When I was deciding on what electric bike to get, I wondered whether or not I should get a pedal assist (pedelec) or a throttle assist electric bike. So, I did some research and testing to find the pros and cons of each.
So, should you get a pedal assist e-bike or a throttle assist one? Pedal assist electric bikes are more common, offer more of a workout, tend to have a longer range and usually do not require a license. Throttle assist e-bikes are able to get up to speed more quickly, require less effort and can still be pedaled but have more legal restrictions.
There are actually a lot of considerations to be made before deciding on whether or not to get a pedal assisted bike or a throttle assisted one. Depending on your situation it is likely that one is going to be better than the other for you.
Pedal assisted bikes work by using an electric motor to give you an extra boost when you pedal. Depending on where you live they will normally be limited to provide assistance up to 20 mph. The amount of assistance provided by the motor can normally be raised or lowered using an LCD on the bike’s handlebars.
The electric motor can either be placed where you pedal and provide assistance to you by turning the drivetrain like you do when pedaling or they can be placed on the front or rear wheel and provide assistance by making the wheel turn.
You’ll only find electric bikes with motors in the middle on pedal assisted electric bikes and not on throttle assisted bikes. The location of the motor can have a large impact on how the electric bike rides.
If the motor’s on the front then there will be more weight towards the front of the bike which can make turning somewhat awkward. You’ll only find electric motors on the front lower end of pedal-assisted e-bikes or on e-bike conversion kits since it’s normally easier to modify the front wheel of the bike.
Torque Sensors vs Cadence Sensors
There are two main types of pedal assist electric bikes. There are those that use a torque sensor and there are those that use a cadence sensor.
Torque sensor pedal assist e-bikes make use of a torque sensor located where you pedal that tells the controller how much power is needed from the battery for the motor based on how hard you are pedaling. If you are pedaling hard then more power will be sent to the motor and it will provide you with more assistance. If you’re pedaling lightly then the motor will provide you with less power.
By providing energy according to how hard you are pedaling, the battery is able to last longer since only as much power as you need gets provided. It’s also slightly safer since it means that you won’t suddenly get a surge of power that throws you off guard. It’s because of this that you’ll usually find torque sensors on higher-end electric bikes.
Cadence sensors work by monitoring how fast the magnets on the chainring are moving past the magnet sensor and then an amount of energy is provided to the motor based on the number of rotations of the chain. These types of sensors are more common on cheaper electric bikes since the sensors are less expensive.
Cadence sensors work well when you won’t be changing your speed often such as when you’re commuting but if you’re going to be regularly changing your speed then they’re not as good since they don’t make small power adjustments very well.
Pros of Pedal Assist Electric Bikes
Pedal assist electric bikes are the most common type of electric bike and they come with a number of advantages over throttle assist electric bikes. Below I will mention some of the main advantages that they have.
- Can have the motor in the middle
Since pedal-assist e-bikes can have the motor in the middle it means that they can distribute the weight more evenly. By having the motor in the middle it will just make the bike feel slightly heavier than an ordinary bike without causing large handling differences.
Throttle assist electric bikes can’t do this so they often must compromise on handling in order to be able to out the electric motor on the front or the rear wheel.
Since with pedal assist electric bikes, you must pedal it means that, when cycling these types of e-bikes, you will still be getting a workout. This means that if you don’t want to cycle and ordinary bike because it requires too much effort or you just don’t want to then you can still get a workout when using an electric bike.
This is especially helpful for older people who want to be able to stay active but aren’t quite able to use ordinary bikes.
It also means that if you’re out of shape and want to get back into cycling then electric bikes can offer you an easy way to break back into being able to cycle. For many people, going from not cycling at all straight to an ordinary bike represents too much of a jump and if they were to try they’d quickly get discouraged and stop but an e-bike gives them an opportunity for an easier progression.
You can also opt to turn the power assistance of and use the electric bike like a normal bike and get the full benefits that they provide.
If you’re interested in how e-bikes can help you with fitness then you might be interested in reading Can You Get Fit on an E-Bike?
- Don’t need a license
Another advantage that pedal-assist e-bikes have over throttle assist electric bikes is that they usually do not require the user to have a license. In most areas throttle assist electric bikes are considered as motorized bikes and require that you get a license but pedal-assist e-bikes avoid this issue.
Many areas do still require the rider to be a minimum age though. If you want to read more about the electric bike laws in your area then Wikipedia has a good article on them.
- Longer range
Cycling a pedal assist bike on max power will quickly cause you to run out of battery. However, because you can change the level of assistance on pedal assist electric bikes it means that you can get a lot more range out of them. But, with throttle assist bikes you do not have this option so it’s a lot harder to get more range out of the battery.
Cons of Pedal Assist E-Bikes
There are some cons to getting a pedal assisted bike.
