California Electric Bike Laws
What California electric bike laws do you need to operate one legally? Do you know when you are required to wear safety gear such as helmets and knee pads? Do you know the legal difference between an electric bike and a moped?
There are important distinctions under the law to note, especially if you’re a do-it-yourselfer interested in hacking your electric bike or otherwise modifying it. The basic definition of an electric bicycle in the State of California is one that includes both pedals and an electric propulsion system under 750 watts. Here’s what else you will need to know.
What An eBike In California Is NOT
Some low-speed, throttle-assisted electric two-wheeled vehicles are not defined as bicycles under the law–at least not for the purpose of our discussion of eBikes here.
If a two-wheeled vehicle does not have pedals, it may not necessarily be considered an eBike–at least not under the law. It may be legally defined (depending on a number of variables) under the law in a different way such as a “neighborhood electric vehicle” or NEV. What follows is a discussion of eBikes but don’t assume the same rules apply to NEVs.
Cycling Laws Versus eBike Laws
Some want to make a distinction between cycling laws and California state law governing eBikes. And one sticking point under those laws has to do with being under the influence while riding an eBike.
Under California cycling laws you may not find a specific reference to operating an electric bicycle while intoxicated but the accepted wisdom is that a traffic stop could result in you being charged with a DUI (where applicable) depending on the nature of the bike and the moving violation.
We explore the differences in eBike classes below, but generally speaking, a basic Class 1 eBike involved in a moving violation may have a less severe penalty than an incident involving a Class 3 eBike, for example.
Overall, it is best to avoid mixing substances and biking, regardless of the legal consequences.
California Electric Bike Laws
The first thing to know about eBikes is that you do not need a driver’s license or plates. The law classifies EBikes in a similar manner to traditional bicycles, so while you don’t need a permit to ride you are required to obey all traffic laws including those for driving while under the influence of substances or alcohol. You can be ticketed and fined for such offenses.
If you operate an electric bike or ebike in California, you are likely operating one of three classes as recognized by the state beginning in 2015. State law defines an electronic bike as one with pedals and an electric motor with a capacity of less than 750 watts.
There are three separate classes based on speed and where the bikes may be used. The 2015 laws referenced here were passed before any local ordinances; it is entirely possible that some parts of the state have more restrictive laws on eBikes than the state requirements. Ride with caution.
Class 1 eBike
California state law classifies a Class 1 eBike as a low-speed bike with a motor that only “assists”. The motor operates while pedaling and to be counted as a Class 1 eBike the motor must stop when the bike reaches 20mph. State law says Class 1 electric bikes are legal anywhere that traditional bicycles can operate. Helmets are required for all riders 17 and under.
Class 2 eBike
The technical features of Class 2 eBikes under the law include throttle-assisted operations that require no pedaling. Like the Class 1 version, these eBikes cannot exceed 20 mph, and they can be ridden anywhere it is legal to ride a traditional bicycle. Helmets are required for all Class 2 eBike riders under 17 years old.
Class 3 eBike
A Class 3 eBike is defined as a speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle. Like the other two classes above, Class 3 bikes have a motor that operates when the rider is pedaling. Class 3 eBike motors can go up to 28 mph and you must wear a safety helmet. These bikes cannot be used on Class 1 eBike pathways unless permitted by a local ordinance. In order to legally ride a Class 3 bike, you must be 16 or older.
Hacking eBikes: What The Law Says
Are eBike owners permitted to customize their bikes to make them faster or more powerful? Under the law you are not permitted to do so unless you also modify the speed classification label to reflect the accurate power of the modified vehicle.
Is A Moped An eBike?
Technically speaking, and under California state law, a moped is classified as a motor vehicle and not a bicycle. It has no pedals, it has a motor, it has no maximum speed limitation like eBikes do, and riding a moped requires both a helmet and a license.
Effective January 1, 2023, cities and local governing bodies cannot prohibit e-bikes from access to most bike paths except hiking, equestrian, and recreational trails.
Electric Bicycle Incentive Program
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has allocated 10 million to fund a rebate program for electric bikes.
The statewide e-Bike Incentive Program is expected to launch in early 2023 and more details are expected to be announced.
