An electric bicycle stands in Alaska eBike in Anchorage. Electric bikes have not been formally regulated in Alaska, despite their increasing popularity. (Photo by Sophia Carlisle/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska legislators are considering a bill that would set basic rules for how electric bikes may be used in the state. Despite e-bikes becoming more popular in Alaska, legislators have struggled to define what constitutes an electric bike. House Bill 8 seeks to change that by adding a clear legal definition of what an e-bike is and is not.
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee heard details on the bill which would, among other things, divide e-bikes into three classes, numbered 1, 2 and 3. The major difference between the classes are the speeds that the bikes can reach, with class 1 and 2 e-bikes reaching a maximum speed of 20 mph and class 3 e-bikes reaching a maximum speed of 28 mph, said Rep. Ashley Carrick, D-Fairbanks. Carrick is a sponsor of HB 8 and presented details about it to the committee.
An important distinction between e-bikes and other motorized methods of transport is the presence of fully operational pedals, Carrick remarked. To be classified as an electric-assisted bike, the machine must have, among other requirements, fully operational pedals regardless of its class status. The bill would help make this definition clear to Alaskans by also defining what an e-bike is not: such as motor vehicles or mopeds, Carrick said. Some lawmakers have compared e-bikes to mopeds.
Carrick firmly believes that there is a stark difference between other types of motorized transport and e-bikes. “I fundamentally see electric bicycles as bicycles,” she said.
She went on to note that this legislation might help those who have mobility problems have greater access to bicycling.
“I think the average user of an electric bicycle is using it to provide a little bit of electric assistance to get up hills, to access longer trails, for folks who are a little older or mobility impaired to just have a little bit more enjoyment of bicycling,” she said.
Cary Shiflea, who is the founder of Anchorage-based retailer Alaska eBike, also said that e-bikes help increase accessibility in bicycling. “[A] wider range of people and our community are able to go out and do a really fun thing that, realistically, is generally reserved for physically fit, able-bodied people,” said Shiflea.
The bill would set new rules for electric-assisted bicycles — rules that are the same for non-electric-assisted bicycles. These rules would include following posted speed limit signs and traffic signals.
Municipal ordinances would still be able to regulate e-bikes as they see fit should the legislation pass, so if one municipality wanted to restrict class 3 e-bikes or place additional regulation onto them, the municipalities would be able to do so, said Carrick. She also added that most other states do not require licenses and registrations for electric-assisted bikes and they would likely not be required in Alaska either.
The Senate is also considering its own bill regarding rules on electric bikes, Senate Bill 62.
Shiflea is enthusiastic about the legislation’s potential to clear up gray areas surrounding e-bike usage in Alaska. He said that the bills could help align Alaska more closely with other states that have adopted clear e-bike legislation for bicyclists.
“It’s opening all of this up to everyday people who just want to go enjoy themselves on the trail,” he said.
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