If you’ve been in any medium to large cities across the United States lately, you may have noticed the increase in the number of e-bikes made available as rentals to the general public as a means to get about town. Gaining access to an ebike is as simple as downloading an app and entering your credit card information. But is the cost worth it? After all, pedaling a bicycle can be hard work and doesn’t move you very fast to your destination. Or does it?
Just how fast can an ebike go? It’s an important thing to consider before you hop on for your first ride. For the types of ebikes available on the market, the pedal assist and the hand throttle, the answer is the same: Top speeds can reach 20 mph. The difference, then, lies in the mechanics of how that threshold is reached.
Pedal assist ebikes
A pedal assist ebike, also known as a pedelec, is powered when you crank the pedals. You can use a pedelec as a traditional bicycle without power, or have the bike provide power to the pedals. The torque of your crank is detected by a sensor that then communicates with the controller to accelerate.
You can control the amount of assistance the bike provides to you. Most pedal assist ebikes have at least a low, medium and high assist setting.
Low assist: Provides the least assistance. Use low assist for a better workout.
Medium assist: Provides assistance with a moderate amount of pedaling. Medium assist balances pedal power with motor power.
High assist: Provides the maximum amount of assistance. Use high assist when you need to get somewhere fast!
Benefits of pedal assist ebikes
A pedal assist ebike offers the following benefits:
- Because the battery provides power only when assist is engaged, a pedal assist ebike will generally have greater range compared to a throttle ebike.
- People who otherwise would not ride a bicycle are more likely to ride a pedal assist ebike. That means more people are getting at least some exercise.
- You can focus on pedaling, which you can start and stop as you please. A throttle needs to be held in a specific position. The pedal assist ebike provides for a more fluid and natural riding experience.
- You can configure the pedal assist level to be low, medium or high.
Throttle assist ebikes
A throttle assist ebike propels forward when the biker presses a button, pushes a lever (the throttle), or twists the handlebar. The throttle is typically mounted on the handlebar of the ebike and is connected to the electric drive system that controls the speed of the ebike. The harder the rider presses the throttle, the faster the ebike goes. The biker can also disengage the throttle, leaving only the pedals to move the bike forward.
There are two types of throttle:
- Half grip twist: The half grip twist throttle engages when the biker twists the inner section of the handlebar grip. The half grip twist throttle most resembles the throttles found on motorcycles or scooters.
- Thumb throttle: The thumb throttle engages when the biker presses a button or lever located on the handlebar grip.
Speed and safety
Whether you choose to purchase a pedal assist ebike or a throttle assist ebike, speed and overall care in its operation are of the utmost importance. It’s not just your well-being you should be concerned about, it also includes the well-being of those around you, including pedestrians. In a recent City Lab study, “For e-cyclists, speed was highly associated with crashes and near-crashes—more so than the number of kilometers ridden or riding time. E-bike riders experienced 88 critical events (versus 63 for regular cyclists), and they got into trouble at a higher rate, per kilometer (every 16.7 km, versus every 24.5 km).”
In addition to riding at a speed that is appropriate with the setting and weather conditions, use the following tips to ensure that you operate your ebike correctly:
- Let people know that you are there! Use headlight and bell to communicate your presence to motorists and pedestrians.
- Use a mirror to see those around you and behind you.
- Regularly check your speed. Have you ever been surprised to find out you were traveling in a car faster than you expected? This phenomenon also applies to bikes.
- When coming to a stop, engage the brakes earlier. This provides for a better deceleration and a more comfortable riding experience.
- Ride in the same direction as the car traffic.
- Obey all local traffic laws. They are there for a reason . . . to keep you from harm!
- Stay in your lane. It is common in urban settings for the ebike to ride on the side of the road, along with car traffic. This allows car drivers to clearly see you.