Riding an electric bike is much like riding a regular bike, only much more fun. You can choose whether to do all the work with no motor assist or, depending on the make and model of ebike, use the motor to boost your leg power by anywhere from 30% boost to 300% boost. Imagine what it feels like climbing big hills or battling strong winds with 300% more power!
There are however some things to learn and consider when riding an ebike. Perhaps the most important of these is when to use the mechanical gears on your derailleur, versus when to use electrical boost. It doesn’t matter so much if you’re not concerned with eeking every kilometer possible out of your battery. But if you’re on a hilly back country trail that’s 40kms long, how you use the combination of mechanical gears and electric pedal assist could determine whether you get to your destination without running out of battery juice.
I have been riding with ebike “newbies” enough to see that it is quite common to select gear 4 or 5 on the derailleur shifter, and then forget about mechanical shifting during their ride, focusing instead on changing the level of battery assist. This results in the rider using more battery assist than would be necessary if they were changing gears on their derailleur, which of course then reduces the range of the battery.
My suggestion is that before you make any change to the level of battery assist, change your mechanical gearing. If you see a long uphill stretch coming up, shift down into 2nd or 3rd gear on your derailleur, then gradually, as needed, increase your pedal assist. This will help minimize the time you spend using maximum pedal assist, which in turn will lengthen the distance you can travel on a single charge.
Another common mistake I see is people leaving their bike in a high gear when stopping. This means that they either have to apply strong leg pressure to get moving again, or they have to use more battery boost than would be necessary if they had shifted to a lower gear on the derailleur, anticipating the need to get moving again easily after a stop.
How are electric bikes powered?
Electric bikes, like regular bikes, are powered by the legs first, motor second. Electric bikes are referred to as “pedal assist” for a reason: The electric system is there to assist your pedaling, not to replace your pedaling. (Having said that, ebikes imported from Asia, such as these, often offer the option of having a thumb throttle, which can indeed power the bike without pedaling. Remember though that an ebike is not a motor bike, and that the more you use the motor and the less you use your legs, the faster you will deplete your battery.) So, Rob’s rules for riding an ebike are:
- Anticipate. If you see a hill coming, or if you know you’re going to be stopping, shift into a lower gear on your derailleur.
- Adjust your mechanical gears (derailleur) first. Then, once you’re in the correct mechanical gear, adjust the level of pedal assist from the motor.