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The E-Bike Conundrum: To Pedal or Not to Pedal?

gotrax commuter e-bike
With e-bike pedaling, there's more than meets the eye. This article takes an in-depth look at e-bike pedaling along with its pros and cons.
gotrax commuter e-bike
Written by Amy Sorter
gotrax commuter e-bike
Edited by Taylor Moon
Contributing Editor

Electric bicycle.

The term might conjure up motor-powered machines ridden by people who don’t pedal. But that’s not what e-bikes are about. The Consumer Product Safety Commission defines an e-bike as:

  • A two-or three-wheeled vehicle with operational pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts
  • A machine whose maximum speed on a paved level surface is less than 20 mph

Furthermore, pedal use depends on the e-bike class. Class 1 are pedal-assist (PAS) machines requiring pedal use to start the motor; their maximum speed is 20 mph. Class 2 e-bikes are similar to Class 1 in that they are PAS-operated with a 20 mph maximum speed. They also come with a throttle, meaning pedal action isn’t required to get the motor running.

Meanwhile, Class 3 e-bikes, offering a maximum 28 mph speed, have only a PAS and not a throttle.

Then there are the out-of-class e-bikes, which don’t fit into the above categories. One example is a throttle-only machine with a maximum speed of 28 mph.

While one class isn’t necessarily better than another, understanding the differences can help you select the right machine for your needs.

Understanding Pedal Assist

The pedal assist system, or PAS, means your motor adds power to your e-bike when you turn the pedals. Pedal assist levels usually rank from Level 0 (no motor usage) to Level 5 (the motor provides maximum output). Depending on the riding conditions:

  • The lower Levels 1 and 2 help give a little push
  • The medium Levels 3 and 4 help manage hills or higher terrain
  • The maximum Level 5 can help you manage challenging hills or boost the machine’s speed

Indeed, there are many benefits of e-bike pedaling with no motor use. Pedaling leads to many health and fitness advantages. Pedaling also helps extend your machine’s battery life and riding range.

But when used properly, pedal assist can enhance your overall riding experience. It helps you ride further, enables you to conquer those difficult climbs, and opens up new terrain you might once have avoided.

Also, note that your PAS experience is enhanced with the right pedal. To find the perfect pedal for your ride, consider where you’ll be riding, the conditions, and even what shoes you wear.

E-Bike Throttles

Unlike their PAS counterparts, e-bikes with throttles don’t rely only on pedal movements for motor engagement. Instead, you activate your machine’s motor with a lever, button, or twist grip on your handlebar. E-bikes with throttles can provide a more relaxed ride. They can also be helpful if you have limited mobility. Many riders rely on throttle-operated bikes for their home-to-work commute.

But remember that extensive throttle use can quickly drain your battery, shortening your range and your battery’s life. Furthermore, state law dictates where and when you can use a throttle-driven e-bike in the United States. Some states prohibit throttle-operated electric bicycles from bike-and-hike paths. Other states require you to have a license to operate a throttle-driven machine.

E-Bike Pedaling Myths

Now we come to the question: Is using an e-bike cheating?

Not necessarily, especially to the casual rider. Coasting on motor power only isn’t the purpose of this machine. Most e-bike users — especially those with throttle machines — remain engaged while riding. The motors enhance the pedaling. They don’t replace it.

Here are a couple of other e-bike myths:

They’re only for old folks

E-bikes are an excellent option for older people with mobility issues who might struggle to pedal for long distances. In fact, in their early days, e-bike manufacturers targeted older demographics. These days, younger riders are joining the fun. To them, e-bikes combine the fitness of traditional cycling with technological advances that make their journeys more fun and exhilarating.

Additionally, many riders view e-bikes as environmentally friendly. Unlike high-carbon-emission cars that depend on gasoline to run, eco-friendly e-bikes are ideal for shopping, meeting up with friends, or commuting to work.

They’re too fast and dangerous

There is a misconception that some e-bikes are similar to motorcycles in that they travel at dangerous rates of speed. In reality, e-bikes are different from the high-speed motorcycles. The top speed of a Class 3 e-bike is 28 miles per hour — these machines also require a speedometer. The maximum speed limit for Class 1 and Class 2 machines is 20 miles per hour. Some studies report that Class 1 e-bikes are only two to three miles per hour faster than traditional bikes.

Pedal-Assist vs. Throttle E-Bikes

When it comes right down to it, both pedal-assist and throttle-assist modes offer advantages and disadvantages. If your riding goal is for fun and you need help with rough terrain and steep hills, you might do well with a pedal assist system. On the other hand, if you’re using your machine for commuting purposes or have mobility or health problems, a throttle-driven e-bike might be your best bet.

Either way, research the advantages and drawbacks of these two e-bike types. Doing so will help ensure you invest in the right machine for the ultimate e-bike riding experience.

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About Our Editorial Team

Amy Sorter 800x
Written by Amy Sorter
Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. An accomplished wordsmith, Amy is highly regarded for creating highly engageable content for non-profit organizations, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.
Taylor Moon
Edited by Taylor Moon
Contributing Editor
Taylor Moon is a seasoned editor and content marketer with a diverse background spanning journalism, entertainment, travel, B2B SaaS, technology, and digital and creative marketing. Outside of her professional realm, she cherishes moments with her husband, daughter, and two dogs, drawing inspiration from both her work and family life.

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