- 750 for a regular e-bike
- Up to 1,500 for a cargo or adaptive e-bike
- People whose income is under 225% FPL or who live in disadvantaged communities qualify for additional incentives.
- Household income is capped at 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL). 54,360 for a single person and 111,000 for a family of four.
- Must purchase a bike from a California bike shop or online from a company with a business location in California.
- Class 1 and Class 2 bikes qualify but Class 3 bikes do not qualify.
Things To Know About eBikes
Bike rental operations may include one or all the different classes of eBike; operation of these vehicles is fairly unrestricted until you get to Class 3, which is not permitted on Class 1 trails or bike paths.
When riding an eBike, some laws may be enforced differently. Earlier we mentioned DUIs; did you know there is no legal alcohol limit for operating a bicycle while intoxicated?
Instead of measuring your blood alcohol level, some sources report the officer will simply use her judgment to determine whether you are impaired or not. Cycling DUIs may not result in a loss of driving privileges the way a similar violation in a motor vehicle might.
The state laws governing these vehicles are not the only rules you will have to obey. Depending on where you live or ride there may be additional requirements for safety equipment, hours of operation, and more. Not all areas allow you to operate an eBike; any place typically off-limits to traditional bicycle traffic such as a state highway is also off-limits to eBikes.
Age is an important factor; Class 3 eBikes can only be legally ridden by someone 16 or older. Class 1 and Class 2 eBikes require helmets for all riders under the age of 17; Class 3 eBikes require helmets for all riders.
California Legal eBike Classifications Guide
California adopted new laws for legal eBikes in 2015, breaking the bikes down into three classes. The classifications are primarily based on where they are allowed to operate.
AB 1096: Electric Bicycles
This is the law that defines electric bicycles as those with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts. It also creates three classes of electric bicycles based on their motor speed and level of electric assist. Electric bikes subsequently fell into classes 1, 2, and 3.
Important note! CA State AB1096 established a default framework – where a local jurisdiction (city, county, etc.) had not put any form of ordinance in place for electric bikes. A local jurisdiction (city, county, etc.) may enact an ordinance to allow or restrict electric bike usage for their area that may differ from the State default.
Class 1 eBike
A Class 1 eBike, or low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycles, is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that stops providing assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph. These e-bikes are legal on any paved surface that a regular bike is allowed to operate.
Class 2 eBike
Class 2 eBikes, or low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle, are equipped with motors that can exclusively propel the bicycle, but that cannot provide assistance when the bike reaches 20 mph. These e-bikes are legal on any paved surface that a regular bike is allowed to operate.
Class 3 eBike
A Class 3 eBike, or speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle, is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and stops providing assistance when the bicycle reaches 28 mph. Operators of Class 3 e-bikes must be 16 or older and wear a helmet. Class 3 e-bikes are prohibited from Class I multi-use bike paths unless specifically authorized by a local ordinance.
Below is a simple visual infographic for determining what class your eBike falls into:
What happens if I modify my eBike?
The bill prohibits tampering with or modifying electric bicycles to change their speed capability unless the classification label also is changed.
Do I need a license or special registration to operate an eBike?
E-bike operators do not need a driver’s license, registration or license plate to ride them, though they do need to abide by existing traffic laws.
We’re here at the shop every day to meet you and discuss anything you have questions on regarding specific models and legal classifications. Come see and test ride the different classes for free to see which fits you and your lifestyle the best!
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Hi Mike, Federal law HB727 AND California AB-1096 define eBikes as a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts. A bike over 750w would therefore qualify as a “motor-driven-cycle” and require DOT approval, license etc. Additionally, 28mph ebikes (class 3) may not have a throttle at all in California. California law AB-1096 specifies: ” A “class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour, and equipped with a speedometer.” Full text of California ebike law California AB-1096 Please note – Rated motor Watts are not as important to hill-climbing and acceleration as torque. For example, a 350W high torque (70NM) mid drive will significantly outperform an inefficient, low torque (50nm) 750W hub-drive motor in most situations.
