Electric bikes – different spokes for different folks

The competing demand for space on Australian roads is slowly but surely increasing the need to develop a more suitableinfrastructure to include two-wheeled vehicles. Bike lanes are cropping up everywhere in Australia’s major cities, and they are being met with varying degrees of joy.

Mikael Colville-Andersenhttp://velo-city2013.com/?page_id=2428, an international mobility consultant based in Copenhagen says that Australian cities are ‘way behind’ the rest of the world when it comes to modern urban planning and the provision of bike lanes.

With the increasing popularity of electric bicycles (e-bikes), more and more countries are embracing the idea of getting around on two wheels instead of four. Just 40 years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as any large city, but now, almost 45% of the population do their daily commute on bicycles. http://www.copenhagenize.com/ . 55% of people in Copenhagen ride bicycles each day for leisure, to work or school, using over 1,000 km of bicycle lanes.Other European and American cities are fast following suit.

Former Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz rides an electric bike in Zurich. In some European countries, e-bikes are now outselling conventional bicycles.

Swiss president Doris Leuthard and others riding e-bikes near Zurich

Enter the e-bike

If the idea of pedalling a regular bike doesn’t exactly ring your bell, then consider the Euro trend that’s now taking off in Australia. The power assisted bike, or e-bike.

Globally, e-bikes are growing more popular and user-friendly through the subtlety of their technology, affordability and sheer practicality.

Electric bicycles outsell electric cars by a huge margin. About 112,000 electric cars were sold worldwide in 2013, compared to40 millionelectric bicycles. In China, there are more electric bikes than cars on the road.

E-bikes are a fantastic alternative for:

Those with even a half-hearted yearning to get fit
Those who can’t afford a second family car but hate public transport
Those who are keen on lessening carbon emissions.
Those who are fed up with traffic gridlocks and expensive automobile upkeep costs

Throttle vs Pedal Assist (Pedelec)

Electric bikes are equipped with different ways of activating the electric assist. The type you choose will depend on how much ‘human assist’ you are willing to employ.

The two most common types of e-bike are:

  • Throttle types, which apply the throttle via a twist grip, thumb action or push button.
  • Pedal assist types, which operate using a torque sensor, or cadence sensor.


Similar to how a motorcycle or scooter operates.  When the throttle is engaged the motor provides power and propels you and the bike forward.A throttle allows you to pedal or just kick back and enjoy a free, motorised ride!  Many e-bikes in the US have the throttle feature, while some countries only allow the pedal assisted types.

A throttle assisted e-bike

Pedal Assist (Pedelec)

Pedal assist e-bikes only provide power when you are pedalling.  If you are used to riding a traditional bike, the pedal assist mode has a more intuitive, relaxed feel compared to the throttle mode, as you don’t have to hold the throttle in a certain position, just pedal.

Since you have to pedal, the pedal assist mode will generally give you more range when compared to the throttle mode. Some pedelec bikes have low, medium, or high assist settings

A Pedelec (pedal assisted) e-bike

Low pedal assist – for when you feel like more of a workout.  Low assist provides a little electric assist while you provide more pedal power

Medium pedal assist – perfect mode for when there’s a good tailwind. Medium pedal assist can be a nice balance of your pedal power and the motor power.

High pedal assist– for when you just don’t have the energy. High pedal assist is perfect for when you want to get somewhere quickly and with minimal effort, for example getting to work without arriving in a lather of sweat.

For those who need to know about torque and cadence

The torque sensor pedal assist systems measure the amount of pedal power, increasing or decreasing the electric assist based on your pedalling power.

The torque sensor systems have a very intuitive feel when riding, as imitate your pedal power very well.  They are also generally found on the more expensive e-bikes or e-bike kits.

Torque sensors are generally found in the bottom bracket, rear drop out, or in the rear hub motor.

The cadence sensor pedal assist systems provide assistance when the cranks of the bike are turning.

Unlike the torque sensor system, the cadence sensor will only provide the power based on the assist level you have selected and won’t increase or decrease the assist based on your actual pedal power. In other words, you could be pedalling very lightly or very hard and it will provide the same level of assist.

The Combination: Throttle & Pedal Assist Mode

Some e-bikes come equipped with both the throttle and the pedal assist modes.On some e-bikes you can operate the bike in the pedal assist mode and then get an additional boost by twisting the throttle.

Electric bikes really leave you spoilt for choice. The type of e-bike you choose is really a case of different spokes for different folks. Either way, you’ll feel empowered and liberated from dreary traffic bottlenecks as you take back control of your daily commute. And when it comes to your weekends and leisure time, an e-bike can add a whole new world of pleasure.