Even though having to pedal can be seen as an advantage since it means that you will be getting more of a workout, it does mean that you won’t be able to get the full assistance from the motor when things start getting difficult such as when going up hills. But, then again, you can still put the assistance setting up to the max which will still provide you with a lot of power assistance.
- Slower to get up to speed
Something that throttle assisted bikes can do is get you up to speed quickly this can be beneficial when trying to tackle steep hills or when trying to get away at an intersection quickly. Pedal assist electric bikes can still help with this but not quite as much as throttle assist electric bikes.
Throttle Assist E-Bikes
Throttle assist electric bikes allow you to either push down on a button or twist a throttle to make the electric motor push the bike forward. Depending on your area they will normally be limited to 20 mph. These types of electric bikes do not require that you pedal but you can still pedal if you want to.
The higher-end models of throttle assisted bikes will usually have the motor placed on the rear wheel. Since these types of bikes use the motor to make the wheels turn directly you won’t find the motor on the middle of the bike.
Pros of Throttle Assist Electric Bikes
There are a number of advantages of getting a throttle assisted bike and depending on your needs and where you live a throttle assisted electric bike could be right for you.
Throttle assisted electric bikes can get you up to speed very quickly. This acceleration can be very useful for you when you are trying to get up a hill. Sometimes the power provided by the motor will not be sufficient but in these cases, you can give the bike an extra push by pedaling yourself.
- Crossing intersections
Another area where this extra acceleration can be useful is at intersections. Often, in these situations, being on an ordinary bike can be tricky since getting up to speed can take some time meaning that you sometimes you’ll be stuck there for a while. Throttle assisted bikes can help you here since they will help you to go when it previously wouldn’t have been an option.
- Can rest when needed
You don’t have to use the throttle on throttle assist electric bikes all of the time. This means that you can cycle the bike like an ordinary bike if you want to so you can still get a workout when using a throttle assisted bike. Then, when you start to tire, you can just use the throttle to get you on your way. This can be useful for helping you to gradually improve your fitness without having to put in a big effort right from the start.
- Don’t have to gear down
Something that can be quite frustrating, when cycling, when cycling is having to gear down as you come up to something that will cause you to slow down. Throttle assist electric bikes can help in these situations since you can simply use the throttle to get going again without needing to gear down.
- Better for commuting
For many people, electric bikes represent a more healthy less expensive way to get to work. In these cases, a throttle assisted electric bike can be useful since they can get you to work more quickly without having to get hot and sweaty.
With that being said, many people do still use pedal assist e-bikes for this purpose and the extra range they provide can be useful in these situations.
Cons of Throttle Assisted E-Bikes
There are a number of reasons that you might want to avoid getting a throttle assisted bike and depending on your location it might not even be an option.
- Motor can’t go in the middle
Since throttle assist e-bikes use the motor to make the wheels turn directly it means that it can’t be placed easily in the middle of the bike. Which means that it can only be placed on the front or rear tires. This can be problematic since the extra weight located towards the front or rear of the bike can cause handling to be more difficult.
In many areas throttle assist electric bikes are considered to be motorized bikes meaning that you will need to get a license to ride one. This can take some time to do and can cost quite a bit extra.
Since you don’t need to pedal on throttle assisted electric bikes it means that you won’t get as much of a workout as you would on an ordinary bike. This means that if your primary goal is to get back in to shape then a pedal assist electric bike is more for you.
- Not legal in Europe
In the European Union throttle assisted electric bikes are not allowed to be used so if you live in the EU this type of bike is not an option.
- Can’t go on bike paths sometimes
Because these types of bikes are often not classified as bikes it means that they can not be used on bike paths in some situations. Whether or not you will be able to will depend on the local laws in your area.
You Could Get Both
There are a number of bikes available in certain areas that will allow you to use them as a pedal assisted bike or as a throttle assist bike.
If you’re still torn between which type of bike to get then this could be a good option for you since you can make use of the benefits that both types of these bikes provide.
If you’re considering getting a bike that can do both then you should make sure that throttle assisted bikes are allowed in your area before you get once since if throttle assisted bikes are not allowed then this type of bike will not be allowed either.
If you want to get one of these bikes then I would recommend that you try to use the throttle only when it is necessary since that way you will be able to increase the potential range of the bike while also improving your fitness.
How does an electric bike throttle work? On throttle assist electric bikes you can either push on a button or twist a throttle to make the bike move. It works by causing energy to be sent from a battery to an electric motor located on one of the wheels that will then make it turn.
How fast can electric bikes go? Both pedal assist and throttle assist electric bikes will tend to be limited to stop providing power at a certain speed. In the USA the speed limit tends to be 20 mph but can be as high as 28 mph and in Europe, this limit will be 15.4 mph.