Hello, I’m doing comparative research on dockless mobility and how it is applicable to California’s Vehicle Code. It seems like devices like URB-E and the Wheels e-bike (e-bike share in San Diego and Los Angeles) fit more under Class II because of the low-speed throttle feature, but these two devices both have pegs instead of operable pedals. Would these and other e-bike looking devices still be considering e-bikes or motorized scooters. Does the definition prioritize the ability to pedal vs. the capable speeds of the device?
While we are not legal experts, a low speed motor-driven cycle without the ability to pedal would likely fall outside the definition of an e-bike. Such vehicles would be more akin to a NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) or electric skateboard.
Hi Richard, I’m sorry, we’re not legal experts here. But, most of the top companies that produce electric drive systems, brand names like Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano, offer strong motors that are rated at 250-500 watts. In most case, the torque rating is more important for hill climbing than “watts”. Cheers,
Hi Mike, Can you show me where this is cited? “Additionally, 28mph ebikes (class 3) may not have a throttle at all in California.”
E-Bike Classes Explained: 1-2-3, Go!
Delving into the world of e-bikes for the first time brings forth a dizzying lexicon of head-scratching jargon used to describe them: hub motor versus mid-drive motor; pedal assist and throttle assist; watts of power and Newton meters of torque.
The proliferation of e-bikes has spurred the need for rules and regulations about their speed, power, and where they can be safely ridden; (photo/Cero Inc.)
Perhaps the most significant differentiator is the three-class e-bike system.
That’s Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3.
If you’ve ever shopped for an e-bike, you’re almost certain to have come across one or more designations. But what exactly do they mean? And where did they come from?
Let’s start with how the U.S. law has defined an e-bike, or more precisely, a “low-speed electric bicycle.”
E-Bike Classes: Legislation and Regulation
Passed by Congress in 2002, H.R. 727 establishes that a low-speed electric bicycle is “a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals.” It has an electric motor with up to 750 W of power output (1 horsepower) and a maximum motor-propelled speed of 20 mph.
The law separates those bicycles from motorized vehicles, placing them under the purview of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates bicycles. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration regulates automobiles, motorcycles (including electrics), and other high-speed vehicles.
However, so-called “e-bikes” within and outside H.R. 727’s parameters were — and continue to be — sold worldwide and end up rolling on roads and bike paths throughout the states. So the U.S. bicycle industry took it upon itself to help bring more order to the emerging e-bike market and help individual states. Each state holds authority over bicycle usage on public roads and bike paths and identifies where e-bikes might safely be ridden.
Industry groups like the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA) and PeopleForBikes (PFB) worked together to create the three-class system. (Side note: The BPSA and PFB later merged under the PeopleForBikes name to more effectively coordinate on e-bike policy.)
The first beachhead in the campaign, literally and figuratively, was cycling-rich California. In 2015, the Golden State was the first to pass what PeopleForBikes now calls the “Model Electric Bicycle Law With Classes.”
A bicycle with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling. It ceases to assist when the bike reaches the speed of 20 mph.
A bicycle with a motor that exclusively (typically via a twist throttle or thumb lever) propels the bike. It is incapable of assisting when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph.
A bicycle with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling. But it ceases to assist when the bike reaches the speed of 28 mph and is equipped with a speedometer.
Power output for all three classes is limited to 750 W/1 horsepower, as outlined in H.R. 727. Class 3 bikes exceed the federal law’s 20mph power-assisted speed limit. But the category is in alignment with the European designation for “speed pedelecs.” This includes e-bikes providing assistance only when the rider is pedaling, with the motor putting out at no more than 45 kph, equaling 28 mph.
‘Reasonable Access’ for E-Bikes
In its role driving e-bike policy, PeopleForBikes maintains that “U.S. laws should permit reasonable access to bicycle infrastructure for the three classes of low-speed electric bicycles, ensure that riders of electric bicycles can enjoy the same duties, protections, and rights as riders of traditional bicycles, and clarify that owners are not subject to vehicle laws that might apply to more powerful devices,” such as licensing.
As of this writing, 39 states have passed the three-class system in one form or another. However, significant variances exist from state to state.
Several states restrict or completely bar Class 3 e-bikes on bicycle paths. And New York — where some NYC food delivery workers riding high-speed throttle electric bicycles on roads, bike lanes, and even on sidewalks have stirred anger — created its own Class 3. This class encompasses throttle e-bikes cutting power at 25 mph (for use only in New York City) but does not recognize 28 mph pedal-assist-only e-bikes.
