2022 Update: Do I Need a License to Ride a motorized bicycle in Iowa?
There is a movement afoot to electrify and otherwise motorize bicycles. This movement is slightly different than the moped movement of the 1980s where established players created motorized pedal vehicles (thus, “mo-peds”) as an answer to the international fuel crisis. It includes both the kit electrification of existing bicycles and the original equipment manufacture (OEM) of bicycles as well as the attachment of two and four stroke gasoline powered motors to existing bicycles by startup companies across the country. Some of the gasoline powered variants resemble the motorized bicycles that preceded motorcycles in the early 1900s, with large, chromed teardrop headlights and retro cruiser frames. Some of these manufacturers have promoted their motorized bicycles on their websites and elsewhere “street legal” without the need for title, registration, insurance, or rider licensure. Buyer beware.
In 2006, the Iowa Legislature modified Iowa Code Chapter 321 to redefine motorized bicycles and bicycles that happen to have electric assist. Iowa Code § 321.1(40)(c) formerly defined a bicycle as either human powered two-wheeled with at least one saddle or “[a] device having two or three wheels with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than seven hundred fifty watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden, is less than twenty miles per hour.”
Edit: In 2021, the Iowa Legislature updated its definition of bicycle to include Class I, II, and III vehicles as follows:
Iowa Code 321.235B defines a "low speed electric vehicle" as one of three classes defined by their top speed and function. For example, a Class 1 low speed electric bicycle is a pedal operated two or three wheeled vehicle with an electric motor no greater than 750 watts in power that provides electric powered assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to do so when the rider as reached 20 mph.
Class 2 low speed electric bicycles are two or three wheeled pedal operated vehicles equipped with an electric motor no greater than 750 watts in power that can propel rider no more than 20 mph on flat ground when unassisted by the rider.
Class 3 low speed electric bicycles are two or three wheeled pedal operated vehicles equipped with an electric motor no greater than 750 watts in power that can assist the rider only until the rider has reached 28 mph and then provide no greater assistance.
Beginning January 1, 2022, an e-bike manufacturer must permanently affix a plate to the bicycle posting the classification (1, 2, or 3), as well as the top speed and the motor's wattage in 9-point Arial font. The higher speed Class 3 devices must have a working speedometer but ebikes are otherwise considered biycles and can operate anywhere a bicycle may operate.
When on city streets, low speed electric bicycles must abide by speed limits and can be otherwise restricted to 20 mph on trails.
Note that city ordinances may require bicycles to obey different rules than the State of Iowa. Follow all state and local rules.
Anything that goes faster than that is either a moped or a motorcycle. Anything that has more than three wheels is not a bicycle nor a low speed electric bicycle.
Note that it remains true under these 2021 definitions that a gasoline powered bicycle, retrofitted or otherwise, is never a bicycle in Iowa but is either a motorcycle or a motorized bicycle that requires registration, insurance, and licensure to operate. Electrified bicycles and trikes that have a “race” or “off road” mode that allow the bike or trike to exceed 20 mph and are operated on the streets are not bicycles and may be defined by Iowa law as either motorized bicycles (mopeds) or motorcycles!
Though others may disagree, I consider both the Phantom Ghost line of gasoline powered motorcycles, quoted by company president as capable of 35 mph, to be motorized bicycles in Iowa. I also consider the Outrider Alpha 422, an electrified pedal trike, to be a motorcycle in certain forms, especially those reportedly exceeding no-peddle speeds of over 46 mph on the flat.
The Iowa Attorney General in a non-binding opinion requested by the Adair County Attorney has indicated that a bicycle, including electrified bicycles that do not exceed the 20 mph limit unassisted human power, requires no licensure nor registration. Edit: the Iowa Legislature in 2021 has codified this definition noting in Iowa Code Sec. 321.235B that neither licensure nor registration nor driver's license is required for a low speed electric bicycle.
Much faster, typically gasoline powered motorized bicycles, or, "mopeds," do require driver's licenses. They also require the rider to title, register, and insure a motorized bicycle and it must have a manufacturer’s certificate of origin and a VIN number for that purpose. A rider must have a driver’s license or a moped rider’s license to ride a motorized bicycle in the State of Iowa.
A motorized bicycle (moped) rider may not lane split, may not carry passengers, and must operate with a 5 foot long flag Day-Glo in color, as well as with his or her headlights always on. The attorney general opinion goes on—again, it’s non-binding on the courts—as stating that, at the very least, bicycles and less-than-20-mph electrified bicycles are not motor vehicles because the Legislature did not identify them as such. A motortized bicycle either requires a moped license or, for adults, a license to drive a car.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) or other Iowa criminal offense, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 or https://www.daclawfirm.com for a free initial consultation today. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that no attorney-client relationship is established by sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet.