Types of Electric Bikes

When I was recently researching when looking to buy a new electric bike, I wanted to know about the various different types of electric bikes that there are. So, I did some research and compiled my findings into this post.

So, what are the different types of electric bikes? Electric bikes have two classes pedal assist and throttle assist. Pedal assist electric bikes give you assistance each time you pedal and throttle assist electric bikes push you along when you twist the throttle and don’t need to be pedaled.  

There are actually a number of things that differ from one electric bike to another and they can have a big impact on how the e-bike performs. If you are considering getting an electric bike then you should consider the different aspects to e-bikes that I will discuss in this post below.

Classes of E-Bikes

There are two main classes of electric bikes: those that assist you as you pedal and those that push you along with the use of a throttle.

  • Class 1: Pedal Assist (Pedelec)

Pedal assist electric bikes are what are probably the most common type of electric bike available today. They work by giving you an extra push each time you pedal. They do this by making use of a torque or cadence sensor which tell the motor to send more power to the rear wheel. Since these types, electric bikes work by being pedaled they are generally considered more closely to regular bikes and so you do not usually need a license to use one. With that being said, they are still regulated in terms of top speed and power. Generally, these bikes will stop providing power assistance after 20 mph in the US and after 15.4 mph in Europe. The motors are also usually limited to 750 watts in the US depending on the state and 250 watts in Europe.

The higher end versions of these bikes will make use of a torque sensor located where you pedal which tells the motor how hard you are pedaling. If you are pedaling hard then the motor will provide you with more power assistance and if you are pedaling less powerfully it will provide you with less. This helps to give a more smooth and responsive riding experience and helps the bike to go further.

Less expensive pedal-assist e-bikes will use cadence sensors that do a similar job but they are less responsive and are not ideal at lower speeds. They are, however, good when you are maintaining a constant speed. You can read more about cadence sensors and torque sensors in a previous post here.

  • Class2: Throttle Assist

Throttle assist electric bikes work by making one of the wheels turn using the electric motor whenever you twist or push on a throttle. These types of electric bikes do not require the use of the pedals to move, instead, you can solely make the bike move using the throttle without pedaling. As a result, throttle assist electric bikes are more closely compared to scooters than ordinary bikes and as such you will often need a license to use this type of bike depending on your country and state. These types of electric bikes are also banned in Europe so you will not find any throttle assist e-bikes over there.

In class 2 throttle assist electric bikes will normally be limited to provide power up to 20 mph.

  • Class 3: Speed Pedelec

Speed pedelecs are similar to ordinary pedelecs (pedal assist e-bikes) but they have a higher top speed which is normally 28 mph. You will often need a license to ride an e-bike that can go this fast.

It should also be noted that there are also hybrids available that have both a throttle and pedal assistance. They allow you to move the bike without pedaling by using the throttle and will push you further each time you pedal. These types of electric bikes are preferred by a number of people since they enjoy having access to additional power provided by the throttle when cycling in difficult situations such as when going up a hill.

Motor Placement

The placement of the motor can have a big impact on how the electric bike handles and on how it feels. There are three main types of electric bike motors that will be discussed below.

  • Rear Hub

Rear Hub motors get placed on the rear wheel. They work by making the rear wheel spin when you pedal or when you throttle since they can be used with both pedal assisted electric bikes and throttle assisted e-bikes. Since placing the motor on the rear wheel causes extra weight to be sent to the back wheel it can make the bike feel a bit less responsive than usual. With that being said, if you’re going to get a throttle assist electric bike then you should get one with a rear hub since having extra weight on the rear wheel is usually more natural feeling than on the front. Since these types of hubs can be used with both types of e-bikes if the e-bike is a hybrid e-bike then it will use a rear hub.

  • Front hub

These types of hubs make use of having the motor on the front wheel and make the front wheel turn more quickly when you twist the throttle. These types of hubs are very uncommon on pedal assist electric bikes since they need to make use of the drivetrain on the bike. These types of motors are common with conversion kits since it is easier to replace the front wheel on a bike and it can be done on more bikes. The problem with front hub motors is that it causes more weight to be placed at the front of the bike. This can cause the bike to become difficult to handle.

