Understanding Electric Bike Modes: Throttle vs. Pedal Assist (Pedelec)

A throttle or pedal assist electric bike: which one will you choose?

There are many different types of electric bikes with different ways of activating the electric assist.

In this article you will learn about the different throttle types (twist grip, thumb, push button), pedal assist types (torque sensor and cadence sensor) and which mode may be best for you.

Throttle Mode

The throttle mode is similar to how a motorcycle or scooter operates.  When the throttle is engaged the motor provides power and propels you and the bike forward.

A throttle allows you to pedal or just kick back and enjoy a “free” ride!  Most throttles can be fine tuned like a volume dial between low and full power.

A lot of e-bikes in the US have the throttle feature.  In some countries the throttle electric bike is not allowed; only pedal assist.

Here are a few of the different types of throttles found on electric bikes:

This is the half grip twist throttle on the eFlow E3 Nitro electric bike.  The throttle is engaged by twisting the throttle; similar to a motorcycle or scooter.  This is the most common type of e-bike throttle.

This is the thumb throttle on the Prodeco Outlaw SS electric mountain bike.  The throttle is engaged by pushing the throttle “paddle” forward with your thumb.

This is the thumb throttle of the BionX system on the OHM XS750 electric bike.  The throttle is engaged by pushing the red button forward with your thumb.

This is the push button throttle on the Clean Republic Hill Topper electric bike kit.  This particular throttle is simply an on/off switch; there is no way to adjust between low and full power.

Pedal Assist (Pedelec) Mode

Pedal assist, also referred to as pedelec, is a mode that provides power only when you are pedaling.  If you are used to riding a traditional bike, the pedal assist mode has a more intuitive feel compared to the throttle mode.

The pedal assist mode is also nice because you can focus purely on your pedaling and you don’t have to hold the throttle in a certain position.

Since you have to pedal, the pedal assist mode will generally give you more range when compared to the throttle mode.  Here are 10 tips to increase your electric bike’s range.

A lot of pedal assist bikes have different levels of assistance, for example: low, medium, or high assist.  Please note that some e-bikes have 4 or 5 pedal assist settings, but for this example we will just stick with low, medium, and high.

Low pedal assist = you are feeling pretty good on the bike.  Low assist provides a little electric assist while you provide more pedal power and get more of a workout.

Medium pedal assist = you have a nice tailwind everywhere you go.  Medium pedal assist can be a nice balance of your pedal power and the motor power.

High pedal assist = you feel like superman!  High pedal assist is when you want to get somewhere quickly and with minimal effort.  This could be useful if you want to get to work without sweating too much.  On the way home you could use the low pedal assist to workout the stress of the day.

This is the display of the Easy Motion Neo Jumper electric mountain bike.  The pedal assist settings can be adjusted up or down using the + or – buttons on the left side of the display.  In this picture the pedal assist is set to the highest level; see the right side of the display.

There are a few different pedal assist types on the market; the torque sensor and the cadence sensor systems.

The torque sensor pedal assist systems measure the amount of power you are putting into the pedals and it will increase or decrease the electric assist based on your pedaling power.

The torque sensor systems have a very intuitive ride feel because they emulate your pedal power very well.  They are also generally found on the more expensive e-bikes or e-bike kits.

The torque sensors are generally found in the bottom bracket, rear drop out, or in the rear hub motor.

This is the TMM4 torque sensor on the inside of the rear dropout of the Easy Motion Neo Jumper electric mountain bike.

The cadence sensor pedal assist systems provide assistance when the cranks of the bike are turning.

Compared to the torque sensor system, the cadence sensor will just provide the assist based purely on the level assist you have selected and it will not increase or decrease the assist based on your actual pedal power.  You could be pedaling very lightly or very hard and it will provide the same level of assist.

This is the cadence sensor at the cranks of the Pedego City Commuter electric bike.

The Combination: Throttle & Pedal Assist Mode

Some e-bikes come equipped with both the throttle and the pedal assist modes.

On some e-bikes you can be operating the bike in the pedal assist mode and then get an additional boost by twisting the throttle.

There are also e-bikes that have both modes, but they cannot be used at the same time.

Which Mode is Best for You?

If you want the option to simply cruise along and pedal or not pedal, then you should consider a throttle e-bike.

If you enjoy pedaling and want to a more intuitive e-bike then go for the pedal assist (pedelec).

More and more e-bikes are coming with both systems so you may have the option of using both systems depending on your mood.

I hope this helps in understanding the different electric bike assist modes.

