At the core, e-bikes are regular push bikes. They, however, have additional electric components that work together to augment human power, without completely replacing it. Their battery, sensor, and electric motor are designed to make obstacles like headwind and hills more manageable, allowing you to cycle further without getting as tired.
The electric motor controls the bike’s torque, the battery generates the power needed by the motor, and the sensor controls the starting and stopping of your motor. In this guide, you will find a detailed answer on how do electric bikes work.
How Do Electric Bikes Work: A Detailed Explanation
In addition to the regular bike parts, electric bikes have a battery, motor, and a sensor. To answer the question “how does an electric bike work?”, we will take a deeper look at these 3 components:
1. The Battery
If you ride an electric bike without any pedaling, the battery will contain all the power that will drive your bike along. A typical e-bike battery will make approximately 350 to 500 W of power – this is approximately 10 amps and about 35 to 50 volts.
In theory, you can use any battery on a bike. In practice, however, electric bikes need a battery that is capable of storing a lot of power without being extremely heavy. If the battery is too heavy, you will find your bike using more than half the power just to move the battery along. This rules out heavy lead-acid batteries like the ones that most people use to start their car.
Lithium-ion batteries – similar to those often found on MP3 players, mobile phones, and laptop computers – are better suited for electric bikes. Although they come with a higher price tag than the older technologies, including nicad (Nickel-Cadmium), their light weight makes them a popular choice.
Typical batteries will give your road bike an average of 10 to 40 miles between the charges. This, however, depends on the terrain – if you intend to go mountain biking with your electric bike, the miles might be lower.
Typical batteries give an average speed of 10 to 20 meters per hour. Although bicycle road rules do vary, this is the maximum speed in the majority of the countries. It is possible to extend both the speed and distance by free-wheeling and pedaling some of the time.
Depending on the bike frame sizing and type, the location of the battery varies for different electric bikes. While some bicycles will have the battery just above the rear bike wheel on the seat that holds some of the bike commuting gear on regular commuter bikes, some will have it on the frame tube that connects the bike handlebar to the chainring’s axle.
Varying battery models, makes, and types feature varying charging times. However, typical bike batteries take an average of 4 to 6 hours to charge fully. Charging the battery is easy – you will just need to plug it into your wall.
2. The Motor
E-bikes come with a compact electric motor that is built into their front or rear wheel – if you take a look at the electric bike hub, say, when cleaning the bike chain, you will notice that it is bulkier and fatter than on a normal mountain bike. On some electric bikes, the motor is mounted in the center of the bicycle and connected to the bike’s pedal sprocket.
There are 2 main types of electric bike motors – these are broadly known as the power-assist and the full-power motors. These have a significant effect on how does an electric bike work. To make sure you have a good understanding of how do electric bikes work, we will take a deeper look at both motors below:
Full-Power Electric Bike Motors
These electric bikes are designed in a way that ensures minimal pedaling over relatively short distances. Coming with powerful hub motors and large batteries, these types of electric bicycles tend to be heavy, sturdy, and big.
Bikes like this are ideal for people who love to go on biking trips but hate pedaling. Since you will be using the battery power all the time, the range is generally limited. Typically, full-power electric bikes will take you on trips that do not exceed 10 to 20 miles or 16 to 30 kilometers.
Power-Assist Electric Bike Motors
Also referred to as the pedal-assist bicycles, these are the bike equivalents of the hybrid cars. These are generally the electric bikes that riders are usually wondering about when they ask how does an electric bike work?
Power assist bikes are designed to be pedaled a lot of the time and only electrically powered either when you are tired or when you need extra help, for example, when ascending a hill.
Unlike the full-power electric bikes, power-assist bikes do not have a hub motor. Instead, they have a separate electric motor that is mounted close to the back wheel – the motor drives the bike via the gear sprocket.
Power-assist motors allow easy pedaling even when they are not running, unlike hub (full-power) motors which feature a lot of resistance. This gives the power-assist motors a much bigger range – the typical power-assist electric bikes can run for as much as 50 to 90 miles or 80 to 145 kilometers.
3. The Sensor
When explaining how does an electric bike work, most people tend to ignore the sensor. This is not good considering that it plays a key role in the overall operation of an electric bike.
There are 2 main types of sensors –speed sensors and torque sensors. The speed sensors engage the motor the moment you start pedaling, giving you riding assistance through the trip.
Torque sensors, on the other hand, are smarter. They will respond with just a small amount of assistance to match your pedaling efforts – the harder you pedal, the more your motor will help you. They are much more responsive and helps with the biking maneuvers and speed.
How Do the Above Electric Components Work Together?
