Let’s be clear, the rules in New Zealand are not the same as the USA, Australia, Europe or the United Kingdom. So whatever a distributor of bikes from elsewhere tells you is probably wrong. Even some of the locally designed ranges spread incorrect information.

So, what are the facts?

  1. there is no speed limit other than the limit posted on the road
  2. power is limited to 300W
  3. most places you can ride are considered roads
  4. electric kick scooters are not bikes

You can read it for yourself on the NZTA website.

If you want to know about all of the other places where myths and legends originate, there is an excellent Wikipedia page.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it isn’t…

The bike I ride mostly is rated at 250W, but peaks at around 750W. Does that make it illegal? Not really sure, but most likely it is OK. And if it is only 250W, how come it can go faster than another (not speed limited) bike rated at 350W? And is the ‘350W bike’ legal? Maybe. And why do we even have a power limit? Good question, I don’t believe a great deal of thought went into drafting that legislation which is why it is currently under review.

So why could a 350W bike be legal? Because it might not really deliver 350W constantly. It will definitely peak at higher than that, but is unlikely to sustain that for more than a few seconds. And if you measured power at the wheel (rather than at the battery) it is probably more like 200-250W. Strava does estimates of power and supports that view. Here is an example of a power estimate on a “300w” bike (Ezee Sprint for reference) going at full speed (~36km/h) on the flat, remembering that some power is coming from my legs – probably 100W in this instance – more like 200W full-bore on a torque sensor bike like my Turbo. Most of the peaks on the graph are ~350W and average is 167W.

power-graph

To further make your head spin, some bikes (and kits) are sold using the peak power rating. So the ‘750W’ conversion kit might even be legal. Who would know? You do however run the risk that when a traffic cop pulls you over (because you’re riding like a d1ck) and sees a 750W badge, you’re nicked. The onus of proof to test the law is now on you.

Myths and legends

Here are some that I have been told authoritatively:

  1. The e-bike speed limit is 32km/h. No, it isn’t, that would be in the USA and then only when under throttle (ie no pedal input). Rules by state vary.
  2. The e-bike speed limit is 25km/h. No it isn’t, that is the law in Europe and the UK. It is often trotted out by someone selling Bosch- or Yamaha-powered bikes which frustratingly cap out at 25-27.
  3. The power limit in New Zealand is 250W. No, it is 300W. Sort of…
  4. Throttles are illegal/will be outlawed. If you never pedal then that would be true. It’s only not legal of the bike is mostly powered by the rider. [Paul from Napier has pointed in comments that the law says “designed to be…” so the fact that you pedal or don’t pedal really shouldn’t matter.] There is no suggestion that throttles are to be outlawed – they form a very important part of how cadence sensor bikes work.
  5. and…

I’m only riding this bike off-road, so I can have whatever motor I like!

Sorry, but the definition of a road is a lot wider than a tarred strip with kerb and channel. It’s any place where the general public has access — whether by right or not — including a beach. So putting a 1000W motor on your fatbike and hooning along the beach is illegal. Similarly eMTBs have to comply with the 300W limit. That’s a good thing, it protects other users from danger. The good folks of Whakarewarewa (Rotorua) will breath a sigh of relief at that.

I am going to get a tuning dongle for my bike, the law will never know!

Well sunshine, the law doesn’t care anyway because you aren’t gaining any power, just speed which you are allowed (within reason – the road has speed limits that apply to all vehicles). Your warranty provider will however care if something goes wrong. So, caveat emptor. I reckon ‘go for it’ if it is a road-going bike, but you are taking a risk. Don’t come crying to the shop when something does go wrong. Rather buy the bike that does what you want straight out of the shop.