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What Is an E Bike?

what is an e bike, a complete guide

An Introduction to E-Bikes

If you’re intrigued by e-bikes and want to understand why electric bicycles are becoming increasingly popular, you’ve come to the right place. 

Have been wondering, what is an e-bike? how fast are e-bikes? are e-bikes legal? or are you puzzled by other e-bike related issues? If so keep reading.

This complete guide to e-bikes is suitable for beginners and e-biking experts alike. I promise to answer all of your e-bike related questions and I’ll give you plenty of helpful tips along the way!

If you have a specific question that needs answering, use the table of contents below to find your answer.

Otherwise, get ready to become an e-biking expert!

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    What Is an E-Bike?

    Electric bikes, often referred to as ‘e-bikes,’ or ‘electric bicycles,’ are simply bicycles that are electrically powered. The key feature that distinguishes an e-bike from a traditional bike is that e-bikes feature an electric motor which partially supplements your physical pedaling capabilities.

    In general, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to electric bikes. There are a huge variety of types and models that you can choose between depending on what you desire from your electric bike.

    That being said, e-bikes can be divided into two categories: pedal-assisted bikes (bicycles which provide assistance with pedalling for their rider) or e-bicycles that add throttle.

    I’ll cover the different types of electric bike and their classes in more detail and we’ll also look at some specific models of e-bike just below.

    What are the Different Classes of E-Bike?

    Whilst there are two main types of e-bike, every electric bicycle can fit into one of the three main categories, each has a different set of regulations and features.

    Choosing the right class of e-bike for yourself if pretty important. This is because each class is suitable for different cycling disciplines, so take your time reading and consider test riding different classes before making your mind up!

    comfort e bike
    E bikes come in many different shapes and sizes, but what are the different classes?

    It’s important to remember that cycling laws differ by location. It’s worth checking what sort class and speed electric bike is legal in your area before making your mind up!

    I’ve included a table of speed limits for e-bikes by country below the classes. Find your speed limit after choosing your preferred class.

    The speed limits included within the classes are based on US regulations.

    What are Class 1 E-Bikes?

    Class 1 electric bicycles are the most basic class of electric bikes. Cyclists riding class 1 electric bicycles pedal just as you would with a regular pushbike,  they then receive an pedalling assistance from the bicycle’s electric motor.

    Class 1 e-bikes only receive assistance when the rider is pedalling, so you’re unable to coast as you would be able to with a class 2 throttle assisted bike.

    However, if your legs are tired and you’ve got places to be, you can change to a low gear and even pedalling extremely gently will allow the pedal-assisting motor to engage and help you on your way!

    Electric bicycles that provide assistance only when their rider is pedalling are called pedelecs.

    Class 1 e-bicycles are pedal-assisted bicycles. The pedal assistance has a maximum speed of 20 mph / 32.1 kph.

    This allows class 1 bikes to be ridden wherever you would ride a regular pushbike, bicycle paths, trails & roads.

    As pedalling is always required, throttle isn’t available on a class 1 e-bike.

    What are Class 2 E-Bikes

    Class 2 electric bikes are a step up from class 1 e-bikes. Alongside providing pedal-assistance, these e-bikes have throttles (otherwise called twist and go) that power the bike when the rider’s not pedalling.

    Some class 2 electric bikes have throttles but no electric pedal assistance, but the majority of class 2 e-bikes offer both of these features.

    Class 2 e-bikes tend to cost more than class 1 bikes.

    Just like class 1 e-bikes, class 2 electric bikes also have a top speed of 20mph/32.1kph.

    Class 2 throttle-assisted e-bikes are normally permitted to be ridden in the same areas a non-electric bike.

    However, some areas have different regulations when it comes to e-bikes, so double check before you start riding!

    What are Class 3 E-Bikes

    Class 3 e-bikes are traditionally pedal-assisted. However, there are many class 3 e-bikes which do have a throttle.

    Due to their higher maximum assistance speed, some areas, California for example, have banned the use of class 3 e-bikes with throttles.

    Regardless of whether they integrate a throttle or not, a class 3 electric bicycle must have a speedometer.

