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The Great E-Bike Debate: When Will Your Kid Be Ready to Ride One?

When Skye Hermans approached his parents last month about getting an electric bike, it set off a weekslong discussion: Was this 12-year-old ready to make the switch from a mountain bike to a motorized one?

Some of Skye’s friends have e-bikes and he wants to keep up with them during rides. He researched how fast different e-bikes go, how long they take to charge and how far he could go on the battery. Jenna and

Kyle Hermans,

who run a business-consulting firm in San Anselmo, Calif., began conducting their own due diligence. The more they learned, the more questions they had.

“Once we began talking about e-bikes, we started seeing them everywhere and we were seeing some really reckless behavior,” says Mr. Hermans. “One kid almost knocked over our 6-year-old after school. It got me thinking, ‘Is this the right age?’”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it is aware of 53 U.S. fatalities among adult riders related to e-bikes between 2017 and 2021. While far fewer e-bike riders are children, there is a reported e-bike-related death, in 2021, of a 12-year-old Los Angeles girl. E-bikes have also been linked to some nasty lithium-ion battery fires.

Amid recent bans of e-bikes on trails and chatter among parents about other possible regulatory changes, the Hermans family decided not to do anything for a year, to see how things shake out. They also want to give Skye time to save up for an e-bike, which can generally run from $1,000 to $5,000. Skye says he isn’t happy about having to wait but he understands the concerns.

So what’s the best age to start riding an e-bike?

There’s no consensus on that yet. But

Ash Lovell,

the electric-bicycle policy and campaign director for PeopleForBikes, a manufacturer trade group, says she expects her organization to come up with age recommendations within the year.

Skye Hermans wants an e-bike, but for the next year, he’ll have to stick with his conventional mountain bike.


Leya Hermans

E-bikes and kids

Age isn’t the only consideration. There are plenty of things parents should look into before buying their child an e-bike.

Assess your child’s readiness. Does your kid already ride a regular bike? An e-bike shouldn’t be a child’s first bike, says

Alison Dewey,

director of education for the League of American Bicyclists, a nonprofit bike-advocacy organization. Knowing how to control standard bikes is a prerequisite.

Even if your child is an experienced cyclist, learning how to operate an e-bike is critical. For one thing, they are typically heavier than regular bikes and take longer to stop. Practicing in an empty parking lot is a must.


What do you think is the right age for kids to ride e-bikes? Join the conversation below.

The League of American Bicyclists and PeopleForBikes in July plan to offer free online e-bike courses about riding safely, sharing trails and properly storing e-bikes. Meanwhile, Ms. Dewey says you can search the league’s national database for local e-bike instructors.

Decide on its purpose. Is this about your kid getting deeper into cycling or just getting around? That will determine the type to get. Some e-bikes come with a throttle and don’t require pedaling. Others only provide power when the rider is pedaling.

Know the local regulations. In most states, e-bikes are regulated like bicycles and don’t require a license, registration or insurance. PeopleForBikes has a list of state e-bike laws. In most states, e-bikes fall into one of three classes:

  • Class 1: Motorized assistance up to 20 mph is only provided when the rider is pedaling. Many experts recommend these for kids.

  • Class 2: The bikes have a throttle but won’t add any power once the bike reaches 20 mph.

  • Class 3: While these bikes only provide a boost when the rider is pedaling, that assistance comes at speeds up to 28 mph. Some states require riders of these to be at least 16 years old.

Dr. Lovell says there are discussions in the biking industry around creating a new lower-speed class specifically for younger riders. 

While most states restrict where e-bikes can be ridden, those rules might vary depending on your county or city, so always check your local government websites.

Check size and specs. Parents should look for e-bikes with smaller tires (around 2 inches wide instead of 4), no front suspension and a middle-of-frame motor. Bikes like this weigh less and are easier for kids to maneuver, according to

Brett Thurber,

co-owner of the New Wheel, a chain of three e-bike shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. Also look for fully adjustable seats and handlebars so the bike can grow with your child.

Mr. Thurber and other e-bike experts also recommend hydraulic disc brakes as safer than mechanical brakes, because they have better stopping power and self-adjust as the brake pads wear out.

Look for battery certification. After more than 200 battery-related fires broke out last year in New York involving e-bikes and electric scooters, the city this month passed legislation requiring their batteries to meet standards set by UL Solutions, the leading electronics-safety company. Look for UL certification on the battery of any e-bike you buy.

Visit a bike shop. E-bikes sold directly online have more parent-friendly prices than those sold in bike shops. But the quality can be subpar and there might be nowhere to turn for a tuneup, says Mr. Thurber.

The e-bikes that Mr. Thurber’s shops sell arrive mostly assembled. Still, it takes mechanics more than two hours to tune them and perform safety checks. Meanwhile, he says, parents are always bringing in their online-purchased bikes with problems. “We see front forks that are on backward, spokes that are broken, brakes that aren’t adjusted properly and brakes that aren’t working at all,” he says.

His mechanics do what they can but tell those customers they can’t vouch for the safety of those e-bikes and require them to sign a waiver. Dr. Lovell says many bike shops won’t service online-bought e-bikes at all. If you prefer to buy one online, check with a local bike shop first.

Protect your investment. Since e-bikes are expensive, it is wise to get a good bike lock. They can cost upward of $100, according to Mr. Thurber. You should also see if this new investment is covered for theft by your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Some insurers also specifically offer e-bike coverage.

For more Family & Tech columns, advice and answers to your most pressing family-related technology questions, sign up for my weekly newsletter.

Write to Julie Jargon at [email protected]

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