E-bike registration is a legal requirement for some electric bicycles, but not all. The important question is whether what you are referring to as an 'e-bike' is legally considered to be a pedelec, S-pedelec or e-bike. Here, you can learn which electric bicycles require a licence, how much power an e-bike can have, and which vehicles are subject to compulsory insurance.
When do I have to register an e-bike?
An electric bicycle requires a registration and insurance number plate, and the rider must have an operating licence, if it is an S-pedelec or e-bike. Riders of pedelecs, on the other hand, do not need a licence. But what are the differences between these vehicles?
A pedelec (a portmanteau of 'pedal' and 'electric cycle') is a bicycle with an electric motor that only switches on when the rider pedals. This means that strictly speaking, the motor assistance is only pedalling assistance. These bicycles are only permitted to have a start assist that can accelerate the pedelec up to 6 km/h without pedalling. The motor of a pedelec may only provide assistance up to a maximum speed of 25 km/h. If these conditions are met, the pedelec is, for legal purposes, treated the same as a conventional bicycle. This means that you do not need a permit to ride a pedelec, nor do you need a helmet or a driving licence. Pedelecs are also allowed on normal cycle paths.
An S-pedelec (short for 'speed pedelec') is, as the name suggests, the faster version of a pedelec. S-pedelecs may reach speeds of up to 45 km/h with motor assistance when pedalling. For legal purposes, these fast bicycles are considered to be in the same category as mopeds and motorbikes, which entails that they require registration. The rider must also be in possession of an operating permit, an insurance number plate, and a driving licence (in Germany, class AM or higher). Additionally, the rider must wear a helmet, and S-pedelecs may only be ridden on cycle paths if mopeds are explicitly permitted to use the same path (which will be indicated by signage). In Germany, the minimum age for riding an S-pedelec varies from Bundesland to Bundesland but is either 15 or 16.
The term 'e-bike' is often used as a generic term because the majority of e-bikes being sold today are actually pedelecs. Unlike a true e-bike, the pedelec only provides motor assistance when the rider is pedalling. True e-bikes are bicycles that can activate motor assistance even without the rider pedalling. E-bikes make up only a very small proportion of the electric bicycles sold in Germany and can further be differentiated into models with different speeds. E-bikes with speeds of up to 20 or 25 km/h are considered mopeds. To drive these vehicles, you therefore need a moped test certificate or a driving licence (in Germany class AM or B). The minimum age for riding these bicycles is 15 years. On these bicycles, you may only use cycle paths marked 'e-bikes/motorbikes allowed'. For e-bikes that can reach speeds of up to 45 km/h, a driving licence (in Germany class AM or B) is compulsory, and the rider must be at least 16 years of age. These fast bicycles are prohibited on any cycle paths. Up to 20 km/h, helmets are advised, but there is no legal obligation to wear a helmet when riding an e-bike. However, at speeds of 25 km/h or more, the rider must wear a helmet. All e-bikes are subject to the same registration requirement as mopeds.
How powerful can an e-bike be?
In addition to the registration requirement and maximum speeds, the requirements as regards motor capacity of pedelecs, S-pedelecs and e-bikes are also clearly regulated: a pedelec may have a motor of up to a maximum of 250 watts. The limit on motors of S-pedelecs is much higher: 4,000 watts. E-bikes with motor assistance up to 25 km/h produce a maximum power of 500 watts, and e-bikes up to 45 km/h a maximum of 4,000 watts.
When does an e-bike need insurance?
All electric bicycles that are legally classified as e-bikes and that you can move using motor power without pedalling are subject to the same insurance requirements as mopeds and motorbikes. This means they must also have an insurance number plate. The same applies to S-pedelecs, which can provide pedal assistance up to 45 km/h. For pedelecs, insurance is not required. Though that may be the case, consumer protection agencies generally advise taking out private liability insurance to be covered in the event of an accident.