Most electric bikes will have pedal assist. This is where the electric motor is engaged when you pedal, for the bike to provide you with extra assistance. However, some electric bikes have a throttle, as well as pedal assist to propel the bike forward. Other electric bikes may even have a throttle only and no pedal assist.
So if you’re thinking of buying an electric bike, you may be unsure whether you want it to have a throttle. You may even be thinking of adding a throttle to your existing pedal assist only electric bike, if you own one.
Throttles are very straightforward. You’ll find a throttle situated on the handlebars of the electric bike. You twist it to engage the electric motor to propel the electric bike forward. When the throttle is engaging the electric motor, there is no need for you to pedal. So throttles on electric bikes work the same way as throttles on motorbikes and scooters.
Whether you need a throttle on your electric bike, will depend on if it will benefit you. There may be various situations where you could do with propelling your electric bike, without you pedaling. These can include if you’re short of fitness or have arthritis and you come by a steep hill. You may even find that using a throttle sometimes is a lot of fun.
Here in this article, I will talk at length about throttles on electric bikes. This is to help you determine if having one would be right for you.
Electric Bike Throttle Laws
A crucial factor in determining whether to have a throttle on your electric bike, is local electric bike laws. Throttles aren’t permitted on electric bikes everywhere in the world, unless you register the bike as a motor vehicle. For example, not all American states allow electric bikes to have throttles, without registration and licensing etc. My article “What are the Electric Bike Laws in the United States” talks further about this. So you may deem it not worth having a throttle on your electric bike, if it means you have to get a moped license, for example.
Below shows whether throttles are permitted (without registration and licensing etc) in certain countries, where electric bikes are popular.
United States – Throttles are permitted in most states. In certain states, you can only have a throttle if the electric bike is registered as a motor vehicle.
UK and EU – Throttles are only permitted up to 3.7 mph (6 km/h), without the rider pedaling. Throttles are permitted to provide some assistance up to 15.5 mph, as long as the rider is pedaling. I talk further about UK bike laws in my article “What are the UK Electric Bike Laws”.
Canada – Throttles are permitted on electric bikes in most states without a license. However, some states do require you to have a license to have a throttle.
Australia – Throttle only electric bikes are only permitted if the motor power does not exceed 200 watts. For electric bikes that have both pedal assist and a throttle, the bike cannot exceed 6 km/h when only the throttle is in use.
Japan – An electric bike with a throttle is only permitted if you have a driver’s license and a registration plate. Furthermore, it has to be registered with an engine size of no more than 50 cc.
China – Electric bikes are permitted to have throttles. Although some cities do ban electric bikes.
How Fast Can Throttles Make Electric Bikes Go?
Throttles can only propel electric bikes forward up to the legal limit of the country or state, which the bike is sold in. Electric bikes with throttles have speed limiters, which enforces this. So in most US states, throttles can only propel electric bikes up to no further than 20mph. This is due to this being the throttle speed limit in these states.
Throttles can only propel you up to no more than 32 km/h (19.88 mph) in Canada. In Australia, throttles can only propel an electric bike up to 25 km/h (15.5mph), if the bike has no pedal assist. As mentioned before, if an electric bike in Australia also has pedal assist, then the throttle can only propel the bike up to 6 km/h.
In China, throttles can propel the electric bike up to 25 km/h (15.5 mph). This, by the way, is the overall electric bike speed limit in China for both pedal assist and throttle. In Japan, a throttle can only propel an electric bike up to more than 24 km/h (14.9 mph).
Acceleration (General Speed Boost)
You may want a lot of acceleration and as much boost as possible from your electric bike whilst using a throttle. In which case there’s a couple of things to look for when it comes to the battery and the motor.
Battery Consideration with Regard to Speed
You can make sure the battery has a high voltage. The higher the battery voltage, the more speed and acceleration you get from the electric bike motor. Remember though, your electric bike will have a speed limiter, as mentioned above. Even so, there may be times when you’re going up a hill, or experiencing wind resistance, which restrict speed. So having a higher voltage battery will help to maintain more speed whilst using a throttle in these scenarios. Also, the higher your battery voltage, the more acceleration it’ll give you when using a throttle. This will be for riding in any conditions.
