To get a pedal-assist or throttle ebike, that is the question. Or, at least, it was for me when I decided to get my first e-bike. Which one is better will depend on a few things – like what you need the bike to do for you. Not to worry, I will get down and dirty with e-bikes and dive deep into pedal-assist and throttle e-bike types.
The pedal-assist on an e-bike is a feature whereby the electric motor helps you pedal. In other words, it works when you do, or it adds power when you pedal but does nothing when you don’t.
Throttle, or throttle-on-demand, is a feature on some electric bikes where the control mechanism for the motor is on the handlebars and functions with or without you pedaling the bike.
To understand pedal vs. throttle e-bikes, you need to get your hands dirty in the details. Let’s take a look at those details in terms of the benefits and drawbacks of either platform.
Pedal-assist has some excellent features, depending on the make and model you prefer. However, most pedal-assists, or pedelec as they are also called, have a variable control. The variable control is a feature whereby you select the power level you want the motor to use when it assists. In other words, you can tune it so it cranks out more or less power while you pedal.
I like the variable power feature because it means you can get more help when riding uphill and less when going downhill. However, some pedelec bikes are set with torque sensors that allow your power control to adapt the amount of power from the motor based on the torque you put on the pedals. In other words, some models can ‘sense’ when you’re going uphill by how hard you have to pedal, and they help compensate by adjusting power assist.
Pedal assist bikes are also typically longer-ranged than their throttle counterparts. Why? Because if you are adding pedal power to your ride, the motor works less, or rather, doesn’t have to use up so much energy. There’s a big debate about PAS or throttle, I’ve got another article discussing Pedaling an eBike 👉 HERE
Pedelec bikes also provide you with a better workout. The reason you get a better workout is that you have to pedal. The bike’s motor may assist you, but if you don’t pedal in the first place, you won’t move. Ergo, it is a better workout.
The drawbacks to pedal-assist include the price, the complexity of circuitry can mean expensive repairs and increased maintenance costs. Of course, that’s compared to a normal bike, as in terms of maintenance, pedelecs are on-par with the throttle.
Throttle e-bikes have throttle control on the handlebars, allowing the motor to work even when you don’t pedal. This significant difference between the pedelec bikes and throttle means two things. First, it means less range due to power utilization when not pedaling. Secondly, it means a potentially easier ride as you can power your way along without pedaling at the sacrifice of distance.
A question I get all the time is “Are eBikes Hard to Pedal” – No, but there’s more to the story. Read it HERE
Pedelec bikes vs. throttle bikes may appear to be better depending on your perspective. Let’s look at it from a work vs no-work perspective.
Uphill – Both pedelec and throttle will help you uphill. Pedelec can get you a longer ride, while throttle can get you less work.
Downhill – Both work fine, but a pedelec will give you a farther distance ride than a throttle, assuming you don’t pedal as much with the throttle e-bike.
If we’re looking at terrain types, like mud, sand, or loose dirt, then the choice is more about what kind of tires you have on the bike, not necessarily whether or not one type of power is better. Which is better will be based on your needs more than any difference between them regarding terrain type.
Most e-bikes are relatively efficient out of the box. Still, suppose we want to dig into the nitty gritty. In that case, I’d say that in my own experience, the pedelec or pedal-assist-type of e-bike is the more efficient. The good ones have a sensing capacity for variable power based on your pedal torque. In other words, they can sense your hard work and provide power accordingly.
In most states, e-bikes are classified as one of three classifications, and pedelec and throttle fall into the first two. With that said, the regulations typically state that an e-bike in class one or two will have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour under power, whether assisted or throttle controlled.
In terms of acceleration, I would assume that a pedelec set on its highest power setting (if applicable to the particular model) could accelerate faster than a throttle. However, this assumption is based on having the same person with the same leg power on both bikes.
Generally speaking, it stands to reason that a pedal-assist bike would last longer than a throttle electric bike style. The reasoning is that a pedal assist works, but it works with you. A throttle-controlled e-bike works whether you work or not. Therefore, the throttle type has to use more power and, therefore, would wear down first.
However, the longevity of your ride before the battery dies will depend on how much you pedal, contributing to increasing the ride’s distance using your leg power.
Ride EMTB Pro Tip: An important question is how long does it take to ride an eBike 10 miles? I’ve got you covered with the calculations in 👉 How Long to eBike 10 miles? I’ll tell you to plan for just over an hour though.
If you’re considering pedelec vs. throttle for exercise, then the pedelec wins hands down. However, it’s noteworthy to mention that technically, you don’t have to use the throttle or electric assist on either bike, making both good for exercise.
A pedal-assist bike will provide a longer-distance ride if we assume that you don’t pedal as much using a throttle e-bike. However, if you pedal most of the time and only touch the throttle once in a while, you might get better results with a throttle than a pedelec. Ultimately, it will come down to battery life and how much you use it.
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
- EBR Electric Bike Knowledge Base (https://electricbikereview.com/guides/knowledge-base/): Electric Bike Review’s Knowledge Base section provides detailed articles and guides on various aspects of e-bikes, including the different types of electric assist systems. You can find information on how pedal assist and throttle systems work, their pros and cons, and which might be better suited for your needs.
- Bike Forums (https://www.bikeforums.net/electric-bikes/): Bike Forums is an active online community where cyclists discuss a wide range of topics, including e-bikes. You can browse their electric bike section to find threads and discussions on pedal assist vs. throttle. It’s a great platform to learn from the experiences of e-bike enthusiasts and ask specific questions.
- Electric Bike Association (https://electricbikeassociation.org/): The Electric Bike Association is dedicated to promoting electric bicycles and providing resources to riders. Their website offers guides, articles, and FAQs on e-bikes, including information about pedal assist and throttle systems.