The Legal and Safety Implications of Derestricting E-Bikes:A Cautionary Tale for Mountain Bikers

Richard Bunting
January 22, 2024
10 Minute Read


This article addresses the critical legal and safety considerations associated with modifying electric mountain bikes (eMTBs). It highlights the legal ramifications of derestricting e-bikes under the Road Traffic Act, emphasising the conversion of e-bikes into motor vehicles upon surpassing the definition of an Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle- EAPC, including age restriction. The article discusses the complexities of insurance coverage, the role of Authorisation Permits in ensuring event safety and compliance, and the nuances of private land use and public access under the Road Traffic Act1988. Through a hypothetical scenario and a detailed exploration of laws and regulations, it underscores the importance of adherence to legal and safety standards in mountain biking, concluding with a call for responsible and safe riding practices.

The primary objective of this article, is to inform and educate mountain bikers, event organisers, and the wider biking community about the critical legal and safety implications of modifying electric mountain bikes (eMTBs). The focus is on understanding the consequences of derestricting these bikes, especially in the context of the Road Traffic Act, and how such actions impact insurance coverage, legal responsibilities, and overall safety in mountain biking events.


Its no secret that people have been derestricting or, ‘chipping’ their ebike as it is commonly known to gain advantage or overcome motor inertia. However, derestricting a bike infringes the Road Traffic act in the United Kingdom in all but very specific locations, more on that later. Often, the person derestricting has no idea of the pandoras box of legal and liability issues. Interestingly a lot of bike dealerships and it would seem distributors are unaware of the implications of retrofitting derestrict kits or importing 'USA' variants. This article focuses on derestricting the speed limiter but the same nuances apply to youth under the age of 14 and derestricting motor power, the highways act applies exactly the same.

Now I’ve got your attention imagine this…..

It was a bright, sunny day, perfect for a race. A regular MTB derestrict advocate, let's call him John, had tweaked his eMTB to push beyond the usual limits. He was experienced, and his skills were unmatched.

But in a split second, everything changed. A sharp turn, a miscalculation, and John was thrown off his bike. The accident was severe. Thankfully, John survived, but his injuries were life-altering. He could not feed himself, nor go to the toilet on his own, he was paralysed. After an investigation it was then that the reality struck — his derestricted e-bike, now classified as a motor vehicle, had voided his insurance coverage, and breached the Highways act 1988. Furthermore, John was wearing mountain bike protective equipment which by design is not safe for motor vehicle use complicating issues further. The legal implications were overwhelming, not just for John but for everyone.

The Crux

This imaginary scenario can happen at any point and leads us into the crux of this article. As exciting as it is to enhance the capabilities of your eMTB, it is imperative to understand the legal and safety implications of derestricting these bikes beyond the UK's legal speed limit of 15.5mph. In the following sections, we'll delve into the complexities of the Highways Act, insurance challenges, and the critical importance of adhering to regulations for the safety and legality of your mountain biking experience.

In these situations accident lawyers promise all sorts of renumeration, and of course why wouldn't you pursue these options if you're own insurance will not pay out. Accident lawyers work by throwing enough mud and hoping it sticks that perhaps somewhere a piece of paperwork has been missed, a short cut has been made or a one time exception. At Western Bike Events we mitigate our liability to an acceptable minimum because we want to remain insurable for the future and not end up in court. We use tools to make people aware like our rules, riders’ book, ebike code of conduct agreement and trail side checks to educate and make sure riders understand the requirements of EAPCs, this is enough to reduce our liability to an acceptable minimum.

Understanding the Highways Act and E-Bike Regulations

As an event organiser and passionate mountain biker, I've witnessed the increasing use of electric mountain bikes (eMTBs). While eMTBs offer an enhanced experience, there's a growing trend to derestrict these bikes beyond the UK's legal speed limit of 15.5mph. In the rider’s mind 15.5mph is to slow and limits the rider for example, 15.5mph motor inertia is hard to overcome to send a jump but 20mph or faster does not. However, this practice isn't just a matter of speed; it brings substantial legal and safety implications that every rider should be aware of.

Why Staying within the Legal Speed Limit is Crucial

The Road Traffic Act defines the speed limit for e-bikes at 15.5mph for a reason. When this limit is exceeded, an e-bike essentially becomes classified as a motor vehicle. This classification brings a host of legal requirements, including insurance, licensing, and adherence to road traffic laws - aspects often overlooked by riders or simply swept under the carpet.

In a recent case, Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) v Lewis, the court extended the scope of compensation claims to include incidents occurring on private land, not just public roads. This ruling is a game-changer, especially for event organisers and participants. For instance, if an accident occurs during an event and the e-bike is found to be derestricted, this could lead to severe legal consequences for both the rider and the organiser if the appropriate authorisations are not in place which they won't be because everyone entering a bicycle race are assumed knowledgeable enough to not change the classification of their bicycle to motor vehicle.

The Insurance Puzzle: Are You Really Covered?

