Understanding Electric Bikes: Throttle and Pedal-Assist

If you’re new to the world of electric bikes, also called e-bikes, then you’ve probably got a few questions regarding how electric bikes operate. Electric bikes offer you options in bicycles that have an electrically powered assistance device built into them. You can typically adjust the amount of power you get on the fly when using an e-bike, usually between a low “economy” setting and up to a “turbo” setting, also sometimes called a “sport” setting.

Do electric bikes have a throttle? Some electric bikes come with a throttle, but not all electric bikes have throttles. Many e-bikes are considered pedal-assist bikes, meaning you’ll get an extra kick of power only when you are pedaling. However, some e-bikes do also come with a throttle, which offers you an extra boost with the simple push of a button and when you aren’t pedaling.

Depending on the e-bike you decide to purchase, you can buy an e-bike that offers you pedal assist options, a throttle, or both. Since there isn’t a lot of information available on the Internet today covering whether or not e-bikes have a throttle, we created this article to help break down the differences between pedal-assist e-bikes, and e-bikes that offer throttles. After we cover that information, we’ll discuss the one other items you’ll want to know about before you purchase an e-bike, the motor.

What Is a Pedal-Assist E-Bike?

Press up or down to increase/decrease the pedal assistance

Most e-bikes come designed as pedal-assist e-bikes. So, what exactly does that mean? While there are minor differences between different motor manufacturers, all pedal-assist e-bikes work similarly. If you purchase a pedal-assist e-bike, you’ll wind up with a bike that activates its extra boost when you are pedaling. Once you start pedaling from a stop, you’ll feel the e-bike’s motor kick in and activate.

The Boost

Many people enjoy pedal-assist bikes because the extra boost of power you’ll get with a pedal-assist e-bike helps you overcome the inertia when you are first hitting the streets. Most e-bikes have a switch on one of the handle grips that controls the amount of power with a +/- switch. When you are first getting used to using pedal-assist, most manufacturers suggest you should begin on a lower setting until you get used to the thrust.

With a pedal-assist e-bike, you can also modify how much of a boost you’re getting from the motor. You can opt for almost nothing and go all the way up to the motor’s full power, which averages around 250w or 350w. Most people that are recreational cyclists use 250w of power. A 350w is usually more for those riding at the professional level.

Power Setting and Range

When using a pedal-assist e-bike, you’ll typically discover that the higher the power setting is, the less range you’ll get with your bike. A few pedal-assist e-bike models have mileage ranges on their screen, and some of them can adjust this range as you decide on the power setting. Depending on the e-bike, the power setting, and the distance you are traveling, how far you’ll be able to get can very.

However, you can usually get twenty to forty miles out of your bike before you’ll have to recharge your battery. Many models of pedal-assist e-bikes offer several different levels of assistance. Settings are usually named things like low, medium, and high. However, there are some e-bikes that have up to five pedal assist settings. 

Simple video on Pedal Assisted electric bikes vs throttle controlled

E-Bikes and Throttles

Some e-bikes offer throttles, but not all electric bikes come with throttles. When people think of accelerator on a bike, we usually think about a motorcycle, and it’s twist type grip. However, on most e-bikes, your throttle will be a simple button. With this said, there are some bikes (RadPower) that do have twist type throttles. When you press on the throttle button, the e-bike will work just as if you were pressing on your car’s gas pedal. You won’t need to do anything else to your bike to get it to accelerate after you press the throttle button.

E-bikes that use throttles operate like a motorcycle or an electric scooter. Once you engage the throttle by pushing the button, the motor kicks in, giving you the power and moving both you and your bike forward, with an accelerator, you have a choice to pedal or enjoy the power offered to you by your bike. Also, if you want, you can usually modify your throttle with a volume dial, so you have plenty of options in how much power you’ll get as you ride.

Depending on where you live, you’ll find different types of e-bikes available to you. In the United States, most e-bikes offer a throttle feature, although not all of them have it. However, some countries don’t allow electric bikes to have throttles by law. In those types of nations, you can only purchase bikes that use the pedal-assist feature.

