Don’t feel bad for wondering if you can use pedals on an electric bike. I asked the same thing before I rode an electric bike. To be honest, it’s a pretty common question, especially if you don’t know about the different types of electric bicycles and how they work. Yeah, there are different kinds, but not to worry, I’m going to tell you about each.
You can use the pedals on all electric bikes equipped with them. However, different types mean it’s essential to know how each works under normal and special conditions (like a dead battery).
In this article, we will dive into electric bike formats and determine the nature of pedaling for each. Please stick with me because, by the end of this article, you’ll know more than most about electric bike function and operation. Let’s get rolling, shall we?
There are three basic types of electric bikes. Each has its own type of function, although all three are technically all bikes with electric drive components. Due to the difference in design, pedaling may affect and be affected by the type of electric drive installed. Therefore, we must review the electric bike types to do our due diligence.
Pedal-assist, also called ‘pedelec’ bikes, are a form of electric bike whereby the electric motor assists in pedaling. In other words, the power only kicks in when you pedal. Some e-bikes that have this feature have various settings you can choose for how much the motor helps. This selection feature would come in handy when your terrain changes. For example, you might want to switch it off on a downhill stretch and crank up the power when you’re going uphill.
Most pedal-assist systems utilize special sensors that can tell how fast you’re going or how much force you are applying to the pedal (some bikes use one, some the other, some both). The sensor tells the bike’s control board and controls the motor output, adjusting as needed based on sensor data.
In summary, pedal-assist systems help you pedal but don’t replace your pedaling. Many have multiple settings; some use speed, while others use force to determine how and when to apply assistance.
Throttle-on-demand e-bikes are more like their gas counterparts in that the throttle controls the motor output, regardless of whether or not you are pedaling. These e-bikes typically have handlebar-mounted throttle controls in the form of a button or twist.
Throttle-on-demand, or just throttle e-bikes as many refer to them, are great for those who need more power or can’t pedal due to whatever health restraint they possess. It makes them great for those who want to travel without work.
You might think the throttle e-bike is the way to go compared to pedal-assist, but there’s a catch. The problem with throttle e-bikes is that they typically have a comparatively shorter range. That’s because the motor is doing all the work, so it uses more power than if merely assisting your pedaling.
Speed pedelecs are a form of electric bike whereby riders can use powered functions at higher speeds than their standard pedelec or throttle cousins. Speed pedelecs typically get upwards of 28 mph (45 km/h) before the power cuts out. After that, your pedals will have to go pretty quick if you intend to get faster.
Depending on your state, speed pedelecs might fall into a different category, that of mopeds which require basic licensing, a helmet, and insurance. However, it can get confusing, so let’s review the regulations next and make sense of the rules and classifications.
Ride eMTB Tip: Ebikes are heavy and they have motors, but are they hard to pedal? Find out 👉 Are eBikes Hard to Pedal?
E-bike regulations typically involve top speeds. For example, in the European Union, pedal-assist e-bikes are limited to 250 watts, and motors only assist up to 15.5 mph (25 km/h). If you want to go faster, you’d better start pedaling.
Things in North America, particularly The United States, are slightly different. Let’s take a look at how coming up next.
In the US, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Act For Electric Bikes states that electric bikes (2 or 3-wheel) cannot go faster than 20 miles per hour (32 kph) under their own power. Furthermore, they must possess operable pedals and a motor with less than 750 W of power (about one horsepower). These electric bikes are defined as consumer products and considered ‘low-speed electric’ bicycles (or tricycles, if powered). Due to the federal classification, electric bikes are treated the same as bicycles under the law if they meet these requirements.
Any electric bike or trike that surpasses the figures mentioned earlier (more than 750 Watts, faster than 20 mph under power, etc.) is considered a motor vehicle. It falls under the same rules as motorcycles for licensing, insurance, and additional safety items (like mandatory helmet use).
Additional regulations for electric bikes are controlled at the State level. Don’t worry; we’ll review those next.
More than thirty states have unified under the guidance of PeopleForBikes – a bike industry advocacy group. These states have adopted what’s known as the ‘3-Class’ system.
The 3-class system governing electric bikes at the state level involves a straightforward adoption of 3 classes based on speed, wattage, and operation. This system enables states to easily manage where and how e-bikes are allowed to operate. Usually, classes one and two can go anywhere a traditional bike is allowed, while class 3 is usually under stricter guidelines.