Electric bike battery voltages are usually either 24V, 36V, 48V, or 52V, and some are even 60V.
Motor Consideration with Regard to Speed
This works with the same principle as talked about above, with regard to batteries. The more powerful the motor, the more acceleration and speed you’ll maintain in adverse conditions, when engaging the throttle. Do be aware though, that there’s likely to be a legal limit for the power an electric bike motor can be, for the country or state you’re based. Below shows the maximum permitted motor power (in watts), for electric bikes with throttles for certain countries.
Controlling the Amount of Boost
When using a throttle on an electric bike, you can control the amount of boost you’re getting. You do this with how much you twist the throttle. So for example, a heavy twist will give you a lot of power. Conversely, a light twist will give you a little power. Additionally, if you’re twisting the throttle gradually, then this will gradually increase or decrease the boost, depending on which direction you’re twisting the throttle. When you let go of the throttle/stop twisting it, it will spring back into the off position. Here, the bike will coast, unless you start pedaling.
Can You Pedal Whilst Using the Throttle?
You can still pedal if you like whilst using a throttle. This is even though throttles propel electric bikes without you having to pedal. So you can still get a workout if you want whilst the throttle is in use.
Here you can pedal as hard, or as lightly as you like, without the terrain dictating your effort. This is useful if you have physical limitations, but still want a bit of a workout. You can even pedal whilst using a throttle up hills, to give you a bit more help up the hill. You still won’t have to pedal hard in this instance though. Furthermore, pedaling whilst using the throttle can help the bike to go a little faster.
Benefits of Throttles
Throttles are Fun
Let’s face it, using throttles is fun. This can be as good a reason as any, to opt for having a throttle on your electric bike. Twisting a throttle and getting that instant propulsion without you putting in any effort can be quite a thrill. Using a throttle can be fun if speeding along at full power, or cruising along, taking in the sights.
The Boost is Always there when You Need it
Having a throttle doesn’t mean that you’ll use it all the time, or even most of the time. Yet having a throttle can give you peace of mind, knowing that it’s always there to provide a boost, whenever needed.
There may be times when you’re going up a steeper hill, or cycling against strong winds. In these instances, you may sometimes want a break from pedaling. Here, throttles are a more fun way of getting up a steep hill than getting off your bike and walking.
You may even want to use a throttle for a nice rest on the way home, after being out for a long ride. A good example here is if you’re an electric mountain biker who likes riding on off-road trails. A leisurely ride home using a throttle may just be what you want here. Similarly, a lot of mountain bikers who like riding down mountain trails hate having to ride up mountains to get to the top of the trail. These riders are likely to appreciate the use of a throttle to get them to the top of these mountains.
Helps People With Physical Limitations
You may be thinking of buying an electric bike, because you have physical limitations. These can include arthritis, a back injury, being overweight, or being of advancing years. All of which can make cycling difficult for you. The pedal assist on electric bikes can make cycling accessible though if you come under any of these. However, a throttle can be a reassuring alternative option to have here as well. If a back injury or arthritis plays up mid cycle, you may possibly struggle to pedal at all. Again, here, a throttle can get you home.
Helps You if the Chain Breaks
If your chain breaks during a cycle, then you’re not going to be able to pedal home. This is even with the pedal assist. As long as you have a hub motor though, having a throttle on your electric bike will resolve this issue. You can just twist the throttle for it to propel you all the way home. This is though, as long as you have enough battery to get you home.
Throttles propel your electric bike without the chain, as long as you have a hub motor, because hub motors are independent of the drivetrain. This allows hub motors to not rely on the chain for them to operate. Conversely, mid drive motors are integrated within the electric bike’s drivetrain. This means that if you have one of these motors and the chain breaks, then the throttle won’t engage it. By the way, the drivetrain is the mechanism that normally gets bikes moving. It includes the pedals, gear mechanism and chain etc.
