Electric bicycle

The term electric bicycle is used colloquially as an umbrella term for a variety of bicycles and mopeds powered by an electric motor. There are, however, significant differences among them. These pertain not only the bicycles themselves, but also how they are qualified for purposes of traffic law, insurance, and other legal aspects. 

What is an electric bicycle?

Put in the simplest possible terms, an electric bicycle is a bicycle that can be driven by an electric motor. Looking at the salient differences, electric bicycles can be divided into three categories: pedelec, S-pedelec and e-bike. In practice, however, these three categories are not always clearly distinguished, being that in any event, the terms pedelec and e-bike are not clearly defined at all or only vaguely defined for the purposes of the law. 

1. Pedelec

The term pedelec is used to describe an electric bicycle that is powered by a combination of muscle power and motor assistance. With a pedelec, the motor only provides support when you, the rider, are actually pedalling; this is why these are also referred to by a number of other terms such as 'power-assisted bicycle'. Because the motor on a pedelec will not assist you beyond a speed of 25 km/h, these are considered bicycles for the purposes of the law: you therefore do not need a driving licence, insurance plate or test certificate to operate one. 


2. S-Pedelec

This is a pedelec, but with a motor that is of significantly higher power – one that can reach speeds of up to 45 km/h. Consequently, operating an S-pedelec is subject to certain conditions:

  • aged 16 or older
  • operator must have a driving licence (in Germany, class 'AM')
  • must only ride on roads or bicycle paths that are open to mopeds
  • helmet requirement
  • insurance licence plate mandatory

3. E-bike

E-bikes are, generally speaking, not electric bicycles but may be classified as either mopeds or light motorbikes, depending on the power of the motor. This is because these bicycles can reach a speed of more than 6 km/h with the help of the electric motor without the rider having to pedal. 


E-bike – up to 25 km/h

E-bike – up to 45 km/h

E-bike over 45 km/h

  • moped
  • helmet for motorbikes
  • only with insurance plate
  • motorbike
  • helmet mandatory
  • only with driving licence (in Germany, class 'AM') and insurance number plate
  • only on roads
  • light motorcycle
  • helmet mandatory
  • only with driving licence 
  • class A1 or higher (in Germany)
  • motor vehicle tax liability
  • motor vehicle registration number and inspection report required 


E-bikes that can exceed a speed of 45 km/h are very unusual in Germany. Nevertheless, they do exist, and if you want to use such an e-bike, it is worth knowing the operating regulations. 

What do all these electric bicycles have in common?

There are many similarities in the electric bicycles of the three categories:

  • Driven by a motor
  • Battery on board
  • Use of motor assistance is limited to certain routes/times 


What's more, in all categories, you can find a bicycle for every purpose and every need: 

  • Electric bicycle as mountain bike for challenging terrain
  • Electric bicycle as city for the city and light tours on bicycle paths
  • Sporty model of electric bicycle as a racing bike

What’s better: Mid-drive or hub motor?

Whether an electric bicycle is equipped with a front hub, rear hub, or mid-drive motor makes a difference. The type of motor most suited for you depends on your priorities for your bicycle. The following table shows the characteristics of the various types of motor at a glance:


Front hub

Rear hub


  • on front wheel hub
  • virtually only available on cheapest e-bikes
  • negative impact on steering
  • works inharmoniously
  • high stress on front fork
  • with energy recovery
  • on rear wheel hub
  • common on S-pedelecs
  • low wear on chain and sprocket
  • quiet and powerful
  • may make bicycle tail-heavy
  • with energy recovery
  • at bottom bracket
  • puts centre of gravity in middle of bicycle
  • compact design
  • possible for all gear sets
  • strong pedal assist uphill
  • no energy recovery
  • high wear on sprocket and chain

Electric bicycles – FAQs