Is this an e-bike?

Motrino XMr w/pedals attached

A rider near Vancouver, British Columbia was ticketed for operating his device without insurance and driver’s license. The rider claimed his device was a “Motor Assisted Cycle”, as defined in their traffic codes, while police said otherwise. A trial judge went with the police’s interpretation; and an appeal to the BC’s supreme court failed.

The supreme court’s opinion to uphold the conviction had two prongs, wheelsize and “intent” of the law. The former was a bright line, clearcut and seems inarguable (in other words, how did he think he could ever win?) [but wait; see discussion below about wheelsize]— the MAC codes specifies a minimum wheelsize and this gadget had significantly smaller wheels ergo it’s not a MAC. The latter prong, about the intent of their law is much more dubious; they found that despite the gadget having operable pedals, the guy admitted he “never” pedals; thus in their view a violation of the intent of the MAC code (‘A’ means assisted, right?).

In any event the opinion is interesting, and an easy read:

R. v. Ghadban, 2020 BCSC 664

The gadget in question was a Motorino XMr. It’s power-specs (500W motor, max. 20mph) appear to, otherwise, place it into the MAC category. Side-note, in the popular press, e.g. see E-bike rider loses court case against ticket for operating without licence, insurance have a picture of something that is clearly larger than the XMr model; perhaps to gin up antipathy? (fake news?).

To understand the “intent” question, one would need to look up the earlier case they refer to in the opinion R. v. Rei, 2012 BCSC 1028. I haven’t read it yet but it’s there at that link, and i don’t want to waste too much time on Canadian law 🙂

[ok I just read Rei. First off, in Rei he DID NOT HAVE PEDALS, they were removed or missing or whatever.  But setting that aside, in the BC vehicle code, it does have specific requirements, e.g.

“A motor assisted cycle must be equipped with a mechanism, separate from the accelerator controller, that… prevents the motors from turning on or engaging before the motor assisted cycle attains a speed of 3 km/hr”

That the Motrino (apparently) does not have; since the defendant said he NEVER pedals, and the other guy Rei didn’t even have pedals.

This would mean, by the way, that their code is out-of-step with the US (and now Arizona) ebike “class” (or “type”) system, both class 1 and class 3 a class 2 need not be pedaled, a throttle alone can just make it go ]

There’s some interesting subtexts about how Canadian motor-vehicle insurance works, and that it’s impossible to purchase insurance for such a device.

But what about Arizona?

The general gist of this story sounded very very similar to what happened to some motorized bicyclists (this was before the ebike-specific law) and got some into a lot of legal trouble. The trouble with that older law, the “motorized bicycle” law of 2006.

That issue — which I consider it a defect in the law, and an unintended side-effect — is a result of the 2006’s law referring to a motorized bike as being defined as being operated at less than 20mph. Police read that to mean that anyone riding a bike with a motor at 20mph or greater as somehow stopped being a motorized bicycle and in fact magically transformed into a moped (or even a motorcycle). Even if it was rolling downhill with a tailwind, even if the motor was switched off. In any event, although there were numerous anecdotal reports of being cited; there never were any appeals, even just to Superior court (and could have been appealed to Court of Appeals, because some of the offences are misdemeanors).

That’s all just background and sidebar — what about ebikes, and what about now? Arizona passed an e-bike specific law in 2018. That language, correctly, doesn’t use the phrase “operated at” some particular speed in the defintion, but rather that the motor must not provide any assistance above a certain speed (20 or 28mph, depending on class):

§28-101: ... "Bicycle" means a device, including a racing wheelchair, that is propelled by human power and on which a person may ride and that has either... (a) Two tandem wheels, either of which is more than sixteen inches in diameter.


"Electric bicycle": means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than seven hundred fifty watts and that meets the requirements of one of the following classes:... (b) "Class 2 electric bicycle" means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle or tricycle and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of twenty miles per hour.

So the easy answer is a Motorino XMr (and the similar ZebraNow * pictured here ) fails to be an ebike per Arizona law because of the wheelsize [but wait; see discussion below about wheelsize] They otherwise would clearly be a fully-compliant class 1 (if pedal assist/ throttle-less) or a class 2, where the definitions plainly states it’s OK for a motor be used exclusively; in other words, an ebike to be and ebike in Arizona, MUST have pedals, thereby being able to propelled by human power, but not required to do so. (i see no legal jujitsu possibilities, but who knows?). To state that again and in a slightly different way: it’s not okay to remove the pedals from a Class 2 even if you never want, or never need to pedal; and a Class 1 would not function without the pedals, because by definition that’s the only way a Class 1 “goes”.

In any event, riders of these small-wheeled ebikes/escooter devices are going to find themselves in the same legal hot water as a motorized bicycle rider going as slow as 20mph (the legal definition is < 20mph; ergo > or equal to 20mph is “illegal”); that is if the police don’t like you for whatever reason. The fines can be substantial, and IIRC some or both charges are criminal misdemeanors (not simple civil traffic tickets).

The Wheelsize Issue

Jay brings up a good point in a comment below regarding wheelsize — it’s not clear what diameter the law (this is true both in the Canada/BC case, as well as Arizona) refers to; it’s certainly not specific. The rim of the Motrino is 12″, but the diameter of the wheel when a tire is mounted to the rim is more like 18″. (not sure about the ZebraNow example?)

Most things that look like bicycles, for adults at least, easily meet the 16″ but it’s sortof problematic for some compact travel/folding bicycles that use smallish wheels/rims. There’s no particular reason these riders shouldn’t  enjoy the legal protections afforded to bicyclists.