Throttles Help Get You out of Dangerous Situations
The boost throttles provide can improve your safety, due to that it can get you out of danger quickly. For example, throttles can help you quickly pass through busy intersections. A good pedal assist system, particularly at a high setting, can still give you as much a boost as a throttle though. However, throttles react sooner than pedal assist when activated. This can give you the extra second you need to get out of harm’s way in certain situations.
Pedal assist needs a full rotation of the crank before it kicks in, which gives a bit of delay. This is why throttles react quicker than pedal assist when activated. So throttles allow you to take off from a stop position quicker than pedal assist. This is very useful for when you’re at a stop light and need to get going as soon as possible when the light goes green. This is another example of how throttles can help you out of dangerous situations. Many electric bike cyclists use a throttle to propel them from a stop position and then use pedal assist once the bike is at cruising speed, for this reason.
Give Instant Boost Up Hills
This follows on from above, where I talked about how throttles give a more instant boost compared to pedal assist. You may be cycling up a hill and it turns out to be steeper than you expected mid climb. Here, you may be in too low a pedal assist setting to help you continue up the hill. If you increase the pedal assist setting, you may struggle to pedal enough for the crank to turn a full rotation, for the new higher setting to kick in. Whereas the instant boost of a throttle will help you out straight away. You can always take over with pedal assist in a higher setting, once you’re up and running up the hill.
The throttle can also help in the same way, if you weren’t using pedal assist already up the hill. This is another example of how a throttle can always be there for whenever needed. This is even if you don’t use it often.
You May Not Need a Throttle if Pedal Assist Can Give You Enough Boost
If you desire a throttle on an electric bike, you may not need it as much as you think you do. The pedal assist may already give you all the assistance you need. Depending on what setting you’re using and how hard you’re pedaling, pedal assist can give you the same boost as a throttle.
Using the highest settings of pedal assist, most electric bikes can provide over 300% of your own pedal effort. This means pedal assist can provide a very high level of assistance. This is even when you’re pedaling very lightly. So with this amount of assistance from pedal assist, you may deem a throttle not necessary.
You may still like to have a throttle though, for any instances where you may not want to pedal at all. Again, as mentioned above, throttles give you an instant boost. Whereas pedal assist there’s a delay before the boost kicks in. So you may like to have a throttle for this reason.
Depending on where you’re based, pedal assist can give you more of a boost than a throttle. This is due to local laws. Local laws may restrict the throttle assisted speed limit to a lower speed limit than if you’re using pedal assist.
For example, most American states use the 3 class system for electric bikes. Here, electric bikes that have a throttle are class 2. These electric bikes can only go up to 20mph, whilst powered by the throttle. There are also class 3 electric bikes within this system. These bikes have pedal assist only with no throttle and the pedal assist can power these bikes up to 28mph. My article “What are the Electric Bike Laws in the United States?” talks further about this 3 class system.
Listed below are some drawbacks that can apply to having a throttle on your electric bike. You may decide a throttle isn’t for you, if you feel these drawbacks would apply to you. This is particularly if pedal assist is going to give you enough boost.
- Using pedal assist for exercise may be your main purpose for having an electric bike. However, you may still want a throttle for whenever it can come in handy. The issue here though is that using the throttle too often may be too much of a temptation for you. This can result in you getting less exercise than you initially intended. For many electric bike riders, this is commonly the case.
- A lot of the time, throttles tend to be on cheaper quality electric bikes. So you may find it difficult to find a good quality electric bike, with high end parts and a throttle.
- Throttles are an extra component on the electric bike. This means it’s an extra part that could go wrong or break, or may require maintenance. For this reason alone, you may consider a throttle not worth having, if you feel you don’t really need one.
- Remember your electric bike will be a class 2, if it has a throttle and you’re in an American state that uses the 3 class system. This may limit where you’re permitted to ride your electric bike. Local laws sometimes ban class 2 electric bikes on certain trails. This is due to the fact that there’s often concern that throttle use can damage these trails.
