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Understanding E-Bike Pedal Assist: What is it And When to Use it

If you’re looking to purchase an electric bike, you’ve come across both pedal-assist and throttle options. These options can be pretty confusing to the uninformed but making sure you have pedal assist if you want it is critical to getting the electric bike experience you are expecting.

Pedal-assist offers more power to your pedal strokes on an electric bike. It’s used to extend range, to help on hills and harsh terrain, and to allow you to go faster. It also allows you to get a light workout in without getting sweaty or worn out. Pedal-assist max speeds range from 20-28mph.

Both pedal-assist and throttle have different advantages and should be used in other cases. Pedal-assist is common for most electric e-bikes, while throttle may be class-specific. Read on to get the complete picture!

What’s the Difference Between Pedal-Assist and Throttle?

Close-up of electric bike with battery on

When choosing an electric bike, you may have come across both pedal-assist and throttle options. Some bikes come with only pedal-assist, while others come with both pedal-assist and throttle. Each of these systems serves a different purpose and offers distinct advantages.

The main difference is, pedal-assist offers motor assistance up to a certain max speed while you’re pedaling. On the other hand, the throttle offers full motor assistance up to a max speed without the use of the pedals. Now, let’s define our terms in more detail.

Pedal-Assist: Pedal-assist is a system on an electric bike that gives you an easier time riding. Once you activate pedal-assist, the motor kicks in while you are pedaling, offering you more Power. Many electric bikes provide different levels of pedal assist. Usually, these bikes have three distinct modes but can have much more.

  • Low Assistance: 30% Power
  • Medium Assistance: 60% Power
  • High Assistance: 100% Power

What Pedal-assist Speeds do Each Bike “Class” Offer?

Almost every e-bike is rated in the three-tier system. Each tier offers different advantages, but the max speed of the pedal-assist will be consistent with the bike’s rating. Once you reach the max speed of your bike’s class, the motor will stop providing assistance.

  • Class 1: Pedal-assist up to 20mph
  • Class 2: Pedal-assist up to 20mph
  • Class 3: Pedal-assist up to 28mph

Throttle: The throttle mode of an electric bike is what gives it that motorcycle or moped feeling. Throttle provides your bike with power with or without pedaling. This is what allows you to cruise and sit back and relax.

The throttle system is typically activated through a twist throttle or thumb button on the handlebars. The throttle system in electric bikes is always limited to a max speed of 20mph, regardless of its classification. Class 1 e-bikes won’t have a full-throttle system, while Class 2 and 3 may or may not have one in place.

For example, if you had an electric bike and reached 28mph using the throttle, once you stopped pedaling, the bike would gradually slow down to the 20mph throttle limit.

Pedal-Assist vs Throttle

Electric Bike Accelerator

One of the main advantages of pedal-assist is the higher top speed of 28mph. With pedal-assist, you can reach even higher rates than 28mph. This is due to the fact that both you and the motor are supplying power to the bike. Keep in mind; the motor will stop offering assistance at the max speed of your e-bike.

If you overuse the throttle on your electric bike, you will wear out the motor and battery faster. This wear and tear are especially true during rough weather conditions, rough terrain, and hills. In throttle mode, you are only using the motor and battery to move the bike, which employs more power and drains the battery.

That’s not to say throttle doesn’t have its benefits or place for riders. Throttle allows you to take the strain off your legs and gives you a boost of power. This less intensive ride can be a significant advantage and is what some riders are looking for.

However, we recommend using the throttle sparingly. If you’re traveling long-distance, use the pedal-assist as much as you can. Riding in such a way will ensure the longevity of your bike and its electrical components. If you’re going a shorter distance or want an extra boost of power, using the throttle is a good choice.

Are All EBikes Pedal-Assist?

Nearly every electric bike under the three-tier classification system will have some form of pedal assist. That being said, some electric bikes have both pedal-assist and throttle or just one of the two.

If any bike falls under the three-tier classification system, it is relatively simple to know if it will have a throttle or pedal-assist.

  • Class 1: Pedal-assist without throttle up to 20mph
  • Class 2: Pedal-assist with or without throttle up to 20mph
  • Class 3: Pedal-assist up to 28mph and throttle up to 20mph

Some Class 1 bikes offer a “throttle,” but you still have to move the pedals, so they aren’t like the throttle systems we most commonly think about. For example, the VanMoof S3 offers this type of throttle system.

They describe it as a “Boost Torque,” which is much more apt than a throttle. Systems like these usually don’t require you to pump the pedals as hard as you would with a standard pedal assist.

There are also bikes with only a throttle. Some of the bikes made by Vintage Electric Bikes fall into this category. The Roadster, for example, is a full-throttle bike. Keep in mind; this bike still falls under Class 2. That means legally, in most states, you will only be able to ride it up to the max speed limit of 20mph. However, they do have a “Race Mode,” allowing you to get up to speeds of 36mph (on private property.)

Can You Add Pedal-Assist to a Bike?

Electric bicycle. Details of motor and pedal

It is possible to add pedal-assist systems and sensors to an electric bike through conversion kits. That being said, it may not be the most DIY-friendly option. How would you go about doing this?

