With Boris telling us to avoid public transport as much as possible, many of us have been looking for new ways to get from A to B. Electric scooters, though popular, are still illegal for use on public land in the UK - but is the same true for electric bikes?

Most bicycles sold as e-bikes (or EAPCs - electrically assisted pedal bikes) are perfectly legal for use in the UK and are treated as ordinary push bikes. However, there are a few stipulations users must follow:

  • The rider must be over the age of 14
  • The e-bike must have pedals
  • The motor must not exceed 250W
  • The e-bike must not go faster than 15.5mph/25km per hour

Provided your e-bike meets the above, it is held accountable to the same regulations as a traditional bicycle:

  • When cycling at night you must have working front (white) and rear (red) lights and reflectors fitted to your bike
  • At all times you must have efficient front- and rear braking systems
  • You must not ride a bicycle under the influence of drink and drugs
  • You must not cycle without due care and attention for other road users
  • You must ride on either a designated cycling path or the road and pay attention to regular road rules, such as stopping at a red light
  • You must not carry passengers unless the bike has been adapted to allow this
  • You must not hold on to a moving motor vehicle or trailer

What isn't legal is when an e-bike has a "twist-and-go" throttle that allows the bike to go more than walking pace (4mph) without any pedal assistance. These would be classed as motorbikes and would have to be registered with the DVLA, taxed and insured as with any other motor vehicle.

E-bikes sold in the UK should adhere to the list of stipulations above, but you might find those imported from other countries - typically China - have a twist-and-go throttle in the box that you can install yourself. It would be legal to use these bikes off-road only.

Similarly, you might find e-bikes with motors more powerful than 250W. You can buy and ride these, but not on public roads.

Additional advice for cycling (including electric bikes) includes wearing adequate safety gear (such as a helmet and high-vis clothing), fitting a bell, not using your mobile phone while riding, pulling over when necessary to avoid long traffic jams, and riding in single-file, to the left of the lane, and within a cycling lane where available. However, none of these things are mandatory.

Will the law on e-bikes change?

With the ongoing pandemic we are seeing bicycle and electric bike sales rocket, but sales have been on the climb for some time now.

As early as 2017 Halfords reported a 220 percent increase in e-bike sales, and the number of overall sales in Europe was at the time expected to triple by 2022. Electric bikes are becoming incredibly popular in the UK, and arguably more so in other parts of Europe. But that could mean that the old laws now need some attention.

The European Commission has outed its controversial plan to amend the Motor Insurance Directive such that it will require all e-bike riders to have third-party liability insurance. Naturally this has not gone down well, with the European Cyclists' Federation stating that such a change would "undermine the efforts and investments of several member states and the European Union to promote sustainable mobility".

But the law does need to change according to campaigners. In particular, the current legal speed of 15.5mph is, in the eyes of some, too slow for the rider to be able to safely navigate busy roads. 

Scott Snaith, founder of 50cycles, is campaigning for a higher maximum speed of 20mph. He says: "If you're negotiating busy roundabouts or junctions - and particularly if you're slightly wary - that extra boost of power might just accelerate you out of harm's way."