Does the wheelsize thing in the definition of bicycle make sense? It may in the context of ebikes, I suppose that’s arguable. It clearly doesn’t make sense when considering a folding/travel bicycle; and leaves riders of such devices in a bit of legal limbo when riding. I always imagined the wheelsize requirement was a crude way of differentiating between small-children’s vs. all other bicycles; it’s been in the law for a long long time.

If anyone know of any case law that might clarify the wheel vs. rim size issue please let me know.

In the two examples from the Supreme Court of British Columbia; the more-recent case Ghadban, the trial judge mentions specifically said: “It is a requirement that the wheel of a MAC must be no smaller than 350 mm while that of a limited speed motorcycle must be no smaller than 254 mm. The wheel size of the Motorino XMr is specified to be 12 inches in diameter which converts to 304 mm; less than the required 350 mm for a MAC.” What’s not clear, because we don’t have access to the trial record is whether or not it was even brought up at trial; I surmise the trial judge read it off the datasheet for the Motrino, which was entered into evidence. In the older case Rei, there is no mention of wheelsize, so I imagine it was either bigger wheels that were not an issue, or nobody brought it up at the trial; the opinion does not reference any specific make or model of scooter in that case.


* ZebraNow is a micromobility escooter month-to-month rental. They seem to be CA -based. I haven’t tried to figure out how they fit in with CA law. I also don’t know why there is one here (in Phoenix / Ahwatukee).





5 thoughts on “Is this an e-bike?”

  1. It should be a legal bicycle in AZ IMO. It comes down to the interpretation of “wheel size”. I’m assuming that the reference is to the entire wheel assembly including the tire. And if that is the case, a 120/70-12 wheel is 18.61 inches in diameter, hence legal in AZ.

    This should have applied in the Canada case as well. The wheel on that device did meet the legal definition. It made great sense to argue that the wheels were an appropriate size.

    The judge said the device had 12″ wheels. That is merely the nominal size of the rim, not the diameter of entire wheel assembly. The reference to 12″ wheel is the convention for cast alloy rim/hub component. It is the nominal diameter of just that particular component. But the wheel is comprised of many components … including the tire. The law surely intends to reference the diameter of entire rolling assembly and not some particular sub-component. Most bicycles don’t even have “wheels” from the standpoint of sub-components. They have tires, rims, spokes and hubs. So the judge is simply wrong in his determination that the wheel is too small. The actual wheel diameter is 472.8mm which easily satisfies the 350mm minimum required by law. That the metal thing that the tire is mounted to is of a nominal 12″ diameter is not relevant.

    Does the 16″ wheel size in AZ make sense? I think the idea is sound to the extent that they are trying to distinguish between scooters and “toys”. But the size choice and implementation is poor. They should have gone for a size below 16″ such as 12″ or 14″ and maybe even smaller. Note that Canada’s minimum is about 13.75″. As an example of why, consider my Dahon folding bicycle with nominal 16″ tires. When measured,we see that the tires are actually about a half inch smaller than 16″ in diameter. So a device that pretty much any reasonable person would recognize as a bicycle (and that I commuted many times to work on) isn’t actually a bicycle in AZ.

    This is a fine point that I’d expect to never come up. Though if I put a hub motor on the Dahon, I’d be a little concerned. I’d probably change the tire/rim combo to be clearly measurable at more than 16″ because such a contraption tends to draw attention

  2. I thought I’d add some thoughts on ebiking and the police from a pragmatic side.

    I’m an e-biker and I participate in the Endless Sphere online forum that focuses on e-transportation of all kinds, including e-bikes. And the general observation in most of the world is that if your e-bike looks like a bicycle and you ride it in a generally responsible way, you are generally very unlikely to be hassled by Police. There are very specific exception such as enforcement in NYC. But for the most part, what you look like and how you act dominates.

    And that’s the problem with devices like the Motorimo xMR. These things look like scooters or motorcycles. “If it looks like a duck…” seems to dominate police thinking. So you get hassled.

    My ebike is a converted mountain bike that is 100% AZ legal as a Class 3 ebike. But all it would take is a tweak of controller settings to do things such as increase the power to the motor, eliminate the 28 mph assist cut out, or eliminate the need to pedal to have motor power. There would be no visual difference and the changes in possible rider behavior would be subtle and hard to spot. But after over 10,000 miles riding in the Scottsdale/Fountain Hills area, it is very clear that the police are barely paying attention. My ebike looks like a bicycle … so it must be one…

  3. “Looks like a duck” thinking is no doubt is a major contributor to unwanted / unfair attention from police. I’ve seen a number of videos, helmet cam type, of traffic stops of guys that use velomobiles.
    A velomobile, of course, is nothing more than an enclosed bicycle, and they are legally nothing more than bicycles. Yet they obviously look a lot different.
    After the cops finally figure that out, if they ever do, it inevitably moves on to nonsense about police misunderstanding of AFRAP and/ or impeding

  4. You got your Class 1,3 pedal requirements backward at the end of your “red” edit. Class 1 and 3 are “pedal assist”. You describe Class 2 correctly later, so this appears to be a mental slip. A likely hazard from reading Canadian law.

    And I admit that this is a bit of a fine point, but the standard implementation of the three classes does not make Class 1 and 3 “throttle-less” as is commonly stated. That may have been the intent, but that is not the wording of the laws. The wording merely says that assist is provided only when pedaling. So, on my e-bike my throttle only functions when I’m pedaling. I use my throttle mostly to provide “full power” when going up some hills, getting across an intersection quickly, etc.

    Thinking of Class 1 and 3 as “throttle-less” is an understandable mental shortcut given that is how most are operated. This shortcut is commonly used in articles. But it could lead to problems of law enforcement officers start thinking in those terms.

  5. yes, thanks; i corrected that 1,3 when i meant to say 2.
    And yeah, i agree with what you said about mental shortcut vs. how the law is actually worded.

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