Electric bikes, or e-bikes for short, are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint while getting around town. But with all of the different types and e-bike classifications on the market, it can be tough to know which one is right for you.
In this guide, I'll break down all of the different types of e-bikes and explain what each one is best suited for.
So whether you're just starting out and deciding on your first eco-friendly electric bike, or you're looking to upgrade your current ride, read on for all the information you need to choose the perfect e-bike!
If you're not familiar with the term, an electric bike is basically a bicycle equipped with a motor. The electric motor power can provide help when pedaling (known as pedal assistance) or can move the bike entirely on its own (known as throttle assistance).
There are currently three classes of electric bikes on the market today: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3.
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Anything that has a higher motor wattage than a class 3 electric bike is actually classified as an electric moped. These are then subject to the same laws as motorized vehicles, meaning they need to be taxed and insured.
Legislation from congress, known as the e-bike act, is aimed at classifying electric bikes and has now served to clarify where each type can and cannot be used. Most importantly, it states that electric bikes are not motor vehicles, so they can be treated more like mountain bikes and therefore be used in places where they couldn't previously.
Each of the e-bike classes has its own set of specifications, speed limits, and characteristics that make it suitable for certain types of riders.
A class 1 e-bike is a low-speed electric bicycle with pedal assistance, that delivers a top speed of up to 20 miles per hour.
Most class 1 e-bikes (which are also known as pedelecs, or pedal electric bikes) have an electric motor that's integrated into the frame, and they're designed for light to moderate riding on level ground.
Class 1 e-bikes are a great option if you're looking for a little boost to help you get up hills or ride longer distances. They are permitted anywhere a normal pedal bike would be - on roads, bike lanes, on and off-road bike paths, or mountain bike trails.
They're also perfect for commuting since you can easily avoid traffic congestion simply by pedaling faster. And since most class 1 e-bikes have built-in lights and reflectors, they're also safe to ride at night or in bad weather conditions.
A Class 2 e-bike has a throttle and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 20 mph.
This class of electric bike is a throttle-assist bicycle that enables the rider to cycle without pedaling. It may also have pedal assistance.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Essentially, the difference is that you do not need to start pedaling in order for the bike to move. It will operate using the throttle alone.
However, if you do choose to pedal the throttle will not cut out.
A class 1 e-bike will typically have a 'throttle' that can be used to provide a boost of power when needed - for example, when starting from a standing start or climbing a hill. This extra power assist is provided by the motor, meaning that the rider doesn't need to expend as much energy themselves in order to maintain higher speeds.
Class 2 e-bikes are great for people who want a little help getting up hills or carrying heavy loads, but don't want or need the extra power or speed of a Class 3 e-bike.
A class 3 e-bike is the most powerful of the electric bike classes. It has a motor (which must be less than 750W) and has a maximum speed of up to 28 mph.
These bicycles are pedal-assist only. They may have an optional throttle assist as well, although this is not permitted in certain states, including California. Where throttle assist is permitted, it is limited to 20mph, with pedal assist then available up to the 28mph top speed.
These are great for getting around town and keeping up with urban traffic. However, due to their speed, there are certain restrictions in place.
Class 3 e-bikes are not permitted on off-road bike paths. There are minimum age requirements that vary by state (between 14 and 16). All riders of any age must wear a helmet.
So now to the key question: which eBike class is right for you?
If you're looking for an eBike to help you commute to work, or just want a leisurely ride around the neighborhood, Class 1 e-Bikes are likely your best bet. These bikes have pedal-assist only, meaning that they will give you a little extra power as you pedal but won't do all the work for you.
The fact that you need to pedal as well will help with your health and fitness goals, as well as using up less electricity, so they're better for the environment.
If you have mobility issues or want an eBike that will do most of the work for you, Class 2 e-Bikes are probably better suited to your needs. These throttle-assisted bikes don't require you to pedal at all, so all you have to do is steer and enjoy the ride.
If you're looking for an eBike that's fast enough to keep up with slower-moving urban traffic or one that can help you tackle hilly terrain or even off-road trails, then you'll want a Class 3 e-Bike.
These bikes have both pedal-assist and throttle modes, meaning that you can get a power boost even when you're not pedaling. Remember the minimum age for class 3 e-bike riders varies depending on your state, but all riders need to wear a helmet.
E-bikes are potentially a part of the solution to climate change, and to the air pollution in our towns and cities. So I feel it's important to make choosing a good e-bike as easy as possible.
In my opinion, there's nothing worse than when manufacturers start using technical terminology and just assume that everyone knows what it means. Electric bikes are a fairly new product and it's normal that most people won't understand what the classifications are, or how they affect them.
In writing this guide, I hope I've helped to address that problem.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when choosing electric bicycles, such as the price, battery range, and weight of the bike.
But if you're just starting out, hopefully, this guide has given you a better idea of which class of e-bike is right for you.
Read our guide to the best eco-friendly electric bikes to find the best value and quality models on the market, from top manufacturers like Rad Power Bikes, Priority, and TREK.