How Do Electric Bikes Work?

Whether you’re looking to save money on your daily commute or just want to cruise around town, an electric bike is an excellent solution. Modern electric bikes are becoming increasingly popular and offer comfort, speed, reliability, and exercise.

But how do they work? 

Today, we’ll cover how electric bikes work and help you decide which e-bike is right for you. 

What Is an Electric Bike?

An electric bike is a pedal bicycle that uses a motor to assist propulsion. You can still pedal and exercise on an electric bike, but the motor is available to help you on your ride.

Whether you need assistance getting up a hill or want to speed your way to work, the electric bike motor keeps you running.  

How Does an Electric Bike Work?

Electric bikes feature two distinct modes of power transfer. You can find pedal assist and throttle-only electric bikes on the market. 

How Does a Pedal Assist Electric Bike Work?

If you are accustomed to riding a traditional bicycle, you’ll have no issue riding a pedal assist bike. While you pedal the bike, a sensor monitors its drivetrain. The sensor sends data to the motor telling it how much power to provide. The bike motor then provides pedal assistance to match your chosen speed. 

Simply set a speed on the controller, and your bike’s motor will engage at that speed. This lets bikers get exercise if they want or gives them speed through steep inclines or rugged terrain. 

You’ll find two different types of pedal-assisted bikes on the market, and each class depends on the speeds the bike can maintain.  

Read More: Do Electric Bikes Charge As You Pedal?

How Do Throttle-Only Electric Bikes Work?

Throttle-only bikes are an alternative to pedal-assist bikes. Instead of a sensor matching your pedaling cadence, you use a handlebar-mounted trigger or button to activate the motor. 

You do not need to pedal a throttle-only bike if the throttle is engaged. The bike will coast along at speeds up to 20 MPH. Riding like this is like riding a moped or scooter. 

Throttle-only bikes are great for riders who like to take breaks while biking. You can pedal until you are tired, then activate the throttle to maintain speed. It’s also a great way to ascend steep slopes quickly. 

Classes of Electric Bikes

Currently, most states break down electric bikes into three classes based on the bike’s speed capabilities. For more detail, you’ll want to review the laws concerning e-bikes in your state. Any e-bike that does not fit into these categories does not meet e-bike requirements and may require a license to operate. 

Class 1 Pedal Assist E-Bikes

These e-bikes feature a motor that provides energy only when the biker is pedaling. The motor disengages when the rider is not pedaling or if the bike exceeds 20 MPH. 

Class 2 Throttle-Only E-Bikes

Throttle-only e-bikes use a throttle to engage the motor. You do not have to pedal the bike to run the bike motor and ride. This class of e-bikes is the easiest to ride for anyone out of shape or with other issues. The motor will not operate when the bike exceeds 20 MPH. 

Class 3 Pedal Assist 28 MPH E-Bikes

Class 3 bikes work the same as a class 1 bike, but they can run up to 28 MPH. The motor only runs while the rider pedals, but the bike can reach 28 MPH before the motor disengages. 

The E-Bike Motor

The motor on your electric bike provides energy to your bicycle’s drivetrain and forces the tires to spin. Both pedal assist and throttle-only bikes can have front, rear, or mid-drive motors. 

Front or Rear Hub Drive Motor

Hub drive motors are placed directly on the front or rear wheel hub. A hub motor is easy to install on almost any bike. 

Hub drive motors feature smooth rides and cleaner acceleration. Most hub drive motors are small and lightweight. This makes them nearly invisible on your bike. These motors are relatively easy to remove from your bike, making it easier to perform repairs during a ride.

But, they make changing a tire difficult since you have to remove the motor to replace the tire.  

Unfortunately, a hub motor cannot take advantage of the gears on your e-bike. This makes a hub drive bike less efficient than a mid-drive electronic bike.  

Mid-Drive or Center Drive Motor

You’ll find mid-drive or center-drive motors that use the bike’s drivetrain to power the rear wheel of the bicycle. These motors are often larger than other types and set low on the bike’s frame.

