In the previous post we answered all of your top questions about e-bikes. And now for a continuation of “E-Bike 101” we will go deeper into understanding the parts of an e-bike and how they operate!
How do electric bikes work?
Electric bikes are essentially normal push bikes but with a few key extras. They have motors and other parts which provide assistance while cycling; these are very helpful on longer treks, or when climbing hills or riding against a strong wind. All e-bikes come with a power adaptor and cable to charge the battery in a regular power outlet. E-bikes have an intuitive operation so, as long as you feel confident riding a regular bike, you can likely handle an e-bike.
What are the different types of E-Bikes?
Not all e-bikes are created equal. In the U.S. they generally fall into 3 main classes, based on their motor capabilities.
- Class 1 is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 2 is a bicycle equipped with a motor as well as a throttle to assist even when the rider is not pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
- Class 3 is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.
There are several types of e-bikes and not all are permitted in all jurisdictions. Make sure to check with your local authorities to determine which type of e-bike you’re legally able to ride where you live or where you’re traveling.
What are the parts of an e-bike?
Do you know your e-bike anatomy? There are several important components that make up an e-bike, but remember – not all e-bikes will have all of these parts as it depends on the Class type and manufacturer.
Here are some of the most common components of an electric bicycle.
- Lithium-ion batteries: This is the energy source which powers the motor of the bike. This battery is similar to the one in your laptop. They are known to last a long time and be reliable, however, exact battery life depends on a range of factors including the type of bike, the battery capacity, the remaining charge, the ambient temperature, the wind speed and direction, the terrain, your size, and even your riding style. With some electric bikes you need to remove or partially remove the battery to plug it in to charge, while on others there’s a socket built into the frame. A lithium ion battery can be charged and discharged hundreds of times with no degradation in its performance.
- Electric Motor: The motor translates electrical energy from an e-bike’s battery into mechanical power that propels the bike forward. E-bike motors can be either geared or direct drive. Hub motors are easier to operate if you are a less experienced cyclist because they require less gear shifting. In contrast, mid-drive motors tend to have better battery capacity because you gain efficiency by shifting.
- Note: In the UK, the EU and Australia, the motor on an e-bike has to stop providing assistance at around 15mph so above that speed you’ll need to pedal on your own. If you live in the US, the motor can legally keep going up to 20mph.
- Throttle: Some electric bikes, especially those sold in North America, are Class 2, which means they have a throttle that allows you to move without pedaling or exerting much effort. E-bikes with throttles often have larger motors compared to pedal assist bikes. Unfortunately, these Class 2 bikes minimize the exercise benefits of cycling; they may also detract from the riding experience. A throttle also reduces the life of your battery. European countries typically only allow bikes that require you to pedal.
- Controller: This is the “brain” of the e-bike, controlling the start, stop, and overall speed and signaling of the motor. It is connected to other electronic components, such as the motor, battery, throttle, PAS, display, and other speed sensors.
- Sensor (Torque or Cadence): E-bikes either have a torque sensor, or a cadence sensor. With a torque sensor, you’re able to amplify whatever power you apply: the motor automatically delivers more power in proportion to the amount of pedal force the rider is applying. In contrast, a cadence, or crank-sensor, delivers a uniform amount of pedal assist at each level, regardless of the amount of pressure you are applying. It is activated just by getting the crank turning. Because a cadence-sensor is not reading your pedal pressure, the power delivery is not quite as smooth, although some people prefer this more motorized “horsepower” feel.
- Gear Shifter: Located on the right handlebar, you use the gear shifter to move between gears to meet your pedaling needs and help you more efficiently conquer hills. Lower gears are helpful for uphill riding, requiring less effort in pedaling, while higher gears are helpful for downhills, requiring more effort in pedaling.
- Brakes: High-end hydraulic disc brakes are essential for safely slowing and stopping your e-bike.
- Tires: The type of tires your e-bike has will affect the pressure, comfort and speed of your ride. For the most versatility and smoothest riding experience, your bike will ideally have all-purpose tires suitable for different types of terrain.
- Seat: Cushioning and ergonomic design can add comfort and support in long rides.
- LCD Display: This gives you all the information about your riding experience – including your mileage/odometer, speed, battery power, power system, lights, and other technical and functionally settings.
- Frame: This is the ergonomically designed “skeleton” of the bike. It should be sized to allow you to efficiently pedal the bicycle as well as comfortably stand over the frame after coming to a stop.
- Headlights & Reflectors: Essential for safety, lights and reflectors ensure you can see and be seen when riding. You can typically control headlights, taillights, and brake lights to enhance your visibility.
- Rear Rack: Integrated storage racks allow riders to travel with a passenger or cargo in tow. This area can also be customized to address your unique hauling needs.
- Bell: Integrated for safe (and fun) riding, a bell helps you to alert others when you are nearby or passing.
- Kickstand: A sturdy spring-loaded kickstand will stabilize your electric bike when loading and unloading or when parked.
What are the different types of e-bike motors?
E-bike motors come in two main varieties – hub motors and mid-drive motors. A hub motor is mounted in the center of a wheel and these bikes have either a front-mounted hub motor, which pulls the bike forward, or a rear-mounted hub motor, which pushes the bike forward. In both cases, the hub motor helps turn the wheel. A mid-drive motor, by contrast, helps turn the pedals and is mounted at the bottom bracket of the bike, applying its force to the drivetrain of the bicycle.
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