The first thing you should know about e-bikes is that they’re here to stay. Electric bike sales jumped by an incredible 145 percent from 2019 to 2020 alone, according to the market research firm NPD Group. It’s a nearly $244 billion industry as of last year, and there’s no sign of a slowdown.
Some view the rise of e-bikes as a threat, as though standard bikes will go the way of the penny-farthing once everyone goes electric. But fear not: E-bikes aren’t here to rob us of our human-powered way of life. In fact, they may very well enhance it—especially as travel and commuting habits change following the global pandemic and shift of work commuting. So as we roll our way into peak riding season, here’s everything you need to know about the electric revolution.
1. E-bikes make pedaling easier.
Generally speaking, e-bikes are electric bicycles with a battery-powered “assist” that comes via pedaling and, in some cases, a throttle. When you push the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over tough terrain without gassing yourself. Called “pedelecs,” they feel just like conventional bikes—but better, says Ed Benjamin, senior managing director at the consulting firm eCycleElectric. “You control your speed with your feet, like with a regular bike,” he says. “You just feel really powerful and accelerate easily.”
In addition to the pedal-assist feature, some e-bikes come with a throttle that engages the motor with the press of a button. These belong to a separate class of e-bike that, obviously, doesn’t offer a pure cycling experience; they’re also illegal in some municipalities. Interestingly, Benjamin says, people who aren’t already “cyclists” tend to gravitate toward throttle bikes at first, but then turn around and choose a pedal-assist for their next purchase.