    This allows the rider to stay aware of the speed they’re travelling at, which can help prevent accidents.

    Class 3 e-bikes have the highest maximum assisted speed of all e-bike classes. 

    Capable of travelling at 28 mph /45 kph with electric pedal assistance or 20 mph / 32.1 kph with throttle assistance, class 3 bikes allow you to beat the traffic to work.

    Due to their higher top assisted speed, class 3 e-bikes generally aren’t allowed on cycle paths or multiuse trails. However, they are allowed to ride on most roads and roadside cycle lanes.

    To allow them to be ridden in pedestrian zones such as cycle paths, some e-bike manufacturers include a 20 mph / 32.1 kph toggleable mode on their class 3 e-bikes.

    E-Bike Speed Limit Laws

    For those that want to gain a further understanding of the rules and regulations of E-bikes in their country, I’ve compiled a table of data below. 

    I gathered this information from multiple online sources, so take the data with a pinch of salt and make sure you do your own research before purchasing or riding an e-bike where you live!

    Country Type of E-Bike Maximum Assisted Speed
    Austrailia Pedelec 15.5 mph / 25 kph
    Canada Pedelec & Throttle 19.8 mph / 32 kph
    China Unspecified 15.5 mph / 25 kph
    European Union Pedelec 15.5 mph / 25 kph
    United Kingdom Pedelec 15.5 mph / 25 kph
    United States Pedelec & Throttle 19.8 mph / 32 kph

    E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular across the globe. New laws and regulations are constantly being introduced to maintain public safety, so it’s natural to wonder about the legalities of e-bikes.

    Under some circumstances, e-bikes are legal in: Austrailia, Canada, China, the EU, the UK and the USA.

    It’s not easy to give a definitive answer to this question, but the table above does provide some helpful information on the legalities of e-bikes.

    As the rules on e-bikes are so region-specific, it’s important you do your own research as well!

    Discover Other Types of Bike

    Recap - What Is an E-Bike?

    An e-bike is an electric bicycle that is pedal-powered but also features a battery and an electric motor. The motor provides assistance to the rider and does so by providing pedal-assistance or other bikes use throttle.

    When pedalling on a bike with pedal-assistance, the motor provides a boost which makes pedalling much easier.

    Throttle provides instant assistance without the need to pedal and is operated using a twist-able handle or a small button.

    The Fastest E-Bike?

    S-pedelecs, otherwise known as speed-pedelecs are legal in Germany and Norway and are legally allowed to reach speeds of 28 mph / 45 kph.

    This makes s-pedelecs some of the fastest legal e-bikes.

    This being said, there are faster e-bikes out there. These aren’t road legal, and you could end up in trouble for riding one of these.

    The video below shows a rider, who customised his pushbike to allow him to travel at ridiculous speeds.

    Don’t try this at home.

    What Is an E-Bike Used For?

    Overall, electric bikes are excellent for the majority of riding environments, from the flattest of roads to the most mountainous of terrain.

    But where electric bikes shine best is by helping cyclists navigate energy-sapping environments. 

    This is because the electric motors assist riders with any strenuous portions of a ride.

    electric mountain bikes riding on forest trail
    Some e-bikes are more suited to off-roading and allow you to explore nature

    This might involve tackling bike trails containing intense uphill mountains, hillsides, and extreme winds.

    Furthermore, electric bikes can also be great for zipping around in urban environments, which makes them a fantastic choice for commuters.

    Instead of your sweaty, tiring ride to work on your non-electric pushbike, you’ll be able to coast up hills and get to work in no time!

    A study has also shown that e-bikes help cyclists to travel further on average, travelling one and a half time further than cyclists on a non-electric bike. [1]

    This means that people who live further from their place of work may now be able to consider an e-bike rather than car as their choice of transport!

    Type of bike Average Distance Travelled
    Conventional Bicycle 3.6 km
    Electric Bicycle 5.5 km

    The History of E-Bikes

    When it comes to electric bikes, you’ll be surprised to hear that their origins trace back to the end of the 19th century, in both the United States and France.

