Is the UK about to green-light 500w e-bikes?

woman riding e-bike

Electric bicycles powered by 500w motors may soon be legal on UK streets.

The Department for Transport today launched a consultation on doubling the e-bike motors from 250w to 500w – as well as permitting them to be controlled by a throttle. Currently, the rider must pedal for the electric motor to start working.

The plans do not propose increasing the maximum powered speed of e-bikes from the current 15.5mph.

The consultation has already been criticised by the cycling industry.

Why does the government want to green-light powerful 500w e-bikes?

There’s little doubt the changes are being proposed because illegal 500W e-bikes and retro-fitted motors have become common on UK roads. However, simply upping the legal limit on motor size risks bringing problems of its own.

Some e-bike riders already hack software to remove the speed limiter, and 500w bikes could make this problem far worse. Another problem may stem from more e-bikes being imported from China. The EU has the same 250w limit for electric bicycles as the UK. As a result, if the UK up the limit to 500w, buyers may acquire 500w e-bikes from countries where battery safety rules are less strict.

Currently, if your electric bicycle is equipped with a motor over 250W, or doesn’t cut out at 15.5 mph – in the eyes of the law it’s a motorcycle and as such needs to be registered, insured and taxed. You’ll also need the appropriate driving licence and helmet approved for motorbike use.

These so-called speed pedelecs have been given their own type approval in Europe so that they can be ridden like bicycles subject to certain conditions. This would seem a less muddled proposal on which to consult.

Derestricted e-bikes and UK law

There’s a thriving market for tech that allows e-bikes to be derestricted. However, once an electric bicycle exceeds the power limits set out in UK regulations, it becomes a motorcycle in the eyes of the law. That means if you’re stopped by the police, or are involved in a crash, you can be charged with riding an unlicensed and uninsured motorbike. The result is likely to be penalty points on your driving licence if you have one. All-in-all, an expensive price to pay for getting a little more speed from your e-bike.

On a related matter, beware e-bikes that sold with speed limiters you can alter yourself. The ability to temporarily restrict an e-bike to 15.5mph does not make it legal for use on British roads. Apart from anything else, you won’t be able to insure this type of e-bike as a bicycle.

e-bike with flat battery

If you tamper with your e-bike to increase its top speed, then in the eyes of the law, you’re riding a motorbike

Is my e-bike legal?

There are so many different types of e-bike on the market, it can be tricky to know which are road legal – especially with some importers claiming that speed limiters are all you need to conform with British law.

E-bike legislation varies by country so buying second-hand, or online from abroad, can lead to confusion. Here in the UK, e-bikes used anywhere other than private land must not provide powered assistance beyond 15.5 mph (25 km/h) and maximum continuous rated power up to 250W.

If your bike has pedals and a 250 watt motor that cuts out over 15.5mph (25 km/h), then it’s considered to be an EAPC (electrically assisted pedal cycle). As such, you can ride it on the road or any cycle paths – anywhere a conventional bicycle can be used. It also means you won’t find it any trouble to insure.

For example, here at the ETA, we charge no extra for insuring an electric bicycle and include £2m third party cover and protection against battery theft as standard. If you break down – even if it’s a flat battery – we’ll arrange for you and your e-bike to be recovered.

My electric bicycle has a throttle – is it legal?

Since January 1 2016, the only throttles legal on new bikes are those that provide starting assistance ie. assist the rider without pedalling up to a maximum speed of 3.7 mph. At that speed, the throttle cuts off.  If the cyclist pedals at the same time, the throttle can still assist up to the 15.5mph limit.

Bikes sold before January 1 2016 may have a full-speed throttle (you don’t need to pedal at all to reach the 15.5mph limit). However, they are not subject to the restrictions.

E-bike insurance

We cover all road-legal electric bicycles as standard. If the output of your electric bicycle does not exceed 250 W/15.5 mph, we’ll cover it under our cycle insurance at no additional cost.

We also include Cycle Rescue as standard. If your e-bike develops a mechanical fault, you can call on our breakdown team 24/7.

Read a full list of everything we include as standard.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.



  1. Jude price


    Brilliant idea. They finally seem to have got the message that currently disabled riders struggle to pedal and that 250w is simply far too little power. Where I used to live in South Wales about 7 years ago would’ve been absolutely useless on a 250w motor.

