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All You Need to Know About E-Bikes 

Fun and efficient, electric-assisted bicycles are becoming the new “it” bike 

A special type of bike is gaining popularity around the country: Electric-assisted bicycles (better known as e-bikes).

E-bikes aren’t really “new.” Bicycles equipped with electric motors that assist the rider have been available in the U.S. since the late 1990s. In fact, they have been around for much longer than that. The world’s first electric bike (an electric-powered tricycle) was invented in France in 1881 only about 40 years after the modern form of the two-wheeled pedaled bicycle appeared. 

That said, e-bikes have become more affordable and mainstream in recent years, and many advocates see great potential in e-bikes as a clean, alternative form of transportation. They’re also fun to ride and great for longer distances. Plus, all AAA Washington members have bicycle service—emergency roadside assistance—included in their membership.

Read on to learn about AAA Washington bicycle service, e-bike classifications, the riding regulations in Washington and Idaho, the cost range and insurance options, and proposed state and federal tax incentives. 

A woman rides an e-bike in the mountains to illustrate e-bike popularity,
E-bikes (or electric-assisted bicycles) have a battery-powered motor that assists the rider, enabling people to travel over greater distances with less effort. Photo: AdobeStock

What’s an e-bike?

An e-bike has an electric motor that can assist the rider to pedal. But they aren’t scooters or motorcycles. They must have pedals, and the rider usually needs to pedal to keep the bike moving (although some e-bikes can be powered entirely with a throttle). 

An e-bike can make challenging rides up hills and over long distances feasible for the average person. The fastest e-bikes have so much power that they must have a speedometer. In Washington state, these e-bikes aren’t allowed on sidewalks or some regular bike paths. 

Given you can ride longer, faster and with less effort, e-bikes can be a useful commuter vehicle and a practical and healthier way of getting around generally, possibly taking some cars off the road. 

With that potential in mind, Hawai’i, California and some other states now offer generous tax incentives and rebates for people to buy e-bikes. Washington’s state Legislature currently has proposals under consideration that would expand access to e-bikes.

TIP: AAA Washington provides a bicycle service to its members, including for owners of e-bikes who have a flat or break down. This service is part of AAA Washington’s roadside assistance program and is included in all memberships. If you break down in an area where our tow trucks can travel, we will pick you and your bike up, and drive you to a point of safety within a 5-mile radius or as far as the maximum distance specified by your membership level. Note that this service is provided for breakdowns on normally traveled roads and streets, not trails or forest service roads. 

A sign that points to a charging station both for electric cars and for e-bikes
Washington recognizes three classes of e-bikes. The most powerful e-bikes bikes have some restrictions on where they can travel. Photo: AdobeStock

What are the different types of e-bikes?

E-bikes blur the line between the traditional pedaled bike and motorized vehicles. Most states, including Washington and Idaho, have defined three types of e-bikes. These follow a federal definition.  

E-bikes are classified this way: 

  • A Class 1 e-bike is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and ceases to assist when the bicycle reaches 20 mph. 
  •  A Class 2 e-bike is equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, but can’t provide assistance after the bicycle reaches 20 mph. 
  •  A Class 3 e-bike provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and stops assisting when the bike reaches a top speed of 28 mph. This bike must be equipped with a speedometer. 

Plus, an e-bike can’t have an electric motor with more than 750 watts of power. (If it has a bigger motor than that, it’s no longer considered a bicycle.) 

Are there special rules for e-bikes?

In Washington state, yes. In 2018, Washington enacted new guidelines for each class of e-bike. Class 3 e-bikes are restricted to roads and paths open to motorized vehicles. (This includes Forest Roads open to motorized vehicles.) 

In Washington, Class 3 e-bikes also aren’t allowed on sidewalks, except under special circumstances where it’s too dangerous to ride on the road. Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes typically are allowed where pedal-only bikes are allowed. 

In Idaho, there are no special rules for e-bikes. E-bikes are allowed on roadways, as well as bike paths and trails. 

