Electric Bike Basics

Electric Bike Basics

To choose the best bike for your needs, we advise you to gather some information in advance. This post of electric bike basics is a collection of general information you should know about.

The history of the electric bicycles is a longer then some may expect. The first concepts and prototypes were built in the 19th century. As the technology improved, the bicycles were getting more and more usable, however, they were never really popular because of the complexity and the price. If you would like to know more about them, I recommend you to check the post of electricbikes.com on this topic. They have made quite a good research on this topic.

We can count modern electrical bikes from the 1980’s and 90’s. They were mostly used in China and India, however never got popular in other parts of the world. Sanyo and Yamaha also produced their own bikes. Yamaha’s bike was using the nowadays well-known pedal assist system (PAS).

Electric Bike Basics
Yamaha PAS from 1993

In this basics section, we will cover two types of groupings. Groups electric bicycle usage and motor technologies.

Based on usage

Pedelec: Pedal Electric Cycle

This category in Europe means electrical bikes with pedal assist technology, which has a speed limit of 25 kph and motor wattage <=250W. The motor will not provide a stand-alone power source, it only assists your pedaling. It means you will feel the support with your feet, just like turning a servo wheel in your car (but more noticeable) As this type stands really close to the standard bikes, there is no limitation at all for them.

Throttle on Demand

In these bikes, the electrical system can be activated not only using pedals as in Pedelec but also by an external throttle element. The restriction is the same as for pedelec: 25 kph maximum speed and 250W motors. The popularity of these bikes are limited because in some countries they are not considered as a bike and restrictions for usage may apply.

Speed pedelec

The technology used is the same as in the first category, but with greater performance. These bikes are limited to 45 kph maximum speed and motor wattage of 450W. With the higher power and speed, several restrictions come with these bikes. For example in Germany speed bikes can only be used with special license plates.

Electric motor technology

Hub-Motor bikes


Electric Bike Basics
BionX Gearless Direct Drive Hub

There are two types of electrical HUB motors

Direct hub drive motors are really simple. It contains only the stationary coil and the moving magnets around it. Movement is generated by the alternating electromagnetic field. This means, that there is no gearing inside at all. They are capable to reach higher speeds but smaller torque. Since these motors do not contain moving parts, they are more durable and maintenance free.

The disadvantage is, the weight compared to the geared motors increases significantly to reach the same output performance. Also, these motors are always mechanically engaged. It means that whatever state the motor is at, the magnets and the coils always make an effect on each other. This basically means, that it will always have a regenerative effect, whether it was designed for it or not. The negative side is: because of the constant engagement there is always a rolling resistance which you have to overcome.

Geared hub motors have a gearing inside to convert the speed difference of the motor output and the wheel. Motor efficiency is much better if the output speed and torque are not limited as in direct drive. Geared Hub motors do not require big diameter to achieve high performance, using planetary gears and the motor output in the middle, they are usually smaller than direct drive hubs.

Hub motors, in general, comes in a compact package, often attached to the front or rear wheel. Converting a standard bike into electric powered is relatively easy.

Mid-drive bikes


Electric Bike Basics
Bosch eBike mid drive motor – Performance line

Mid-drive electric bikes have specifically designed frame so that the motor can be placed in the middle section of the bottom bracket. Since the pedals are attached to the motor shaft and all gears of the bike can be used normally, it feels more like a standard bike. If the rider is changing gears correctly, the motor can turn closer to its ideal rotations per minute, despite the speed of the bike.

Leaving the two wheels free of any electrical components gives the possibility of easier repairs such as changing a tire.

The weight distribution is also much better since every component is located in the lower midsection of the bike. Lower center of gravity means better stability. Since these bikes also come in high speed and mountain models, this is really a big advantage.

If you are planning to buy an e-bike, we recommend you to read our Electric bike buyer’s guide.

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