Types of E-Bike Throttles

Twist Throttle on a RadRover

There are a few different types of throttles you’ll find on different types of electric bikes. Here is a breakdown of the four most common types of e-bike throttles:

  • Some bikes, like the eFlow E3 Nitro electric bike, use what is known as a half grip twist throttle. You utilize this throttle by twisting it, much like you would on a motorcycle or scooter. This throttle is the most typical kind of e-bike throttle you’ll find on the market today.
  • Other bikes, like the Prodeco Outlaw SS electric mountain bike, use what is known as a thumb throttle. You’d use this throttle by pushing the paddle on the throttle forward with your thumb to engage the electric boost.
  • There is another form of thumb throttle out there, as well. Bikes like the BionX system and the OHM XS750 electric bike use a different type of thumb throttle. On these types of bikes, you have a red button; you move forward with your thumb to engage the motor. 
  • The last kind of throttle you’ll find is a push-button throttle. Bikes like the Clean Republic Hill Topper electric bike kit use this feature. This throttle works like an on and off switch. Unfortunately, with this type of accelerator, you can’t adjust your power level. 

Combination Bikes

If you are the type of person that would prefer the best of both worlds, then know that some e-bikes offer both a throttle and the pedal-assist mode. These types of bikes allow you to use the pedal-assist mode when you want but also provide you with a helpful boost via the throttle. While you won’t be able to use both methods at the same time, having both modes can be extremely beneficial when out on the road.

Now that we’ve covered the types of throttles you’ll find in e-bikes as well as the different types of e-bikes you can purchase, we’ll cover one other vital parts on an e-bike that you’ll want to take a close look at before you buy an e-bike: the motor. We’ll start by covering types of e-bike motors.

Types of E-Bike Motors

Now that you know a little bit about the different types of e-bikes and you’ve got enough information to assess the kind of throttle you’ll want, you’ll also need to take a close look at the motor and the battery. We’ll start by discussing types of e-bike motors here. After all, if you want an e-bike with a powerful throttle on it, the first thing you’re going to want to take a close look at is the motor. So, when researching throttles and e-bikes, here is what you’ll need to know about engines. 

Front Hub Motor

The most uncomplicated e-bike design features the front hub motor. That also means this type of e-bike is the most limited in capability as well. Most front hub motors only work well on e-bikes that include throttle systems. That’s because it’s more challenging to offer assistance based on the rider when your engine isn’t featured on your drivetrain. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like Brompton’s folding e-bike. Brompton’s folding e-bike offers a front hub motor that uses pedal assist and not a throttle.

However, e-bikes that use front hub motors can run into problems with traction. That’s because most of the bike’s weight is over the rear wheel, creating a consistently off-balance system. Also, it can be challenging to accelerate efficiently when your drive unit is located on your front wheel. Since front hub motors are usually limited, they aren’t prevalent as e-bike systems. You’ll often find these on cheap conversion kits since they are great for converting just about any bike.

Pros of Front Hub Motor

  • With a front-mounted hub motor, you’ll wind up putting less stress on the rear axle. That makes it easier to have a mounting bike for a trailer on your bike if you wish.
  • If the chain on this type of e-bike breaks, you’ll be able to use still the motor accessing the cadence sensor or your throttle.

Cons of Front Hub Motor

  • Most front forks aren’t made to handle the stress of an e-bike motor.
  • Mounting a motor on the front of your e-bike means more weight will be in the front, making the bike feel heavy and creating more difficulty when you steer.
  • You won’t be able to ride over bumps comfortably or pop curbs if you’ve got the extra weight of a front-mounted motor on your bike.
  • With a front-mounted motor, it’s much more challenging to take off your bike’s front wheel because of the extra weight and the inability to use a quick release.
  • You won’t be able to add torque arms easily to the front fork.

Rear Hub Motor

If you opt for an e-bike with a rear hub motor, then you’ll be able to purchase an e-bike that’s either got a throttle or is a pedal-assist e-bike. You may even be able to get a hybrid bike that has both types of systems, which you can switch between as you see fit. Rear hub motors can also be retro-fitted to non-folding bikes, making them extremely popular for electric bike conversions.