Insurance is a complex yet crucial aspect of mountain biking events. When an e-bike is derestricted, standard bicycle insurance policies will no longer apply, as the bike is now considered a motor vehicle. This gap in coverage poses a significant risk. Imagine suffering a severe injury (remember John) only to find out your insurance doesn't cover you because your bike was derestricted, the organiser doesn’t cover you and neither does the landowner. This scenario isn't far-fetched. It's a harsh reality that could leave riders facing hefty medical bills and potential legal challenges.

The Complexities of Private Land and Public Access

Another often overlooked aspect is the classification of land where mountain biking events take place. It’s too easy to say it is private land and everything should be fine. According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, the definition of a 'public place' is not always straightforward. It depends on various factors, including accessibility and usage. For event organisers, determining whether their event location is a public or private space can be a legal minefield and is matter for the court to decide.

For instance, a field used for racing may be deemed a public place, while a private club's adjacent land might not. This distinction is crucial because the legal responsibilities and implications differ greatly between public and private spaces. As event organisers, we cannot afford the luxury of a legal survey for every event location. Hence, it's safer to assume that any place accessible to the public could be subject to public law regulations.

The determination of whether private land becomes a public place in the context of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is a matter of fact to be determined by the court. According to a summary provided by Counsel Direct, various examples from case law demonstrate how different scenarios are interpreted. For instance, locations such as a pub car park, a hotel driveway, and a field used for point-to-point racing have been deemed "public places." Conversely, privately owned land next to a private club or a company car park used by staff and customers have been held not to be public places. Each case is distinct and depends on the specific facts and circumstances​​.

Additionally, as described in an article by Nicholas Dobbson PI Brief Update, the key factor is whether the area is used by visitors for the owner's private purposes or whether it is accessible to a significant number of visitors for purposes beyond the owner's private interests. The cases emphasize that the purpose of access and use of the area is crucial in determining whether a place is public or private​​.

These examples illustrate that the classification of an area as a public place under the Road Traffic Act is not straightforward and depends on the details of each specific case. For more comprehensive legal advice, consulting a legal professional is advisable to truly determine if somewhere is private land or a public place. The only way around this is to gain proper authorisation from a motorsport NGB and run a derestricted race fully aligned to motorsport. Not ideal and a pseudo reality of where eMTBs need to be and arguably damaging to the image of cycling and enjoying the outdoors in general.

The Critical Role of Authorisation Permits in Event Safety and Legal Compliance

Authorisation Permits play a crucial role in the realm of motorsport event organisation, especially when it comes to activities that involve perceived dangerous riding or driving (racing, kids on MX tracks etc). They are not just a formal requirement; these permits serve as a backbone for ensuring safety and legal compliance. When an event is graced with an Authorisation Permit, it comes with a comprehensive package including an Event Safety Plan, Risk Assessment, and adherence to approved industry standards and procedures.

Think of these permits as a shield, both for the organisers and the participants. To the average onlooker, certain sports or recreational activities might appear dangerous, even reckless. Here, Authorisation Permits step in, offering documented lawful authority. This authority is significant; it can provide a robust defence against prosecution for those in charge of the event. Moreover, for participants who might, unfortunately, cause injury or worse during the event, these permits can be a line of defence.

But the benefits of Authorisation go beyond just individual protection. They play a pivotal role in absolving all parties involved from charges under various sections of the Road Traffic Act, particularly Sections1, 2, and 3, among others. In essence, these permits are not just administrative formalities; they are essential tools that enhance the safety, legality, and overall integrity of events involving driving or riding. Bicycle events in general do not obtain this level of authorisation because there is no need.

So What?

To cover you and us appropriately would require landowner permission, other than Walters Arena, our landowners are not interested to licensing the event as a sanctioned off-road event. We would need to gain permission from a motorsport NGB and comply with those organisations policies and procedures-which by the way, do not support MTB and eMTB nor do the funds from mtb e-mtb somehow trickle down into British Cycling. Furthermore, you’d be required to wear moto protective gear which is checked by an official and sign liability waivers stating you have the correct insurance for your motorbike and personal accident cover, you might also need to pay a levy to a motorsport NGB again, money not aligned to advancing cycling.

Participants would need to don moto protective gear, which must be inspected and approved by an official. Additionally, a liability waiver is required, confirming that the participants have the necessary insurance for their motorbikes and personal accident cover for motorbike racing. This process also involves paying a levy to the motorsport NGB. These steps, while seemingly cumbersome, are crucial for the legal and safe conduct of off-road events, ensuring protection for all parties involved. Furthermore, not every forest in Wales can be used for motorsport. There are predesignated areas which may not be suitable at all for eMTB.

Conclusion: Safety and Compliance are Paramount

To sum up, the allure of enhancing your eMTB's speed might seem tempting, but the legal and safety ramifications are too significant to ignore, a pandoras box. As mountain bikers, our priority should be to enjoy the sport while respecting the laws and ensuring our safety and that of others. Remember, pushing new limits should never compromise safety and legal compliance should the worse happen to you, you would not ride without a helmet, would you? Let's keep our sport enjoyable and safe for everyone, respecting the rules of the trail and the road alike.


Motor Insurers Bureau v Lewis [Case Law]

Road Traffic Act 1988 [UK Legislation]

Health and Safety Guidelines for Event Organisers [UK Government Publications]

Pi Brief Update 2024 [Nicholas Dobbs on PI Brief Update]

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