The world of eBikes can be confusing, especially when it comes to different eBike classifications. There are three different classes of eBikes – Class 1 (pedal-assist only up to 20 MPH), Class 2 (Pedal-assist AND throttle up to 20 MPH), and Class 3 (only pedal-assist up to 28 MPH).
Different governments (state and local) have different requirements as to what bikes can go on what trails or roads, so it’s important to know the differences in these classes ahead of time. It’s also a huge question we get all the time: do you have to pedal the eBike?
In this article, we will break down each classification and explore its pros and cons!
When I got my Rad Power Bike RadRover 5 (see my full RadRover 5 Review), I didn’t even know there were different classifications – I wrongly assumed that all eBikes had a throttle. My mother recently got an eBike and I was shocked to hear that her eBike did NOT have a throttle – she was shocked that some eBike DO have a throttle. So, I dove a little deeper into the differences, and here’s what I found about different eBike Classifications.
Different eBike Classifications: What are the basics?
What is a Class 1 eBike?
A Class 1 eBike only offers power from a motor while pedaling and only provides power while pedaling. In other words, Class 1 eBikes ONLY offer Pedal Assist, with no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
Example of Class 1 eBike
Something like the Trek Townie Go is a good example of a Class 1 eBike. $1,500 and offers 3 levels of pedal assist. The battery is interestingly located in the back rack.
What is a Class 2 eBike?
Class 2 eBikes are exactly like Class 1 eBikes but they also have a throttle (more on that below). They have varying levels of pedal assist (depending upon the make and model) but also have a throttle to let you cruise without pedaling at all. This is a fun, moped-like experience, without the loud gas-powered motor sound. eBike are pretty quiet!
Examples of Class 2 eBikes
Why aren’t all eBikes Class 2?
I just assumed that all eBikes did include a throttle. But I was wrong.
However, if you look at some of the more “purist” brands like REI’s bikes – you’ll notice they are all either Class 1 or Class 2. I think that’s because they view a throttle as “cheating.” However, if a throttle is cheating, so is pedal-assist. 🤷🏼♂️
What is a Class 3 eBike?
Class 3 eBikes are exactly like Class 1 eBikes but they have the ability to go up to 28 MPH Assisted. They have varying levels of pedal assist (depending upon the make and model) but do not have a throttle like Class 2 eBikes have.
Example of Class 3 eBike
The Aventon Level Commuter eBike ($1,699.00) is technically not a Class 3 eBike – it does have a throttle. However, the throttle doesn’t let you go above 20 MPH but this bike let’s you reach 28 MPH with Pedal Assist.
Some cities/states will allow this eBike if you limit the MPH to 20 MPH on Pedal Assist, but I’m not a lawyer. Please check your local laws to make sure you’re not breaking them.
What is Throttle with eBikes?
Throttle is the easiest to describe. It’s like how you would drive a motorcycle or moped. You simply pull the throttle (typically on the handlebar) and the motor powers the wheels and you go. This isn’t really any different than a moped that doesn’t have any gears. Most motorcycles have gears (like car) and you have to shift after it reaches a certain RPM.
What is Pedal Assist with eBikes?
Pedal Assist is a little more complicated. Pedal Assist is when the bike will help you pedal by adding power to your pedaling, but it still requires some effort from yourself as well, but it makes the journey easier.
Different bikes also have different levels of pedal assist. Some bikes only have 1 level of pedal assist. For example, in our RadRover 5 Review, we discussed the 5 levels of pedal-assist on the RadRover 5.
How does Pedal Assist on an eBike work?
While pedaling, the magnet ring and Pedal Assist sensor (shown below) work together with every pedal stroke to send a signal to the controller to draw up power from the motor, which helps make it easier to pedal the bike. The higher the Pedal Assist level, the more power is delivered with each pedal stroke, and the easier it is to ride.
What does pedal-assist on an eBike feel like?
