The E-Bike Throttle Control vs. Pedal Assist (PAS): Which is Right for You?
So, what does pedal assist mean? Is that or throttle control a better option for you? The real question is: Are you a “THROTTLER,” a “PEDALER,” or BOTH?”
In order to answer that question, let’s begin by explaining the difference between throttle control buttons and pedal assist sensors (also known in the industry as a PAS or Pedelec). A throttle on an electric bike is the means by which you engage power from the motor. In other words, it is how you turn your power ON and OFF while riding. In most cases, it is accessed from the handlebar of your bike.
There are many different styles of throttle control, which we will discuss below. Conversely, a PAS is a mode that provides power only when you are pedaling. Here we will be discussing choosing between throttle vs pedal assist and the marriage of all of the above in our 500 Series (500W) E-Bike Kits.
@lizzers_ and I actually have an electric assist bike now, so these days really only pedal for aesthetic reasons 🙂
— Christa Couture (@christacouture) May 21, 2015
Our 250 Series Electric Bike Kits offer one simple speed control: the push-button throttle, which is a “throttle-control” style. This throttle allows for easy operation, a short learning curve, and a natural grip of the bicycle handlebar. See the image below for an example.
For an entry-level electric bike rider, the 250 Series is one of the best options, hands down. The benefits of the push-button throttle include:
- Ease of Use. The push-button requires no special skills or knowledge of e-bike mechanics. You simply press the button when you wish to engage power from the motor, and it will be granted. Then, when the acceleration has reached a comfortable speed, you can easily let off the button and coast at the speed you desire. Or squeeze the grip throughout your entire ride and pass everyone on the road. It really is that simple!
- Simple Installation & Maintenance. Since the push button comes as part of your e-bike motor cable, there are no additional wires to contend with, no complicated schematics for installation, and no additional components which become at risk for failure years down the road. This piece is so reliable, we offer a comprehensive warranty to back it up.
- Customizable Grip Positioning. The little grey push button comes attached to a velcro strap, which allows you to install it wherever is most comfortable for you and your bike. When I first installed mine, I placed it in a spot most easily reached by extending my index finger. But after multiple rides, I discovered that it was more comfortable for me to place the button under my palm, so that during extended rides I didn’t need to hold down the button. The mere pressure from my grip would activate the switch, and I could ride without even realizing it was there! From customer feedback, I’ve learned most of our consumers prefer placing the throttle button under the first knuckle of the index finger, as seen in the image above.
- Safety. Many throttles available on our competitors’ kits have a switch where you can turn your kit “on” and leave it “on”. In our experience, we have found that these can be dangerous when the need arises to make a quick or emergency stop and you have left the motor on. These types of systems require braking to deactivate. Our push-button allows you to let off the power for braking at any time, without having to change any of the dials on a switch or alter programming on an LCD computer.
- Versatility. While we designed this piece as a way to give riders an additional “boost” while riding (as though a second rider were there pedaling along with you), we recognize that everyone has individual needs and preferences. The push-button allows you to engage the motor without doing any pedaling of your own. You can also pedal on your own and not utilize the motor at all (many pedal assist systems will not allow this, once you pedal, the motor automatically kicks in), OR you can pedal AND enjoy the boost from the motor during the entire ride. There is something for everyone.
Cons of Push-Button Throttles
Now, obviously we think the 250 Series system is the best thing since sliced bread, but we recognize that there are some who would prefer another type of throttle system (particularly for mountain bikers or for high-speed bicycle commuters), so let’s talk about the cons of the push-button style unit.
The thing I hear most often from our customers who don’t prefer the push button is that they wish there was a way to control the speed at a lower level. For example, some of our baby boomers prefer cruising along at eight miles per hour and would like the motor to hold consistently at that speed. While you can achieve this by simply letting off the button when the motor begins traveling at a rate of speed that is too high – coasting until your preferred speed is reached – this can be cumbersome for a few.
There are a few options available on the market that would solve this issue, one being the variable speed throttle, which we offer with the customizable bike kits from our 500 Series.
VARIABLE SPEED THROTTLE-CONTROL
The variable speed throttle is not intended to operate with our 250 Series Conversion Kits. However, our 500w Kits do have this feature. These systems are powered by pushing forward on the black throttle level protruding from the grip switch (see above image). In addition, the LCD computer has five power modes that you can switch between (see below image), giving you options on the amount of power being accessed from the motor.
Examples of Various Throttle Systems
Similar to our 250 Series Kits, other e-bike companies opt to use push-button throttle systems as well. Note the following examples:
- Clean Republic’s Push-Button Throttle
- The BionX Push-Button Throttle
- The BionX Push-Button Throttle
PEDAL ASSIST SENSORS (PAS)
— Matt Donazzan (@Donazzan) March 10, 2015
The pedal assist mode was designed to make riding an e-bike mimic the natural motion you are used to feeling when riding a bicycle. As you pedal your bike and increase in speed, a sensor mounted on the bottom bracket or pedal crank arm is activated, which in turn generates power from the motor. The power is activated only when you pedal.
