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How Do Electric Bicycles Work?

Commuting by bicycle is a great way to save money and be eco-friendly, but it can be a lot of work sometimes.

You might dread mustering up the energy to climb that big hill after a long day, or maybe you’re tired of showing up to work tired and covered in sweat and how do electric bicycles work.

Imagine if your bike could do most of the work for you. An electric bicycle might be what you’re looking for. But how do electric bicycles work? And how is it any better than a regular bike? Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of electric bicycles.

Three Main Components

Electric bicycles are not that much different than regular bikes. What makes them unique is the ability to use electricity to power your ride. This is done through three main components: the motor, the drivetrain, and the batteries.

The Motor

An electric motor provides extra power to assist you while pedaling. There are three different modes you can access, each with a different level of control: pedal only, pedal-assist, and electric only.

Pedal only allows you to pedal your bike without the assistance of the motor.

Pedal-assist will enable you to use some of the motor power to give you an extra boost along with your own pedaling. 

Electric-only uses the full force of the motor without the need to drive the bike yourself.

Electric motors come in different wattages, from 200w up to 1000w. The legal limit for motor power in the United States, however, is 750w for electric bikes.

Keep in mind, the more energy you use, the higher the battery capacity you’ll need.

how do electric bicycles work

The Drivetrain

The drivetrain is connected to the chains and is what powers energy from the pedals to the wheels. In electric bikes, the drivetrain can receive power from the pedals, the motor, or both. This depends on what power assist mode you are using.

The drivetrain also controls the gears. Electric bicycles have different gear options, just like regular bicycles. Higher gears require higher power and give you more torque.

The Batteries

Batteries power the motor, which in turn powers the drivetrain. There are a couple of different varieties of batteries you can get for electric bikes, but all are rechargeable and replaceable.

When choosing a battery, you’ll want to consider the battery life and charge life. Higher quality batteries will take you further and last longer but are also more expensive.

If you want to improve power and speed, you might want to look for a lighter battery to keep extra weight off.

The battery power also depends on the pedal mode you choose. Electric-only uses more battery power than pedal assist and won’t get you as far.
Motor Options
E-bike motors come in 3 different options: front hub, rear hub, or mid-drive.

how do electric bicycles work

Front Hub

Front hub motors are located on the front tire of an electric bike. The front hub creates momentum by transferring power from the motor to the spin of the front wheel. This creates a pulling sensation when moving forward.

Because the motor is located on the front tire, you won’t wear out or damage your chains rings. These motors also allow you to customize your gears for smooth transitions.

Front hub motors don’t perform as well as other motors when biking uphill or on altered terrain. The front tire can slip if the weight of the bike is not even.

Rear Hub

Rear hub motors are located on the back tire of an electric bike. This motor creates a pushing sensation when moving forward and may feel a little more natural to bikers.

Gear controls are customizable to help you out on varied terrain, but you will still have a disadvantage when going uphill. There is added weight on the back of the bike when going up with the motor, the chains, and the rider all putting weight on the rear.

Mid Drive

The mid-drive motor creates momentum by sending power straight to the drivetrain. It is located in the center of the bike, which evenly balances weight and creates a low center of gravity.

There is less push or pull, and the feel of a mid-drive motor might be less noticeable to bikers. The mid-drive motor allows for easy access to wheel removal or wheel repairs.

A mid-drive motor has a lot of benefits but does cost more than a front or rear hub motor.

The Drivetrain

The drivetrain is what powers your wheels and allows your bike to pedal forward.

The Mid Drive

The mid-drive motor is integrated with the crank and gears and may work best with your drivetrain. Mid drives provide more efficient torque and keep the weight of the bike even. High efficiency means less battery power needed to keep your bike going.

Shifting Gears

E-bikes have the option of both mechanical and electric gears. The drivetrain is connected to cables that move the chains and allow for gear shifts. E-bikes have two different gear shifts. The left handle will enable you to switch between pedal modes. The right handle allows you to shift between mechanical gears.

how do electric bicycles work


Different gears require different torque. If you are going uphill, you’ll want to use a lower gear, which lowers the pedal resistance. Higher gears are harder to pedal and require more power. These gears are used for descending or sprinting.


Electric bike batteries provide life to your motor and keep you moving.
High-Quality Batteries
Lithium batteries are light and low maintenance. They weigh as little as 6 pounds and do a great job keeping the bike speed up. These batteries will give you a longer lifespan and greater charge life but come at a higher price.

how do electric bicycles work

Cheaper Batteries

Sealed Lead Acid batteries are cheaper but don’t give you as much charge life and don’t last as long while riding. They are heavier than lithium batteries, which decreases the amount of torque and speed.

Power Ratings

Batteries range from 250w-500w. Lower wattage won’t do as well with heavy resistance, such as climbing uphill and higher speeds. Higher wattage will allow you to climb hills more efficiently and keep your momentum up with heavier loads.

How to Charge Your Bike

Charging an electric bicycle does not require anything special; they can plug into any wall outlet. Higher quality batteries typically need 2-4 hours to fully charge, whereas lower quality batteries can take 6-8 hours.


An electric bike can give you a lot more power and a more enjoyable ride. Different motors and batteries give you a variety of options to meet your needs. Your commute to work could be a whole lot different with an electric bicycle to provide you with the extra boost you need!

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