Understanding E-bike Modes: Pedal-Assisted Vs. Throttle

October 11, 2020

The e-bike generation keeps on growing with each year that comes and enthusiasts are looking for the best way to get around on their battery-powered two-wheelers. One of the most popular debates you’ll come across on e-bike groups and forums is to pit pedal-assisted bikes against those that come with a throttle.

While both e-bike modes offer different benefits to riders, it can be a bit confusing for a beginner to choose between the two.

In this post, we offer a detailed comparison between the two to help you make an informed decision when it comes down to pedal-assist vs throttle electric bikes!

Man riding a bike

Class 1, 2, and 3 Electric Bikes

Many states in the U.S adopt a class-based system in categorizing the different types of electric bicycles available for commuting. This helps to regulate the use of e-bikes on the road and usually entails the following:

Class 1 E-bike

Also known as a low-speed pedal-assisted bicycle, this type of e-bike comes with a motor that kicks in only when the rider starts to pedal. However, the motor-assistance will cut off when you reach a speed of 20mph.

Class 2 E-bike

This type of e-bike can also be referred to as a low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle. It is equipped with a throttle that you can switch on to benefit from the motor assistance. Unlike Class 1 above, the motor doesn’t wait for you to start pedaling to kick in; it can be used exclusively to drive the bike.

However, the motor will only assist up to a maximum speed of 20mph.

Class 3 E-bike

The final class of e-bikes is known as speed pedal-assisted electric bicycles. Similar to the Class 1 bike, the motor on this bike will only engage when the rider starts to pedal. The only difference is that the assistance is maintained to a speed of 28mph, at which the motor will cut off.

E-Bike modes

Pedal-assisted vs. Throttle E-bikes

Pedal-assist Mode

Pedal-assist or pedelec mode works by activating motor assistance only when you’re pedaling (Class 1 and 2). For those accustomed to riding a regular bike, this mode offers a more intuitive feel compared to the throttle mode.

The pedal-assist mode also allows you to focus on the pedaling and not worry about holding the throttle in position to get the motor assistance. Considering that you also inject some energy to propel the bike, pedal-assist mode tends to deliver more battery range compared to throttle mode.

Note that the pedal-assist mode can offer various levels of assistance, starting from low to medium and finally high assistance. You’ll find some e-bikes with up to 5 pedal-assist mode settings.

Throttle Mode

The throttle mode works in the same way as a scooter or motorcycle. By pressing the throttle, the motor is engaged and propels the bike forward. This is similar to pressing the gas pedal when driving a car.

The benefit of having a throttle on your bike is that it allows you to just “kickback” and enjoy the ride without lifting a finger. Most throttles can also provide assistance between low and high power which the rider can adjust as required.

Most e-bikes in the U.S come with the throttle feature, although some countries consider it a hazard and don’t allow such on their bikes; only pedal-assist!

Pedal-assist and Throttle Mode

Some electric bikes combine both the pedal-assist and throttle modes! This allows you to get some assistance from the motor by pedaling but also enables you to increase this when you twist the throttle. 


Differences Between Pedal-assist and Throttle E-bikes

The main difference between these two modes comes about when you consider the range you get from the battery while riding. Electric bikes are equipped with a battery that stores electricity, which it supplies to the motor. 

If you use a battery with the same capacity on both a pedal-assist and throttle bike, you will notice the difference in the range for each of these assisted E-bikes. With the pedal-assisted bike, you only use a limited amount of the motor power because the motor only kicks in to complement the effort from your pedaling. 

Depending on the level of assistance required, you will use less motor assistance using a lower level of pedal assist , the higher the pedal assistance required the more motor power (and therefore battery usage) is required. 

On the other hand, pressing the throttle on an e-bike signals the battery to activate the motor almost immediately, flooding it with electric power. Given that the motor power is used exclusively to propel the bike, a higher percentage of stored energy from the battery is spent.

Furthermore, some bikes have a full-throttle function with an “on or off” switch. This means you are unable to control the amount of electricity used to drive the bike, reducing the range you get from the battery on a single charge.

Another aspect to consider is that pedal-assisted bikes come with a feature known as regenerative braking or even regenerative pedaling. This unique aspect allows the battery to recharge every time you’re pedaling without using electric-assist or when you’re braking.

In the end, pedal-assisted e-bikes are more energy conserving while throttle bikes tend to burn through the stored energy relatively faster! If you were to fit a 12V lithium-ion battery on a full-throttle bike, you’ll typically get around 22-40 miles of range. 

Use the same battery on a pedal-assisted e-bike and the range will extend to around 55 miles, although this may be affected by some factors like the nature of the terrain and pedal-assist setting. 

Fortunately, it is quite rare that you’ll be commuting for more than 20 miles on your e-bike, and this leaves you with enough time to recharge the battery back to 100% capacity when you get back home. 

However, this could mean something entirely different when you’re using the e-bike for outdoor adventures that may continue for more than 20 miles.

For a full-throttle bike, it may mean that you either carry an extra battery or pause your journey constantly to recharge the battery!

