Andrew Bouchard, co-owner of Bike Board and Ski in Presque Isle, demonstrates how to remove and reinstall an e-bike battery. Credit: Paula Brewer / BDN

Electric bikes are catching on throughout Maine, and as riders adopt the trend, readers want to know more.

You told us you wanted to know about state and local laws that govern the use of e-bikes, while others raised questions about the safety of the batteries that power them. Here is what we found out for you.

Depending on what class e-bike you have, you may not be able to ride in certain areas or on certain trails around the state. And, as with all things that use lithium-ion batteries, concerns have arisen about the potential for fire or explosion of e-bike batteries under certain conditions.  

“E-bikes are allowed on regular roadways like any other vehicles,” said Mike Chasse, a Presque Isle city councilor and co-owner of Bike Board and Ski. The city’s public safety department has issued no restrictions on the bike path or public ways at this time, he said.

The use issue arises with more specialized trails and the mechanics of the e-bike.

E-bikes are manufactured in three classes. Class I goes up to 20 mph and Class III up to 28 mph, and the rider can activate the motor while pedaling. Class II bikes go up to 20 mph, but have a throttle option, capable of powering the bike without pedaling.

Under Maine law, e-bikes must be labeled with their classes and maximum speeds and must have speedometers. Class I and II e-bikes are allowed where regular pedal bikes may travel, including bicycle and multi-use paths. Class III cycles cannot use a bike path unless it is part of a roadway, or unless the town or agency that owns the road allows them to be used there.

E-bikes also can’t be used on non-paved trails designated specifically for non-motorized traffic, if a large part of those trails are made of gravel, stones or wood, unless the town or agency allows. 

In simple terms, if you’re on a paved path, you’re likely good to go, but check to see if the town you are in has specific rules.

State and national parks may be off-limits for some e-bikes, though. In Acadia National Park, while all classes of e-bikes are allowed on paved roads, only Class I types are allowed on the picturesque carriage roads. The speed of all conveyances on the carriage roads was reduced to a maximum of 20 mph in 2019.

E-bikes, or motorized trail bikes, are not allowed in Baxter State Park. In Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, both electric and regular bicycles are permitted on public roads and parking areas where any other motor vehicles are allowed, but not in public areas where motorized vehicles are prohibited.

Presque Isle, which has more than six miles of paved bicycle and walking paths, has no specific restrictions on e-bikes, according to public safety officials. Greater Portland has many miles of trails and several bike tours, including e-bikes, are listed on the Maine Department of Transportation’s Explore Maine website. 

But as e-bikes become more common, so do concerns about their batteries. A May truck explosion in Augusta and a Lewiston recycling plant fire were suspected of having been caused by lithium ion batteries. 

If used — or charged — improperly, the batteries can catch fire or explode, according to the National Fire Protection Association. To be safe, consumers should use only the battery made for their product, and charge it only with the charger that came with it, the association advised. 

To charge the batteries safely, avoid extreme temperatures, such as below freezing or above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Unplug the batteries after fully charged. Keep batteries at room temperature, not in a hot car, for instance, and store them away from things that could ignite.

Most e-bike manufacturers are required to meet specific safety parameters, Chasse said. That may include meeting the European Union’s CE safety standard for imported bicycles, or Underwriters Laboratory certifications for products made or at least sold in the United States.

Federal regulations require, among other things, that lithium cell manufacturers include testing information, and batteries must have safety venting and be made in a way that prevents electrical dangers. 

“People should follow the proper care of batteries,” he said. “That includes dealing with an old or damaged battery in the proper way, by recycling it.”

The Presque Isle shop has a lithium battery incident area, a space away from the main sales floor that includes a lined container for damaged or old batteries. Specialized, whose e-bikes the store sells, partners with a recycling effort called Call 2 Recycle. Based in Atlanta, Call 2 Recycle collaborates with many bike manufacturers to responsibly recycle e-bike and other batteries.

Local fire personnel haven’t dealt with major fires caused by lithium batteries, Presque Isle Fire Department officials said.  

Following the Lewiston incident, the state fire marshal’s office said they were working to track similar fires. A representative from that office was not immediately available for comment.