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5 Types of Electric Bicycles (E-Bikes) Explained

Electric bicycles, or e-bikes as they have come to be known, are growing in popularity as an eco-friendly transport option in large cities and a recreational alternative to normal bicycles. Several types of e-bikes are available, each with different designs regarding drive power, features, and battery placement.

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Electric bikes have advanced dramatically with the improvement of battery technology, making them more viable than earlier models. Electric bikes are increasing in popularity, from pedal assist to throttle-controlled bikes, mid-drive to hub-drive bikes, and various battery placement options.

1. Pedal Assist Or Pedelec Electric Bikes

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Electric bikes have been around since the 1930s, but the battery and electric motor technology has improved dramatically since those early years.

Electric bikes are easy to ride, economical to run and maintain, and have less of a negative impact on the environment than vehicles with combustion engines.

Many countries classify electric bikes or e-bikes as bicycles rather than mopeds or motorcycles. This classification eliminates the requirement to register the electric bike and undergo a process to obtain an operator’s license, as is the case with mopeds and motorcycles.

Pedal assist or pedelec electric bikes can be solely powered by pedaling or have the motor assist with the pedal power supplied by the rider.

The rider rides the bike normally but can engage the electric motor to assist, increasing the power delivered to the rear wheel.

This assistance makes riding easier, especially on terrain with hills or steep inclines. The motor only supplies assistance while the rider is pedaling. When the rider stops pedaling, the motor no longer provides assistance.

This feature prevents the motor from continuing to propel the bike forward if the rider is not pedaling, preventing accidents, controlling the bike’s top speed, and allowing the bike to be used where standard bikes are used.

The motors on pedelec electric bikes often have settings the rider can select to increase or decrease the amount of assistance the motor provides.

These electric bikes can be classified as Class-1 e-bikes in Europe and the USA if they fall within certain speed limitations. As a Class-1 e-bike, they can be ridden anywhere in cities, including roads, walkways, and paths, where normal bicycles can be used.

For a pedelec bike to meet the requirements of a Class-1 e-bike in Europe, the motor must not be able to propel the bicycle at speeds exceeding 15mph or 25kph. The power of the motor is also limited to a maximum of 250W.

The regulations in the US require the electric bike not to be capable of speeds exceeding 20mph or 32kph to be classified as a Class-1 electric bike.

Pedelec Electric Bike Pros And Cons
Several benefits make pedal-assist electric bikes the best-selling electric bike type and continue to make them a popular option.

  • No operating license or vehicle registration requirements
  • Better range since power is supplied by pedaling and electric power
  • You can ride in more locations
  • Feels similar to riding a standard bicycle
  • You can ride the bike even if the battery is drained

The only drawback of the pedelec bikes is that the motor only engages when you pedal. The bike cannot be propelled by the motor alone.

2. Throttle Controlled Electric Bikes

Throttle-controlled electric bikes are sometimes called power-on-demand electric bikes. There are various types of these electric bikes, some with the same power motors as pedelecs, but others have more powerful motors and can reach higher speeds.

The biggest difference between throttle-controlled and pedelec bikes is that the electric motor can be engaged whenever the rider requires the motor’s assistance.

The most common method of engaging the motor is via a twist throttle, similar to a motorcycle, on the right-hand grip of the handlebar.

The twist throttle is rotated to engage the motor and increase or decrease the power that the motor delivers to the rear wheel.

There are other mechanisms to engage the motor, such as a throttle lever or button control, but these options are less popular.

The power-on-demand feature of this type of electric bike has led to them being classified as Class-2 electric bikes.

The motor on these bikes can deliver power whether the rider is pedaling or not, which has resulted in this type of electric bike being restricted in areas where you can ride it, requiring a license to operate, or being banned entirely in some countries.

The restrictions on using throttle-controlled electric bikes are mostly in Europe, where these bikes are not allowed. There are laws in the United States that regulate the use of electric bicycles. According to the Seattle Times, Washington state allows the use of Class-1 and Class-2 on shared-use paths, although local governments can set their own restrictions.

