Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Matt
Riding an electric bike is not much different from riding a normal bicycle. However, there are a few things you need to know if you want to enjoy all its toys and be safe while at it. Most experienced bikers are often surprised when they hop into an E-bike and struggle to get going or avoid speeding.
In this electric bike riding guide, I’ll explain the basics of how to ride an electric bike. I’ll also let you know about a few important things I’ve learned over the years that make electric bike riding super-fun and what you can do to take full advantage of any electric bike.
Riding an electric bike – step by step
Let’s assume you are completely new to bike riding, let alone electric bike riding. Here is what you need to do as soon as you get access to an electric bike.
Familiarize yourself with the electric bike
Before you start riding any electric bike, it’s important to have some basic knowledge of its various riding parts and how they are used. Most e-bikes come with additional components or features that you must use when riding.
Not all electric bikes come with the same features or riding components but the following are very common:
Electric bike handlebars
The handlebars are the two curved or angled metallic arms that you use to maneuver and balance the e-bike. Depending on the electric bike model, the handlebar arms could be made of steel or aluminum. They have a flat or swept-back design for ergonomics and aerodynamics. They may also come with a set of rubber grips to provide handling grip and comfort.
Unlike standard bicycle handlebars, electric bike handlebars usually include the following functional components attached to either arm:
- The electric bike’s display/ control display – usually located at the center of the handlebars directly in front of the rider’s line of vision.
- The electric bike throttle – usually buttons located near the top of the handlebars on one side. Standard throttle controls consist of a plus (+) and minus (-) and are located on the right or left handlebar near the rubber grip.
- The headlight – many bike models will come equipped with a headlight at the base of the handlebars for night riding. The headlights utilize power from the main battery or an auxiliary battery and have a switch somewhere on the handlebar.
- The horn / bell – most electric bikes come with a horn mounted somewhere on the body of the handlebars to help you warn pedestrians and motorists on the road.
- LED Indicator Strips – some advanced city bikes come with a set of LED indicator strips mounted on either arm of the handlebar. For such bikes, you’ll probably have an indicator button on either side of the handlebar that will use to activate the LED indicator. However, it’s important to always follow standard street biking rules in your state (most recommend hand signaling) for safety.
The handlebars are the most important components on any electric bike as they not only help you steer or maneuver the electric bike, but house most of the essential e-bike riding components. I recommend you spend time to familiarize yourself with the electric bike’s handlebars and practice steering the bike at a slow speed while paying close attention to your surroundings.
Electric bike pedals
The next most important component you need to familiarize yourself with on any electric bike is the pedals.
An electric bike’s pedals are used to rotate the crankset which may consist of a sprocket, crank, and a chainring mechanism that is connected to the motor.
Depending on the mechanical design of an e-bike, the crankset may be directly connected to the motor that propels the wheels, or to an auxiliary mid-drive motor that generates additional torque directly on the motor.
You, however, don’t need to worry about the inner assembly of your crankset or motor to ride an electric bike. All you need to know is that you don’t need to exert as much pedaling force to propel the bike forward, as the motor does most of the work.
The presence of an electric motor also means that your bike can gain high speeds in a short time with few pedaling motions. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of the speeds you are doing at any given moment. Glance at the speedometer on the e-bike screen from time to time, and apply the brakes when needed.
One unique electric bike riding detail you need to know is how to set the level of pedaling assistance. Mots advanced electric bikes allow you to choose how much help you need from the electrical motor by choosing a pedaling assistance level or mode beforehand. The higher the level of pedal assistance, the less you will need to pedal to accelerate and gain speed.
|Electric Bike Pedal Assistance Mode||Assistance level||Scenario|
|Low (may be referred to as Eco mode in some models)||Minimal assistance – better range||For slopes and low-speed roads|
|Medium (may be referred to as standard mode in some models)||Moderate assistance||For flat surfaces and busy streets|
|High (may be referred to as performance mode in some models)||Full assistance- minimal pedaling needed (can be paired with the throttle for higher speeds)||For highway speeds and hill climbs (use sparingly)|
|*Dynamic||Adjusts level based on input and conditions (uses a torque sensor)||For normal rides|
Most electric bike pedals are designed to be ridden with normal shoes, which means you can get on and go the same way you could on a standard bicycle. However, some special-purpose sports e-bikes or trail bikes have clipless pedals that require special riding boots, which attach to the pedal for safety and ergonomics.
Electric bike battery
You don’t have to interact with the electric bike’s battery or charging mechanism to ride, but it’s important to understand how it functions.
Most electric bikes come with a lithium-ion battery or battery set located somewhere in the frame of the bike. The bike battery collects and stores energy needed to power the motor, which in turn propels the electric bike.
In most cases, you need to charge the electric bike’s battery, or check that it has enough charge to cover the distance if it’s a rental bike.
