Do You Need to Pedal an Electric Bike?

We live in an electronic age and technology is even changing the way we ride bicycles.  Electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, are becoming increasingly popular not only for recreational purposes but also as a viable mode of transportation.

Do you need to pedal an electric bike?  All electric bikes can be pedaled just like regular bikes, but depending on the type of e-bike, you may not need to pedal at all.  Some electric bikes have a feature called pedal-assist, where the electric motor basically gives you a boost as you go, making it easier to pedal.  Higher-end electric bikes have a finger-activated throttle that enables the motor to do all the work for you once the e-bike is moving.

Whether you’re looking for a way to get some exercise in the great outdoors, or considering a new form of transportation, there are some things about electric bikes that you should know.

How an Electric Bike Works

Like a regular bike, an electric bike has handlebars, a frame, a seat, two tires, gears and chain, pedals and brakes.  The same amount of skill is required to ride either. If you’re unable to balance on a regular bicycle, you’ll have the same issue on an electric bike.

Electric bikes have a small motor that is usually part of the chain drive near the pedals, or in some cases it’s built into the hub of the front or rear wheel.  

As the name suggests, the motor runs on electricity that is supplied by a power source, usually a rechargeable battery that is mounted somewhere on the frame of the electric bike.  On more expensive models, the battery is so well integrated into the design of the e-bike that you can’t even tell that it’s there (on some electric bikes the battery is disguised as a water bottle).

Many electric bikes have a control module mounted on the handlebars that allow the rider to select the riding mode, i.e., pedal-assist or throttle.  Some e-bikes have sensors that can detect when the rider is exerting a lot of energy pedaling and will seamlessly engage the motor and adjust the boost as needed.

Electric Bike Performance

Since they are still classified as bicycles, electric bikes do have certain limitations on their performance.  In fact, many cities and municipalities restrict certain characteristics of e-bikes, namely how fast they can go with motor assistance. For example, the city I am currently living in was having discussions in the local council about what types of electric motorized vehicles could be on a walking/bike path. They were concerned that the high amount of electric bikes could cause a nasty collision at some point, and want to put laws in place to limit their speed. Although there has been no actual law or regulation put into place in my city yet. Your community may be different.

On average, electric bikes can throttle from 16 to 28 miles per hour, depending on the model, and motor ratings are typically 250 to 500 watts.

Since the motors on e-bikes run on batteries, a fully charged battery can provide a riding range (pedal assisted) of anywhere between 20 to 120 miles, typically depending on whether it is an entry-level or high-performance e-bike.

Benefits of Owning an Electric Bike

Owning an electric bike can offer certain benefits that a regular bike cannot.  Here are just a few to consider.

  • COMMUTING TO WORK – Particularly for those who work in congested urban centers, riding an electric bike to work could be a great alternative to driving a car and avoiding bumper-to-bumper traffic and gridlock.  The pedal-assist or throttle feature can greatly reduce the amount of energy you exert so that you arrive for your morning meeting perspiration-free, particularly on those hot summer days. It’s a great way to show up to work sweat free, and very useful if you have a commute route that has hills. Your electric bike will let you work less so you won’t show up to the office with sore legs and a sweaty back.
  • FREE PARKING – No more fumbling for loose change to feed a parking meter or paying exorbitant parking structure fees.  And no more parking tickets. Although you would likely need to invest in a high quality bike lock if you’re planning on keeping it outside. Make sure to take these steps to make your electric bike easier to be found if (God forbid!) it ever was stolen.
  • ECO-FRIENDLY – Riding an electric bike can also be an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving a car.  Although estimates vary, the battery on an electric bike can be fully charged for pennies per day, a minuscule fraction of what you would pay for a gallon of gasoline.  Better yet, e-bike batteries are detachable and can be charged the same way you charge your smart phone, tablet or notebook computer. Just think about the amount of gasoline you need to run a car. Trading in your vehicle for an e-bike will eliminate not only that bill, but also the use of that gas. The environment will thank you!
  • LONG DISTANCE RIDES – Since electric bikes can be pedaled just like regular bikes, they are great for getting your daily exercise.  For those longer distances, however, the electric bike can allow you to catch your breath while the bike keeps moving, or if you have the throttle feature, you can just enjoy the scenery while the motor does all the work for you.  A 20-mile round trip is within the range of most, if not all, electric bikes on the market today. An electric bike can not only make a longer commute more possible, but even regular rides more accessible for older riders or less fit riders. There are lots of tourists in my area that rent electric bikes that would normally not be able to ride a long distance, but are able to thanks to the motor.
  • HILLS – Where the pedal-assist or throttle feature will truly prove its worth are the steep or long inclines.  Although the motor power and capacity will vary from model to model, an electric bike will certainly make those big hills much easier to take on and climb. It should be noted that the more you lean on the battery use the quicker it will go out. This is especially true while going up hills.
  • RUNNING ERRANDS – Imagine riding home on a regular bike with 40 pounds of groceries stuffed into your backpack.  A ten-block trip could certainly feel like miles. An electric bike can take the physical exhaustion out of the equation from running errands.
A great video of a rider taking his electric bike to school.