    One of the first individuals to be documented with a patent of an electric bike was in 1895, by a man named Ogdon Bolten Jr. from Ohio, USA. [2]

    the history of electric bicycles
    E-bikes from the 1930s weren't quite as sleek and streamlined as the bikes we ride today

    His model included a hub motor on the rear wheel and a battery within the bike’s frame. Surprisingly, when looking at Bolten’s drawings of his invention, many of the design elements mimic the electric bikes that we ride today.

    A couple of short years later, another prominent pioneer, Hosea W. Libbey, invented an e-bike that was slightly different from Bolten’s that also remains relevant to the current designs of electric bikes[3].

    Libbey’s version included a double electric motor within the crankset axle of the bike.

    How Have E-Bikes Progressed Over the Years?

    From the beginning models until now, electric bikes’ key aim was to make riding a bicycle easier and faster.

    Over the years, the progression of the electric bike has been slow and steady, but in the late 1990s, it experienced rapid growth and widespread popularity.

    Some of the most prominent historical moments include the 1990s development of torque motors, the invention of the first pedal-assist e-bike by Michael Kutter, and the 2001 invention of bikes that coined the term ‘pedelec.’

    Who Should Use an E-Bike?

    An electric bike is perfect for just about any cycling discipline, from an adventurous off-road ride to a more relaxed cycle path.

    Electric bikes are battery powered and there is no need for a license or insurance to ride an e-bike in most countries. This makes e-bikes accessible to anyone. If you can ride a bike, you can ride an e-bike!

    elderly couple riding e bikes together
    E-bikes are a great way for people of all ages to remain active and get outdoors!

    Riders who could benefit the most are individuals who have a lower level of physical fitness, or perhaps those who need that extra push to motivate themselves to get some exercise.

    So who are e-bikes suitable for? Individuals who could benefit the most from the electric power these bikes offer include:

    • Elderly riders who don’t want to strain their muscles too intensely while riding
    • Cyclists suffering from medical conditions which restrict their cycling capabilities
    • Riders who are interested in strenuous uphill trails
    • Individuals who are looking for a quicker form of transportation without as much sweat and endurance as manual bikes.
    • Car users that want to reduce their carbon footprint
    • People who need to be able to transport passengers or children, or a large amount of items or groceries
    • People who want to use a larger, heavier bike, such as a fatbike, but don’t like how difficult it is to gain momentum

    Who Shouldn't Use a E-Bike?

    In theory, electric bikes are suitable for all levels of riders. However, depending on your unique cycling goals, they are not the best fit for everyone.

    Electric bikes are not suitable for cyclists who are competitive riders and are solely looking to increase fitness. This is because the electric feature of the bike doesn’t allow for as thorough of a leg workout.

    Similarly, an avid traveller who is interested in transporting their bike often isn’t an optimal match. This is because electric bikes are usually much heavier than manual ones, and are more of a hassle to drag around. 

    Cyclists who enjoy bikepacking / bicycle touring over long distances may find e-bikes to be inconvenient. If the battery dies whilst you’re in the wilderness, you’ll be left with an awkwardly heavy bike to ride home.

    What Competitions/Events are E-Bikes Used In?

    Overall, electric bikes are relatively new to the competitive cycling world. Although electric bikes have not been used in any Olympic sports yet, they have actually been used by Olympic staff members.

    In the Rio 2016 Olympic games, an electric bike was used to assist with an event for the first time, in the keirin cycling event.

    The electric bike was used as a derny, or a vehicle used as a pacer to bring competitors to the ideal racing speed. 

    Outside of the Olympics, 2019 saw the UCI’s first-ever eMTB World Championships which took place in Mont-Saint-Anne, Quebec.

    The World E-Bike Series (or WES) held the first-ever e-MTB Cross Country World Cup. 

    These recently formulated competitions prove that e-bikes are here to stay, over the coming years, you’re bound to see more e-bike competitions popping up across the world.

    Benefits of E-Bikes

    Scientific Study Shows Benefits of E-Bikes [4]

    Additional Benefits of E-Bikes

    If you are looking to buy an electric bike, it is important to understand the benefits and challenges that it can bring to your life.