- On some throttle electric bikes, the throttle and brake lever can be too close together. This could cause you to accidentally engage the throttle, when you attempt to use the brake. Obviously, this could cause accidents. So this is something you should look out for, if buying an electric bike with a throttle.
Full Twist Throttle Vs Half Twist Throttle Vs Thumb Throttle
You will find there’s 3 different types of throttles for electric bikes. These are full twist throttle, half twist throttle and thumb throttle. They all do the same thing, which is to engage the motor to propel the bike forward. However, they all require you to interact with them differently to each other, to engage the motor. Neither throttle type is better than the other, but you may have a preference on which type suits you best. Below, I have stated definitions of these 3 throttle types.
Thumb Throttle – As you may expect, you operate these with your thumb. These throttles are a small lever that sticks out from the handlebar.
Full Twist Throttle – These throttles run the full length of the handlebar. You hold these throttles with your wrist, the same way you would hold the handlebar normally. You operate the throttle here by twisting it back towards yourself with your wrist.
Half Twist Throttle – This type of throttle is like the full twist throttle. The difference though is that it only covers half of the length of the handlebar.
Below, I talk about the differences between these throttle types. This is to help you determine which one you may prefer.
Full Twist and Half Twist Throttle Advantages
Both full and half twist throttles are easier to operate than thumb throttles, whilst cycling on rough terrain. This is due to all the bumps, making it trickier to steady your thumb. So full and half twist throttles can be a preferred choice for mountain biking. This is as well as any other general off-road cycling.
You may have arthritis in your hands, or generally lack mobility in your fingers. Here a full or half twist throttle may be more suitable than a thumb throttle. Using your thumb to operate a throttle could get painful if you have arthritis. A thumb throttle may also be tricky to operate if your fingers don’t have much mobility. Your thumb may still ache though, if using a thumb throttle for a long period, even if you don’t have arthritis.
Thumb Throttle Advantages
Thumb throttles are easy and intuitive to use, you press the lever and you instantly have power on demand.
Many people prefer thumb throttles to full and half twist throttles, due to that they cause no wrist fatigue. Using full or half twist throttles can cause your wrist to ache after a while, if used for long periods.
Thumb throttles don’t take up the whole handlebar. This allows you to use accessory and custom handlebars, if you choose. Accessory and custom handlebars can offer you better and more comfy grip than regular handlebars.
You’re less likely to accidentally trigger a thumb throttle than a full twist throttle whilst moving an electric bike about. For example, accidentally hitting the handlebar against a wall or rail could trigger a full twist throttle. This could cause the electric bike to suddenly propel forward. You can avoid this though, by always having the electric bike switched off whilst you’re not riding it. However, there may be times when you forget to do this.
Battery Considerations for Throttles
Using a throttle uses up more battery than using pedal assist. This means that if you ride an electric bike using throttle only, your battery range will be shorter compared to if you were riding using pedal assist only. The reason for this being that the motor is doing all the work when you’re using a throttle. Whereas, when using pedal assist, your pedaling is sharing the effort with the motor.
You may not always (if ever) ride an electric bike using a throttle for the whole journey though. However, the more sparingly you operate a throttle throughout a cycle journey, the more battery range you’ll have.
With regard to how sparingly you operate a throttle, there may only be select parts of a cycle journey that you do operate it. Operating your throttle at select points within a cycle journey, will limit the throttle’s impact on the battery range. Below shows examples of certain select points you may engage a throttle during a cycle journey.
- To get up to speed, before using pedal assist once you’re at cruising speed.
- When you come by a steep hill.
- When you’re cycling against the wind.
- For the rest of the ride home, if you’re tired during a long ride.
You may be planning on using a throttle often though. In which case, it may be a good idea to have as big a capacity battery as your budget can stretch to. The bigger the capacity of the battery though, the more it’ll cost and the more weight it’ll be. Although, you may not be too concerned about your electric bike’s weight. This is due to the boost you’re getting anyway. My article “How to Choose the Right Electric Bike Battery” talks further about battery capacity.
