Risks and legal consequences of e-bike tuning and motor retrofitting

The German and European bicycle industries as well as the trade associations for the bicycle industry, retailers and technicians are firmly opposed to the tuning of e-bikes. «Manufacturers and suppliers are aware of the tuning issue,» says the ZIV’s Managing Director Burkhard Stork. «We’ve been working intensively on all levels for years now to make e-bike tuning more difficult and to inform consumers and retailers of the risks.»

In 2021, the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI), which is the umbrella organisation of the European bicycle, pedelec, parts and accessories industry launched the «Companies against Tampering» anti-tuning initiative. By signing the self-commitment, manufacturers and suppliers of e-bikes and drive systems demonstrate that they are strictly against any kind of manipulation of their products that results in an increase in power or the maximum assistance The ZIV is also working on technical measures to prevent tuning. Various measures and tests that manufacturers of electric power assisted cycles must comply with are detailed in new technical specifications (CEN/TS 17831), for example.
Tuning: serious legal consequences
According to the ZIV, most consumers are unaware of the serious consequences that e-bike tuning can have and how it can even constitute a criminal offence. Hence the ZIV is working closely with the professional associations of the bicycle industry and actively working to raise public awareness. They publish information jointly at regular intervals on the risks of tuning e-bikes in order to inform retailers, workshops and consumers about the situation and the dangers.

Tuning turns e-bikes into motor vehicles – and this can have serious consequences
Tim Salatzki, Head of Technology & Standardisation, ZIV
According to Article 63a(2) of the German highway code (StVZO), e-bikes are only considered equivalent to muscle-powered bicycles if the motor assistance is limited to a rated continuous output of 250 watts and a design-defined maximum speed with electric pedal assistance of 25 km/h. Any increase in power and/or design speed beyond this makes a fundamental difference:

The e-bike then becomes a motor vehicle in accordance with the traffic laws – with serious consequences:
  • operating licence required (individual acceptance by authorised test centre)
  • driving licence required (class depends on maximum speed)
  • insurance required (insurance number plate)
  • helmet required (compulsory)
  • bike paths cannot be used
  • proof required of the operational stability of all safety-relevant components
Possible legal consequences for users in case of tuning:
  • traffic offence and fine
  • criminal offence (pursuant to §21 of the German highway code (StVG) – «Driving without a licence» and §6 of the German law on compulsory insurance (PflVG) – «Driving without insurance»). In the event of a repeat offence, potentially official recording of the offence (criminal record)
  • loss of insurance cover (personal liability)
  • loss of liability for material defects and warranty claims
  • confiscation of driving licence
  • often partial responsibility in the event of an accident
Tuning | Links and downloads
Reckless: the retrofitting of bicycles
Bicycles are designed and tested purely for use using muscle power. In light of the existing technical standards and requirements, trade associations and experts are critical of engine retrofitting: bicycles then legally become machines – with far-reaching consequences.

Retrofitting turns bicycles at least into e-bikes, which are subject to the Machinery and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Directive and must be tested accordingly. Retrofitters must prepare a declaration of conformance after retrofitting, however most are usually unable or not allowed to do so.

If the power output is greater than 250 watts and the pedal assistance exceeds 25 km/h, then the bicycle is a motor vehicle according to the traffic laws and therefore requires individual approval and an operating permit from an authorised body.

Possible legal consequences for retailers in case of retrofitting:
  • aiding and abetting a criminal offence, involvement in a traffic offence
  • liability of the retailer in case of personal injury and/or damage to property
  • loss of public liability insurance cover
Retrofitting | Links and downloads