What Is an E-Bike? And How Does it Work?

electric commuter bike in the middle of the gravel road

Even though electric bikes are getting more popular each year, we still occasionally come across the question of what is an e-bike.

Also, many people are wondering how exactly an e-bike system works.

In this article, you will learn what an e-bike is, how it works, what are its main components and much more.

What is an Electric Bike?

An e-bike, which is also known as an electric bike, is a bicycle that has an electric motor integrated into the bike. Additionally, e-bikes have a battery pack that provides the motor with the necessary energy.

These 2 are the main components that assist the rider to make pedaling easier.

Some e-bikes have a throttle that you can engage from the handlebar, so you could ride an electric bike without pedaling.

Related: How Much are E-Bikes?

Who Invented the Electric Bike?

Although we think electric bikes are a new thing, it was actually invented more than 100 years ago.

A Boston inventor Hosea W. Libbey invented an electric bicycle in 1897. The bike had a double motor, which is quite rare these days.

figure of first ever electric bicycle
Photo: Patents.google.com

Who Are Electric Bikes For?

Electric bikes are built for a wide range of users. Here are some prime examples:

  • Commuters: E-bikes will make your daily commute much easier and quicker. You can avoid traffic, save on fuel costs, and don’t need to search for a parking spot.
  • Seniors and people with limited mobility: If you have problems pedaling a traditional bike, an e-bike is making cycling possible again.
  • Delivery and cargo: Couriers use e-bikes to make their job more efficient. Also, cargo bikes can be used to haul kids.

Why eBikes are Trending?

electric bicycle trend
Interest over time for “electric bicycle” according to Google Trends

As we can see from the graph above, the interest in electric bikes is seasonal. The peak is always in the summer. However, we can clearly see the trend.

There are several reasons for that:

  • Environmental benefits: E-bikes are a green and sustainable means of transportation. They don’t emit pollutants and have a much lower carbon footprint than cars or motorcycles.
  • Convenience: Electric bikes provide an easy and convenient way to get around, especially for people with limited mobility and commuters.
  • Cost savings: Compared to cars and motorcycles, e-bikes are cheaper and don’t require as much maintenance.
  • Advancements in technology: With advancements in battery technology, e-bikes are becoming more efficient and provide a longer range. Also, electric bikes are getting much more affordable than they were before.

3 Classes of E-Bikes

Since electric bikes are a relatively new type of transportation, there were no regulatory laws for e-bikes in the beginning.

But as the popularity grew, there was a need to somehow classify electric bikes.

The most common way to identify e-bikes are 3 class system:

  • Class 1 e-bike: A bicycle with a motor of up to 750 Watts that assists the rider up to a 20 mph speed. Class 1 e-bikes don’t have a throttle.
  • Class 2 e-bike: A bicycle with a motor of up to 750 Watts that assists the rider up to a 20 mph speed and also has a throttle that can speed up the bike until reaching 20 mph speed.
  • Class 3 e-bike: A bicycle with a motor of up to 750 Watts that assists the rider up to a 28 mph speed. Sometimes class 3 e-bikes also have a throttle, which can speed the bike up to 20 mph speed.

What Types of Electric Bikes Are There?

different types of electric bikes

Just like there are different types of bikes on traditional bikes, there are also different types of e-bikes.

Electric Commuter Bikes

Electric commuter bikes are designed for commuting and riding around the city. Commuter bikes usually have a sleek and compact design.

man riding an electric cruiser bike

E-commuters in turn are divided into subcategories:

  • Electric City Bikes: The most basic e-bikes to get around town. They usually have an upright riding position, rigid frame, and narrow tires.
  • Electric Hybrid Bikes: They also have an upright riding position, but may come with a front suspension and a bit wider tires to be able to ride on light gravel as well.
  • Electric Fat Bikes: These bikes have wide tires (3″-5″) that allow riding on very different types of terrain.
  • Electric Cruiser Bikes: They are designed for comfort and leisurely riding. Cruiser bikes have an upright (or even laid-back) riding position, which allows the rider to sit comfortably and enjoy the scenery.