    Electric bikes serve a more diverse range of cyclists thanks to their pedalling assistance features and throttle which make them a joy to ride for cyclists of all ages and abilities.

    e bike rider on electric mountain bike
    An electric mountain bike rider taking on an off-road trail

    E-bikes also allow cyclists to commute longer distances [1], as well as carry additional groceries, shopping, or passengers.

    You can also go up hills without having to worry about keeping up with traffic or having to show up to work sweaty from your commute.

    Another benefit is that an e-bike’s motor will help you accelerate faster from a standstill.

    This is especially helpful for cyclists who ride within busy cities as they’ll be able to get away quickly from traffic lights and avoid getting caught up in other traffic.

    As I’ve already covered multiple times, one of the most significant benefits e-bikes provide, is the assistance they give to less confident and less able cyclists.

    Ultimately e-bikes make many disciplines of cycling far more accessible to all cyclists.

    The Downside of E-Bikes

    While e-bikes are considered to be safe, the weight of an electric bike can often be too much to handle for cyclists with limited strength. If the battery runs out, the bike must be pedalled or pushed home.

    Make sure to keep on eye on your battery levels so that you don’t end up stranded!

    E-bikes come with quite a hefty price tag, not to mention the fact that there are a few more parts involved that could need expensive replacements more often than regular bikes.

    how to charge e bike battery
    Charging your e-bike is normally straightforward, but you may benefit from installing an outdoor charging point.

    Unlike conventional bicycles, e-bikes require regular charging, which is another added expense to consider. However, because e-bikes can replace the use of a car over commutable distances, they will normally be cheaper to run!

    As electric bicycles are considerably more expensive than your average conventional bike, e-bike owners should consider spending more on theft preventing devices such as secure bike storage sheds and high quality bike locks. 

    There are also many different e-biking laws and regulations which are location-specific. These dictate where you’re allowed to ride e-bikes and what assistance speeds are legal.

    Make sure you do your research to avoid fines and possible prosecution!

    The Environmental Impact of Using a E-Bike

    E-bikes, in general, are much more eco-friendly than riding a car or public transport, making them perfect for individuals looking to decrease their carbon footprints.

    Whilst conventional bikes don’t require electricity, e-bicycles have been shown to increase average journey distance, reducing the number of times a car or other forms of transport are required.

    Does an E-Bike Require Anything to Keep Functioning?

    When owning an electric bike, it is important to be mindful of the necessities for operating one.

    The top necessities for an electric bike include electricity in order for your e-bike to function properly, and optimal storage to prevent theft or weather damage.

    E-bikes have batteries that should be charged and discharged properly to extend their life. They are one of the most expensive replacement parts, so their proper usage is very important to avoid hefty replacement fees.

    Apart from that another aspect to consider is that many bike conventional shops may not have the capabilities to repair a broken e-bike.

    Often when buying a new e-bike, you’ll receive a manufacturer guarantee which will keep you covered from specific defects for a set period of time.

    Does the E-Bike Require a Special Area to be Ridden?

    E-bikes, although considered bicycles, aren’t allowed everywhere that someone might ride a conventional bike.

    For example, class 3 e-bikes generally aren’t allowed to be ridden on cycle paths or multiuse trails.

    It is a good idea to research ahead of time to ensure you are riding lawfully.

    What to Wear When Riding a E-Bike

    Electric bikers don’t usually need much extra protective gear. However, since electric bikes can go faster than manual ones, there is potential for more serious injuries if a crash occurs.

    As always, when riding any bike, wear a helmet!

    Extra protection such as gloves and elbow pads can be helpful. Also, when practising more extreme cycling disciplines such as mountain biking, a full-face helmet with goggles can be beneficial and help to prevent injury.

    e bike powered by motor on front wheel
    Whilst you might not look "cool", always wear a helmet when riding any bicycle!

    Mirrors and lights are always a great addition for e-bikes as well, especially if you are commuting to and from locations in the evening on busy roads.

    Finally, cycling glasses will be beneficial to many e-bikers as they’ll prevent irritation of the eyes whilst cycling at higher speeds.

    What Accessories are Recommended When Using a E-Bike?

    Because e-bikes can run quite expensive, there is a higher potential for theft than traditional bikes.

