GET GEPHARDT

Is it a bike or is it motor vehicle? How the debate over e-bikes could end up costing consumers

Nov 2, 2023, 10:16 PM | Updated: 10:38 pm

SOUTH JORDAN — Electric bicycles are huge right now, as sales in the U.S. topped $1.3 billion in 2022, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

E-bikes have also become huge targets for thieves.

When two e-bikes were stolen from a South Jordan man’s garage, he figured his homeowner’s insurance would have him covered, as it would with any other bike.

But he found himself caught in the middle of a debate between state regulators and the insurance industry over whether e-bikes are considered a motorized vehicle.

“I thought I purchased a bike”

“They were parked literally right here,” John Winterholler told KSL as he showed us his garage.

His ordeal began last summer when someone snuck into his garage.

“Oh, it was a pit in my stomach,” he said of the discovery of the theft.

John Winterholler thought his stolen e-bikes would be covered under his homeowner’s policy. ( Jeff Dahdah/KSL TV)

He filed a claim with his homeowner’s insurance, which covers bike theft. But to his shock, his insurer denied the claim. The denial letter said his policy does not cover “motor vehicles.”

“You got to be kidding,” Winterholler said. “I was disappointed, saying, ‘Well, certainly they don’t understand it. There must be something I didn’t explain.’”

There was no mistake, insisted his insurance company. Their denial means he is out more than $5,000 for the pair of e-bikes.

“I thought I purchased a bike,” said Winterholler.

He decided it was time to Get Gephardt.

Is an e-bike a bike?

“An electric bicycle is not a motor vehicle,” emphasized Utah Division of Motor Vehicles spokesperson, Jason Gardner. “There are a couple more technicalities.”

Admittedly, the legalese in the state laws defining motor vehicles can get, well, wonky. Think of all the things with motors besides cars and trucks: snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, and even motorized wheelchairs. Then, think of e-bikes.

It has a motor. So why isn’t it considered a motor vehicle by the DMV?

“It’s just a definitional thing under the statute,” Gardner said.

The DMV says state statutes do not consider e-bikes as motorized vehicles.

So, can the DMV step in and help Winterholler? No.

“We have no purview or jurisdiction over insurance claims,” Gardner said.

You know who does? The Utah Insurance Department does. But what they told KSL won’t help Winterholler either.

“There is no specific classification for an e-bike in the Insurance Code or rules,” wrote spokesperson Steve Gooch in an email to KSL. “As to whether an e-bike is a bike or motor vehicle for insurance purposes, there unfortunately isn’t a satisfying answer at the moment.”

Or is an e-bike a motor vehicle?

Bear River Mutual Insurance, Winterholler’s insurer, said classifying e-bikes as motor vehicles is an industry-standard.

“From an insurance contract perspective, yes, it is a motor vehicle,” said vice-president Dave Andrist.

“All insurance contracts, or nearly all insurance contracts, a motor vehicle would be any self-propelled vehicle,” Andrist said. “And that would include anything with a throttle.”

Dave Andrist of Bear River Mutual Insurance tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt that it’s industry standard for insurers to treat e-bikes as motorized vehicles. (Meghan Thackrey/KSL TV)

He admits a disparity in the definition of an e-bike exists, but he says the industry has not seen it become much of an issue, yet.

“I’ll be honest, e-bike is an emerging issue, right?” Andrist said. “Because we went from having almost none of them in 2018, five or six years ago, to having, I’d say thousands, maybe tens of thousands.”

He says the insurance industry is “always looking at these emerging issues and looking how to incorporate them into their contracts so that people are covered.”

Insuring an e-bike

If you want to make sure your e-bike is covered by insurance, you need to talk to your agent.

Some e-bikes that only work when pedaled might already be covered in your existing homeowner’s policy. Others that require the push of a button to make them go are probably not covered unless the rider pays for the specific e-bike coverage.

As for Winterholler, there is a little silver lining: He says after hearing his story, the manufacturer cut him a pretty good deal on new e-bikes.

“We like them so much,” he said of e-bikes. “We wanted to replace them.”

Get Gephardt

A Utah man purchased Aerosmith tickets back when the show was scheduled in 2023, but the show got p...

Matt Gephardt

Utahns fighting for refunds on postponed Aerosmith concert

A Utah man purchased Aerosmith tickets back when the show was scheduled in 2023, but the show got pushed to a day that no longer works for him. He decided to Get Gephardt when his quest for a refund hit a dead end.

2 days ago

The USDA estimates we toss out 30-40% of our food purchases, even though much of it is perfectly sa...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Food for thought: How understanding date labels can prevent food waste

The USDA estimates we toss out 30-40% of our food purchases, even though much of it is perfectly safe to eat. Decoding date labels could help you bust inflation.

7 days ago

KSL’s Matt Gephardt price shopped several items at traditional grocery stores and specialty food ...

Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Will shopping specialty food markets save you money?

To save money on your groceries, a specialty food market might not come to mind. But KSL Consumer Investigator Matt Gephardt found branching out to specialty food markets might help you bust some grocery inflation.

8 days ago

Gal Gadot, Chris Stapleton, Taylor Swift, Keanu Reeves among many other celebrities have had their ...

Matt Gephardt

Utahns are losing money and their personal info to celebrity imposter scams

A Utah man contacted the KSL Investigators to ask us to verify if he was messaging the real Gal Gadot of “Wonder Woman” fame through social media.

14 days ago

Cris Meyers showing Matt Gephardt the arrest warrant he was sent by the fake cop....

Matt Gephardt

Law enforcement scams threatening jailtime if you don’t pay on the rise in Utah

Law enforcement scams, that threaten jail for citizens if they don’t pay immediately are on the rise in Utah

15 days ago

(FILE) A man working on a car with the hood lifted up....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

What you should know about extended car warranties and how to fight denials

One after another, the KSL Investigators heard from Utahns who paid monthly for an extended auto warranty but have not had a smooth ride in their repairs covered.

20 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Is it a bike or is it motor vehicle? How the debate over e-bikes could end up costing consumers