Electric bicycles are sweeping the nation, and have been for several years. What seemed like a fad has become a bonafide phenomenon. Energy-efficient, healthy, and most of all fun, the pedal assist e-bike has cemented a place in the transportation hierarchy.
What is a Pedal Assist Electric Bike?
That’s a great question. There are a lot of models, brands, and types of electric bikes out there, and a rider needs to choose wisely.
A pedal assist e-bike is one that will not move unless the rider is pedaling. So it isn’t really pedal assisted, it’s motor assisted pedaling. They are the most popular variety of electric bikes, making up more than 88% of all of the electric bikes worldwide.
Pedal assist e-bikes come in various shapes and sizes but all have a battery-powered motor that kicks in when the rider begins to pedal. Most have more than one power setting and the rider can safely turn off and adjust the motor while they ride. Electric bike motors do not make any noise.
Electric bikes usually have a small device mounted on or near the handlebars that provides information to the rider: speed, level of power assist, battery level, trip distance, and more.
This little computer helps riders learn which power levels work best for them as well as how many miles they can get from a battery charge at different levels of assist. Experienced riders use it to plan rides, adjust power as terrain changes, and manage their level of physical exertion.
How Does a Pedal Assist Electric Bike Work?
Pedal assist e-bikes have a battery-powered motor. The battery usually sits on the down tube of the frame. That’s the piece connecting the front of the frame to the gears. Some bikes fit the motor behind the seat tube between the frame and the back wheel.
The battery is removable and some can be locked into place. When the battery needs charging, it can be removed and charged inside the house or in another safe location using a standard outlet.
The pedal assist e-bike is perhaps the simplest and safest type of electric bike. The motor senses when the pedals begin moving and responds based on the assist level set by the rider. Stopping involves nothing more than a standard squeezing of the brakes.
It’s important to know that the selection and variety of pedal assist electric bikes is enormous. From portable fold-up models to mountain bikes, commuter bikes, and many more, shoppers will find that each model has some unique features.
What is it Like to Ride a Pedal Assist Electric Bike?
With the motor turned off, riding a pedal assisted e-bike is exactly like riding a regular bicycle. The one distinct difference that a rider will feel without the motor on is that the e-bike is quite heavy due to the weight of the motor and battery (an average of 22 pounds heavier). It is not easy to ride without using the power assist.
If the rider wants to save battery power, it’s best to turn off the motor on flat or downhill sections; those are the easiest to manage with the increased bike weight.
When a new rider uses the power assist for the first time, they will certainly feel the motor. It feels like each pedal stroke has significantly more force than the rider applies. That’s because it does! The motor is giving every turn of the pedals a boost.
New electric bike riders need to get used to their bike in a safe place. They should find an unused parking lot, a street with little or no traffic, or another protected area where they can get used to the controls and the feel of their new bike.
As the rider becomes accustomed to the controls on their new bike, they can begin to try out different levels of pedal assist. They will find that increasing the level of assist does two things: decreases the amount of effort needed from the rider in flat areas, and increases the level of terrain difficulty a rider can handle without exceeding their physical limits.
The best example of terrain changes that require a power adjustment is hills. A rider using the lowest assist setting on flat roads or trails will likely find that level insufficient for a hill of any significance without increasing the assist.
Depending on how much physical exertion the rider can or wants to use, turning up the assist a level or two can make previously unclimbable hills a piece of cake. A rider with significant limitations to their levels of exertion should be sure to plan their rides to avoid steep climbs.
Overall, riding a pedal assist electric bike feels like being a stronger and faster rider.
Are Pedal Assist Electric Bikes Safe?
Electric bikes are similar to other forms of transportation—they are as safe as their operators. E-bike riders need to adhere to all traffic rules and laws, wear a helmet, and make sure they know how to operate their e-bike safely.
Electric bikes, and all bicycles, require riders to be alert to their surroundings and ride defensively, particularly in the city.
Are Pedal Assist Electric Bikes Legal?
Generally speaking, yes. There is a Federal Government definition of what constitutes an electric bike and it requires that pedals be operable and that motors be less than 750 watts.
At the state level, there have been a lot of changes in the past ten years in terms of both defining electric bikes and regulating how and where they can be ridden. Old laws that treated electric bikes as mopeds or scooters are being replaced by rules written specifically for this new generation of e-bikes.
In most cases, the new regulations classify e-bikes and regular bicycles similarly. That means that riders don’t often need licenses to ride an electric bike and that they can be ridden in the same areas and manner as a regular bike.