    500 watts continuous up to 15.5mph and throttle is exactly what people have been wanting for years ever since those EU laws eliminated our throttles.

  2. Alan


    There are issues with the 250 W limit – it isn’t enough for either cargo bikes or off road climbing – but it seems that mainstream manufacturers have a workaround which somehow meets the 30 minutes rated output limit, but clearly doesn’t in reality. This is from Bosch data for cargo motors, MTB are same power, 600 W:
    Rated continuous output 250 W
    Maximum power

    • Alan


      …accidentally posted mid edit.
      Bosch maximum power 600 W
      clearly stated on cargo and CX line tech specs

      Other manufacturers the same, of course. Does anyone know if there is an unsaid real limit (600 W)??
      Does the software ramp the power down for the 30 minute test? Or just identify a test in progress, VW dieselgate style?

      Still I’m not sure what the consultation will achieve, given a lot of new “250W” ebikes are already putting out 500W?

      • Hank Jansen


        What is the problem when lots of keen cyclists easily exceed 20/25 mph by unassisted pedaling. For people with a limited capacity to cycle at speed and who want to use a cycle and be safe in traffic a rise in the level of power assistance should be approved without having to resort to possibly unsafe China Imports to obtain the required power update. Although why it needs some non cycling geezer in a Parliamentary suit to say what you can ride when all bodily circumstances and uses are not known. Possibly the China 1000/2500/2000 watt machines are a bit excessive but it should be your choice and not somebody dictating what you can do and when you can do it. It’s only bike after all. Nanny state again.

    • Paul Baron


      I’d like to know why the 15.5mph speed limit was universally accepted.
      Who decided on this limit and for exactly what reason?
      With fit cyclists of non-electric bicycles easily capable of exceeding 20mph and the ubiquitous 20mph limits on our roads spreading Nationwide, wouldn’t a 20mph limit on electric bicycles make more sense?
      It would allow cyclists to keep up with the flow of traffic more easily, make it less likely that motorists would constantly want to overtake you, and importantly, it would encourage people to get out of their motor vehicles and onto a bicycle.

  3. Anthony Johnson


    Speed restriction limit should be raised to 20mph or even 25mph. If bikes go (almost) same speed as rest of traffic in active travel areas, then cars won’t need to pass the bikes and it could be safer for all.

    • Andrew Whitehead


      Brilliant Comment – Anthony. – Councils around England and Wales are currently obsessed with changing urban roads to 20mph Speed limit – IT seems obvious if e-bike match this it will be safer for all. Having a higher speed for e-bikes will also discourage food delivery riders from de-restricting their bike and riding round at way over the allowable speed.

  4. matthew newell


    This also feels like a potential law change to reflect current actual situation (at least in London) rather than allow changes to occur.

    I would estimate at least half the e-bikes I encounter are outside legal limits of power and speed; many are able to be entirely throttle operated; and some seem to not require any peddling at any speed.

    As long as delivery of power is smooth and easily controllable (500-600 watts through back wheel is not always easy to control) I don’t see a problem.

    It may stop e-bikes from being assistive for many people. Research has shown that switching from bike to ebike can cause greater overall physical activity (for certain groups etc.) – not sure if a 500W monster will do this quite so much

  5. David Bingham


    I been riding e-bikes over 15 years and used for work, they should be allowed to do 20 miles hour.

  6. Ken Watts


    E bikes are the future for everyone capable. This is without question a move forward environmentally. For everyone to conduct an economic life and be environmentally, some will need an extra boost to cover more distance to get to work, take their kids, haul shopping etc. Yes,keep the speed down, but go get up hills with a load, whether is shopping, tools, or kids, got to be the way to go. Cyclist are already doing 20 to 30mph, so what’s the big deal being powered to 15mph.

  7. Ugur


    I think it will be better to have a bit more power then just 15.15mph

  8. Chris T


    The increase in power is needed, I’ll be fine with 15.5mph then, I am wearing bottom brackets out quickly because of hard peddling on the hills i have to climb on the way to work.

  9. Denise


    If the Government truly want people out of cars they need to make e-bikes have enough power to allow you to go shopping and get up hills as a bare minimum. I agree with others 20 mph should be top speed and up to 500w motor.
    There would be a massive amount of people take to two wheels and leave their cars behind.

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