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.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Get Gephardt

Matt Gephardt reviewing the letter sent to Robert Bohman. (KSL TV)...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Get Gephardt helps man stuck with an out-of-network bill for a test his insurance pre-authorized

After a Morgan man went for a medical test pre-authorized by his insurance, he was surprised with an out-of-network bill he thought he was covered for. Get Gephardt helped him to sort everything out.

12 hours ago

When Daniel Reeder moved into his Bountiful home, he quickly realized its synthetic, membrane roofi...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt helps Bountiful homeowner who says he can’t get roofing company to make warranty repair

When Daniel Reeder moved into his Bountiful home, he quickly realized its synthetic, membrane roofing had a problem. Some of its adhesive began peeling.

1 day ago

(KSL TV)...

Matt Gephardt & Cimaron Neugebauer

Bountiful woman left without phone service or answers days after her husband dies

When you pay for a phone service, you expect it to work. But after being unable to make or receive calls despite reaching out to the provider multiple times to fix it – a Utah woman decided it was time to Get Gephardt.

7 days ago

Debra Gamero teaches a student...

Matt Gephardt

The insurance you didn’t know you needed to protect your side hustle

Having a side hustle to bring in extra cash requires determination and hard work. But if you do it without the right insurance policy, you might find an unexpected event could blow up your side hustle along with your finances.

15 days ago

If you drive your car for work and you're in a crash, can your insurance company refuse to pay? Tha...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: Rideshare driver says company’s insurance refuses to cover her wrecked car

If you drive your car for work and you're in a crash, can your insurance company refuse to pay? That's the exact issue currently afflicting a Cedar City woman who decided it was time to Get Gephardt, and our Matt Gephardt began investigating.

16 days ago

A Holladay woman received a water bill for over $7,000. After contacting the provider, it wasn't mu...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Homeowner gets $7K water bill for water she says she didn’t use

Imagine opening your mailbox to find a water bill demanding several thousand dollars for just one month’s use of water. It happened to a Holladay woman, she decided to Get Gephardt.

21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

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