Pedal-assisted E-bikes

Benefits of Pedal-assisted E-bikes

If you’re used to riding a normal bike, investing in a pedal-assisted e-bike will give you a smoother transition into the e-biking experience. Furthermore, you will reach your destination much faster using the pedal assist functionality. Some of the advantages of pedal-assisted e-bikes include:

Longer Range

Riding a pedal-assisted electric bike allows you to cover more distance on a single charge. This is due to the fact that the motor only kicks in when you start pedaling and just a percentage of the power is used, depending on the effort you put into pedaling. 

This means more energy from the battery is conserved to save you from frequent charging sessions. Furthermore, these pedal-assisted bikes provide you with a choice of how much assistance you require from the motor depending on the nature of the terrain.

Great for Exercising

If you’re buying a pedal-assisted electric bike to exercise, then you’re on the right track! Unlike traditional bikes, pedelecs prevent you from wearing yourself down in a matter of minutes. The pedal-assist kicks in to ensure that you don’t experience premature fatigue, keeping you on the bike for a longer period. 

Whether you are trying to lose weight or achieve a leaner body, pedal-assisted e-bikes let you conserve energy which allows you to ride greater distances. 

Furthermore, there is less wear and tear on your muscles and joints with this kind of biking, which ensures that your body is always in good shape to start the next exercise session on your bike. 

Cost-friendly

Depending on where you reside in the country, the average cost of charging a lithium-ion battery ranges anywhere between $0.10 to 0.20! If you use your bike to commute to work on weekdays, it means you only get to spend around $1 per week. 

This is almost half of what it will cost you if you chose to use a throttle driven e-bike that burns through the conserved energy quickly. It is also a tiny fraction of the up to $80 per week on average that you’ll cough up to purchase gasoline for your car if your daily commute is 150 miles long.

A More Natural Ride

For someone who’s trying out e-biking for the first time, PA systems offer you a more seamless experience compared to throttle electric bikes. The pedal-assist feels more natural when it kicks in to offer you a ride that is not too different from cycling on a traditional bike. 

This is unlike in throttle bikes, where the sudden surge in propulsion can easily knock the wind out of your system!

Regenerative Braking

Some pedal-assisted e-bicycles come with a unique feature called regenerative braking, which serves to conserve the battery energy while prolonging your cycling range. The battery recharges itself whenever you brake, recovering some % of charge to keep you on the trail longer!

Cons of Pedal-assisted E-bikes

PA System can be a disadvantage when you find yourself in hilly terrain during the course of your commute. If the slope is too steep, you will have a hard time clearing it without putting enough pedaling effort because the motor assistance is only as good as the effort you put in.

Benefits of Throttle E-bikes

Best for Climbs

Throttle e-bikes come in handy when you encounter a steep climb on the trail. A single press of the button provides you with enough power to clear the hill without much hassle. Throttles also provide an immediate acceleration which is great!

Stress-free Riding

With throttle e-bikes, you can enjoy riding your bike without using your own energy. This is because the throttle can be used to exclusively power the bike; so, if you’re too tired to ride or nursing a leg injury, a throttle bike is the perfect commuter for you!

Cons of Throttle E-bikes

Reduced Range

The main disadvantage of using a throttle electric bike is that it burns through the battery power quickly. This limits the amount of time you can spend on your bike and forces you to charge the battery more frequently, which is not good for the health of the battery.

Throttle E-bikes

Takes Time to Get Used to

If you’ve never ridden a motorbike before, then it will take you some time to get acclimated to the sudden surge of power that kicks in when you twist the throttle. This can also put you in danger when you’re in traffic if you are not familiar with throttle power.

Legislation

In some countries, throttle e-bikes are considered to be in the same class as motorbikes and mopeds. This means you won’t get the same privileges accorded to normal and PA bikes, plus you’ll need to get a special license to ride it in public areas.

Higher Maintenance Costs

Throttle electric bikes consume battery energy much faster compared to PAS. This is to say that you need to charge your battery after shorter intervals, which is not good for the health of the battery in the long term. Essentially, it depletes your battery’s max capacity, causing it to have a shorter shelf life than a battery on a pedal-assisted bike.

Although throttle e-bikes provide an instant torque that you may need on a tough climb, this also serves to deteriorate the state of your bike’s motor faster than you may like. The implication is that you’ll start experiencing motor failure sooner than in a PAS, which may only be fixed through replacement.


Pedal-assisted Vs. Throttle E-bikes: Which One Should You Choose?

While it may seem clear that PA bikes have more to offer compared to throttle e-bikes, the choice between the two boils down to the preference of the rider and the purpose of the ride. In most cases, throttle bikes are favored by commuters who want to get to work without building up a sweat. The same is true for those who don’t want to engage their muscles while riding, and this makes sense when the ride is relatively shorter or a hilly trail.

On the other hand, pedal-assisted electric bikes will be better suited for cyclists who like to spend more time on the bikes, as well as get a longer lifespan from your bike. If you’re a beginner, hobbyist, or leisure rider, then PAS will serve you much better!


Final Thought

Now that you know the difference between pedal-assisted and throttle electric bikes, it shouldn’t be too hard to choose from the two options. The most important aspect to consider is your own specific requirements and the terrain you will be riding on.

Good Luck!

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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