Blog E-Bikes In Toronto And Ontario - Rules, Laws & Confusion

Oct 20, 2016

Learn about electric bicycles and the laws for riding them in Ontario and Toronto

E-Bikes are one of those modes of transportation that fall directly in the grey area of traffic rules. Are they a bike? Are they a motorcycle? Should they be driven on the road? Should they be allowed on the sidewalks?

What exactly are the rules of the road for these troublesome machines? It’s a question that has motorists and pedestrians alike confused, and the truth is that most people have no idea. To clear up the confusion and set the record straight for everyone, we’ve done some research of our own to find out what you can and cannot do when operating an e-bike. But, before we get into this, it’s important to define what qualifies as an electric bike.

What Are E-Bikes?

Electric bikes often look like traditional bicycles, scooters, or even small motorcycles. Herein lies the problem – by simply looking at it, e-bikes are difficult to differentiate from other similar electric devices.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, e-bikes in Ontario have the following features :

  • Steering handlebars
  • Working pedals
  • An electric motor not exceeding 500 Watts
  • A maximum speed of 32 km/h
  • A maximum weight of 120 kg
  • A permanent label from the manufacturer in both English and French stating that your e-bike conforms to the federal definition of a power-assisted bicycle.

It is also illegal to modify your e-bike to make it faster or more powerful.

E-Bike Road Rules In Toronto And Ontario

The rules of the road are probably one of the most hotly contested issues with e-bikes. You see people of all ages riding them, and you see them being driven all over the place – on sidewalks, on the road, bike paths, and just about anywhere else.

In terms of licensing, you actually do not need a driver’s license. However, you must be 16 years old, wear a helmet, and keep the e-bike in good working condition. Michael Vaughan of The Globe And Mail sheds some light on the road rules for e-bikes :

“The Province of Ontario permits e-bikes to be operated like bicycles and, while riders don’t need a licence or insurance, they must wear helmets and these so-called bikes must be equipped with pedals. Since electric bikes are classified as bicycles, they don’t have the same braking and lighting as licensed motorcycles and scooters.”

Where Can You Ride An E-Bike In Ontario?

What are the E-Bike rules in Ontario

According to the MTO, you are permitted to ride your electric bike on most residential roads and highways where traditional bikes are permitted. They are permitted to be used on designated bike lanes.

You Can't Ride E-Bikes On :

  • 400-series highways and other major highways in the province.
  • Any municipal roads or sidewalks where bicycles are banned.
  • Municipal roads, sidewalks, bike paths, bike trails or bike lanes where e-bikes are prohibited.

If you are caught riding your e-bike through a recreational park, you are subject to a $250 fine. You are also not permitted to operate an e-bike while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Issues And Challenges With Electric Bikes

Since e-bikes are a hybrid of a bicycle and motorcycle, a number of issues have arisen, namely :

  • The lack of licensing, permits, and plates : Without a formal process in place, anyone can buy an e-bike and start driving, even if they don’t have a regular driver’s license. This could potentially lead to inexperienced and uneducated riders on the road – which could increase a risk for accidents and endanger pedestrians.
  • No insurance requirements : While riders are not required to have e-bike insurance, there are many insurance companies that offer electric bike insurance coverage through a homeowners policy.
  • Spacing issues on roads : Since e-bikes tend to be bigger and faster than traditional bicycles, but also are to be treated the same, it is difficult for drivers to gauge spacing, leave enough room when passing, and accommodate them in other situations.
  • Lack of education about e-bikes : There is a general lack of education about the rules, role, and what is and is not allowed.

Benefits Of Electric Bicycles

There are some benefits to electric bikes. They include :

  • Affordability – you can get one for as low as $600.
  • You will save money on gas and parking.
  • They are environmentally friendly.
  • It will help you be more active and get outside more.
  • Often times, e-bikes are a quicker option than public transportation.

Thinking About Buying An E-Bike?

Similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes come in all shapes and sizes and with many different features. While you can get an e-bike in the $600 range, you are better off spending a little more to get a reliable model. “The cheapest complete electric bikes cost about $600 CDN, while most of the more reputable ones are in the $900-$1,500 dollar range, and the highest end bikes top out at $3,000,” says GRIN Technologies.

If you are looking to try one out before you buy it or explore your purchase options, most cities have a least one dedicated e-bike shop. Do a quick Google search to find the closest e-bike store in your area.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about e-bikes? Should they be allowed on the roads? Does there need to be more regulation and laws for e-bikes? What can be done to make e-bikes safer?

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