E-Bike Learning Center
CycleZoo E-Bike Learning Center
If you are new to the E-Bike world and start doing some research online, you will quickly become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information (much of it conflicting information) on virtually every aspect of E-Bike design, features and performance. There are a bazillion online blog articles and YouTube videos showcasing dozens of different E-Bike manufacturers and models, and these will often be presented in a “Top 5” or “Top 10” comparison format. You don’t really know as a consumer which of these you should pay attention to and which may actually be funded by specific manufacturers simply to promote their products. Well don’t worry, we have you covered!
As an independent E-Bike shop, we are not tied to any specific manufacturer and we have selected the brands we carry based upon our own criteria. So essentially, all of the research you are currently doing, we have already done ourselves on a grand scale! See below for our simplified definitions and comparisons of common E-Bike features and design elements, intended to help you understand all of the issues and make a better decision for yourself. If you have any questions we’re here for you, just swing by the store or ping us using the contact information on the website.
Torque-Sensor vs. Cadence Sensor
The easy way to think about this one is the torque-sensing motor responds to how HARD you are pedaling to deliver the amount of power that the on-board battery controller thinks you’re asking for. The cadence-sensing motor responds to how FAST you are pedaling to deliver the amount of power you are asking for. So in practical terms this means that with a cadence sensor, even if you are lightly pedaling you will still get the set amount of power from the motor based upon the rate you are pedaling. With the torque sensor you will get more power as you pedal HARDER and not necessarily just pedaling FASTER.
Most people will say that a torque sensor feels more “natural” because it’s designed to give you the feeling of pedaling to propel the bike forward just like you would on a standard bicycle, but with additional power added to your pedal stroke. The cadence sensor in general will give you the experience of having the bike provide the power for you, and will be designed to keep the bike moving along regardless of how hard you are pedaling. So the cadence sensor might be thought of as a more “casual” riding experience for a rider who wants to go places and use the power of the bike to get them there. The torque sensor might be thought of as a more “natural” experience for a rider who wants to ride their E-Bike just like they would a standard bicycle, but with the added power available to get them up hills that may be difficult to climb without the added power.
The very large caveat to this entire discussion of sensor types is that a HUGE amount of how the sensor will feel while riding the bike is driven by the QUALITY of the sensor used (i.e. how sensitive it is) as well as how well programmed the battery controller is. The battery controller takes the sensor data and translates it into power being provided through the motor. So a “cheap” torque sensor may not feel any different from a basic cadence sensor. And a very well programmed cadence sensor can provide a better riding experience than a cheap torque sensor. So don’t get caught up in the marketing hype of “Our bike has a TORQUE sensor so it’s better!”, as that may not be true, especially if the price is very low on the bike that is claiming to be better because it has a torque sensor. The best way to find out what is right for YOU is to actually test ride the bikes you are interested in so you can see for yourself. CycleZoo always has a large selection of E-Bikes in stock and ready to ride yourself.
Mid-Drive Motor vs. Hub Drive Motor
A Mid-Drive (or sometimes called a Center-Drive) motor is integrated into the crank assembly on the bicycle and directly attached to the crank and pedals. A Hub-Drive motor is integrated into the hub of the wheel on the bike (usually the Rear wheel) and is independent of the crank assembly/pedals. So why would someone want one vs. the other? Here’s where the controversy starts. If you walk into a traditional bicycle shop, and the 25 year-old salesperson who looks like he just returned from competing in the Tour de France tells you “Oh you should only consider a mid-drive bike, they’re way better than a hub-drive bike”, we’re here to tell you that’s not true. For HIM it may be true, but for you it may not be. There are certainly some advantages to a mid-drive motor, but there are also advantages to a hub-drive motor, depending on how you plan to use your bike and what type of rider you are.
A Mid-Drive motor, since it provides power directly through the same chain that your pedals are driving the bike with, has the advantage of using the gearing (sprocket ratios) on the bike to provide more or less force (torque) for different riding conditions, exactly the same as riding a standard bicycle. If you’ve ridden a standard bicycle with gears, you already know when you get to that big hill, you need to shift to a lower gear to spin your pedals faster and generate enough torque to make it up the hill. If you stay in a higher gear and your pedals get very difficult to turn as you climb the hill, you will not make it up the hill. The is the same way that a mid-drive E-Bike motor provides its power to propel you forward, the amount of torque it generates for forward momentum is dependent upon what gear you have the bike shifted into. So in general you can think of riding a mid-drive E-Bike as being the same as riding a standard bicycle where you will be shifting gears on the bike to get the amount of drive force you need to make it up hills.