The sensor, motor, and battery work together to ensure that you have smooth riding experience. The battery provides power to the motor, which in turn powers your bike’s drivetrain to give you the assistance you need when tackling long rides or hilly trails.
Some electric bikes will also come with a display that is mounted on the handlebar. This allows you to control the amount of assistance provided by the motor. If you would like to work out more, you can use the display to reduce the assistance by simply reducing the amount of power sent to your drivetrain.
How Are Electric Bike Frames Constructed?
At this point, you already have your answer to how do electric bikes work? However, one thing you may not know is that electric bikes have slightly different frames.
The main part of the frame – the part that supports your weight – is usually made using the lightest materials. The lighter the bike frame material, the lighter the bike’s overall weight, and hence the further your bike can travel before you need to recharge it. The best electric bikes are manufactured using the lightest aluminum alloys.
The spokes on the bike’s wheel are generally stronger than the thin spokes you would find on a regular hardtail mountain bike. This is because the motor on the bike’s hub spins the wheel with a lot of torque (turning force) and if the spokes are the ordinary lightweight ones, they might end up bent or buckled.
How Does Braking on Electric Bikes Work?
Electric bikes are usually heavier than the regular college bikes – this is largely due to the extra components they usually carry. This weight has to be considered in stopping distance and safety. The typical electric bike will have the same brakes as a regular bike. Hence, in most cases, you will have to pull the brake levers on your handlebars to stop the bike.
Some electric bikes claim that they use a special trick known as regenerative braking. When you start pedaling your bike while going downhill, the spinning wheel turns the bike’s electric motor in the hub in the reverse direction – this facilitates the changing of the battery while slowing down the bike.
It is worth noting that regenerative braking may not be as beneficial as it usually is on an electric car or electric train. A typical electric bike has much less velocity and mass than either a car or train – this means that it does not lose or gain a lot of kinetic energy during the stops and starts. For this reason, to charge up your battery completely, you may have to go down a large number of hills – this is not practical.
Q: Do You Still Have to Pedal an Electric Bike?
The majority of electric bikes will require you to pedal even when the motor is running. However, the effort you put into pedaling will vary depending on the type of electric bike. If you are using a full-power electric bike, the pedaling will be minimal – you might only need it when going up steep hills. Power-assist bikes, on the other hand, require their riders to pedal more, even though the pedaling is not hard.
Q: How Do You Use an Electric Bike?
To use your electric bike, you will need to first charge the battery. Once the battery is charged, you will simply need to get on the bike and activate the motor either via throttle or via pedaling. Once activated, the motor will start turning the wheels and your bike will move forward. If you are using a full-power bike, pedaling may not be necessary. If, however, you are using a pedal-assist e-bike, you may need to continue pedaling to keep the motor activated.
Q: Do Electric Bikes Charge When You Pedal?
Some electric bikes are capable of charging when pedaling. This is known as regenerative pedaling and it is usually present on high-end, premium electric bikes. Bikes that charge when pedaling often cost more compared to those that do not charge.
Q: How Fast Can You Go on an Electric Bike?
Although road rules for electric bikes do vary in different states and countries, the recommended top speed is 20 to 28 mph. To avoid dealing with legal issues, you must consult your local road rules to avoid exceeding the top speed.
Q: Can Electric Bikes Be Used in the Rain?
While electric bikes are designed to be water-resistant, they are not waterproof. Short term, the electric bike can be in the rain and get wet. However, long-term or too much exposure can cause serious issues. When riding your electric bike in the rain, always use fenders to keep the debris and water away from your biking wear and the bike components.
Q: Are Electric Bikes Worth the Money?
Yes, electric bikes are worth the money. They offer riders many of the same benefits offered by regular bikes, but since you have got the motor to make pedaling much easier, the bikes allow you to ride longer and travel greater distances. The bikes will also help you go faster than cyclists using regular bikes.
Q: Do Electric Bikes Work Without Pedaling?
Throttle electric bikes can work without pedaling – these are very similar to motorcycles. Usually mounted on the handlebar, the throttle is activated by twisting and allows you to get enough power to drive the bike without pedaling. Pedal-assist bikes, on the other hand, require the rider to pedal for them to work.
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If you would like to cruise over rough terrains and go up steep hills without gassing yourself, investing in an electric bike might be a good idea. Figuring out how does an electric bike work is the key to ensuring that you are making the right decision with your purchase.
In this guide, we have discussed the question “how do electric bikes work?” in detail. From looking at the main components of an electric bike to showing you how they work together to make your ride more enjoyable, this guide has everything you would need to understand e-bikes.