“The more popular e-bikes are — the more people are out riding on various types of bicycle infrastructure — the more these classes come into play,” said Larry Pizzi, an e-bike industry veteran who has been a critical player in the public policy efforts of both the BPSA and PFB. Pizzi currently serves as a chief commercial officer for Alta Cycling Group (home to bicycle and e-bike brands Diamondback, IZIP, and Redline) and sits on the PeopleForBikes’ board of directors.
As I said earlier in this story, loads of vehicles that manufacturers call “e-bikes” don’t fit the industry definition the federal law or PFB and its model legislation spell out. These vehicles have higher cutoff speeds for pedal and/or throttle assist. Or the motors exceed the 750W limit — sometimes by a lot. Maybe they don’t even have pedals.
often than not, these are products made or sold by brands with little or no track record in the bicycle industry. And they’re a problem for the companies looking to promote the safe use of the low-speed electric bicycles they sell.
“It’s detrimental to the rest of the category because they’re well beyond the power and speed criteria that define an electric bicycle,” Pizzi said, adding that building and selling these noncompliant vehicles exposes those brands to incredible financial risk.
Mislabeling of Class 3 E-Bikes Is Another Problem
Case in point: An e-bike with a 750W motor has a thumb throttle powering the bike up to 20 mph, and it also has pedal assist topping out at 28 mph. It’s stickered as a Class 3 e-bike. Is that correct?
Answer: No, it’s outside the class system. Class 3 e-bikes, as outlined by the model legislation, can’t have a throttle even if it tops out at the Class 2 limit of 20 mph. Still, many brands stack the classifications and call these Class 3s. A customer can remove the throttle for Class 3 compliance, but the stock e-bike is out of class.
Regulators have apparently overlooked this mislabeling practice.
“We want governmental organizations to step up and FOCUS on these issues,” Pizzi said. “Our hope is that they’ll reel them in.”
‘Hungry for Batteries’ Campaign Urges e-Bikers To Recycle
Recycling your old e-bike batteries is critical for public safety (just ask anyone who’s been involved in an e-bike battery fire). One program makes it easier, with a boost from a fresh campaign. Read more…
Ebike Classes Explained
Electric bike sales have soared over the last few years due to their rise in popularity.
Bicycles with motors on make great commuting bikes for those who don’t want to arrive at work sweaty, as well as opening up cycling as a hobby to those who otherwise might not be able to access it.
But with new technology comes new territory for lawmakers, and in 2020, the USA announced that electric bikes would not be considered motor vehicles.
This meant that e-bikes would be able to ride on certain trails and areas they weren’t able to previously.
This change saw the clarification of ebike classes, which now run from 1-3 for e-bikes, and anything higher is identified as an electric moped.
These classes of ebikes help manufacturers to understand the limits of what they can produce, and for consumers to understand what type of capabilities the bike they’re buying has.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the different classes and discuss the capabilities and limits of each one.
E-Bike Classes Explained
Class 1: have only pedal assistance up to 20mph.Class 2: have pedal assistance up to 20mph throttle assistance up to 20mph.Class 3: have pedal assistance up to 28mph may or may not have throttle assistance up to 20mph.Class 4: may have a top speed of over 28mph and motor wattage over 750W.
Why is the legal limit 750W?
750W = 0.75kW = 1 horsepower
Class 1 eBikes
These Co-op electric bikes have pedal assistance of 20mph and don’t have a throttle, so according to eBike classification, they are class 1 eBikes.
Class 1 eBikes are bikes that use pedal-assist to a maximum assisted speed of 20mph.
This means that they are pedal-assist-only eBikes, and they must be without throttle controls, i.e. you must pedal the bike to engage the e-bike motor. They’re also called Pedelecs, (pedal electric cycles) and they must adhere to the class 1 electric bike speed limit of 20mph.
From October 2020 this was written into legislation in the United States and has helped to clarify the confusing market of eBike classes and assistance levels. It also helps to clarify where these bikes can go. Previously, they were unable to be used on certain mountain bike trails and bike paths as they were in a grey area of motor vehicle status. Now, however, they can be ridden in more areas and not just on the road.