With these specifications, you may be able to use a throttle-controlled electric bike in the same locations as a pedelec bike without the inconvenience of licenses or registrations.

If the motor is more powerful than 250W or the electric bike is capable of speeds above 20 mph or 32 kph, the bike is classified as a moped and will be subject to the registration and licensing of the rider.

Some e-bikes in this class come with both pedal assist and throttle control. Bikes with both options generally have a toggle or push button switch allowing you to switch between the different drive modes.

Throttle-Controlled Electric Bikes Pros And Cons
The main advantage of throttle-controlled electric bikes is that you do not have to keep pedaling to engage the motor.

These types of electric bikes are particularly advantageous for people with injuries or disabilities that prevent them from riding more traditional bicycles.

The disadvantages of throttle-controlled e-bikes are as follows.

  • Higher learning curve. There is a higher learning curve to riding these bikes since they operate more like a motorcycle than a standard bicycle.
  • A shorter range between charges. The lack of pedal assistance means the battery is drained faster since it propels the bike without any power from the rider.
  • Lower exercise value. The rider is required to expend less energy, which lowers the exercise value of bike riding.

3. Speed Pedelec or S-Pedelec Electric Bikes

Speed pedelec electric bikes have the same design, structure, and configuration as standard pedelec electric bikes but have considerably more powerful motors.

The more powerful motor can propel the bike at speeds of up to 28mph or 45kph, which has resulted in these types of electric bikes being classified as Class-3 electric bikes.

Due to the more powerful motor and the higher speeds attainable on these electric bikes, they are often not classified as bicycles but as motor vehicles, usually in the same class as motorcycles.

As a result, they require registration and a license to operate, and the places where you can ride these bikes are restricted to roadways. These electric bikes are classed as mopeds in countries where they are used.

These electric bikes are the least popular due to the restrictions on the places where they can be used and the registration and licensing requirements.

4. Mid-Drive Electric Bikes

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Electric bikes have different configurations where the motor power is applied to drive the bike. Mid-drive electric bikes have the motor positioned on the lower bracket of the bike’s frame, and the motor directly drives the pedal crank.

This design is the most common in pedelec bikes since the motor power is directly associated with the rider driving the pedals. This configuration allows for sensors to be placed on the crank to offer different engagement sensors for the motor, either cadence or torque sensors.

The torque sensors are the best option since they detect how hard the rider is pedaling, and the power from the motor is adjusted accordingly. Lower-end pedelec bikes have cadence sensors on the crank to control the mid-drive motor.

Mid-drive motors also have the advantage in that they drive the back wheel via the chain, which allows the motor to use the bike’s gears to power the bicycle more efficiently and effectively.

The central position of the motor and the low position on the bike provides better weight distribution on the bike. The center of gravity is not affected, and the bike handles better as a result.

5. Hub-Drive Electric Bikes

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Hub-drive electric bikes have the motor mounted on the hub of the rear or front wheel. These electric bikes have specially designed wheels where the motor is incorporated directly in the wheel’s hub.

Front-hub drive motors are the easiest to implement on an electric bike but are the least effective and produce the most complications. They add weight to the front wheel, making the steering heavy and cumbersome.

Traction problems can occur with front-hub motors since most of the weight on the bike is carried on the backend. These problems make this type of motor drive on electric bikes the least popular.

Front-hub motors are usually supplied as a conversion kit to convert standard bikes to electric bikes because they require the least modifications.

Front-hub drive motors are the more common motor configuration for throttle-controlled electric bikes and are seldom seen on pedelec bikes.

Rear-hub drive electric bikes have the drive motor installed in the rear wheel’s hub. This position allows the motor to provide more torque to overcome the weight on the bike, and it does not affect the steering effectiveness.

Rear-hub drives are more versatile and can be used on pedelec and throttle-controlled electric bikes. These motors can create an uneven weight distribution on the rear wheel axle, adversely affecting the bike’s handling.

Rear hub motors are popular for retrofitting to older bikes that do not have frames that can accommodate a mid-drive motor.

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