First off, you would need to determine whether your regular bike is compatible with your conversion kit or one in general. From there, you would need to decide what type of conversion kit you want. There are different options besides pedal-assist and throttle-only kits. Then, of course, you would need to install the kit and/or pedal-assist system. You can check out our complete guide on conversion kits here!

Let’s say you went with a full-throttle conversion kit. If you wanted to add a pedal-assist system to your bike, you would either need to go through the manufacturer of your kit or through a third-party brand.

Pedal-assist sensors like the Yosoo Health Gear Pedal Assist Sensor (on Amazon) are reasonably cheap and easy to come by. LCD displays like this EBIKELING model (on Amazon), on the other hand, may cost a bit more. It’s important to note; all these components need to be compatible with each other.

After you determined which pedal-assist system to go with, you would either install it yourself or have a professional do it. The installation process may be complicated for the less mechanically inclined. That being said, there are always resources online through YouTube or the manufacturer. When in doubt, Google it or seek a professional!

How Do You Use a Pedal-Assist Bike Properly?

How you operate the pedal-assist on an electric bike will depend on the model. In general, the pedal-assist is used by different buttons on the handlebars or LCD screen.

To use the pedal-assist, you have to be pedaling while the system is engaged. The systems usually have an on and off switch, so you can decide whether to use it or not. With the system on, when you pedal, the motor will provide you with different degrees of power and “oomph,” depending on the level you have it set to.

As mentioned earlier, pedal-assist systems usually come at different levels. Some systems are one to three, and some systems can go all the way to five. Typically, the higher the level, the more assistance you receive from the motor.

So, when should you turn on pedal-assist, and what level is best?

When Exactly Should You Use Pedal-Assist?

Every electric bike pedal-assist system will vary. To determine exactly when you should use your pedal-assist, you’ll have to get to know your bike and typical commute. That being said, here are some tips to keep in mind!

For these examples, let’s assume your electric bike has a pedal-assist range of 1-5.

  • If you’re looking for just a bit of power and speed, levels 1-2 are going to be best. This range will also extend your battery life and be less intensive on your motor. Extending your battery life is a great benefit, as it opens the range of your electric bike.
  • If you’re traveling uphill or on rougher terrain, level 3 is going to shine. With a level three pedal-assist, you’re starting to gain significant power and speed. This is best for rough terrains, windy days, or going uphill. It will take some of the strain off your legs and give you the extra push you need. In some cases, you may even have to dip into level 4.
  • For faster travel or full-speed, levels 4-5 will be best. At levels 4-5, you’re maxing out your pedal-assist and receiving its full capability. This is best for when you need to get somewhere fast, pass a car, or on flat ground. At this level, you will feel the full power of your electric bike!

Keep in mind; you can swap between these levels as you ride or as needed. For example, if you were commuting to work, you may keep your bike in a higher level of pedal-assist to avoid showing up sweaty and tired. Additionally, if you’re running late, you may want a higher level of assistance.

If you’re looking to get more exercise or have a more leisurely ride, keeping your pedal-assist at a lower level is optimal. Keep in mind that a higher level will drain your battery faster and draw more power from the motor.

How Does a Pedal Assist Sensor Work?

For pedal assistance to kick in, the bike needs to sense that you’re pedaling. The bike senses that you’re pedaling through the use of sensors. Pedal-assist sensors come in two different options, speed, and torque. Some electric bikes come with both types of sensors.

The sensors are usually installed in the bottom bracket of the bike or are found inside the motor of mid-drive options. Speed sensors will detect some kind of movement from the pedals, while torque options will detect the force.

Speed sensors allow for more ease of access. As soon as you start pedaling, the motor will kick in and offer power. You can control the amount of power, usually through the LCD display or buttons on the bike. Sometimes the pedal-assist can overpower you, causing you to feel as though you’re adding no power. You’ll still have to pedal to engage the motor, but it’s much less intensive.

The torque sensor, however, guarantees you are getting some exercise through your commute. This type of sensor only activates when you apply pressure to the pedals. For this reason, torque sensors are less user-friendly, as you’ll have to gauge how much pressure to apply. It’s also important to note, with this type of sensor, you will always be doing a significant amount of pedaling to some capacity.

For all these reasons, most beginners should go with a speed sensor. Speed sensors allow for more accessibility, enjoyment, and reliability. That being said, if you want your bike to feel more like a conventional bicycle, opt-in for a torque sensor.


Sunday 18th of February 2024

May be worth pointing out that the maximum permitted PA speed is different in different countries. In the UK it is 15.5 mph / 25 kph - if higher then classed as motor vehicle and liable to licensing and not permitted on cycle paths / mixed user paths.


Friday 20th of October 2023

Can you do the opposite. Can you add throttle and full power without pedaling to a bike which is pedal assist only


Friday 9th of June 2023

excellent article. Very quickly answered all my questions and limited knowledge as a newbie to this recreational, mobility assisting activity


Saturday 22nd of October 2022

which shimano gear level is best recommended with pedal assist levels

barclays gosforth

Sunday 25th of September 2022

I really love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my very own blog and would love to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Cheers!