Main Features of Class 1 eBikes:
- Pedal assistance
- Assisted speed up to 20mph
- No assistance without pedaling
- The motor must be less than 750W
- Mostly have the same rights and access privileges as regular bikes
Class 2 eBikes
Kracken Adventure Bikes produces 750W eBikes with a throttle.
Class 2 electric bikes also have a maximum assisted speed of 20mph.
However, unlike class 1, they can include throttle assistance without the need for pedaling. This of course doesn’t mean the assistance cuts out if you do start pedaling, but the option is there for you to not pedal and use the throttle. Class 2 e-bike max speed is the same as class 1, at 20mph, and as with class 1 bikes, you can ride them as ‘unassisted’ bikes, i.e. with the motor off, and in the same places.
Class 2 bikes generally look similar to class 1 bikes, except they have the inclusion of a throttle assist. This is usually on the handlebars so can look quite subtle.
Main features of class 2 eBikes:
- Throttle assistance can be activated through a trigger, button, or twist-grip
- Can be ridden without pedaling
- May also have pedal-assistance
- Maximum assisted speed is 20mph
- The motor must be less than 750 watts
- Mostly have the same rights and access privileges as regular bikes
Class 3 eBikes
These Trek class 3 bicycles assist you up to 28 mph.
Class 3 eBikes are slightly more confusing.
Their maximum assisted speed is set to 28mph making them quite high-speed electric bikes. They must also be equipped with a speedometer to let you know how fast you’re riding. The complicated part is the addition of a throttle. Some states don’t allow throttles at all on the bike (such as California), whereas others only allow the throttle to be used up to 20mp/h, but the pedal assist can continue to 28mph.
Additionally, the motor must have a capacity of less than 750W, and you cannot ride these on bike paths that exist outside of the road. To get around this, manufacturers apply a limit to the throttle speed (20mph). Some speed pedelecs can be adjusted so if you want to ride on a multi-use trail, for example, you can switch the throttle assist to max out at 20mph, and remove the limit when you ride on the road.
Check with your local legislation before using a class 3 eBike to figure out where you’re allowed to ride it.
Main features of class 3 eBikes:
- Pedal assistance
- Max assisted speed is 28mph
- Equipped with speedometer
- The motor must be less than 750W
- Restricted from multi-use paths
- Mostly with an age limit. Depending on the state, the rider must be at least 14, 15, or 16.
- Optional throttle with 20mph assistance
Class 4 eBikes
QuietKat eBikes are class 4 when bought with over 750W motor.
Class 4 eBikes are not permitted to be used on the road and thus are deemed motorized vehicles which need to be insured and licensed.
This class of bikes use motors more powerful than 750W and class 4 ebike speeds are over 28mph. Some are even capable of being 50mph electric bikes, hence why they need to be licensed and insured. They are in a similar category to electric dirt bikes, with the main difference being the inclusion of pedals on a class 4 eBike.
As class 4 eBikes are only permitted to be used off-road, there is a more limited scope for the type of bikes you will find in this category.
Main features of class 4 eBikes:
- Throttle and/or pedal assistance
- Top speed 28mph and over
- The motor can be more than 750W
- Mostly need registration and licensing
Electric Bike Modes: Throttle vs Pedal Assist (Pedelec)
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Understanding E-Bike Propulsion Methods and Which is Right for You
Depending on their designation, e-bikes and their motors work in two ways: they can either make your level of pedaling effort easier, or completely take over and simply carry you along for the ride.
When you’re considering which type of e-bike to purchase, it’s important to think about which of these methods the bike offers, the environment(s) you’ll be riding in, and your own abilities and preferences. In this article, the writers here at Electric Bike Report will help you to understand the pros and cons of throttle vs pedal assist electric bikes, and help you to determine which is best for you!
Defining E-Bike Throttle and Pedal Assist Terms
Before we get into the differences between throttle and pedal assist and how they relate to you, let’s define those terms more clearly:
- Throttle: a handlebar-mounted device that can engage (and sometimes adjust) power output from the bike’s motor. Electric bikes with throttles can be completely self-propelled, since throttles tell their motors to dispense power without the need for any pedal motion or input from the rider.
