That’s why we’re here to give you the lowdown with everything you need to know about how e-bikes work.
E-bikes in a nutshell
An electric bike looks like a regular cycle for all intents and purposes but with one key difference: the motor. It’s powered by a motor, battery and sometimes a throttle, which sort of makes it an alternative – and cheaper – option to driving a car.
A standard electric bike uses something called ‘pedal-assist, which sees you pumping the pedals to spring the motor into life and help push you forward faster than a regular cycle (around 15-20 mph).
What makes up an e-bike?
Remember those key components – the motor and the battery – that make up an e-bike? They really are the crux of what an electric cycle entails, with each part playing a key role in providing you with an e-bike cycling experience.
There are two primary motor types for e-bikes: hub motors and mid-drive motors. The hub motor works by sitting on the front or rear wheel, while the mid-drive is mounted in the bike’s centre and connected to a pedal sprocket.
Hub motors tend to be the more affordable option, but they can also act as heavy objects that make your ride somewhat unstable. You can expect a slightly more sturdy ride with a mid-drive motor as it’s mounted to the centre.
Hub motors also come in two forms: front hub and rear hub. As you’ve probably guessed already, the front hub is on the front wheel and helps balance out the centre of gravity to an extent. Most front hub drives use a torque sensor, which is a type of throttle that senses how much power it needs to send to the motor based on your pedalling performance. A rear-hub motor, on the other hand, sits on the back wheel. It gets better traction, though it’s not quite as efficient as a front-hub option.
Lastly, there’s the mid-drive motor, which sits in the middle of the bike. Using a mid-drive gives you a better gear ratio, so it’s easy to move between gears – great for when you’re pedalling on a hill.
An electric bike needs a battery to power it; otherwise, it’s not really electric, and you’ve got yourself a plain old cycle. The battery drives the motor, which, along with your feet, gets you to where you need to go.
Most e-bikes in the UK have around 250 watts of power, with anything above this requiring you to register the bike with the DVLA and insure it the same way you would a car. This is a law for e-bikes, so it’s within your best interest to get one limited to 250w if you don’t want to register it.
The higher-end e-bikes tend to feature lithium-ion batteries, which are lightweight and make the ride feel much smoother. However, nickel-cadmium batteries are also an option if you’re looking to keep the overall cost down.
Lithium-ions are the top-rated batteries, and they power your bike for anywhere between 10 to 40 miles on a single charge – though you can always use your feet should the battery die during a ride. Charging typically takes around three to six hours.
How do batteries work?
Not all e-bike batteries are created equally. Batteries on pedal-assist bikes start when you begin pedalling, boosting your speed and power in the process. Many riders enjoy this option as it gives them control over how much juice they get from the motor and what they do with their feet.
The other option is electric power only, which is powered up by a throttle. Electric-only bikes don’t require human assistance to move, but their battery drains much faster than a pedal assist. They also require more safety regulations and are likely to exceed 250w, meaning they’ll need to be registered and legally insured.
What about the e-bike’s body work?
The frames on most regular bikes feature aluminium alloy to give them lightweight efficiency. It’s the same for high-quality e-bikes, which go faster when there’s a lighter frame involved. They also need to be more durable than a regular bike, as the torque means an electric bike provides power moving forward.
Then there’s the pedals, cranks, chain, chainrings and cogs, which all combine to get your e-bike moving forward (all known as the ‘drivetrain’). E-bikes with a mid-drive motor power the drivetrain directly and make it easier for you to shift gears and pedal the bike.
Pump the breaks
Breaks are super-important with e-bikes, especially as you’re going faster than a regular cycle. Brakes, therefore, need to be more substantial, and you can expect to find hydraulic disc brakes on most e-bikes.
They stop quickly in all types of weather conditions, making the e-bike feel safer to ride in the wind, rain or snow. There are also rim brakes, which need hardly any maintenance. They offer a good level of power for stopping suddenly, but not quite at the same level as hydraulic options.
What else should I know about how e-bikes work?
The first e-bikes mainly were powered by throttles, using a ‘twist and go’ mechanism that saw you push a button on the handlebars to power the bike. However, nowadays, the majority of newer bikes are made with pedal-assist systems.
Electric assistance systems (EAS) are one of the primary enablers to get a pedal-assist e-bike working smoothly. Instead of a throttle, the EAS generates power to the drivetrain through the pedals.
You’ll find two main versions of EAS: cadence sensors and torque sensors. Cadence sensors are a throttle powered by your feet, while torque sensors measure how hard your feet press on the pedals and decide how much power the drivetrain needs to get your e-bike moving a little bit faster. Most e-bikes use cadence, though torque features on newer models.
An e-bike that just works
Now you know how e-bikes work, you can feel more confident about getting one on the road and taking it for a spin. And with so many people deciding to go electric with their next bicycle choice, you’d be joining a growing community of e-bike riders who are part of the electric cycle revolution.