It is not safe to assume anything when it comes to e-bike regulations. Riders need to check state and local ordinances regarding their use. While it is unlikely that a rider will find much in the way of cumbersome regulation, it’s important to know the rules in the area the bike will be ridden.
Depending on how a rider intends to use their e-bike, local regulations may help determine the best type of electric bike to purchase.
Do Pedal Assist E-bike Riders Need to Be Physically Fit?
The short answer is not really. But the short answer is not always the best answer.
To ride a pedal assist electric bike, the rider needs to be able to balance on the bicycle, and put at least a small amount of effort into the pedaling motion. This type of electric bike will not do all of the work for the rider and every rider is responsible for being able to ride the bike safely.
But riding a pedal assist e-bike can be far less strenuous than riding a regular bicycle. Depending on the level of power assist chosen by the rider, average city or trail riding can be close to effortless. Simply turning the pedals with no significant force will trigger the motor and allow the rider to travel swiftly and smoothly.
Pedal assisted e-bikes also have the advantage of allowing the rider to get as much exercise as they choose. Someone just starting a fitness program (they should check with their doctor first, of course) can use maximum assist at first and gradually reduce the power level as their level of fitness increases.
Some riders choose the pedal assist option to ride with others who are more fit or accustomed to riding. The motor allows them to ride comfortably while keeping up with the others in the group. They are still able to get the amount of exercise that’s right for them while enjoying riding with more experienced riders.
Commuting on a Pedal Assist Electric Bike
Of all the reasons to ride a pedal assist e-bike, commuting is among the most common and practical. Despite the increase in working from home, a lot of people still need to go to work.
Electric bikes have some significant benefits over regular bicycles when it comes to commuting. E-bike riders can go faster, sweat less, and make it to work relatively unruffled.
There are varieties of pedal assist e-bikes made specifically for commuting that have space for bags and other necessities. Commuting on an e-bike saves the rider gas money and vehicle wear and tear.
For some riders, the greatest advantage of commuting on an e-bike is parking. Big cities are notorious for having insufficient parking, especially near city centers where a lot of people work.
An e-bike eliminates that problem. It can be parked and locked into a regular bike rack and the battery can be removed or locked into the frame to prevent theft. In New York City, riding a bike instead of driving can save the rider $27 per hour in parking.
Environmental Impact of an E-bike
One of the driving forces behind the popularity of electric bikes is their positive impact on the environment. They allow those who might otherwise be unable to travel by bike to commute, run errands, visit friends and family, and more without a single ounce of tailpipe pollution.
The energy needed to charge an e-bike battery is a fraction of that needed for even the greenest of cars. Though pedal assist electric bikes cannot replace cars entirely for most people, they can make a significant dent in a rider’s carbon footprint.
Buying a Pedal Assist Electric Bike
The first thing to decide when contemplating an e-bike purchase is how the bike will be primarily ridden. How the bike will be used dictates a lot about what style is chosen. Factors that should go into the decision-making process:
- Storage. If the bike is going to be used to run errands or commute, it will need to have racks or baskets.
- Terrain. Road bikes do not ride as well on rough trails as mountain bikes or fat-tire bikes. A commuter bike may be too cumbersome for extended road rides.
- Experience. A rider brand new to cycling will need the help of experienced staff at a good bike shop. A rider with a lot of experience with regular bikes can be more comfortable shopping online.
- Price. Riders should decide how much they can invest in an e-bike and look within that budget. It’s easy to spend far more than intended on extras that aren’t necessary.
- Reputation. Because an e-bike is a decent-sized investment, riders should check reviews of the bikes they are considering. If they have other bikes in a brand they trust, that’s a good place to start.
Some cities are now using pedal assist e-bikes for their bike-share programs. If a new rider wants a low-pressure way to try one out, they should check and see if their city has adopted them for bike-share, and find a safe location for a test ride.
Bikes shops often have a safe area for test rides. Anyone contemplating the purchase of an electric bike should take advantage of that space to try any bike they’re interested in purchasing. It is not safe to assume that riding one pedal assist e-bike is enough—there are enough differences between models that any under consideration should get a test ride.
Whether someone is buying a pedal assist electric bike for commuting, exercise, or to be eco-friendly, the best reason of all to own one is that they are fun. People who may otherwise not be able to enjoy riding a bike can get back in the saddle with an e-bike.
Safe, convenient, and easy to use, a pedal assist electric bike is an investment in the future. A future with fewer cars, less pollution, less congestion, and more time spent enjoying the journey as well as the destination.
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