  • Mid-Drive

Mid-drive motors are placed in the middle of the bike and they work by integrating with the bike’s drivetrain. They are generally the most responsive types of motors since they can most easily make use of torque sensors which tell the motor how much assistance to provide based on how hard you are pedaling. Having the motor placed in the middle of the bike also allows for the extra weight to be distributed more evenly giving a more natural feel to the bike when cornering. These types of motors will only be found on pedal assisted e-bikes and not on throttle assisted e-bikes.

When deciding on what type of motor you should get you should consider your budget and the type of bike that you want. If you want a pedal assist e-bike then look for a mid-drive system if your budget allows for it. If you’re looking for a throttle assisted e-bike or a hybrid e-bike then go for a rear-hub.

Battery Placement

Since the battery will be adding a decent amount of weight to the bike the location that it is placed will make a big difference to how the bike behaves.

  • Above the wheel

The first place that you will often find batteries being placed is above the rear wheel. Placing the battery above the rear wheel is more convenient since you will be able to remove the battery more easily. However, it does cause more weight to be placed towards the rear of the bike which can make cornering more difficult.

  • On the frame

The other location that you will find the battery is in the middle of the frame of the bike. This is ideal since it allows for the extra weight to be distributed more evenly allowing for the bike to handle more naturally. Some recent e-bikes are making use of dual batteries where they have two batteries on the frame to allow for a greater range to be possible. In this case, one battery will normally be on the down tube and the other will be on one of the other two parts of the frame.

Conversion Kits

If you want to turn your own bike into an e-bike then you will need to make use of a conversion kit. There are a number of different types of conversion kits available that I will summarise below.

  • Hub motor 

Hub motors work by replacing either the front or the rear wheel with a wheel that has a hub motor that allows for the wheel to be turned using power from the battery. These are generally the easiest to fit and will normally be the least expensive. They can work with pedal sensors or by using a throttle. The problem with them is that they will add weight to the rear or front of the bike and normally can’t be used in the rain.

  • Mid Drive 

There are a number of conversion kits that have appeared recently that allow for you to turn the bike into an electric bike using a mid drive system. This will not require that you replace either of the wheels but you will need to fix the motor to the frame of the bike which can be more difficult. The benefit here though is that you will benefit from a more natural feeling e-bike.

You can read more about conversion kits here.

Types of E-Bikes

  • Comfort/Cruiser

Comfort and cruiser electric bikes are designed to be used in a leisurely manner. They both have big soft seats, an upright riding style, wider than normal tires and walk through frames.

  • Mountain 

Mountain electric bikes are designed to be used off-road. They have front or dual suspension, better brakes (usually), a more aggressive riding style and they have grippy tires. This type of electric bike is very popular and can be used in a wide variety of situations.

  • Folding

Folding electric bikes are designed to be able to be folded so that you can store them more easily. This is useful when you are traveling and don’t have much room in your car and for when you want to cycle to work and store the bike in the office.

  • Racing

Racing electric bikes are designed to be cycled on the road in a way that allows you to go as fast as possible. They have very thin tires to minimize their drag, forward bending handlebars to make you lean forwards and are generally made to be as light as possible.

  • Commuter/Hybrid

These types of electric bikes are designed to be cycled on the road with commuting in mind. They have handlebars similar to those on a mountain bike but thin tires like those on a road bike. If you’re considering getting an electric bike so that you can commute to work on it then this is the type of bike that you will want to look at.

How to Decide on What Type of E-Bike to Get

When deciding on what type of bike to get there are a number of things that you should consider.

If you think that you might be cycling the bike on and off-road then you’ll probably want to look at getting an electric mountain bike since they can be used in a variety of conditions. But, if you know that you will only be using the bike on road then you should consider getting a commuter e-bike.

Consider the amount of weight that you will be carrying on the bike. If the combination of your own weight and the weight of any luggage that you will be carrying will be high then you should consider getting an e-bike with a higher amount of power and with a larger battery since you will need more power to push the bike along and a bigger battery to keep it going.

Consider the storage options that you have available. If you do not have space to store the bike easily then you might want to look at getting a folding e-bike since that will allow you to store it more easily. Also if you do not think that you will be able to store it in a safe location regularly then you might want to opt for a cheaper option since it could be stolen.

The most helpful thing to do when looking to get an electric bike is to go to a local bike shop and take one out for a test ride. That way you will be able to see the bike in person and get to find out whether or not you like the way that it rides.

Related Questions

How much do electric bikes weigh? Electric bikes generally weigh 20 pounds more than they would have done of they were a normal bike. This is because the battery and motor will add to the weight of the bike.

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