Key Takeaways:

  • Throttles allow you to ride without pedaling, but can easily cause riders to lose control.
  • Pedal-assist bikes come with two different types of sensors which can impact how much effort you need to exert.
  • People who prefer a more tactile experience are better off with pedal-assist electric bikes.

Electric bikes can be a great way to get around town. Thanks to the addition of a lithium-ion battery and a motor, you don’t even have to work as hard to manage inclines and rougher terrain as you would with a traditional unpowered bike. But within the electric bike world, there’s a choice to be made — pedal-assist versus throttles. Each option has benefits and drawbacks depending on your biking needs and goals. Learn how to figure out which choice is best for you.

The Difference between Throttle and Pedal Assist Bikes

The main difference between an electric bike and an unpowered or traditional bike is that you can enlist some help when you ride over rough terrain or up inclines with an electric bike. In contrast, with a traditional bike, your sheer willpower and leg strength are all that can help you push through challenging trails. But even with the powered assistance of an electric bike, the way you get that help is distinctly different.

Pedal Assist for Controlled Help

With a pedal-assist electric bike, you’ll get some support on terrain. But it still requires you to pedal to activate the feature. Specifically, when activated the bike’s motor will increase the power behind each stroke you create. So, in a way this type of support can feel more natural — the harder you pedal, the more power you achieve.

Throttles to Give Your Legs a Break

Whereas pedal-assist still requires you to put in work while you’re biking around town, throttles don’t. Instead, you simply twist the throttle and the motor takes over. With a throttle, you can stop pedaling since the bike is controlling the speed.

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Throttles versus Pedal Assist

It’s not a cut and dried answer as to which bike is best for everyone. However, there are drawbacks to both options which must be considered.

Where Throttles Can Be Dangerous

Many first-time electric bike shoppers are surprised to find that electric bikes with throttles aren’t always approved for street use in every jurisdiction. However, in the United States, this type of bike is widely accepted. The main issue is because when the throttle is activated, it can be easy for riders to lose control since their feet don’t need to be on the pedals to continue moving forward. If you’re thinking of buying a throttle electric bike, look for one that allows you to fine-tune the controls so that you can limit the amount of power that’s provided when the feature is activated.

Pedal Assist Means You’re Still Working

As mentioned above, pedal-assist can give you a power boost, but you’ll still need to put in the work to propel your bike forward. However, pedal-assist usually features a range of modes that allow you to control exactly how much power is being delivered by the motor. At a minimum, pedal-assist tends to offer three modes — low, medium, and high — but it’s possible to find electric bikes with four or five pedal assist modes.

Tip: pedal-assist usually features a range of modes that allow you to control exactly how much power is being delivered by the motor

Pay Attention to the Sensors with Pedal Assist

With pedal assist, you’ll want to think about which sensors your bike relies on to activate the various modes: torque sensors and cadence sensors. Torque sensors take into account how much power you’re exerting while pedaling and then automatically adjusts the power to match it.

In contrast, cadence sensors don’t automatically adjust the power output to match your pedaling efforts. Whichever assist level you selected is what you’ll get. As a result, with cadence sensors you could potentially be pedaling furiously — only to have the bike not match your output level.

Warning: cadence sensors don’t automatically adjust the power output to match your pedaling efforts

And Then There Are Combination Bikes

As if there wasn’t enough to think about, you can also find electric bikes that come with both throttles and pedal assist. In a way, this can be ideal for a more experienced biker who is capable of quickly regaining control of the bike in throttle mode but also likes the idea of being in control thanks to pedal assist.

So, Which Bike is Best?

Again, the answer to this question depends on your comfort level with biking. Beginners are probably better served with a pedal-assist bike since you’re less likely to experience a power boost beyond your control. Still, another factor to consider is whether you want a bike that feels more intuitive or one that can run without any guidance on your part.

Tip: Beginners are probably better served with a pedal-assist bike

STAT:

Electric bike sales jumped by an incredible 91 percent from 2016 to 2017 alone, according to the market research firm NPD Group. (bicycling.com)

Most systems allow the rider to choose their level of assist, adding anywhere from 50-350% more power to the wheel. (evo.com)

Sources:

https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/electric_bike_buyers_guide/

https://www.juicedbikes.com/pages/chapter-5-pedal-assist-or-throttle-control

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/how-to-choose-an-ebike.html

https://electricbikeplace.com/blog/deciding-between-pedal-assist-or-throttle-on-an-electric-bike/

Picking Between Electric Bikes with Throttles FAQ

Do electric bikes have throttles?

Electric bikes do supply a power boost but the way they do so can vary. The most common options are pedal assist and throttle.

Can you ride an electric bike without pedaling?

If you have a throttle electric bike, yes. When the throttle is activated, the motor will propel the bike forward with no effort needed on your part.

How fast do electric bikes go without pedaling?

In the U.S., electric bikes are capped at a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour — regardless of whether or not the bike is capable of going faster.

Dorian Smith-Garcia

Dorian Smith-Garcia is a bridal and beauty expert/influencer and the creative director behind The Anti Bridezilla. She is a diverse writer across beauty, fashion, travel, consumer goods, and tech. She also writes for Inverse, Glowsly, and The Drive along with a variety of other publications. When Dorian's not writing she's collecting stamps in her passport, learning new languages, or spending time with her husband and daughter.

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