We are reader supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Electric-powered bikes are becoming ever so popular and more common on our trails, streets and bicycle paths. Still, some people may have misconceptions about what are sometimes called e-bikes. For instance, Do you need to pedal an Eeectric bike?
Yes, you do have to pedal with an electric bike. However, how often, or when, depends on factors such as national or local laws, and the type of e-bike ridden.
One must remember that electric bicycles are meant to help enjoy rides, not to avoid pedaling altogether. That’s what motorcycles, powered scooters and mopeds are for.
To legally qualify as an electric bike, its motor must assist with the pedaling (not replace it). Some have sensors built in that monitor pedaling production, and adjust the electric power accordingly. Taking a breather down a hill by not moving your legs? The bike might just cut back on the electricity — or cut it off entirely.
In the United States, the legal cap on speeds on e-bikes is 20 mph. Other nations or locales have other limitations, such as about 15.5 mph in Australia, the United Kingdom and European Union. In America, surpass 20 mph and the motor will stop helping. You’re free to ride faster, but under your own power.
Let’s take a look at electric bikes, pedaling vs. powering, and other details.
Insight into Electric Bikes
Looking deeper into electric bikes, first understand what is and what is not. If a bicycle’s power is controlled by the rider, such as with a twist grip on the handlebars, or a form of throttle, it won’t be classified as an e-bike. Electric bikes must have the power regulated internally by comparing pedaling power with the electricity being distributed.
This delineation could affect licensing, taxing and insurance requirements, as two-wheelers powered too much (or by gasoline) could be classified as mopeds. Other local restrictions may apply, such as whether or not helmets are required, or if you’ll be forced away from cycle paths in favor of rolling along roadways.
Electric bikes with motors too strong, such as those providing over 250 watts of electric power, may also be classified as something other than an e-bike and the same requirements (e.g. licensing) would apply.
As electric bikes become more popular and prevalent, and as manufacturers respond with new models and styles of e-bikes to meet riders’ desires, government rules are changing along with them. It’s a burgeoning new channel in bicycling, with the same growing pains seen in other new developments such as when mountain bikes became the craze many years ago.
Some new rules address electric bikes intended to carry cargo, such as in big cities where two-wheeled deliveries are common, allowing more-powerful motors. Still, to date it remains that riders have to pedal, at least at times, on electric bikes.
E-Bike Classes, Tech Abilities, and More
The 3 Classes of Electric Bikes
To clarify the “depends” statement above, note that there are 3 classes of e-bikes, and pedaling requirements differ:
- Class 1: No throttle and max speed of 20 mph.
- Class 2: Throttle-assisted, maximum 20-mph speed.
- Class 3: Maximum assisted speed of 28 mph, no throttle.
Classes 1 and 3 will always require pedaling (of course, with no throttle). You’re not required to pedal electric bikes in Class 2, but could choose to do so, such as to conserve power.
Sometimes government agencies place certain restrictions on e-bikes in Classes 2 and 3. For instance, Class 2 bicycles have been barred from mountain bike trails due to throttle-powered speeds damaging trails. Class 3 bikes have been banned from more places, even shared pedestrian paths, because of their ability to reach faster speeds. They are nudged to roadside riding.
Note: All 3 classes limit each bicycle motor to 1 horsepower (750 watts) in the United States.
High-Tech Sensory on E-Bikes
While electric bike systems help regulate power and speed, it doesn’t mean riders don’t have the ability to make adjustments. To an extent.
The e-bike systems usually have “assistance levels,” selected by a button on the top tube, or handlebar. Basically, it allows riders to choose how much assistance they want from the motor — upward to the limits noted above. Savvy riders will conserve electricity while going downhill to conserve energy.
Of course, riders can shut off the electric motors entirely and pedal away. However, weights of the motor and its battery can make pedaling harder than on regular bicycles. Some advanced e-bike systems even have buttons to boost power, like a “Turbo” button, to provide a little added push temporarily during strenuous stretches.
With sensors, e-bike motors can adjust the power as needed, knowing when you begin to slowly ascend due to pedaling torque, or start naturally speeding up going down hill. New electric bike riders might soon learn to appreciate the sensation!
Differences vs. Regular Bikes
Mostly the differences between e-bikes and normal bicycles amounts to speed, both gaining it and maintaining it:
- Riders appreciate the ability of e-bikes to quickly boost energy on inclines, or flat segments where a rider wants to really push it. Experts say electric bikes can add 2 or 3 mph in these instances compared with regular pedal-only bikes.
- Electric bikes usually carry about 20 lbs. more in weight compared with regular bikes, due to the motor, battery pack and sometimes frame reinforcements. This might help gain speed downhill but could be a nuisance on inclines especially if the e-bike system does not provide enough juice.
- Electric bikes cost more than non-powered bikes, sometimes very much so. Yet for those very interested in cycling and especially going faster without too much extra exertion, they are a solid investment.
Related Questions on Electric Bikes & Pedaling
Question: Where does the motor go on an electric bike?
Answer: More often nowadays, they are mounted near the crankset, called “mid-mounts.” Many to date have motors mounted on the hub of the rear wheel, but mid-mounts are proving more popular. Some say mid-mount bicycle motors may soon become standard.
Q.: What is a “hub”?
A.: The center part of a bicycle wheel. The hub of the rear wheel is usually a bit larger and/or more complicated than the front-wheel hub. A hub contains bearings, and a shell to which spokes are attached.
Q.: What is a “pedelec”?
A.: A “pedal electric bicycle,” just a nickname for e-bikes from certain regions.