A Hub-Drive motor, since it provides power directly to the wheel/tire and not through the chain, is not dependent upon what gear you are currently shifted into to determine how much torque it can provide to get you up the hill, or to allow you to go faster on flat terrain. On a hub-drive E-Bike that has gears, the effect of shifting gears is primarily just to set your pedal speed, and will not change how much force is being provided by the motor. For a rider who wants their E-Bike to feel exactly like a standard bicycle, this may be a downside. However, for a rider who wants their E-Bike to be EASIER to ride and simpler to ride than a standard bicycle, then the hub drive motor would likely provide a better experience. On a hub-drive E-Bike you can choose how you want to ride the bike at any given time, anywhere on the spectrum from doing most of the work yourself pedaling hard to climb hills and getting a full workout, to doing very little or no work on your own, and letting the motor propel the bike while you enjoy a leisurely ride around the park. So we would say that a hub-drive motor is a more “flexible” setup on an E-Bike in that it gives you the most range of use. For riders who don’t want to have to shift gears constantly while riding, a Hub-Drive bike is certainly the best choice.
One downside to a hub-drive motor is that having the power provided through the hub requires MORE power from the motor to provide the same amount of torque that a mid-drive motor would need. So in general you can think of the wattage ratings on comparable mid vs. hub-drive motors to be double on the hub-drive. In other words, a 250W mid-drive motor can provide roughly the same torque output as a 500W hub-drive motor. The 500W hub-drive motor will be larger and heavier, making the overall bike a little heavier. A downside to a mid-drive motor is that in general it is significantly more expensive to produce than a hub-drive motor, so you’ll mainly see mid-drive motors in mid-tier to upper-tier price E-Bikes. The mid-drive motor is more efficient and can utilize a smaller battery to get the same range as a hub-drive motor, again leading to many mid-drive bikes being lighter than hub-drive bikes. So for less money, you can get a hub-drive bike with a larger motor and battery vs. a mid-drive bike with a smaller motor and battery, with both bikes having the same range, and the mid-drive bike being lighter. As you can see this is more of a trade-off in features, cost and performance, rather than a “this one is better than that one” type of decision.
Most mid-drive E-Bikes, especially those from traditional bicycle manufacturers, are not set up with a throttle that can be used independently of pedaling. So on those bikes, you MUST pedal to get where you are going at all times. If you are a traditional bicycle rider looking for the same riding experience you’re used to on your standard bicycle, but with a little added assist, then this can be fine. But if you want the ability to also get where you’re going with minimal effort, having a throttle can sure be convenient. The great news is that many of the top E-Bike manufacturers are now offering a mid-drive configuration with an integrated clutch assembly built into the crank which allows the motor to drive the chain WITHOUT having the pedals turn. This allows the bike to have a throttle even though it’s a mid-drive motor! You won’t find these at most traditional brand bike shops, but the leading E-Bike manufacturers have made this a reality. At CycleZoo we sell and recommend BOTH hub-drive and mid-drive bikes, and we can demonstrate the advantages of both setups and send you out on a ride to experience it to make the best decision for yourself.
Thumb Throttle vs. Twist-Grip Throttle
E-Bikes with a throttle will have either a twist grip throttle or a thumb throttle. Both provide an on/off function to engage and disengage the motor power independent of pedaling. From our experience, we are strong advocates of a thumb throttle as a more intuitive and overall safer method of providing power assist on an E-Bike. If you are going to travel long distances on a bike using only the throttle, then a twist-grip throttle may prove to be more convenient to hold on for long periods of time. However, most people tend to use the throttle for just short bursts of extra power assist, and using the thumb throttle is more intuitive for most people who don’t have prior experience with grip throttles on vehicles like motorcycles. And we say this from the perspective of also owning a motorcycle dealership, so we have no overall bias against twist throttles. However, we’ve witnessed riders being confused at how a twist throttle works and operating it on an E-Bike in an unsafe fashion, so we recommend the thumb throttle for most riders.