- Pedal Assist: the standard method of operation for e-bikes. As the term suggests, this method of motor engagement requires the bike’s rider to move the pedals, though depending on the bike’s gearing, type of motor, and type of sensor, the rider may or may not need to actually be engaged with the drivetrain.
- Pedelec: This term is a synonym for pedal assist, and is an abbreviation derived from the words “pedal electric cycle.”
It should be noted that, in order to be classified as electric bicycles, all e-bikes must have operable pedals. As such, most e-bikes function through pedal assist, with some having additional throttles – though it is still possible to have a throttle-controlled motor mounted to an otherwise non-electric bicycle with a standard drivetrain.
Many e-bikes, like the Aventon Aventure 2, offer both throttle and pedal assistance for a range of applications in different environments.
E-bike Class System
At least in the US, e-bikes are separated into three classes or categories. This class system plays a significant role in regulating their legal use in specific areas or on specific paths. Their placement within this system is determined by the methods through which they employ their motors, as well as their maximum motor-assisted speeds.
This system, and much of the legislation related to it, exists largely thanks to the incredible, thoughtful, and intelligent folks at People for Bikes. Their work has helped to create a structure for the governance, safety, and consistency of e-bikes, in addition to promoting them as beneficial to the well-being of all. If you can’t tell, we’re big fans!
Let’s take a look at how throttle vs pedal assist ties into this 3-class system.
A Class 1 e-bike has a motor that provides assistance only when its rider is pedaling, and is limited to motor-assisted speeds of 20 miles per hour. These e-bikes are capable of going faster than 20 mph, but only on human power beyond that point. These e-bikes do NOT have throttles.
Class 2 e-bikes ARE equipped with throttles, and do not require human input to be propelled (though most do also offer pedal assistance). E-bikes in this category are still limited to motor-assisted speeds of 20 miles per hour.
Sometimes known as S-Pedelecs or Speed Pedelecs (primarily in Europe), Class 3 e-bikes offer pedal assistance up to a maximum of 28 miles per hour. Additionally, Class 3 e-bikes are required to be equipped with a speedometer. Like Class 1 e-bikes, these can still be pedaled faster than their motor-assisted speeds, but only with human power.
Class 3 e-bikes can ALSO be categorized as Class 2 e-bikes if they feature a throttle that is limited to 20 miles per hour.
Thumb-operated throttle levers, such as this one on the Evelo Omega, are typically the most commonly-used variety.
Any e-bike that differs from the descriptions above falls into the “Unclassified” category. This could be for a number of reasons, such as including a throttle that reaches speeds above 20 miles per hour, or being equipped with a motor with nominal output beyond 750 Watts.
While laws and regulations still vary widely, e-bikes within this category are often only legal off-road or on private property without a license and registration.
Throttle Specifics, Pros, and Cons
As we established, an e-bike throttle is a control mounted on the handlebars that can control the motor. Throttles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with differing degrees of functionality between them.
Most often, electric bike throttles come in two styles: either twist throttles or throttle levers. Twist throttles usually take up a portion of one of the handlebar grips, and are activated by rotating that portion (usually backward, for safety). Alternatively, throttle levers are a separate unit typically mounted next to one of the grips, and operated by thumb. We have occasionally seen button-style throttles as well, though these are less common.
E-bike throttles can apply their power in a couple of different ways. So-called “modular” throttles are adjustable, and apply more power and speed as they are twisted further, or their levers are depressed more. Others, usually the boost-button-style (but sometimes twist or lever-operated), function more like an on/off switch and apply power in an all-or-nothing fashion.
Additionally, throttles can sometimes be tied in with a bike’s electronic pedal assist system – we’ll cover more about that shortly – to set maximum throttle speeds below 20 miles per hour, if desired. This is a feature that we generally like to see, since keeping a twist throttle turned halfway or a throttle lever partially pushed down for a long period of time can be challenging.
Throttles are typically seen on bikes with rear-hub motors, though they do occasionally appear alongside mid-drives.
Some electric bike throttles come in the form of a twist throttle, like this one on the Lectric XPremium.
