Do Electric Bikes Have Gears? (And When to Use Them)

December 19, 2021

Although most online articles about bike parts focus purely on the battery, the motor, and the bike chain, it's also very important to know more about bike gears. Bike gears are a really interesting topic, especially since the advancements in cycling gave us much more options and choices, introducing us to some very high-performing gears.

Did you know that some modern electric bikes have gears that allow you to reach speeds you never could if you had a mechanical bike? You physically wouldn't be able to pedal as fast and move as quickly. Let's discuss bike gears and the appropriate ways to use them and remain safe while you're out there.

What Are Bike Gears?

You can think about bike gears as different pedaling options that provide different speeds. The point of bike gears would be to provide greater speed, but you have to put more effort into your pedaling in return. Many buyers seem confused about whether their bike has gears, especially if they own a mechanical bike. This confusion results from misinformation - some people think the motor is where the gears are located, which is not the case. The bike itself has gears, and we explain this later in the text.

To put it shortly, motors do not have gears - they just run, no shifting required. However, bikes themselves do have gears used while riding uphill or downhill. Not all electric bikes have many gears to offer, though, so make sure that you always look into the product's specifications before buying.

Many think that all e-bike models have gears, probably because they have concluded that "gears" are "in the motor," but as mentioned before, this isn't the case. So to conclude, not all bikes have gears, but those that do are usually either a 1-speed, 3-speed, 7-speed, or even a 21-speed model, allowing you to shift between the said number of gears.

gears

How To Shift Gears?

If you had a mechanical bike before, and your bike had gears, you probably already know how to shift them. The handle that helps you shift gears is usually at the very front of the bike, located somewhere between your two hands as you hold them on the handlebar. It's important to note that shifting gears should be done only when pedaling your bike.

With regard to e-bikes you don't want to shift gears while you are in pedal-assist! Also, if you've activated the full-throttle option, you still have to pedal while shifting the speeds. If you don't, there is a chance that your bike's chain will get stuck or fall off the mechanism.

Remember that you have to use the lower gears when hill climbing, as you want a more comfortable pedaling experience. Higher gears are used for traveling at faster speeds, and although it might be harder to pedal, you'll gain much better momentum. Most riders bike somewhere in between, but we suggest you discover what type of pedaling works for you.

riding in mountains

For now, you need to keep in mind that lower gears mean easier pedaling, and higher gears mean tougher pedaling. You have to break a sweat if you want speed! Now that many modern advancements have been introduced into electric biking, electronic gear shifting has become a real hit. It is a method of precise shifting on derailleur gear systems. We talk about gear systems later, so read on for better understanding.

Electronic shifting means no cables between the handlebars and the gears, unlike classic gear shifting implemented on most mechanical bikes. Although these cables aren't expensive or bulky, they can be quite annoying if you are an experienced rider and looking to get an even better riding experience. These systems have built-in detection sensors that offer precise gear shifting, and the bikes often self-regulate the speed. However, this premium experience comes with a high price tag.

The Anatomy Of Gear Shifting

If you want to know more about shifting speeds and choosing paddling modes, you have to know some basic info on derailleurs, as well as the bike's chain.

Your bike either has derailleur gears or hub gears, but derailleur gears are much more common. Your bike has two different derailleurs, the rear on the wheel and the front right between your pedals. The chain around these derailleurs helps you connect the pedals to the wheels. The pulling of the chains and the switch of tension is how shifting the gears works.

The shifter on your handlebar is what you use to control the tension. If you have heard of brands such as Shimano and SRAM, you'll probably know some of the most famous derailleur gear makers. Derailleur systems are usually more lightweight, and they're also more affordable if anything breaks and needs to be replaced. You get a pretty wide range of gears with them, but the open elements are often prone to breaking and getting a little bit dirty, which is why regular maintenance is key.

On the other hand, hub gears look slightly different, as they are encased in the rear hub on the center of the wheel, and the most popular option you could buy if you're interested in hub gears is the 8-speed hub gear. They are a little heavier and more expensive, but they are low maintenance and don't include a chain drive. Instead, they have a belt drive that works with tensions similarly to the system we've talked about before.

If something in your hub gear breaks, you'll have to visit a maintenance specialist, as you can't open the hub and fix this on your own. Unless you're getting an 11-speed setup or a 14-speed setup, you'll also get less efficiency than you would with an equivalent derailleur + chain system.

The last option would be to get a CVT system, essentially a continuously variable transmission system. It is used when you don't want to choose from a set number of gears but continuously rotate the handgrip or use a button to move the range around. Such a system gives better control over your gears and ensures that you never get out of gear. It's low maintenance, but it's pretty heavy. Most mid-drive motor hubs by Bosch have this system, which is why their bikes can be a bit pricier sometimes.

How Many Gears Do I Need?

The simpler the terrain, the fewer gears you need. Many think that getting the single speed option seems to be the best choice for their city biking habits, but it won't even be the cheapest, so it would be nice if you could get something better for the same price. If you want to keep things low maintenance and the weight of your bike doesn't vary a lot, we recommend hub gears.

On the other hand, if you expect a high-performance setup, whether that is because you are into mountain biking or sports, derailleurs offer better control and protection. The advanced CVT system is most suitable for electric bike newbies, and you shouldn't debate getting them like a pro. However, if you have a kid or you're gifting a bike to someone who hasn't been riding yet, CVT systems are the way to go.

Hub Gear

When To Shift Gears?

There are two different reasons you would want to use the gear shifting options provided by your bike. The first reason is to make things easier for yourself and switch into a gear that makes pedaling easier. You can do this if you are tired or going uphill. As we previously mentioned, lower gears provide better comfort while riding uphill, while higher gears demand more pedaling but provide more speed. You'll have to figure out the sweet spot on your own, especially since every gear system is different.

Some other situations where you might want to switch your gears are going uphill, going downhill, riding for a long time on flat terrain, switching from difficult terrain to an easier one, and vice versa. So, naturally, if you are in a rush, you might want to set your gear system to a higher level.

The other reason you'd want to shift gears is to save battery power. While using pedal assist on your electric bike, traveling at low speeds results in battery saving, as your electric motor doesn't need to help you out, and you're the one doing all the work. However, while you are riding at higher speeds, if you're using the appropriate, higher gear, the motor is resting as well.

The conclusion is that using the right gear at the right speed helps a lot, no matter the actual speed. You have to make sure that you use them appropriately and match them well - the gear and the speed.

switching gears

Conclusion

Electric bikes either have a derailleur system, a hub system, or a CVT system that allows you to switch gears whenever you want to switch up the speed or the biking style. Effective use of the gear shifting option makes sure you can enjoy your ride while saving battery, and it also helps you ride uphill with more ease. Of course, properly shifting the speed is something you'll have to learn about as you ride your bike, but it's really easy to get a good feeling for it.


About the author

Emma was born and raised in the UK, studied in Amsterdam (where she discovered her passion for biking), and is currently living in Ohio. Her main passion is cycling, that's why she is always looking for an amazing new e-bike to make her journey even more unforgettable!

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