Rear hub motors are also prevalent because they are cheap to make and even more aesthetically pleasing than a front hub motor. A rear hub motor looks more like an oversized standard bike hub than an engine, melting quickly into the bike by appearance.

However, there are some disadvantages to owning an e-bike with a rear hub motor. E-bikes with rear hub motors make an uneven weight distribution because of the engine being in the rear wheel. That means the location of the motor on rear hub motor e-bikes can also affect the steering, control, and handling of the bike.

Pros of Rear Hub Motor

  • Rear hub motors do a great job of handling extra weight from the components of the engine when you compare them to the front-mounted motor.
  • Rear hub motors also have another advantage over front-mounted engines because rear hub motors don’t but extra stress on the front fork, balancing the bike out a bit better.

Cons of Rear Hub Motor

  • With a rear hub motor, you won’t be able to mount a trailer to your axle. The existence of the motor cable and other motor mounting hardware on the back of the e-bike will make it difficult, if not impossible, to have a bike trailer.

Mid-Drive Motor

Another option you’ll have in e-bike motors is the mid-drive motor. With a mid-drive engine, you’ll find the motor in the middle of your bike frame, and it would be combined with your bottom bracket and cranks. Mid-drive motors don’t typically come with throttles. That’s because the bike’s engine is activated by pedaling, so e-bikes with mid-drive motors are usually pedal-assist bikes.

There are several advantages to owning an e-bike with a mid-drive motor when compared to a hub motor. So, many manufacturers of pedal-assist bikes prefer using the mid-drive engine with their bikes. You’ll get a lot more torque with a mid-drive motor when compared to a hub motor that offers similar power. Also, since a mid-drive engine would be located in the center of the e-bike, the weight of the bike is much more balanced when you ride.

You’ll also get a better range of gears on an e-bike that has a mid-drive motor because, with a mid-drive engine, the motor drives the crank arms instead of relying on a wheel. With a mid-drive motor, it is also much easier to install a torque sensor because you’ll be able to measure the amount of input from the rider then.

Using a sensor like this means you can match the amount of assistance you’ll need automatically and vary it to match the intensity of your pedaling. By being able to measure input from the rider on a bike with a mid-drive motor, you’ll be able to create a smoother, more fluid riding experience every time you hit the road.

Pros of Mid-Drive Motor

  • A mid-drive motor on an e-bike will give you the best weight distribution around.
  • With a mid-drive motor, you won’t be putting extra stress on the front or rear areas of the bike.
  • You’ll have easy access to both your front and rear wheels with a mid-drive motor.
  • You’ll be able to coast without any motor resistance if you stick with a mid-drive motor.

Cons of Mid-Drive Motor

  • A mid-drive motor places more stress on your bike chain. You may need to replace your bike chain more often or maintain it more often if you decide to purchase an e-bike with a mid-drive motor.
  • Remember, if your chain breaks while you are riding your bike, you’ll be stranded unless you make preparations for this event, “just in case.” So, you might want to keep that in mind and pay for a kit you can carry on your bike that will allow you to fix your chain in case it breaks while you are on the go.
  • A mid-drive motor also wears out other drive train components other than the chain faster, too, like the front sprocket and rear cassette. Again, you may want to make preparations for potential issues with these parts while you are on the road, too.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know a bit about what electric bikes have to offer, you’ll need to decide what type of electric bike is right for you. If you don’t want ever to pedal, then you’ll want a bike with a throttle. If you’re going to pedal on occasion, then we recommend getting a combination bike. However, if you prefer to avoid using an accelerator or you live in an area where throttles are not allowed on e-bikes, then you can purchase a bike that uses the pedal-assist mode.

Also, when you purchase your e-bike, you’ll need to know a bit of information about e-bike motors. We covered the three different types of e-bike motors above, including the front hub motor, rear hub motor, and mid-drive motor. If you’re planning on purchasing an e-bike with a throttle or a hybrid e-bike, you’ll most likely be purchasing an e-bike that has a mid-drive motor. That’s because mid-drive motors are the only kind of engine powerful enough to provide a throttle on most e-bikes.

Now that you know a bit more about e-bike throttles, e-bike pedal assists, and e-bike motors, it’s time to get out there and purchase that electric bike of your dreams today!

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