What are the e-bike laws in NZ?

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.

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32 comments

  • What is the highest voltage if the highest wattage in NZ is 300w as I want to build a trailer that can hook on to multiple bikes with batteries in trailer (with hub motor).

  • Hi everybody. O bought this week my e-bicke MATE X 750W High performance motor limited to 20 mph (32 km/h). I need to know it this e-bike will be illegal or not. Can somebody gave me some feedback? Otherwise I need to cancel the order…thanks!

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mate-x-most-affordable-fully-loaded-folding-ebike/x/19390902?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyJbnrt3A3QIVTWWLCh3vGQ_YEAEYASAAEgJKwPD_BwE#/

    • If you plan to use it in NZ, it will be illegal. I’d never buy an ebike without local support anyway, it’s a very bad idea unless you are an electronics handy-person.

    • Hi Natalia
      I am also in the process of ordering a Mate X 750, could you let me know if you are still going ahead with yours?or text me on
      o two one nine nine seven five two four
      Thanks
      John

  • Make sure you check with your insurer on how the ebike needs to be insured. Some have wattage limits under the domestic contents policy so may need a separate m/cycle policy

    • Why would an insurer create such a stipulation separate from what is legally a bicycle vs a moped? Like not insuring your laptop because too many MHz.

      • Advice from two insurers to date – Power assisted cycles not exceeding 300w are insured as bicycles (specified on the policy). Over 300w they are insured under the motor policy as a motor cycle The Motor policy requires the insured/user to comply with licence conditions, but if a licence is not required to ride one of these, then they will not be in conflict with the policy requirement.

  • https://gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2013-au4618

    The regulation actually says ‘Power-assisted cycle means a cycle to which is attached one or more auxiliary propulsion motors that have a combined maximum power output not exceeding 300W’

    That is maximum output, not continuous…

    • The accepted interpretation of that garbled clause is that the combined power should not exceed 300W. Remember too that this is output, not input, nor nominal rated motor power. In fact, despite sounding very legal it is a poorly worded notice. Btw 300w power should have you going along at around 37kph without rider input.

  • Hi there, any update to this article? Personally I don’t believe in restrictions on the bikes to a certain extent but education on speed would be good in certain areas and signs or info on speeds for cornering. Maybe a dangerous riding law. For instance a cyclist going past a toddler on a balance bike with their mum on the shared cycle path should be passed at certain speed. Some guys on road bikes are insanely quick without a motor and while attempting their Stava segment they forget about the safety of others. There are definitely places to travel fast and places not to. But then there are also ebikes that need more power like a cargo bike or a bike for a heavy rider.

  • Question:
    I have a 250W e bike wheel fitted but never got round to using it. It is a mountain bike rear wheel and has gears etc so you can pedal.

    I have a 12v battery which likely out out 10,000 watts. Does that make the bike illegal?

    If not. What if I attach a 600 watt 4-stroke low emission Honda engine, to an alternator, to that battery. And make a hybrid bike. Which I pedal everywhere with electric motor assist up hill? The small engine connects to a generator only. The battery can supply dozens of times more current than the small engine.

    If this idea is illegal, it follows that any battery that can put out 301 watts is illegal. This seems to be a problem. A ‘trip ‘ fuse can prevent the NiMH or Li Ion putting out many kW. It can do the same for the small engine.

    Advice (‘engines are illegal as they are over 300 watts’ doesn’t count unless they are direct drive……..)

    • Batteries can put out lots of power, but probably not in a sustained way. The constraint is typically in the controller for the motor, in how many amps of current it can produce over a sustained period. The motor rating is not output either, it’s how much power throughput it can handle even when the going gets tough (slow grind up a hill, hauling a heavy load).

      • What worries me is that I have a genuine small Honda engine with low emissions and it would be great for getting up a large hill (from sea level to about 280 metres approx); with pedal lower as well, an efficient generator (or even an alternator) I could have a hybrid e-bike where the engine charges the battery in bursts, so only muscle and electric power make the bike move,and the engine periodically charges the battery (and probably also powers the electric motor) likely under manual control.

        Such a setup is healthier and will produce less emissions than my postie bike which is 1.1l/100km…. but I can afford to be arrested and there appears to be no legislation, just an ambiguous ‘gazette’ (which actually could be interpreted as making it illegal to, for example, ride a pedal bike, while possessing an engine, even unit was a tiny model plane motor in packaging in a basket on the front or something that you had just bough from the shops!)