Fat-Tire vs. Hybrid Tire vs. Road Tire
Fat-tires, generally 4” wide or wider, have grown in popularity the last few years in both E-Bike and traditional bicycle segments. A fat-tire bike can literally go anywhere on any surface, from pavement to deep sand and snow, and anything in between. There are both knobby tread pattern fat tires as well as less aggressive tread patterns available. A fat-tire holds significantly more air at a much lower tire pressure than a standard bicycle tire. This extra air at a lower pressure gives the tire itself a much more forgiving ride quality, soaking up bumps and road imperfections, with the tire acting as a shock absorber. This is actually what we find is the MAJOR decision point for a rider considering a fat-tire model vs. a hybrid-tire model E-Bike. Often we find that riders may initially discount the possibility of riding a fat-tire bike since they have no intention of doing any kind of serious off-road riding on their bike. However, many of those same riders often form a different opinion after actually RIDING the fat-tire bike. Riders will frequently comment on how much “softer” the ride is on the fat-tire model, as well as how “stable” the bike feels. The only real downside to a fat-tire is it does add weight to the bike, so riders concerned with weight may shy aware from fat-tire models, as well as riders who prefer nimble and responsive handling on paved surfaces may also not like the fat-tire experience. There is also a little added road noise possible from a fat-tire bike when riding on paved surfaces, which some riders may not like. But overall, we’d say WAY more riders have changed their mind in favor of a fat-tire bike than have decided against it after actually riding the bike. So we’d encourage you to take one for a ride and see for yourself.
A hybrid tire is a good compromise between the lower rolling resistance of a road tire and the multi-surface capabilities of a fat-tire. For riders looking to ride on both paved bike paths as well as unpaved but prepared surfaces like hard-pack dirt/gravel and the crushed limestone bike trails that are popular all over the Midwest region, a hybrid tire is the most common choice. Many hybrid tires feature a puncture-resistant construction to allow riding on these surfaces without the frequent flats that can be encountered when using a road tire in that situation. The downside to a hybrid tire is that sometimes riders who go with a hybrid tire because they like the idea of being able to do the hard packed off-road surfaces on their bike, may find they wish they could also start exploring some of the more rugged paths at many of the state and national parks, which a fat-tire would really be more appropriate for.
A road tire is really just that, a tire that is designed to be ridden on road (i.e. paved) surfaces only. These tires are lighter and have less rolling resistance, with less noise than a tire with a more multi-surface tread pattern. The downside to a road tire is that for many riders, it’s not a good choice if the rider would like to do some of the hard packed surfaces like the crushed limestone trails. The odds of getting a flat with a road tire on one of those surfaces are much higher than a hybrid or fat-tire setup.
In general for a rider wanting to do general bike path riding, exploring local and regional parks, etc. either a fat-tire or hybrid tire bike will work. What we strongly recommend is for a rider to actually RIDE both styles of bike before making a decision. We have found many riders will change their opinion about which bike they want after actually riding them, particularly riders who “think” they don’t want a fat-tire bike because their perception is that they don’t “need” the fat-tire if they’re not going to do serious off-road riding. The softer ride quality and stable feel of the fat-tire model will often be appealing to a rider who is really only going to do bike path and hard packed trail riding, and they end up buying the fat-tire bike as the best choice for them.
Battery Size Ratings
Batteries are rated in terms of their capacity to store energy. The most common measurements for battery size is Amp-Hours or Ah, so you may see a battery rated at 13 Ah. Some manufacturers also rate batteries in Watt-Hours or Wh. These are NOT the same ratings, so you can’t directly compare them. The published range the battery is capable of providing is the most meaningful item for most riders, you just have to take it with a grain of salt knowing these are range ratings provided by the manufacturer. In general all of the reputable E-Bike manufacturers provide reasonably accurate range ratings on their bikes. If a bike is listed as having a 60 mile range, the best way to think of that is that is the most optimistic range you might expect under perfect conditions. Reality on range ratings usually ends up being somewhere in the 60-80% ballpark of the rated range for mixed riding conditions (i.e. Hills, using more power assist, heavier rider, etc.). So a bike that is rated at 60 miles of range you should expect to get at least 40 actual miles of range from for most riders in normal conditions.