Pros of E-Bike Throttle Use
- Since throttle engagement does not require pedaling, it places no strain on the knees and thighs. This makes electric bikes with throttles great for older folks or anyone with medical conditions that affect pedaling ability.
- For cyclists who frequently find themselves in high-traffic environments, throttles can allow for swift startups that bring the bike up to speed quickly. This means keeping up with traffic more easily, and passing more safely through intersections.
- If used on a Class 2 or 3 e-bike, throttle use allows riders to work less when encountering hills or headwinds, or to simply take a rest when needed.
Cons of E-Bike Throttle Use
- Because the motor is the only thing powering the bike when the throttle is engaged, prolonged use can drain the battery much faster than when using pedal assist.
- With throttles that are not tied into the bike’s pedal assist system, their speed may be difficult to keep consistent over extended periods of time.
- When used with rear hub motors, throttles have fixed gearing that cannot be adjusted to suit the intensity of the rider’s environment.
Whether using an e-bike with a mid-drive motor or a hub motor, the bike’s pedal assist system (or PAS) will govern the amount of assistance the motor provides when pedaling. Generally speaking, this allows for an efficient system that divides the amount of work required to move the bike between the motor and the rider.
Pedal assist electric bikes typically offer multiple stages of assistance; most commonly between 3 and 5. The lowest settings are usually the most efficient and require less power from the battery, but this means that more human power is required to move the bike. Conversely, high PAS settings draw more power from the battery, but also require less pedal power as the motor dispenses a greater amount of assistance.
Depending on the size of the motor, the type of motor, and the PAS setting, using pedal assistance extends the limits of what a person can do on a bike. This can be as little as an additional 15-20% of what a rider is capable of, or it can skyrocket up to beyond 300%. This is what makes e-bikes so much fun!
Class 1 pedal assist electric bikes like the FLX Babymaker II do not include a throttle, and many are able to maintain a traditional non-electric bike feel.
Let’s quickly examine the types of motors, the different sensors they use to know how and when to provide pedal assistance, and how these things impact a bike’s feel.
As their name suggests, these are motors mounted in the center of either the front or rear wheel. Rear-hub motors are most common, and typically produce a feeling of being pushed from behind, though the intensity of this feeling differs depending on the motor’s size / power level. Due to their positioning, the amount of rider input that is needed with hub motors varies greatly, though this is related to the type of sensor they use – we’ll go over that soon. For those who want to learn more, check out our complete guide to hub motor brands.
Mid-drives are placed within a bike’s bottom bracket, and as such are tied directly in with its drivetrain through the cranks. These types of motors typically feature a much more natural ride feel much closer to that of a non-electric bike. They also tend to require a greater degree of rider input, which makes them typically more efficient than hub motors. Again, this depends on many factors, including their sensors. We go into more detail about this type of motor in our complete guide to e-bike mid-drive motors.
Cadence sensors, which are mostly found on hub motors, typically use a series of magnets or an optical system to detect pedal motion, and direct the motor to dispense power in tandem with the speed of crank rotation (rotations per minute, or RPMs). The PAS settings on a system with cadence sensors commonly set a “top speed” within each level that can be maintained with or without engagement with the drivetrain. As long as the pedals move, the motor supplies power.
Mid-drive motors with torque sensors, such as this one on the Quietkat Rubicon, commonly offer a much more natural and responsive pedal assist feel than a hub motor with a cadence sensor.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are torque sensors, which detect how much pressure the rider is applying to the bike’s pedals – essentially, how hard they are working – and tell the motor to supply power to compensate. In these cases, a bike’s PAS settings dictate how much power is dispensed with each pedal stroke. This results in a more natural and responsive pedal assist feel that pairs nicely with the sensation provided by a mid-drive motor, so it is no surprise that torque sensors are commonly used with motors of this type. That said, the technology is becoming more common on hub motors.
Pros of Pedal Assist
- On e-bikes with motors that have well-tuned sensors, using pedal assist feels intuitive and nearly identical to riding a non-electric bike. This makes riding an e-bike an easy and fun skill to learn!
- Using pedal assistance can provide a great workout and all of the health benefits that come with it!
- When compared to throttle use, pedal assist is typically more efficient, meaning that it requires less battery power and can allow a bike to travel farther.
