Do You Have To Pedal An Electric Bike? (Plus A Legal Workaround!)

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Electric Bikes are a pretty new technology to most, so common questions like “Do You Have To Pedal An Electric Bike?” get asked a lot. Let us run you through a simple answer.

Do You Have To Pedal An Electric Bike?

No, you don’t have to pedal some Electric Bikes. If you’d like to ride a bicycle without pedaling you can get an E-Bike with a throttle like on a motorbike. Then you don’t have to pedal at all if you don’t want to.

E-Bikes are generally broken down into three classes. Class 1 and Class 3 are pedal assist, meaning when you pedal the motor is activated and gives you a boost. Class 2 E-Bikes use a throttle – either a little thumb lever or a full or half-sized twist throttle.

Throttle E-Bikes are also known as twist and go electric bikes or power-on-demand. Pedal assist E-Bikes are also known as pedelecs (pedal electric bicycles).

In some places (depending on local E-Bike Law) you can get a pedal assist E-Bike that also has a throttle – so you can choose which you’d like to use. Some Electric Bikes mainly use pedal assist but have a “boost” button that gives a bit of extra power – only when you are also pedaling.

As a result, that means even if your state says you are supposed to pedal your electric bike, you can have pedals but just use the throttle, or barely have to pedal and rely 95% on the throttle.

Read more about E-Bike Classes

How Do You Ride An Electric Bike?

For pedal assist E-Bikes it’s as simple as turning the bike on and pedaling. The motor will kick in almost straight away and give you a boost. For throttle versions, you just twist or push the throttle and the motor moves the bike without needing to pedal.

Gear changing, steering, and braking all work exactly the same as a normal bicycle. Most models allow you to choose how much assistance you get. So you can choose to do very little work and get lots of help from the motor, or just a little extra help.

Do You Have To Pedal An Electric Bike - No pedal E-bikes
You don’t have to pedal E-Bikes if they are Class 2 or legal where you live

Can You Just Pedal An Electric Bike?

Yes, you can just pedal an Electric Bike if it has pedal assist. Select the amount of assistance you want and the motor will kick in to help. You can also pedal Electric Bikes without the motor on – though it’s harder because the motor and battery add quite a bit of weight.

Read How Much Does An Electric Bike Weigh?

What Is The Difference Between Pedal Assist And Throttle?

Pedal assist is when the motor only activates when you pedal, throttle is when the motor only activates when you push/twist a throttle. Most Electric Bikes are one or the other. It is possible to get E-Bikes that have both, as long as it’s legal where you live.

Electric Bikes – Pedal Assist Vs Throttle

A lot of people ask if pedal assist is better than throttle and vice versa. The reality is that the pedal assist vs throttle debate is really a personal choice because it depends on how you will use your Electric Bike.

It’s also important that you know what is legal where you live, as well as what restrictions different types have. Some places restrict trails to pedal assist only, or just Class 1 pedal assist E-Bikes.

What Are Electric Bike Classes - Throttle Types
Difference types of E-Bike throttle

If you just need a little help pedaling we’d recommend pedal assist. It helps to keep up fitness by lowering the bar slightly and helping out more on the hardest parts of cycling like big hill climbs.

You can set assistance levels so on good days go for the lowest assistance and if you’re struggling just jump up the top “boost” mode. If you can’t pedal or would just prefer not to – go for a throttle E-Bike.

Also consider an Electric Bike that has both if it’s legal where you live. Having the option for an extra boost is always helpful.

Pedal Assist E-Bike Pros + Cons

  • Uses less battery
  • Low assistance modes are great for exercise
  • Ideal for older or less fit riders who don’t want to stop cycling altogether
  • Cheap and green method of transportation
  • Class 3 pedal assist E-Bikes can generally go up to 28 mph
  • More work
  • Harder up hills – like normal bicycles
  • Slower acceleration
  • Seen as “cheating” by some

Throttle E-Bike Pros + Cons

  • Great for those with mobility issues
  • If you can sit and balance on the bike, you can use it
  • Just get on and go
  • Instant acceleration – Helpful in traffic
  • Easier starting on hills
  • Easier on very tight trails
  • Cheap and green method of transportation
  • Uses more battery than pedal assist
  • Doesn’t give as much exercise
  • Not legal in some places
  • Class 2 throttle E-Bikes often limited to 20 mph
  • Can be more damaging to soil (over accelerating on start causing a skid or “burnout”)
  • Seen as “cheating” by some
  • Holding a throttle can be a little uncomfortable

Does Pedaling Charge An Electric Bike?

Most Electric Bikes don’t charge when you pedal. There are a very select few that do but the gain isn’t really worth it. The ideal E-Bike motor is very small and efficient so any extra mechanisms like a charging relay aren’t normally added.

The few that do normally only charge when you are coasting downhill, not using the motor, and you pedal backward. For the short amount of time you’d do this, it probably won’t be worth the effort.

Does Braking Charge An Electric Bike?

Braking doesn’t recharge the battery for most Electric Bikes. This is called “regenerative braking” and is fairly common on modern cars – both EV and liquid fuel. The difference is mainly down the weight of a car vs a bicycle.

With Electric Bikes a big aim is to reduce the bulk and weight. Bikes that have regenerative braking don’t tend to get enough power back overall so it isn’t popular.

Regenerative braking works by converting the kinetic force that is normally lost when you break back into stored energy. Typically it only adds 5-10% but in EVs like the Tesla Roadster it can add up to an extra 15-20% charge during a long journey.

On a large Electric Car, the added weight is just a small fraction overall. Whereas with an Electric Bike the added weight becomes larger plus you are the one that needs to get that added weight uphill – not just the engine.

Do You Have To Pedal An Electric Bike - Out on the trails
Getting out doesn’t have to be all about physical health – The mental health benefits of E-Bike riding are huge

Is It Hard To Pedal An Electric Bike?

No, it’s really easy to pedal most Electric Bikes. Even on the lowest mode of assist you generally get about an extra 20% power. This makes a big difference when pulling away in traffic or trying to go uphill.

You can choose your level of assist and decide if you want a workout or a cruise. Using a higher level of assist does drain more battery – just keep an eye on your use and play it safe your first few rides.

We really recommend trying an E-Bike if you haven’t. For some it means enjoying longer bike rides than normal. For others, it means more downhill trails per day.

For many, this would be either their first bicycle or a return to cycling. If you’d like to stay fit and active then E-Bikes are a great option. You still get nearly the same amount of exercise and still get out and about.