A woman keeps to the right of the road while riding an e-bike, to illustrate the rules of the road on an e-bike.
Riders of e-bikes have to obey all the traffic rules, such as keeping to the far right of the road. Photo: KBO Bike/unsplash

Other Rules

As with all bicycles, e-bike riders need to abide by the rules of the road, such as staying as far as possible on the right side of traffic, signaling turns, etc. For night riding in Washington and Idaho, all bicycles (including e-bikes) must have a white front light and red rear reflector. 

TIP: Don’t forget to put on a properly fitted helmet when you ride. Unfortunately, accidents do happen on a bike, and sometimes they can be serious. In Washington state, helmets are required in several cities and counties. In Idaho, some cities require helmets, particularly for riders under the age of 18. 

How much do e-bikes cost? 

E-bikes tend to be pricier than pedal-only bikes (but the prices have been coming down as more models come on the market). The range is around $1,000 to more than $10,000. One factor that affects the cost is the battery type. Batteries range from 250Wh (watt hours) to more than 650Wh. Bigger batteries provide more range, enabling riders to go longer distances. Bigger batteries also increase the cost of the bike. 

Another factor is the motor size. Motors range from 250 watts to 750 watts. More powerful motors have better acceleration and climbing power but also tend to be more expensive. A new, high-end e-bike will typically cost more than $5,000. 

Can I insure an e-bike?

Yes, it’s possible to get a standalone policy that insures an e-bike for damage up to its replacement value, as well as liability coverage (which protects you if you injure another person.) 

Depending on the insurer, you can sometimes add liability coverage for an e-bike to your homeowners’ policy. Call a AAA Washington insurance agent to discuss your options. 

Are there tax incentives for e-bikes? 

In Washington and Idaho, not yet. Washington’s Legislature has considered bills in both houses to offer rebates for e-bike purchases, or a temporary tax exemption. 

Federally, the Biden Administration has also pushed for incentives for e-bike purchases. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives re-introduced the E-Bike Act in March 2023, which would provide a federal tax credit of 30% of the purchase price of a new electric bike up to $1,500.

Two cyclists ride along the Cedar River Trail in Washington state, to illustrate good trails for e-bikes.
Riders of e-bikes have many choices for great rides in Washington, including the Cedar River Trail in Renton. Photo: AdobeStock

Top e-bike trails across Washington and Idaho

E-bike riders have numerous options for great rides around Washington and Idaho (the number of routes likely runs into the hundreds). (Because e-bikes are relatively new, it’s a good idea to check the trail’s restrictions before heading out.) Here are just a few options that cyclists love: 

  • The 250-mile Palouse-to-Cascades State Park trail extends from Cedar Falls near North Bend (about 30 miles east of Seattle) to the Idaho border. This would be the granddaddy of all rides if you plan to do the entire stretch through Eastern Washington over several days, but it’s possible to hop on at various points and get a great ride in. 
  • The 17.5-mile Cedar River Trail follows the Cedar River at Lake Washington in Renton to the community of Landsburg. The first 12 miles is paved, and the final 5 miles is a soft surface.
  • The 20-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, a paved city trail that follows a railway corridor, extends from the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard to Blyth Park in Bothell.  
  • Bainbridge Island is hilly, but there are several scenic cycling routes around the island that are suitable for beginners and intermediate cyclists. 
  • The paved 10-mile Sammamish River Trail runs along the Sammamish River from Bothell to Marymoor Park in Redmond, offering great views of the river, Cascade foothills and Mount Rainier. 
  • Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands, has a reputation for being a cyclist’s paradise; it’s mostly flat with miles of coastline to explore. 

Let us know your favorite e-bike trails and routes at editors@aaawa.com

Ready to try an e-bike?

E-bikes are fun to ride, so give one a whirl (but don’t forget to wear a properly fitted helmet and review these government recommended bicycle safety tips before you ride).

E-bikes are bound to keep growing in popularity and have the potential to increase the number of bicyclists while taking some cars off the road. Plus, stay tuned to see if tax incentives or government rebates become available to buy an e-bike in Washington and Idaho. 

And if you’re a AAA member and need bicycle assistance on the road, don’t forget to call us.  

—Written by AAA Washington staff 

—Top Photo: AdobeStock

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