Electric Performance Bikes

woman posing with an electric mountain bike in the forest

E-performance bikes are designed for sports and recreation. They can also be divided into subcategories:

  • Electric Mountain Bikes (e-MTB): Mostly come with a suspension system (hardtail or full suspension). Electric MTB gives you increased access to challenging terrain.
  • Electric Road Bikes: Typically class 1 e-bikes (sometimes class 3) with an aggressive riding position. E-road bikes allow you to go for longer rides and help you when climbing hills.
  • Electric Gravel Bikes: Looks like an e-road bike but has a little bit wider tires to be able to ride on the gravel as well.

Electric Utility Bikes

bunch k9 cargo electric bike
Photo: Bunchbike.com

In addition to cycling, e-utility bikes have some other necessary functions as well. Here are some examples:

  • Electric Folding Bikes: Thanks to the folding frame, folding e-bikes have excellent portability, so the storage of the bike is easier. Also, this bike would fit in the trunk of the car.
  • Electric Cargo Bikes: E-Cargo bikes are specifically designed for transporting cargo, packages, or other items.
  • Electric Hunting Bikes: E-hunting bikes are built for providing assistance for hunting or other outdoor activities. They must be quiet, have off-roading capabilities, and have some cargo capacity.

E-Bike and Traditional Bike Differences

The main difference between an e-bike and a traditional bike is the presence of an electric motor and battery. In addition to that, e-bikes have a controller and sensors that regulate the work of the motor and battery.

Other key differences between conventional bikes and electric bikes are:

  • E-bikes reach higher speeds than traditional bikes.
  • Usually, electric bikes are heavier due to the added weight of the motor and battery.
  • Electric bikes tend to be more expensive due to the cost of electric components.
  • Depending on the country, e-bikes may have different legal requirements than traditional bikes, such as registration, insurance, and speed limits.

How Does an e-Bike Work?

Now we know what distinguishes a regular bike from an electric bike. Let’s discuss how each component of the electric bike works.

Motor

motor inside of rear hub of an electric bike

The motor is a most important component of an electric bike. It is responsible for providing the power, which moves the bike forward.

In general, there are 2 types of motors used in e-bikes.

Hub motors are located in the wheel hub and mid-drive motors are located on top of the pedals in the middle of the bike.

Battery

The motor gets its energy from a battery. There are different locations where you can mount an e-bike battery.

man removes a battery from an electric bike
Some e-bikes have a removable battery

Sometimes, the battery is hidden inside the frame. You can also find the battery back on the rear rack or behind the saddle next to the seat tube.

The most common battery type for ebikes is a lithium-ion battery.

Controller

The controller is the brain of an electric bike. It manages the power flow from the battery to the motor.

Also, it is the controller’s job to regulate the speed and torque of the motor. For controlling the torque, there are a couple of sensors in place.

There are 2 types of sensors: cadence and torque sensors.

The sensor recognizes when you start pedaling or engage a throttle and then activates the motor assistance.

Display

The display is the interface between the rider and the e-bike. You can see important information from the display like speed, speed mode, remaining battery, and traveled distance.

display of an electric bike

Although most electric bikes have a display, not all of them have one.

While electric bikes can not function without a motor, battery, or controller, it is possible to have no display.

How does an E-Bike System Works?

All components mentioned above work together to make an electric bike function properly. Simply said, an e-bike works like this:

  1. The rider starts pedaling or engaging a throttle
  2. The sensor sends the signal to the controller
  3. The controller activates the motor to provide additional power
  4. The controller also regulates the power flow from the battery to motor
  5. The display provides important information about the riding statistics
  6. If the rider stops pedaling or doesn’t push the throttle anymore, sensors send the signal to the controller to stop the motor.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned what an electric bike is and how the e-bike system works.

Additionally, we introduced you to different types of e-bikes.

Hopefully, you found something useful here and that we were able to help you if you are looking for your first electric bike.

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