Many European countries have implemented laws requiring this type of system on all electric bikes because they force you to pedal when you are on a bike and keep your bike away from definitions of motor bikes. Due to these regulations, and an increasing demand from our bike commuters for PAS, our new 500 Series E-Bike Kits come with an optional PAS installation system.
Two Types of PAS
What does pedal assist mean? Well, there are two different styles to consider: cadence sensor or torque sensor. The most common is the cadence sensor. This is the type we offer on our 500 Series Kits. Cadence sensor systems usually come with a ring of magnets mounted on the pedal crank and a sensor fixed to the bottom bracket.
As you pedal, the sensor detects your cadence and increases the speed output from the motor accordingly. Our PAS comes with above industry standards with twelve magnets. This means that our kit features a rapid-response system turning the motor on immediately as the user begins the motion of pedaling. A PAS cadence system is installed on the pedal crank.
Occasionally, some riders notice that the speed they are pedaling doesn’t necessarily represent how much power they need. On flat ground, faster pedaling usually means faster speed and, thus, more power needed. However, pedaling up a hill requires even MORE power, yet the hill-pedaling speed is very slow. The result is an e-bike that can be under-powered when climbing hills, negating perhaps the most important benefit of an e-bike – hill climbing.
The Introduction of the Torque Sensor System
To combat the issue mentioned above, the torque sensor system was created. The torque sensor, or torque PAS, is usually mounted on either the pedal crank or near the rear dropout. It then measures torque, or simply the movement of the pedal during normal pedaling. The amount of torque being applied may match the amount of power needed at any stage of bicycle pedaling, including acceleration, steady cruising, and hill climbing.
This means that a torque PAS more accurately senses the amount of power you need. The performance of the torque pedal assist sensors is often determined by the pressure applied to the chain.
While many have raved about the results they are seeing from these new torque sensored systems, we here at Leeds (after a great deal of research and trial) have decided to stick with the more common and tested cadence system. We have found that experts in the e-bike industry are still happier with this choice as well. For example, here’s what Court Rye from Electric Bike Review (EBR) had to say on the subject:
“To be honest, I actually prefer pedelec [PAS] cadence sensing for commuting because you just don’t have to push all the time to get the motor going. Basically, you choose an assist level and that’s how hard strong the motor will go. It’s usually a percentage of full power so like [level] 1 is 25%, [level] 2 is 50% etc. and that powers the bike up to a certain speed and then you can keep pushing harder via the pedals to make the bike go faster and that lets you choose how hard you want to push. With torque sensing, there is a certain level of force you have to apply just to get it to activate (and this force changes from bike to bike).”
Below are some examples of various pedal assist sensors used by mainstream industry e-bike brands:
- TMM4 Torque Sensor
- Cadence Sensor
PAS Isn’t for Everyone
So, while the PAS provide some distinct benefits, such as increased exercise and a more natural feeling during a bike ride, more and more we are hearing customers say they aren’t sure about it. Our friends at ebikeschool.com share this sentiment and have said,
“Many people, including yours truly, find pedal assist systems frustrating and annoying. I don’t use my ebike for exercise. I have running shoes for that. When I’m on my ebike it’s because I have somewhere I’ve got to be. I’m heading to work, making a delivery, running an errand or doing something that means I’ve got to be moving. That’s not the time that I want to worry about pretending to pedal in order to trick my bike into working for me. I want a simple, responsive and fool-proof system that is going to power my bike exactly when and how much I want, and that’s what a hand throttle is for.”
We have many customers who like to use their e-bike kit motor only when they approach a hill that is difficult to climb on their own, or they simply have grown tired at some point on their bike ride. Not everyone wants to utilize the motor constantly. For these customers, everything but the PAS would be a better option.
We also hear from customers, such as veterans, who, for various health reasons, are unable to pedal. However, they very much want to still be able to enjoy cycling with their friends and family. This is another situation when throttle control is optimal.
We Offer Throttle Systems and PAS Options at Leeds Bikes
While we want our customers to have options available (and we strive to give you all the information you need to make your own decisions) when deciding between throttle vs pedal assist, we are pleased to be able to offer something for everyone.
If you prefer simplicity, ease of use and installation, and the best value, the push-button throttles in our 250 Series Kits may be the best bet for you. If you need or want the option of controlling your speed at a lower rate, you want the option of using your motorized bike kit with or without a PAS, or you need a variable speed throttle, our 500 Series Kits may be a better option.
The great thing about the PAS and variable speed throttle on our 500w Kits is that it is available, but not required, to install. So you can choose whether or not you want to implement these optional features and alter their performance during your ride using your LCD computer that comes standard with all 500 Series Kits.
I hope this helps in understanding the different electric bike assist modes. Please contact us for any questions you may have 24/7 by email or M-F 9-5 by phone at (866) 933-8716.
If you already have an electric bike, where do you stand on the question of throttle vs pedal assist and why? We’d love to hear your experiences with and without a PAS. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.