Mid-drive motors can take advantage of an e-bike’s gearing system. They also have a low center of gravity that creates stability during a ride. Mountain bikers can appreciate this added stability when traversing off-road rugged mountain bike trails

E-bike mid-drive motors tend to wear down chains and shifters quickly due to the added stress from the motor. This means you’ll have more trips to the local bike shop for tune-ups or repairs. 

Most mid-drive motors are premium products that come with a premium price tag. 

Electric Bikes Are Battery Powered

The motor on your electric bike gets energy from a rechargeable battery. While any type of battery can power your bike, not all batteries are equal. For example, many electric bike batteries are heavy or have low capacity. 

Understanding Electricity and E-Bike Batteries

To understand how E-bike batteries work, you need to refresh your knowledge about Voltage (V), Amperes(Amps), Watts (W), Watt per hour (Wh), Ampere per hour (Ah), and capacity. 

Voltage (V) is the rate at that electrons move in a circuit. Four hundred volts is the ideal rating for most electric bike batteries. 

Amperes (Amps) measures electrical current. You can imagine Amps as the diameter of a pipe as water flows through it. The higher Amps a batter has, the more electricity flows through the circuit.

Watts is the standard unit of power. More watts from your battery means it can produce more power for your motor. 

Watt per hour (Wh) measures the amount of Watts delivered over time. A bike that has a higher Wh can travel longer and faster.

Ampere per hour (Ah) measures electric current over time. Ah is the capacity of the battery. For example, a 20Ah battery discharges 2.0A for ten hours or can produce 20Ah for 1 hour. 

Finally, a high capacity is essential for any electric bike battery. The battery’s capacity represents the number of amps a battery can produce in 1 hour.

Types of E-Bike Batteries

E-bikes need a battery. On the market, you’ll find four different e-bike batteries:

  1. lead-acid
  2. nickel-cadmium
  3. nickel-metal hydride
  4. lithium-ion batteries

Each type has its pros and cons. 

  • Lead-acid batteries are the oldest technology. They have low output and are heavy but inexpensive compared to other batteries.
  • Nickel-cadmium batteries have good capacity but are costly and hazardous to the environment. You should avoid this type of battery on an e-bike.
  • Nickel-metal hydride batteries are highly efficient but expensive. NiMH batteries do not last long, and they generate surplus heat. Again, avoid bikes that use NiMh batteries. 

While all 3 of the above batteries can operate an electric bike, most manufacturers use lithium-ion batteries. There are three categories of lithium-ion batteries, and all feature excellent capacity and low weight.

These features make them the best option for all types of e-bikes. 

  • Lithium manganese batteries are the newest type of battery. This battery claims to have the largest capacity of any battery type.
  • Lithium cobalt batteries are lightweight and full of power. They are also incredibly reliable and last for years.
  • Lithium-ion Polymer Batteries are the most common battery used by e-bike manufacturers. This battery is affordable, supports fast charging, and supplies ample power to any type of e-bike. 

Read More: Do Electric Bike Batteries Explode?

Electric Bikes Use Sensors To Regulate Speed

An electric bike uses two types of sensors during operation. Once activated, the sensor notifies the motor to engage and provide pedal assistance. 

  • A speed sensor engages the drivetrain as soon as you start pedaling the bicycle.
  • Torque sensors are more responsive and only activate assistance to match your speed.  

What Style of Electric Bike Is Best?

What style of bike you choose depends on how you plan to use the bike. Below are the most common types of bikes and their best use cases.

Comfort and Cruiser Electric Bikes

This class of bikes is all about comfort. Comfort and cruiser bikes are an ideal option for riders of all ages. They have comfy seats, an upright sitting position, and are easy to use. 

Cruisers feature step-through frame designs. If you have mobility issues or difficulty mounting a bike, comfort and cruiser bikes are the best option. They make getting on the bike much simpler.  

This style of bike is often inexpensive compared to mountain and road bikes. 

Hybrid and Commuter Electric Bikes

Hybrid and commuter bikes offer something for everyone. While you can’t barrel down the side of a mountain on a hybrid bike, you can zoom through traffic if you’re late for work. 