Here is a breakdown of the three classes:
- Class 1 – E-bikes with a max speed of 20 mph (32 kph), operable pedals, pedal-assist function only, and no throttle control.
- Class 2 – E-bikes with a similar max speed of 20 mph (32 kph), but include a throttle.
- Class 3 – E-Bikes again with no throttle but a higher max speed (using pedal assist) of 28 mph (45 kph).
RIDE e MTB Pro Tip: With eBikes growing in popularity learning all the terms and definitions can be a bit overwhelming. Let me help with this comprehensive glossary. 👉 eBike Glossary
You would do well to mull over a few considerations before picking up an e-bike. Furthermore, these points will help you decide which is right for you. Although we’ll get into that more in the next section, we’ll start with the pros and cons of pedaling on an e-bike.
Environmental Impact – Using an electric bike is better for the environment than using a motorcycle, car, truck, or other gas-powered vehicle.
Exercise – You will live longer if you exercise. Studies show that moderate exercise can decrease mortality by as much as 42%. I don’t know about you, but living longer sounds like a good idea.
Regulatory Exemption – Most e-bikes (at least class 1 and even class 2) can (in most states) go anywhere a bike can. So, if you want your significant other to get out on the trail with you but aren’t in the best shape, you can get them an e-bike, and both ride the trails. That’s a win-win in my book.
Range – Pedaling an e-bike increases the range. The more you pedal, the less you need to use up battery power. Therefore, the further you can ride.
Ride eMTB Pro Tip: You might be wondering which is better? Read this to find out 👉 Which is Better Pedal Assist or Throttle
Cost – If you’re in the market for an e-bike, you’ll see how much more expensive they are in no short order. For example, a ‘cheap’ e-bike can easily run $1500. However, a cheap bike from a big box store might only cost you $200. So, there’s a significant difference in entry-level pricing.
Complexity – More complicated parts like circuits, batteries, and motors mean more parts to maintain and more potential for breakdown. It’s a numbers game: If 100 parts mean you get a breakdown once a year, on average, then 200 parts, or more complex parts, might double your chances of something breaking.
Effort – Comparing a pedal-assist e-bike to a moped or motorcycle, it’s apparent that you still have to work on a pedal-assist e-bike. And if you have a throttle e-bike, the same applies with (typically) less range.
Weight – E-bike’s weight is like their price – significantly more than their non-powered cousins. It’s like comparing apples to watermelons – e-bike batteries and motors add significant weight to the bike.
When you want to get your own e-bike, you’ll need to consider several things:
- Needs. Do you need the e-bike for pleasure cruising, commuting, or even for work? Do you need to go long distances? If so, pedal assist might be the best choice.
- Motor Type. There are two types: hub motor and mid-drive motor. Similar to needs, you may want to look at the wattage and get one that will work well for your needs. For example, there are lots of hills to climb, and you probably want the highest power you can legally ride.
- Pedal Assist or Throttle. As mentioned, pedal assist provides greater range, but throttle control usually lets you ride under power without having to pedal.
- Budget. Electric bikes can vary dramatically in price. If you already have a normal bike you like, you may want to consider doing a conversion instead of buying a whole new bike.
More Resourses Regarding Pedaling eBikes
- Electric Bike Association (non-profit): The Electric Bike Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting electric bicycles and advocating for their safe and responsible use. Their website offers a range of resources, including articles, guides, and educational materials related to pedaling on e-bikes. You can visit their website at: https://electricbikeassociation.org/
- National Association of City Transportation Officials (non-profit): The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is a non-profit organization that provides guidance and resources for sustainable transportation practices in cities. They have published a guide called “Cycling for Everyone: Lessons for U.S. Cities” that includes information on e-bike use and infrastructure planning. You can find the guide on their website: https://nacto.org/publication/cycling-for-everyone/
- United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration (gov): The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation has resources related to bicycling, including e-bikes. Their website offers publications and guides on various aspects of cycling, such as safety, infrastructure, and planning. You can access their resources here: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/
- League of American Bicyclists (non-profit): The League of American Bicyclists is a non-profit organization that promotes bicycling for transportation and recreation. While not exclusively focused on e-bikes, their website contains valuable information on cycling advocacy, education, and safety. You can explore their resources here: https://www.bikeleague.org/
- PeopleForBikes (non-profit): PeopleForBikes is a non-profit organization that works to improve cycling conditions and increase bicycle ridership in the United States. They have resources related to e-bikes, including research reports and guides for policymakers and advocates. Visit their website for more information: https://peopleforbikes.org/