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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 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.
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.
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. If this type of bike interests you, you can read more about throttle electric bikes to understand how they can be a benefit to your ride.
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.
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 that 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.
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
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
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.
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. It is also important to consider what you will be using your bike for the most. If you live in or commute in a very hilly area you will want a bike that is rated highly for going up hills. Lastly, you will want to check your local regulations to see what is and isn’t prohibited as far as electric bikes go. The ebike regulations in the EU and UK are going to be different than those in the states. So be sure to check regulations before you commit to a large investment.
Tip: Beginners are probably better served with a pedal-assist bike
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)