p. for a while, then changed its little mind in 2015 and reversed that ruling. France didn’t follow the EU in going back to unlimited horsepower and maximum road hazard until late 2016. US DOT restrictions indirectly limit production bike horsepower with emissions, noise, and safety restrictions. Of course our lazy local policing allows bikers to circumvent federal and state regulations because so many of the so-called “law enforcement” gangsters are also biker gangbangers. The one thing cops really hate are laws that apply to themselves.

It is fair to say that anything that isn’t either a bicycle (or legal eBike) or a moped is a motorcycle; regardless of if it is a scooter, an electric two-or-three-wheel vehicle, has or doesn’t have pedals, or is a custom one-off or production vehicle. The definitions of these three vehicles are solely determined by powered speed limits and horsepower/watts. Any attempt to cloud those definitions are nothing more that blown smoke and any policing fooled by that smoke isn’t worth the price of a badge or public support.

Motorcycle helmet laws have been under siege by the very people they are designed to protect, in practically every country. As I speculated a while back, the only real argument for not wearing a helmet is a childish desire to be recognized as a biker. In 1966, the federal government offered highway funding incentives for states to enact helmet laws. (Eeek! Social engineering!) Regardless of the look-at-me! crowd delusions, the evidence for reduced serious motorcycle injury and death with helmet use is overwhelming. However, helmet laws have been under attack by the AMA and ABATE and other biker disorganizations from the start and, somehow, the AMA convinced our congresscritters to repeal the federal incentives in 1975. At that time, California (believe it or not) was the only state not to have a mandatory helmet law. Today, only 19 states have mandatory universal helmet laws. Oddly, California is one of ‘em.

Some stats about motorcycle riders, helmet use, and motorcycle crash data are . . . interesting. The average age of motorcyclists is somewhere between 51 and 56, depending on who’s data you’re believing this week. In 1980, the average age was 27. 19% of riders are women, compared to 6% in 1980. 3% of motorcycle deaths “are attributed to women” and 93% of motorcycle passenger deaths are women. (No surprises there.) “Mothers don’t let your baby girls grow up to be biker chicks?”

The point of this essay was to try and clarify the very clear lines between eBikes and the rest of motorized two-wheeled transportation. A surprise, to me, was that the line between mopeds and motorcycles is so sloppy.