I recommend that you visit your local electric bike dealer to try the throttle and pedal assist modes for yourself to see which one fits your riding style.

If you already have an electric bike, which mode do you prefer and why?  Please leave your comments in the section below.

Thanks!

-Pete

P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips!


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11 Comments

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  1. Adam May 8, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I’m a fan of pedal assist with a torque sensor (on high). It definitely gives the “super man” feel and allows for a great commute to work! I also like eBikes that allow for throttle override of the pedal assist while in pedal assist mode. Sometimes that extra boost up a hill is really helpful without having to switch modes to get it.

    Thanks for all the great articles Pete!

    Cheers,

    – Adam

  2. Dan May 10, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I am a fan of as little components as possible. The less parts and pieces, the less chance of failure. That’s just my opinion. I do not offer pedal sensor components on my DIY kits but I am open to learning what people think / want.

  3. LEN May 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I like my Pedego Interceptor step through with throttle capabilities.

    Both my wife and I are in our 60’s ,work out and swim several times a week and at least 3 rides a week on our Pedego’s .

    Both of us have knee replacements and I a fused back.

    This type of bike suits us especially on hills ,headwinds or when tired to know we have some power back up on our 20-30 mile Greenways in Raleigh .
    We pedal as much as we can for cardio exercise and just plain fun in the fresh air!
    Enjoy your site Pete.
    Len and Sharron in Raleigh NC

  4. Rob May 10, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    My ebike allows for both the throttle and pedal assist to work together. I really like it because I can use the throttle while going through corners where I might ground my pedal. I also use it when negotiating tight places. The pedal assist works great on long hauls and not having to keep your hand on the throttle. If I had to choose one it would be the throttle because I can control the exact amount of assist at any given moment.

  5. Rob P May 11, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Pedelecs are pointless. Most people who buy electric bikes want to cruise on electric and pedal just a little. Plus you can keep up with traffic better with throttle and more speed. Its actually dafer for you. Some pedelecs you never know when the darn motor will kick in. The pedelec sensor fails often. Its a nightmare for ebike companies to fix!

    • Brad Sloan May 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      I use my pedelec mode all the time to save on battery charge. The throttle is good for starting off then I switch to pedelec assist level 3. Also my hand gets sore holding the throttle on all the time. I prefer full throttles to half throttles, but my bike only comes with half throttle. A problem with my pedelec mode is the motor stays on for 2 to 3 seconds after I stop pedaling. I would be better if it cut off soon as I stop pedaling.

  6. Alroy June 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    The Eurpopeans have it right. Pedelecs are the way to go. I have a Kalkoff. I find it so effortless to pedal that I only need to use the Eco assist level. The only time I use the standard or high assist levels are when climbing 8-10 degree hills. Because pedaling with assist is so effortless, having a throttle is redundant.

  7. pikpilot November 21, 2013 at 5:57 am #

    I bought a torque sensing pedelec just over a year ago and I find this system very intuitive. The harder you pedal the more (and proportional) assist you get. Good for accelerating away in traffic and you don’t have to do anything other than pedal. It is analogous to the power steering on a car but in this case the assist power is on the pedals.
    I have now done 2700 miles of leisure cycling with a range of up to 40 Miles. Usually I leave the assist control in ECO mode (50% extra torque)for most of the ride but as I live on top of a hill I usually finish the ride in MED (100% extra torque) or HI (150% extra torque). Think of a this type of pedelec as having a torque motor which applies an extra torque that is a multiplier of the torque you are applying to the chain. Mine is coupled to a Shamano Nexus 7 seven speed hub, and is great for always being in the right gear by being able to change gear when stationary.

    As a power electronics engineer I had intended designing and developing a torque assist bike so was surprised to find that a few manufacturers brought them out in Europe recently. I bought a Raleigh Vélo Cité with a 36V 10Ahr lithium battery. I would never use a throttle or cadence type unless I was infirm and I am sure that torque sensing pedelecs will become the norm as prices fall.

  8. David November 28, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I am in the process of opening a E Bike outfitting business,I have been experimenting with various motor drive systems, hub direct drive motors, hub gear drive, and at last a mid hub drive. I’ m 68years old my first attempt is 1000 w 48 v 15 ah it’s on a Schwinn MTB I’ve put about 750 miles since May of this year , I ‘d like to try a good peddle assist system as mine dose not work properly and the twist throttle has looped me a couple of times, I use the lowest assist level option, on a recent ride I was able to squeeze 62.5 miles out of full charge with the big hub drive, by just nearly cracking the throttle
    The Dirty One

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