Things to Consider When Shopping for an Electric Bike

Although there are many factors in play when researching and shopping for an electric bike, there are several that every would-be e-bike owner should consider.  These factors will help determine what features to look for, what style is the best fit, and perhaps most importantly, the appropriate price range.

First, why are you interested in purchasing an electric bike?

  • For recreation and exercise
  • For occasional use (running errands)
  • For daily commuting and alternative transportation
  • For fun

Next, which features are most important to you?

  • Pedal-assist
  • Hand throttle
  • Maximum speed
  • Maximum battery life (distance/range)
  • Comfortable ride
  • Off-road riding capability (mountain and trail biking)
  • Weight (electric bikes can weigh in excess of 50 pounds)
  • Durability
  • Computerized features (odometer, speedometer, display)

And lastly, how would you characterize your electric bike needs?

  • Entry level
  • Medium/average performance
  • High performance/top of the line

Electric Bike Costs

The popularity of electric bikes has grown exponentially in recent years.  It is estimated to be an $80 million dollar industry with no signs of slowing down.  As such, there is now a broader range of e-bikes available on the market for riders from all walks of life.

These are prices for three categories of electric bikes:  entry level (novice), medium performance and high performance (expert).  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you a better idea of how much to budget for your e-bike purchase.

CATEGORYBRAND/MODELPRICE (AMAZON)KEY FEATURES
Entry LevelECOTREC – CITY (see on Amazon)$612.0018-20 mile range (fully powered)Max speed 20 mph350W motor< 220-lb rider capacity Bike weighs 60 lbs.
Medium PerformanceSCHWINN VOYAGEUR (see on Amazon)$2,599.0040-60 mile range (fully powered)Max speed 20 mph400W motor Bike weighs 67 lbs.
High PerformanceQUIETKAT PREDATOR (see on Amazon)$4,279.0020 mile range (fully powered)Max speed 20 mph750W motor300-lb rider capacity Bike weighs 75 lbs. This thing is heavy duty!

As you can see, pricing for electric bikes start at around $600 and can cost in excess of $4,000 for higher-end e-bikes.  There are even models that fold up so that you can carry them around. If you’re wondering if folding bikes are worth it or not, check out this article that I wrote on the subject. A good folding electric bike is made by SwagCycle. You can view it on Amazon here.

A Word About Electric Bike Regulations

While some states treat e-bikes the same as conventional bikes, others treat them as mopeds, which would require licensing and registration.

California recently enacted regulation that relates specifically to electric bikes, defining them as bicycles that are “equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts”.  Furthermore, e-bikes are classified according to their maximum assisted and unassisted speeds. Depending on the class, there may be age restrictions and safety requirements. (A good, easy to read breakdown can be found here.)

Pedaling Helps You Go Farther

So depending on the electric bike you won’t need to pedal at all, and can utilize the motor to propel you forward. But obviously, the more you use the battery the quicker it’ll run out of juice. Using the motor without pedaling or while going uphills will drain it quicker. A heavier rider will also drain the battery quicker too as it’ll need to use more energy to move the rider forward.

The battery motor should be viewed as a nice assistant. You’re not riding a motorcycle, but an electric bicycle. Remember to pedal and use the motorized assistance to keep you moving along. Pedaling on an electric bike will help not to drain the battery and will get you places faster and allow you to go farther too!

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