Many hybrid and commuter bikes offer blazing fast speed and long range. They are perfect for riders who want to stop driving their car to work and save money on gas. 

Mountain Bike and Fatbike Electric Bikes

Do you have trails that are too difficult to conquer on your ride? An electric mountain bike should be at the top of your shopping list. 

An electric mountain or fat bike helps riders on steep inclines or rugged terrain, such as riding trails in a National Park. You still get to push and pedal as hard as you like but have assistance when needed.

Most electric versions of mountain and fat bikes come at a premium cost due to high-end components. Still, the costs are worth it if you want to speed your way to the top of the trail before your buddies make it. 

Electric Road Bikes

Road bikes are traditionally fast and lightweight. They are best for high speeds over long distances on smooth pavement. Most road bikes are performance oriented and have high-end components. The premium components and materials mean most road bikes carry a high price tag,
An electric road bike is the best option for long-distance rides or touring fans. An electric road bike helps you conquer steep slopes and go farther than ever before. 

Extra weight is the major downside of an electric road bike compared to a traditional road bike.  

Pros and Cons of Electric Bikes

Electric bikes are an amazing technology, but they’re not perfect. Between the extra weight and hazardous materials, here are some of the main pros and cons of owning an electric bike. 


  • E-bikes are eco-friendly, produce zero emissions, and have minimal noise pollution. 
  • E-bikes keep you active and are great exercise
  • E-bikes make commuting fun and interesting. 
  • You can ride much further with an e-bike. 
  • Ideal for Seniors or riders with physical disabilities. 


  • Electric bikes are much heavier than traditional bikes.
  • Electric bikes are more expensive than their counterpart.
  • Charging an e-bike can take 2-8 hours. 
  • Electric bikes can be harder to repair for novice bikers.
  • Laws concerning electric bikes can change.
  • Some e-bike batteries have dangerous chemicals and are difficult to dispose of. 

Read More: How Much Do Electric Bikes Cost?

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions about electric bikes? Here are some of the most common questions we’ve encountered about e-bikes over the years. 

  • Can I ride an electric bike without a driver’s license?
    You do not need a driver’s license to operate an electric bike. Class 1, 2, and 3 bikes are street legal and do not require a driver’s license. Of course, when more bikers hit the road, the laws may change. You don’t have to worry about inspecting or registering your e-bike in any state other than Hawaii. Of course, you should check the e-bike laws for your state before heading out on the road.
  • Can I ride an e-bike in the rain?
    E-bikes are waterproofed right from the factory. You should have no issues riding in heavy rains. Still, you should not ride your e-bike through deep water as this could cause electrical problems. Water also causes issues with a bicycle’s drivetrain, gearing, and braking system. If you can avoid riding in water, you should.
  • How far can an e-bike go on one charge?
    The distance you can travel on one charge depends on many factors. Your battery type, capacity, and how much you pedal can affect the bike's range. Most electric bikes can travel between 22-50 miles on a single charge.
  • How much does it cost to operate an electric bike?
    You’re in luck. Electric bikes are one of the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective travel methods. You can expect to spend between 5-8 cents per battery charge.
  • How fast do most electric bikes go?
    Most electric bikes can reach speeds between 20 and 28 MPH. The most powerful class 3 e-bike is limited to 28 MPH during assistance. Of course, you can go faster than 28 MPH by pedaling. The distance you can travel on one charge depends on many factors. Your battery type, capacity, and how much you pedal can affect the bike's range. Most electric bikes can travel between 22-50 miles on a single charge.
  • Can my kids ride an electric bicycle?
    E-bikes are bigger and heavier than traditional bikes. They travel at high speeds and are dangerous for younger riders. Most states have a minimum age restriction between 14 and 16 years old for operating an electric bike.
  • Final Thoughts

    Hopefully, we covered everything you need to know about how electric bike work. 

    You have many factors to consider if you’re planning on buying a new electric bike.  Are you planning on commuting, mountain biking, or cruising around town? No matter how you ride, we hope this article gave you a better understanding of electric bikes.