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Electric Bike Regulations Unclear; State Lawmakers Hear About Potential Changes

An e-bike resembles a regular bicycle, with its batteries and electric motor integrated into the bike's frame. Enthusiasts see e-bikes on national park trails as a great thing, but some traditional riders and environmentalists see big problems ahead.

In a Sunday meeting, members of the West Virginia Legislature’s Select Committee on Infrastructure heard from an e-bike vendor on the potential of updating state code to accommodate riders.

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are motorized bicycles meant to help riders through hills or rough terrain. They help accommodate riders like the elderly, those getting back into riding or those with health issues or disabilities.

“With our hilly terrain here in West Virginia, it’s very likely that you take [your bicycle] out for a ride, you get up to the top of that first hill, you take the bike back, park in your garage and that’s where it stays,” Davisville-based Fission Cycles COO Joseph Overbaugh said to the committee. “But with e-bikes, it helps to lower the curve to get back into cycling. So you actually end up getting more exercise from the e-bike because you’re still out doing physical activity.”

Current state law restricts “Class III e-bikes,” which provide assistance when pedaling up to 28 miles per hour, from being ridden on trails.

State code makes no mention of less powerful Class II e-bikes, which use a throttle to automatically propel riders up to 20 miles per hour, leaving the regulations unclear.

Overbaugh said he’d like to see lawmakers align with the less restrictive federal guidelines.

“Since we do have places like New River Gorge and other federal parks in West Virginia, having those two things in alignment means that you can travel back and forth from both places and not have to overthink about ‘Well, what’s the code here?’” he said.

Overbaugh hopes to have a bill introduced next legislative session that would clarify the regulations.

“For e-bikes, we already have the trail systems, we already have everything needed, we just need to open up the state to bring in those people who want to enjoy nature, they want to enjoy access to what we have to offer,” Overbaugh said.

A similar bill in this year’s session did not make it out of the committee process.