Motor Power Ratings
Motors are rated in WATTS, so you might see a 500W motor, or a 250W motor, or a 750W motor. As mentions in the Mid-Drive vs. Hub-Drive section, you can expect a lower power motor in a Mid-Drive configuration to provide the same amount of actual torque to drive the bike as a higher power motor in a Hub-Drive bike. So when comparing different bikes, make sure you’re comparing bikes with the same motor configuration. The minimum for any reputable bike you’ll find for a rear Hub-Drive motor is 350W, and most are 500W-1000W. The watt rating that matters most is the CONTINUOUS output watt rating, which is what any reputable manufacturer will list as their specification. Just be aware that some manufacturers will saw their bike has a 500W motor, but they’re reporting the PEAK output of the motor, where in reality it’s a 250W continuous rating. If a bike has a high power rating motor but a much lower price than other brands, that’s a good clue that the rating is being fudged so pay very close attention. For most riders, a 500W Hub-Drive motor is plenty of power for anything they’ll likely want to do on the bike. A heavier Fat-Tire bike might have a 750W or 1000W motor to provide additional torque for the heavier bike as well as for serious hill climbing ability. For a Mid-Drive bike a 250W motor is common, with the highest performance models having 350W, 500W or even 750W motors. A 750W mid-drive motor is VERY powerful with enough torque to pull a heavy rider up a very steep hill, which is commonly found in the very off-road focused E-Bike brands and models.
E-Bike Class Ratings
There is not really a fully agreed-upon standard for E-Bike class ratings in the USA. Some states have adopted the same classifications in order to pass regulations for E-Bikes, so you’ll commonly see these mentioned as if they are “standard” classifications, but in reality they are not really standard. Nebraska, where the CycleZoo store is located, does NOT currently have an E-Bike classification system in place. Also many of today’s E-Bike models don’t fit into just one classification and can be configured completely outside of the classifications. The Federal government regulates E-Bike manufacturers only on a product safety basis, there is NOT a Federal standard E-Bike classification system. The system adopted in California and many other states was developed by a non-profit organization People For Bikes in 2014, and this is the most common classification system that you will see mentioned online.
People For Bikes Classifications:
Class 1 E-Bike: 20 MPH top speed with pedal-assist power only, no throttle
Class 2 E-Bike: 20 MPH top speed with a throttle
Class 3 E-Bike: 28 MPH top speed with pedal-assist power only, no throttle
Many bikes on the market today, in fact lots of the most popular “casual” style E-Bikes are BOTH a Class 2 and a Class 3 bike. In other words, these bikes are capable of going 20 mph using ONLY the throttle on the bike PLUS they will go 28 mph when pedaling with pedal-assist power. AND they often have a removable throttle. AND they have the ability to set the top speed using settings in the dash and/or a companion Bluetooth app. So the bike can be configured to fit any classification if necessary, in the event a rider needs to comply with a regulation. This has really rendered the bike classifications sort of irrelevant when selecting an E-Bike for many riders since the bike can be suited to match any classification if necessary. That is really the most important takeaway here, most popular E-Bike models are not locked into a specific classification, so in general it's not a reason to choose one bike over another.
Most states that do regulate E-Bikes will allow Class 1 and Class 2 bikes on any designated bike path or trail. Some limit where Class 3 bikes can be used, while others don’t. And some states like Nebraska consider an E-Bike to be just a bicycle, so anywhere you can use a bicycle you can legally ride an E-Bike currently. If you live in Alaska, an E-Bike is considered a Moped with significant restrictions imposed on their use. Most states are somewhere between with regulations in place restricting Class 3 bike usage on some bike paths, however in reality this is often not enforced so it’s really up to riders of E-Bikes to use common sense and have common courtesy to other riders and pedestrians on bike paths.
The market will continue to evolve as new products arise, and new regulations may pop up at any time in various states, so it’s always a good idea to be aware of the regulations where you plan to ride your bike. The good news is, pretty much all of the bikes we sell can be configured to fit any reasonable bike class regulation anywhere in the USA.
We hope you found this information helpful, for any other questions about E-Bike features and comparisons, contact us and we'll be glad to help!