What exactly is an electric bike?

More and more people are hearing about eBikes, but as its popularity grows so do misconceptions. Do you pedal? Is it cheating with no health benefits? How do they even work? This blog will break down the eBike to help correct misconceptions and build an overall picture of eBikes today. It will describe the different batteries/motors, the class system, how pedal assistance works, talk about if you get health benefits, and talk about benefits of the eBike. 

An electric bike is a bicycle that has a battery-powered motor that provides the rider with assistance. Besides the motor, battery, and computer screen, all other pieces of the bike are traditional bicycle parts. Bikes will often have the battery attached to the tubes of the frame, but you will also occasionally see batteries in the rear rack on a bike. The motor for the bike can be in a hub on the wheel (front or rear) or it will be where the cranks and pedals are on the bike. If the motor is in a wheel, it is called a hub-drive. If it takes the place of the crankset, it is called a mid-drive motor. Mid-drive motors are built in a way that causes no pedaling resistance in the off mode creating a ride feel that is no different than a traditional bike you have ridden before.The mid-drive motor has become the go to for most bike companies becoming the predominant motor on the market today.

Watch the video below to hear Adam talk about what makes an electric bike unique!

Three Class System

eBikes are classified into one of three categories: 

  1. A class one eBike only uses pedal assistance and has a max speed of 20mph. Class 1 is considered a bicycle. Wherever you can ride a bicycle, you can ride a class one bike.
  2. A class two eBike uses pedal assistance and a throttle, which also has a max speed of 20mph. Class 2 bikes can be ridden almost anywhere a class 1 bicycle can be ridden. There are some counties/states that will not allow Class 2 bikes on naturally paved/dirt/single-track trails.
  3. A class three eBike is a pedal assist bike that can go up to 28mph. Class 3 bicycles can be ridden on roads and in bike lanes. For most counties/states, they cannot be ridden on any unpaved surface, multi-use trails, or protected bike lanes.

This system has been adopted by almost all eBike companies. It is the prevailing class system as defined by state and local legislatures nationwide. However, not every state has adopted these laws in full yet. For more information on your specific state or more about eBike legislation, visit People For Bikes laws and regulations breakdown.

As long as your bike falls within this class system, you do not need any special license to ride the bike nor do you need to register the bike.

What is “pedal assistance?”

The vast majority of eBikes have pedal assistance. Pedal assistance is the motor providing extra power while you pedal. Most bikes will have 3 or 4 levels of assistance that range from a minor assistance for flat ground to a much more powerful assistance to get you up a hill. Pedal assistance on a bike works in one of two ways.

Cadence Sensing

The first kind of sensor is the cadence sensor. The cadence sensor is a sensor on the bike that tracks how fast you are pedaling. It connects to the computer and motor which responds with a certain output of power based on your pedaling. These bikes can have a less intuitive feel as the motor is essentially on if you are pedaling or off when you are coasting. This can be beneficial with people with really bad knees or pretty limiting health conditions. However, a throttle could be just as beneficial, if not more so, for people in this category. For most people, it will feel more like a machine and the rider will feel less in control of the bike as opposed to the torque sensor.

Torque Sensing

The torque sensor is more popular on high end models as it is better technology creating a better ride feel, but it does cost the manufacturers more to have this system compared to a cheaper cadence sensor. This is why as you move up eBike price point, you often see a switch from cadence to torque sensor. The torque sensor is a sensor built into the crankset or motor that is constantly tracking the amount of power per pedal stroke. The motor and computer then respond with assistance based on how hard you push per stroke. It will have more variance within a select mode while you pedal because the motor is not just on or off, but it is varying its output in conjunction with your output. This creates a ride feel that mimics normal riding conditions. The harder you pedal, the more the motor gives you. 

For example, when you approach a hill on a cadence sensor, the bike will give the same output of power if you keep the same cadence on flat ground and going uphill. The power will not change from the motor, meaning you will push much harder for no difference in motor power. A torque sensor, on the other hand, will recognize you are pushing harder and give more assistance within the same mode. 

Pedal assistance allows you to create the ride experience and receive the amount of exercise you want. If you want to have a fun, quick ride, you could simply put the bike in a high pedal assistance and zip around for 30 minutes. If you want to get out to raise your heart rate and get a workout, you can put it in off or a lower assistance mode to go for a long ride, only using the upper modes when you need to go on a big climb. For commuting, you could use the higher modes to get to work letting you arrive at work less sweaty and ready for the day. When you head home, you lower the assistance levels and stress your cardiovascular system for a bit until you get home. Multiple modes of assistance lets each rider make every ride unique and suited to their needs for the day.

Interested in eBike Commuting? Check out our blog on the subject here.

Want to learn more about the health effects of ebiking? Click here.

Maintenance for eBike

Most eBikes have moved to the mid-drive system, this has left all other parts of the bicycle like a traditional bike. This means the wheels, brakes, shifting systems, fork, etc., could all be swapped to a traditional bike. This also means maintaining the bicycle is no different than a traditional bike! The motor and battery should outlast the bicycle so maintenance, just like a traditional bike, should be changing brake pads, tires, and chains when necessary. Note, that due to the nature of mid-drive systems providing electric assist through the chain, you may need to change your chain more often than on a traditional bike. If you have had to service it on your regular bike, it probably needs service on your eBike. Keeping up with these service items will make the experience and joy of riding an eBike even better!

Electric Cruiser

Electric Cruisers are made for comfort. These typically have step – over frame geometry and are best suited for bike paths and crushed gravel trails. Check out this Gazelle Ultimate T10 we have here in the shop.

Electric Mountain Bike

Electric Mountain Bikes are made for the trails. With the popularity of mountain biking growing exponentially in the year 2020, we expect to see a lot more eMTBs out and about. eMTBs are great for going longer distances, tackling burly climbs, and plowing through technical features on the trail. Check out this full suspension Haibike FullNine we have in the shop.

Electric Gravel Bike

Electric Gravel Bikes are winners of the gravel and road. Gravel eBikes tend to be lighter in weight, especially our new Bulls Grinder Evo Lite in the shop. Expect to be able to crush up to 4,000 – 4,500 of vertical feet road climbing. Take a better look at this eBike that weighs less than 35 lbs. 

Why eBike?

There are several reasons to choose an eBike! 

  • Maybe there is a pesky hill on your normal route that, for whatever reason, you just don’t want to tackle anymore. Let an eBike give you the nudge you need to “flatten” that hill! 
  • Maybe you want to open the range you can comfortably ride. Let an eBike give you a tailwind to keep you going! 
  • Maybe keeping up with your crazy cyclist friends or partner, has gotten too tough. Let an eBike boost your fitness level, and ride in community again!
  • Maybe you’re tired of sitting in traffic and want to substitute some of your car trips with a bicycle. Let an eBike make up for that heavy laptop, or bag of groceries you’re carrying, and get you from A to B without breaking a sweat!

eBikes can be daunting as more and more brands release bikes. The misconceptions will continue until they become a common place item in many households. Hopefully, you can find this information useful to begin to sift through all the eBikes and what they are. This blog is intended to get you the overview you need to begin your search, but you can quickly get down into the details and can become confused again. We also recommend riding the eBikes to get a feel for the bike before you purchase. 


If you have specific questions about eBikes we carry or do not carry, stop by one of our stores or call us and put our knowledge to the test..

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