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How does an E-Bike work?

The electrically assisted bicycle or E-Bike is a hybrid vehicle that combines the energy of the cyclist with that of an electric motor. Above 6 km/h, it can only work if the user is pedaling. Likewise, it cuts out automatically as soon as it reaches the cruising speed of 25 km/h. But how does this system work? We take stock in this article intended above all for those who have never used an e-bike before.

A quick reminder on the regulations for an E-Bike

The European Community, via directive 2002/24/EC, has set three criteria for an electrically assisted bicycle to be considered as such and to be able to travel on public roads:

  • the electric assistance must start only when the cyclist is pedaling; and it cuts off when pedaling stops
  • for all electrically assisted bicycles, the assistance must be cut off at 25 km/h. You can drive faster but the engine should no longer run
  • motor power rating is limited to 250 watts.

Key elements of an E-Bike

The electric assistance of a bicycle consists of 5 elements:

  • engine
  • drums
  • the pedal sensor
  • console
  • the controller

Once the system is powered up, the console will turn on but at this point the motor will not start.

When you start pedaling, the pedaling sensor, most often located at the bottom bracket, sends an electrical signal to the controller. 

The controller, which acts as the conductor of the electric assistance, then opens the valves between the battery, which is the source of energy, and the motor. This action is modulated according to the level of assistance indicated by the console on the handlebars and according to the reading of the signal sent by the pedaling sensor. The ability of the controller to decipher the information sent by the pedaling sensor makes it possible to adjust the power of the motor so that the pedaling assistance is either brutal or natural.

It is possible to move forward at pedestrian speed without pedaling by pressing a special button on the console. This feature can be useful in a pedestrian area for gentle riding or for pushing the bike up a ramp.

As easy to use as a traditional bike

As easy to use as a traditional bike

The operation of an electrically assisted bicycle is little different from that of a fully mechanical bicycle . To get started, you need to turn on the assist by turning a key or flipping a switch. After that, you can use it by shifting gears as you would with a regular bicycle (except to select a model with an automatic gearbox ).

You can also choose to change the level of assistance. Depending on the model, this will be the last level of assistance selected or a low level. The safest system is one that selects a low level of assistance by default.

The levels of assistance allow, depending on the system, to control:

  • A. the engine cut-off speed between 15 and 25 km/h
  • B. the power delivered to the motor; in this case the engine takes you up to 25 km/h

System A is more interesting if you want to continue cycling. All you have to do is select an assistance cut-off speed slightly lower than your comfort speed* and the assistance will only start when the conditions require it (a headwind, a hill, starting after a stop).

System B is interesting if you use the bike as part of a sports practice, to have more juice for example to climb a hill quickly.

Warning: on a hill, if you require too much effort from the assistance, the system can heat up because, pushed beyond its limits, it becomes a resistance which converts electrical energy no longer into mechanical energy but into heat. Contrary to what one might think, it is therefore important to select a low level of assistance when climbing a steep hill. This helps to increase battery life and assist life.

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E-Bike FAQ

 1. Do I have to ride an  E-Bike?

Contrary to popular belief, you are not passive but active on an E-bike. Indeed, for the electric assistance to start, you have to pedal. If you stop pedaling, the assistance switches off automatically.

2. Can I ride without electric assistance?

Of course ! Moreover, when you choose an e-bike, it is important to try it without assistance. A power outage can happen to anyone! It is therefore necessary to plan ahead and make sure that you can bring your bike home without needing your electric assistance!

3. Does my E-Bike battery charge when I pedal?

The motor of the bicycle can be used as a generator in the descents, provided that the controller integrates this function. Bikes equipped with BionX assistance offer this function. The efficiency and the gain in autonomy are in practice very low, and the impact on the lifespan of the batteries is not documented. It is therefore preferable, in view of the costs of the batteries, not to dwell on this point.

4. According to law, the electric assistance of a VAE must be cut off at 25 km/h. Does that mean I can’t drive faster than 25 km/h even with the strength of my own legs? 

Indeed, the electric assistance allows you to easily reach a speed of 25 km/h. However, if you want to go faster, nothing prevents you! Thanks to the strength of your legs, you will be able to reach much higher speeds!

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