      • It would likely be considered a moped

      • PS sorry for autocorrect typos as well!

  • Pingback: What are the ebike laws in NZ? – MeloYelo

  • I have a class 6 (motorcylce) full license. Is there a way to register a high powered e-bike as a moped, or motorcycle that would enable me to ride on the road with a higher power output and higher speeds?

    • You can – just needs to be done at a vehicle testing station. Not sure what all the lighting requirements are, ie if it needs mirrors, indicators and stop lights.
      As far as I know mopeds are restricted to 50kph and are not allowed on cycle lanes and shared paths.

  • Yes NZTA need to get their acts together I agree, however, don’t hold your breath as NZTA will mirror how NZ Govt conduct their business: shoddy, lacking vision, and keeping us all in “grey areas” with constant shifting of the goal posts. I’m an owner driver class5 operator & there are many grey areas in our transport industry in the 17 years I have operated. So I can see many of us wanting to go electric on a bicycle finding out “the hard way” with fines & possible prosecutions as the NZTA start interpreting this exciting and fast growing trend.

  • Pingback: Thoughts on NZ ebike Legislation – NZ Electric Bike Review

  • Well, I think it is high time that the laws on e bikes and other electronic powered rides be amended because they are quickly getting popular.

    • I thought it was already simple and clear and don’t see any reason for rapid ill-considered changes. E-bikes based on bicycles, up to 300W output, are still “bicycles” and other powered rides are not. The only issues in my opinion are the ease of enforcement of “300W”, and that this number is bizarrely askew to other standards in the world, seeming to be pulled out of a hat. Since many areas of NZ are hilly, most preferable (as I mentioned below) a 35 kph speed limit which is much easier to enforce and should apply to all bicycles, power-assisted or not. The issues with pedestrian traffic on mixed use cycleways are the same and bicycles in general are getting much more common now. Cheers!

  • The whole area obviously needs to be clarified in the current review! However try ringing NZTA to ask their view on bikes that can operate on a throttle alone. From my discussion they seem to be of a clear view that they are not bikes.

    • In decades of mechanical engineering design experience I learned long ago not to ask bored civil servants to interpret law, thats a job for lawyers and courts. Well-written laws are simple and to the point. Throttles, pedalec, torque sensors and the way the bike is ridden are not addressed because they are not regulating those items. Like any other law you do not need to read between the lines.

  • Hello, NZTA have advised me anything that operates with a throttle without peddling is not a legal bike. Why are you saying throttles are ok?

    I have heard there is currently a review being carried out looking at these issues?

    • There is a review underway currently. There are many problems with the law currently – for example, cargo bikes that need a bit more power than 300W are “illegal”, and the definition of power is unclear. Technically, using only a throttle (rather than as pedal assist) is not within the definitions of legal. A throttle however is not illegal, and is incredibly useful especially for older people or when starting on a hill. And it’s almost essential on a cadence sensor bike. I’d hate to see that made illegal because it cuts out every lower priced bike from the market. Of course the purveyors of ‘premium’ bikes will be unfussed about it because they are not allowed under Euro laws. Nor are speeds above 25.

      • Thanks for the reply. As I understand it in the EU bikes that operate on throttle alone are classified as scooters unless they cut out at low speeds. Surely NZ will head the same way?

      • Anything is possible, but that will only affect bikes you buy in the future. I don’t see why NZ would it should follow the EU approach ahead of say the US approach.

      • I don’t buy that the current law outlaws throttles … if taken literally, even if it was intended to. It states that the vehicle “… is designed primarily to be propelled by the muscular energy of the rider,” and as such indicates that the design basis of the vehicle should be a bicycle, but not dictating how it is used at any particular moment. Any E bike can coast, for example, throttle or not. It just means it needs functional pedals.
        Clearly the 300 W output was a silly choice, nearly impossible to measure and different from any other country. But it doesn’t allow for intermittent higher power either, otherwise it would state “continuous.”
        The govt should either copy EU law or far more sensibly simply limit top electric-only speed to 30km or such, something police already know how to evaluate.
        cheers ,
        Paul
        Napier

      • Paul from Napier is probably right and me wrong. The key word being ‘designed’. If it has bike components, pedals are in the right place… it’s a bike.

  • As of 1 Sep 2016, a review of regulations is underway.

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