- Considering that most e-bikes have more than a single speed, pedal assist can take advantage of both a bike’s gearing and PAS to adapt its feel to its environment.
Cons of E-Bike Throttle Use
- Using only pedal assist when starting can be much slower than throttle use, making city rides a bit more difficult.
- Depending on the motor and the type of sensor it uses, the bike’s motor responsiveness can vary greatly.
- Managing a bike’s gearing and PAS setting can take some effort and practice to master.
Where to Go Next
We hope that you have found this article helpful! When you’re considering the differences between a pedal assist electric bike and an electric bike with a throttle, you’re really only scratching the surface of what makes them unique.
If you’re interested in learning more, we recommend taking a look at our Buyer’s Guide to Electric Bikes and learning about these mistakes to avoid when shopping for electric bikes.
Happy researching and riding!
Комментарии и мнения владельцев
I have a Shimano-assisted ICE Adventure trike with torque-actuated crank motor which works well at only 250W. My objective is exercise and freshly polluted air, so I only use the assist when I have to, say road crossings and hills I can’t handle. When I hit the 3rd assist level (3 clicks of the proverbial button), the boost is more than sufficient, so I don’t need a throttle. The range is supposedly over 100 miles on assist 1, although I have never used more than 2 bars of juice on the usual rides around Ohio or Florida. My only gripe is that the front gearing is not sufficient for me to avoid the assist more. For some reason, the designers eliminated all but one sprocket on the front (I’d like to know why). My wife (80yr-old) has an aluminum Greenspeed X7 that is light and had 30 gears. I was able to maintain that bike at 12-15 mph for 15 miles without too much stress, but she needed help, so I installed a hubmotor kit (Burley) from Electric Bike Outfitters. Aside from some issues wrt the 16 inch wheels, it works as designed. The problem is that the design could use some help. I had to sacrifice the smallest front sprocket to get the pedal assist magnet disk on the Shimano Hollotech crank set. There is no torque sensor (which I am looking to correct (maybe with Juiced Bike or GRIN parts). The upshot is that I had to program in the lowest limits on current and voltage to tone things down so that there is sufficient pedal power required to get some exercise on assist 1. Assist 2 is sort of marginal, and for all intents and purposes levels 3-5 are just cruise levels. It only takes minimal cadence of 15rpm to get full power out of the motor. On the other hand, the throttle kicks in promptly and my wife can zoom across roads safely, hooting with glee. For someone who has yet to buy, I would recommend looking at GRIN. Buy something with 20-26″ rear wheels and decide whether you want to limit the mechanical gears to 10 and get a crank (mid-drive) motor with torque control. In order to install a torque sensor, either the sensor has to have room and design to be installed on the drive side of the rear wheel (axle strain measurement) or inside (or on) the bottom bracket crank (crank strain measurement). I believe GRIN has an electronics system that can handle pedal rotation and torque signals at the same time, plus provide for throttle. The display (that I have seen) provides a lot on info, but it is only a thing that an engineer could love.
PS. Your heading for the section detailing the cons of pedal assist systems is incorrect – bit of a glaring miss for the editor!!
Why don’t they just put torque sensors on all the bikes, it would be safer. Smoother transaction. cadence gives you a sudden lurch, a cheap unsafe design!
I still loved my old 21spd mountain bike converted to front hub electric drive, throttle only, with a regenerative capacity if you pressed the button, for braking and recharging the battery. It was direct drive, the ECU ran everything from Hill climbing to flat out commuting and it was quick off the mark in traffic, and I had all 21 gears to play with to add to its versatility. Flat out with me pedalling in top cog as hard as I could, 40kmh was possible with a range of about 55km at that speed.
I’ve recently forked out for a road bike (Scott Addict 30) and have had a Pedelec for about 7yrs. It’s a proper pedelec that keeps me pushing hard from start to stop – and I love it. Often strapped for time and I want to go somewhere fast – the pedelec is my preferred choice for that. However, a road bike is something I’m growing into, and will make increasingly more use of it. To get fitter quicker, I need to get off the pedelec and onto the Scott, I’ll be there soon but I suspect it won’t be a straight swap because the pedelec is simply so much fun on and off road.