How to Calculate Electric Bike Battery Range For Throttle Use
Battery range is a concern for many electric bike riders. This can especially be the case if you use a throttle. Remembering that throttles drain the battery quicker than pedal assist, as mentioned above. If you’re able to have a good idea of how much range you’re likely to get from your battery, then this can help you to plan cycle journeys better. This can give you peace of mind.
Below I talk about how you can calculate roughly what battery range you’re likely to get using a throttle. This can be for any capacity battery. By the way, electric bike battery capacities are measured in watt hours (wh). For example, electric bike batteries can be 450wh, 500wh and 600wh. This is among other watt hour capacities.
Also consider that an electric bike’s battery range is never an exact science though. This is due to the fact that there’s so many events during cycles and other factors that affect battery range. I discuss this further in my article “How Can I Increase My Electric BIke Battery Range”. So this is why when calculating your electric bike’s battery range, to take it as a rough guide.
Throttles typically operate at 25 watt hours per mile, for average riding conditions. Below shows what’s considered as average riding conditions.
- The rider is of average weight (approximately 70 kilos/150lbs).
- Street riding (with maybe some light gravel/dirt here and there).
- Averaging at 20mph.
- Whilst riding on relatively flat ground, with some light hills here and there.
You can calculate the expected electric bike battery range with the below calculation.
Battery range = watt hours of battery ÷ watt hours per mile
So below is an example of this calculation for if you’re using a throttle in the above sort of riding conditions, with a 500wh battery. The example shows the expected range as 20 miles.
500wh battery ÷ (divided by) 25 watt hours per mile = 20 miles
So taking 25 watt hours per mile as for using a throttle in average riding conditions as a starting block, you can modify this to better match your circumstances. For example, the heavier you are, or the more hills you’re riding up, the more watt hours per mile you’ll be operating at. My article “How to Choose the Right Electric Bike Battery” talks about this in further detail.
Battery and Motor Wear Considerations if Using a Throttle
Using a throttle puts more strain on both your battery and motor compared to using pedal assist. This is down to the same principle as to why throttles reduce battery range quicker than pedal assist. The principle being that the motor is working harder whilst the throttle is in use, due to that it is doing all the work. So the more you use the throttle instead of pedal assist, the sooner the motor and battery will wear. If you do have a throttle on your electric bike though, you can make sure you have a high quality/well-built motor. This will likely minimize any increased motor wear through throttle use.
Throttle Safety Considerations
Having a throttle on your electric bike does require you to be careful. Make sure you don’t accidentally engage it when you’re not ready, or when it’s not appropriate. This can be when you’re stopped at a light, for example. Another example could be when you’re at a stop position and there’s people in front of you. You may even be pedaling along in a situation where a sudden boost in speed would be unsafe. This could be when you’re cycling through a busy urban environment, where there’s lots of hazards.
To avoid accidentally engaging the motor from a stop position, engage the brakes until when you take off again. This will disengage the electronics on the bike.
A throttle can be a lot of fun and can come in very handy in certain situations. So it can be a viable optional extra to have, even if you don’t intend to use it all the time. However, as mentioned before, there are possible drawbacks with throttles. Again, these include having something extra on your bike that may need fixing sometimes. This is as well as possible limitations on where you can ride your electric bike. So if you’re considering an electric bike with a throttle, you may have to weigh up the pros and cons.
You may feel a certain drawback to having a throttle does not offset the benefit you feel you’ll gain from it. For example, you may feel a throttle will help you if you have arthritis and don’t mind any possible extra maintenance that a throttle may cause. On the other hand, you may think a throttle would be fun. However, the temptation to use it too often, reducing the amount of exercise you’ll get may concern you. In which case you may decide against a throttle.
As long as your local laws allow, throttle electric bikes are out there, if you want one. For a lot of people, they’re not always needed, but they can be useful and serve a purpose.