Electric bikes have become popular for their efficiency, ability to conquer steep hills, and of course, their speed. Many use e-bikes for casual riding or short trips to the store, but others need an e-bike that can handle longer commutes on a single charge. Tire size, motor power, voltage, and even the wind each affects the top speeds of an electric bike. Also, state and federal regulations ultimately decide the speeds you can travel in public spaces.
Let’s dive into the top speeds for the most popular electric bike types, features that affect an electric bike’s speed, and the most common laws regulating electric bike speeds.
Top Speeds of the Most Common Electric Bikes
Your electric bike may be able to max out at 20-30 MPH, but that doesn’t mean you can ride that fast wherever you go. In the USA, city and state regulations determine speed limits, and these are based on the type of electric bike you have.
States label electric bikes and their allowed speeds using classes (Class 1, Class 2, etc.). Note that these classes are not consistent in all 50 states. To find out the regulations in your state, simply do a brief internet search or contact the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). In most states across the US, class 1 and class 2 e-bikes can be driven on public roads.
- Class 1 e-bikes: Pedal-assist only (no throttle)—these travel no faster than 20 MPH.
- Class 2 e-bikes: Pedal-assist and a throttle (often called a twist or thumb throttle, located on the handlebars)—maximum speed is 20 MPH.
- Class 3 e-bikes or Speed Pedelec Bikes: A speed-pedelec bike goes up to 28 MPH and the motor power is at least 500W. As per federal regulations, these bikes must be registered with the DMV because they’re classified as mopeds. These bicycles also cannot be ridden in bike lanes but must be used on the road instead.
- Race track mode: The speed of these bikes is unlimited, and therefore they can only be used on a race track with proper gear or on private property.
Pedal-assist means you control how fast the bike goes with the pedals—also known as pedelec power bikes, these contraptions are like standard bikes because you still power the bike by pedaling. However, with a pedelec electric bicycle, using the pedals “kick starts” the electric motor, giving you a burst of power.
Other Factors Affecting the Top Speed of an E-Bike
Certain external circumstances, like your strength, the wind, and ambient temperature (temperature outdoors) affect how fast your bike will go. Other things, like the components of the bicycle, determine its top speed.
- Controller Amp: The controller amperage sends current (electric power) to the motor. The higher the amps, the higher the top speed. Though most e-bikes are advertised as having a 750W motor, most cannot access this amount of power because the control amp doesn’t deliver the necessary current.
- Motor: In the United States, the power of the motor is also regulated to ensure your top speeds do not go above local limits. Electric bikes with a motor power over 750W are only suited for private property, dirt bike paths, or dirtbike tracks.
- Voltage and Battery: Your e-bike’s battery pack not only affects the top speed, but also the overall efficiency and durability of your bike. If you use your bike for commuting to work or you live in a busy neighborhood, a fast e-bike with high voltage and a good-quality battery will ensure you get the most out of your bike. The standard voltage for most e-bikes is between 36-48 volts. A lithium-ion battery is typically longer lasting than lead batteries.
- Wheel Size: The wheel size is measured by the diameter of your wheel, and most e-bike wheels are either 16, 20, or 26 inches. 16 and 20-inch wheels are not as common because they don’t handle as well at faster speeds. A 26-inch wheel will ensure you can coast over speed bumps, potholes, dirt, or curbs without shaking or losing speed.
- Tire Pressure: On a perfectly smooth road, a bike tire with high pressure will be able to go faster. But most roads aren’t perfectly smooth. A little less pressure means the tires will act as shock absorbers instead of the bike rim or handlebars. You’ll be able to ride faster without shaking or wobbling.
How Do You Know Which Speed is Best?
Although it doesn’t seem that fast, 20 MPH is actually pretty standard speed for most electric bikes, and it’s faster than you think. To put it in perspective, a standard pedal cycle propelled by human power travels 10-15 MPH on a flat road. The extra power from an electric bike can get you up steep hills, help you carry groceries home on your bike, and make your work commute much faster.
Again, a person’s desired top speed usually depends on how they want to use their electric bike. You can utilize low speeds on an electric bike if you prefer the gliding, steady feel of a standard bike.
How do you choose between an e-bike with motor assistance or one without? Let’s say you’re not as physically fit as you need to be for your work commute, or you regularly transport heavy loads. A Class 1 bike may not be durable or sturdy enough for you. The cost of most Class 2 e-bicycles is affordable, and the bike has all the functionality to fulfill your needs.
Remember that Class 3 e-bikes or speed pedelec bikes require a driver’s license and DMV registration. You must wear a helmet while operating a Class 3 electric bike because of their high speeds.
Most e-bikes these days come with hydraulic brakes, making them more efficient. Hydraulic disc brakes cost a bit more than mechanical or rim brakes, but you will need high-quality brakes if you’re planning on traveling at high speeds. After all, safety is paramount!
|Electric Bike Class||Top Speeds||Highlights||Best For:|
|Class 1||20 MPH||Single charge battery, pedal-assist mode||Short trips, stronger people, flat roads|
|Class 2||20 MPH||Single-charge battery, motor powers the bike up to 20MPH||Rolling hills, moderate distances, work commutes|
|Class 3||28 MPH||Rechargeable battery, hydraulic brakes; must have a driving license to operate||Long commutes, steep hills, high-capacity loads|
|Race Track Mode||More than 28 MPH||Rechargeable battery, fat tires; must have a driving license to operate; must wear a helmet||Dirt bike tracks or race tracks|
Always Consider Safety
Riding an e-bike can be fun, but riding too fast comes with risks. Whether you’re operating a low-speed electric bicycle, normal bicycle, or a high power cycle, safety should be your top priority. We recommend always wearing a helmet while riding a bike, and if your e-bike goes over 20 MPH, consider wearing knee and elbow pads as well.
Maintenance your electric bike regularly—the standard is every 6 months or 500 miles—whichever comes first. Ride on designated bike trails, bike lanes, or if you’re operating a Class 3 e-bike, follow your federal or state regulations to ride on the road.