In most areas, there are 3 classifications of electric bicycles. This determines where they can be ridden and what regulations apply.
The 2 distinctions of the first class are the bike cannot have a throttle, and cannot travel more than 20 MPH with pedal assist. The first 'pedal electric' assist bikes started this classification. Throttles were seen to be evil by the bicycle community and the 20MPH limit was to keep it consistent with scooters.
Many national parks, trails, and bike paths limit use to Class I electric bikes.
The only distinction between Class I & Class II is the addition of a throttle. Class 2 bikes still have the 20mph limit but allow you to use a throttle. Class II e-bikes are allowed on most state and federal roadways without license, registration, and insurance.
The third class of bikes allow you to travel up to 28MPH with pedal assistance, however, still restrict the maximum throttle speed to 20MPH. The third class of bikes are not recognized in every state but more and more areas are allowing e-bikes to travel up to 28mph as it helps with traffic congestion significantly in urban areas.
Can you change the class of an electric bike?
It is usually possible to downgrade an electric bike from Class 3 -> Class 2 -> Class 1. It is not always possible to increase the class of a bicycle. A Class 1 bike may not have a controller or cabling for a throttle. A Class 1 or 2 bike may not have enough power to travel 28mph.
Our VeeGo 750 for example arrives as a class 3 bike. If you want to convert it to a class 2 bike you can limit the pedal assistance speed to 20mph with the computer. To convert to a class 1 bike you can remove the throttle (and re-install it at a later date if desired).
Our Scoozy 350 e-bikes cannot be converted from a class 2 to class 3 ebike as they do not have enough motor power to travel 28mph.
For more information regarding your local regulations and other requirements Wikipedia is a great place to check.
The most important aspect of riding an electric bike is respecting your fellow cyclists. If you are riding recklessly and selfishly then local governments will most likely restrict use even more. Please ride responsibly on the road so we can all enjoy the amazing benefits of electric bikes!