    Subsequently, it’s important to have additional accessories in place for protecting your bicycle. A good quality bike shed will keep your bike out of sight, whilst a quality bike lock will ensure it remains in your possession!

    If you have the budget for it, a GPS bicycle tracker can also be a great way to protect your investment.

    E-Bike FAQs

    how to test an e bike battery
    electric comfort bike for commuting
    rental hire e bikes

    On average, you can expect your average lithium-ion e-bike battery to provide around 1000 charge cycles before needing to be replaced. 

    Nickel and lead batteries are lower quality and therefore don't provide as many charge cycles before needing to be replaced.

    You can expect around 500 charges from nickel and 300 from lead batteries.

    Ultimately the lifespan of your battery will depend upon how well you take care of it. Try not to fully de-charge it, don't charge it when it's super cold and don't expose your battery to high temperatures!

    When looking to buy a new e-bike you can expect to spend anywhere between $1000 to $8000.

    Normally you won't find a quality electric bike for sale for less than $1000 and if it looks too good to be true it probably is!

    If you're looking for an entry-level e-bike, you can expect to spend $1000 to $2500.

    For a reliable, good quality e-bike you can expect to spend $2500 - $4500

    And if you want a top quality e-bike you'll be looking at spending more than $5000.

    E-bikes are similar to conventional bicycles, but with the addition of a battery which powers a motor to assist you whilst riding. 

    Some e-bikes are pedelecs which use a motor to assist with pedalling, whilst others use a throttle. Both of these features allow riders of e-bikes to quickly climb hills and cross difficult terrain without breaking a sweat!


    E-bikes offer all of the benefits of a traditional bicycle and have been shown to increase the cognitive function of their riders with prolonged use [4].

    E-bikes make your time riding less strenuous, which can encourage you to ride further and more regularly.

    Ultimately, you'll be in charge of making sure your e-bike is a worthwhile purchase. Make sure you're committed to spending more time on two wheels before making such a costly investment!

    The main reason electric bikes are so expensive is the cost of their batteries and motors.

    The most expensive e-bike batteries will set you back around $1500, whilst cheaper ones can be found for $300 these won't last you as long.

    Motors are another expensive component for e-bikes. Where a lot of the technology used by e-bikes is new, manufacturers are yet to scale the production process, resulting in higher prices for consumers.

    To test the battery of your e-bike you'll want to measure its voltage, current and resistance with a multimeter.

    After testing each of the above readings with your multimeter, compare your findings with the battery specifications in the user manual and you'll be able to determine how healthy your battery is.

    Two scientific studies carried out [1][4] suggest that cyclists riding e-bikes cycle almost 1.5x further and have longer journeys on average than conventional cyclists.

    This evidence shows that you can ride further on an e-bike!

    A study carried out by Marian Gogola, shows that cyclists using e-bikes travel at higher average speeds, which can lead to an increased number of dangerous situations on the road. [5]

    Also, because e-bikes make cycling more accessible to beginners, these newer cyclists are less likely to spot dangerous situations, leading to an increased number of incidents.

    Beginners riding e-bikes should take things one step at a time and make sure to familiarise themselves with the rules of the road.

    Finishing Up - The Complete Guide to E-Bikes

    So, there you have it, the complete guide to e-bikes. I hope all of your questions have been answered, but if not, comment any below and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can!

    If you’ve been considering buying an e-bike for a while, make sure you understand the different classes of e-bike and remember to ask for a trial/test period before committing to a purchase.

    how do e bikes work?

    Electric bicycles are a costly investment so it’s important that you take your time with your choice and protect it with a suitable bike lock.

    Thanks for reading. As always, lock it or lose it!

    Ciao for now.


    Author of This Post:
    Picture of James Grear (Lead Editor)
    James Grear (Lead Editor)

    Understanding how devastating it is to have a bike stolen, I've researched & immersed myself in the world of bicycle security since 2013.

    I then built BikeLockWiki in 2019 to share everything I'd learned with the worldwide cycling community so that cyclists can improve their bike security skills and make informed decisions when purchasing new products and services.

    Learn More about Me & BikeLockWiki here.

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