There is a lot of confusion online about what we mean by a Pedelec bike. This post aims to clear that up by explaining what a Pedelec bike is, the pros and cons of a Pedelec bike, and the various kinds of Pedelec bikes.
The word Pedelec derives from pedal electric cycle. Technically, this should mean any electric bike, as they almost all have pedals plus electrical assistance. However, in the industry it has come to mean a specific type of electric bike. A Pedelec bike gives you electrical power assistance only when you are pedaling; the amount of assistance is linked to your pedaling. This is in contrast to throttle-powered ebikes, on which you can get the wheels turning without pedaling at all.
With a Pedelec bike, you get no assistance while you are not pedaling. The minute you stop pedaling, the motor stops assisting. With these bikes, the notion that an electric bike is a free ride (like a motor cycle or a car) is just not true. Also, when the hills get really steep, you are likely to have to help a lot. On the other hand, you will go up minor hills easily, if you use a high level of assistance.
Pros and Cons of Pedelec Bikes vs. Throttle Powered Bikes
Many people prefer Pedelec bikes because the power echoes your own efforts, making for a more natural cycling feeling, rather than the more motor-bike-like feeling of using a throttle to engage the motor.
Others prefer Pedelec bikes because they “keep you honest” in the sense that you HAVE to pedal at all times – you cannot just opt for throttle only. On the other hand, this option can be handy if you develop knee pain or any other kind of injury while you are on a bike ride.
The throttle power option can be very handy for pull-offs, especially on an uphill. I have also found the throttle option to be useful when you have to maneuver through an obstacle at a low speed, such as in the situation below.
Some Pedelec Bikes Have a Delay, Some Do Not
With some Pedelec bikes, the assistance kicks in immediately when you start pedaling; with others, there is a one to three second delay. There are pros and cons to both of these. On hill starts, it is very helpful to have the Pedelec assistance kick in immediately. On the other hand, with immediate-assistance bikes, you have to be careful not to rest your feet on the pedals when you don’t want to move, such as when stopped at a red light.
Torque Sensors vs. Cadence Sensors on Pedelec Bikes
Pedelec bikes use either a torque sensor or a cadence sensor. A torque sensor reacts to how hard you pedal, and adjusts accordingly. A cadence sensor simply reacts to whether or not you are pedaling. With a Pedelec bike using a cadence sensor, the level of assistance is controlled by the level of assistance you have chosen on the console, not by how hard you are pedaling. With a Pedelec bike using a torque sensor, the level of assistance is controlled by two variables: how hard you are pedaling, multiplied by the level of assistance you have chosen.
Torque sensors are more advanced, relying on complex feedback systems. Despite their complexity, they work remarkably well on good quality bikes. Some people say they provide a more natural feel while cycling by mimicking your exertion level. However, I can honestly say that the cadence assistance on many good quality electric bikes, such as the Shocke Spark bike, feels every bit as natural as the assistance on much more expensive bikes that use complex torque sensors for their Pedelec bikes. So don’t write off a bike just because it uses a cadence Pedelec system. In some cases, if well done, you cannot even tell the difference – and a cadence Pedelec bike is usually a lot cheaper. It is also simpler and therefore, theoretically, less likely to malfunction.
Bottom Line on Pedelec Bikes
Pedelec bikes are an ideal choice if you want to enhance your cycling power and get help up the hills, while still getting plenty of exercise. Personally, I find I do pedal more on a purely Pedelec bike. When I have the option of throttle power, I do sometimes get lazy!
This entire post is excerpted from my new brand new, updated and expanded edition of How to Buy the Best Electric Bike – which I have JUST published! This edition is presented in collaboration with Turbo Bob and the Electric Bike Review, two of the greatest ebike reviewers and bloggers in the world. As a result, this new edition includes many more reviews of new, quality electric bikes. For a very limited time, I am offering the new Kindle edition for a discounted price, cheaper than the first edition.