When a Pedal-assist level is selected, you will feel more power from the motor in the rear wheel when you pedal. It will be easier to get the bike moving and it will take less effort to keep riding. As you increase the pedal-assist level, your ride on the eBike becomes faster. Note: the comments below are our experience with the RadRover 5 (read our full RadRover 5 Review).
Another way to think about it is: the higher your pedal assist level is set the more often the motor will turn on with each pedal movement.
Pedal Assist Turned Off
Notice how quickly the tire stops.
Pedal Assist Level 5
Notice how fast and long the tire spins (and I even pushed the brake at the end).
Pedal Assist Level 0: No help at all
At pedal-assist level 0, the motor is not active and your pedal stroke will require a normal amount of effort (in the case of our RadRover 5 – that bike is heavy so the effort is a lot!!) If you want to use the power of the motor, it’s just as easy to twist the throttle or raise your Pedal Assist setting.
Pedal Assist Level 1 – 3: A little extra somethin’
At pedal-assist level 1 to 3, you will feel like it is easier to pedal the bike forward, but you will still need to put some effort into every pedal stroke. I typically use this level when navigating around my neighborhood of a parking lot. It give you more control over the bike, too. The lower, the pedal assist, the slower you will go.
Pedal Assist Level 4 – 5: A ‘hole lot of somethin’
At pedal-assist level 4 to 5, you will be using the full power of the pedal-assist and it will require much less effort to pedal forward. Riding in the top level of the pedal-assist is pretty amazing. I only use this when going up very steep hills or a straight line on a wide-open path.
How to Control (and stop) Pedal-Assist on an eBike
When you use the brakes, they’ll signal the motor to turn off and slow you down. When the brake lever is released, with pedal-assists engaged, the bike will continue to provide assistance as long as you pedal. If the bike is turned off, the pedal-assist will reset back to level 1 on the display.
Note: The pedal-assist is only active while the rider is pedaling. Pedal-Assist is available on Class 1, 2 and 3 eBikes. However, a throttle is only available on Class 2 eBikes.
How does Pedal-Assist work with Throttle?
On a Class 2 eBike: To move the bike forward without pedaling, the rider can use the throttle. The throttle is available to provide a boost of power assistance from the motor (up to 20 mph) no matter what level of pedal assist is selected and even when the rider is not pedaling. This is how it works on our Rad Power Bike.
How I typically use Pedal-Assist and Throttle
When my 4-year-old son in riding with me, I almost have to use the throttle get started riding the RadRover 5 – it’s just a big bike. But once I get going, I typically use pedal-assist on Level 2 or 3. This gives me a little extra help.
If I need to go fast (gotta hurry home) or going up a big hill, I’ll raise the throttle assist to 4 (I rarely use 5 on my bike, it’s a bit much!).
Can you go faster than 20 MPH on a Class 1 or 2 eBike?
The short answer is YES! You can pedal “old-school” as fast as the laws of physics will allow on any class eBike (1, 2 or 3). The eBike motor simply stops helping out once you reach 20 MPH.
I was just testing this on my RadRover 5. I had the pedal assist set to 5 (the max) and I pedaled as hard as I could. As soon as I reached 20, I could hear to motor stop running. It was pretty cool.
The long answer is that you can pedal faster than 20 MPH on a Class 1 or 3 eBike, but the motor will not help out anymore. You’ll have to rely solely upon your own power and momentum (“old school”). An eBike will not “brake” and stop you after 20 MPH, however, it will simply stop proving _extra_ power once you reach 20 MPH.
eBike Classifications – The Conclusion
In conclusion, you should check with your local and state governments before making a decision about what classification of eBike you can use on the trails/roads that you want to.
This is a good resource to learn more about what your state government has decided about eBike classifications and laws. But even if you don’t plan on using a throttle, I’d look at getting a bike with a Throttle, just because it makes life easier in so many ways!
Have any questions about eBike Classifications? Let us know in the comments below!