Most modern electric bikes have a range monitor that indicates the distance in miles of battery charge available. Ensure you have enough charge in the battery for the distance you want to cover, especially if using a rental bike.
Electric bike motor
The motor is a major component that determines the riding characteristics of the e-bike. The motor converts stored electrical energy into kinetic energy or turning power. In most electric bikes, the motor is activated via an electronic control unit as soon as you switch on the bike or press down any of the pedals to start riding.
For a good riding experience, it’s important that you learn the specification of your e-bike’s motor relating to performance such as maximum speed, acceleration, and power modes. For instance, electric bikes equipped with powerful 100 Volt motors offer better acceleration than smaller motors. However, most electric bikes are legally clamped to a maximum speed of 15 mph / 25 kmh.
Turning on your electric bike
After familiarizing yourself with the electric bike’s riding components and other basics, you are ready for your first ride. Now, most electric bikes are designed to start automatically as soon as you touch or move the pedals, but some need to be turned on with a button.
If it’s a rental bike, you may need to go through a longer start-up procedure which involves paying for the bike, scanning the QR code, and undocking it from its charging station. I recommend that you refer to the start-up guide for the specific bike model you want to ride if you cannot start it with a button or the pedals.
After starting the bike, you are likely going to be greeted with the display turning on. Take a moment to check the information on the display before you start riding.
Here is a simple checklist that you can use every time you turn on an electric bike:
|E-bike display info||Action if YES||Action if NO|
|Is the battery charged?||Check the battery level indicator||Charge the e-bike battery|
|Range – is it sufficient?||Move to the next item||Charge the e-bike battery|
|Mode – is the e-bike in the right mode?||Move to the next item||Change the e-bike to desired mode for a better experience|
|*Pedal assistance – Is it set to the right level?||Move to the next item||Use the display menu to set the right the desired pedal assistance mode|
|Is the e-bike displaying any errors?||Ensure the indicated errors are fixed (some advanced models indicate an error or fault for specific items like tire pressure, low battery, and failed motors)||The electric bike is ready to ride|
Seat height adjustment
Adjusting the height of the seat not only makes riding the e-bike more comfortable and easier, but safer too. You can skip this step if the electric bike belongs to you and is already set to the right seat height, or if it offers no seat adjustment.
Depending on the model, you can adjust your seat manually by pulling a release lever and moving the seat up or down to the desired height, or using a seat adjustment button for electrical adjustment. Generally, you are supposed to adjust the seats so that you can reach the pedals easily while in a seating position.
Bike seat adjustment is normally based on personal preference, and there are different approaches you can take to get to that sweet spot. However, it’s generally recommended that you put your bike seat in a position where your hip does not move up and down in a rocking motion while riding. At the same time, your knees should only bend slightly when your heel is at the bottom of the stroke while pedaling.
You can watch this tutorial on how to find the right seat height for a comfortable bike ride.
Another option is to use manual measurement to set the seat height recommended by biking experts. Here is how to go about it:
- Stand barefoot on a flat surface next to a wall or vertical object
- Find an evenly shaped object and hold it between your legs (a block of wood or book can suffice) to the crotch area
- Measure the distance from the bottom (flat surface) to the top of the object between your legs
- Multiply the measurement by 0.84 then subtract 0.16 inches from the resulting figure to get your correct e-bike seat height
There are other ways you can determine the correct bike seat height, but your level of comfort and safety is key. Generally, it is recommended to make adjustments to the bike seat height based on how you feel when riding the e-bike, the bike design, and road conditions.
Refer to the National Highway Traffic Administration’s bike safety guidelines for more information.
Put on your safety gear
Before you start riding, it is recommended that you put on your safety gear, especially if riding on a public road, unfamiliar roads, biking trails, or near traffic. While biking safety standards and regulations may differ from one place to another, I recommend you have a bike helmet and a reflector vest on at the minimum for your safety.
It may be wise that you are also familiar with traffic laws specific to e-bikes in your area such as the use of hand signals, right of way, traffic signs, bike lane etiquette, and speed limits. You should be especially careful if the electric bike is modified to go faster by delimiting the motor above the required e-bike speed limit.
Pedaling and balancing the electric bike
At this stage, you are ready to hop onto the electric bike and try balancing while pedaling and rolling down the road. Balancing while pedaling on an electric bike is almost the same as pedaling on a traditional bike. You only need to be aware of the speed at which you moving and the amount of assistance you are getting from the e-bike’s electric motor.
For those new to biking, gaining balance while pedaling comes with days, or sometimes just hours of practice and confidence building. You can take a look at this bike balance tutorial to learn the basics of bike balancing and pedaling.
Here are some tips to get you started with balance while riding an electric bike:
- Practice getting onto the bike smoothly and keeping the handlebars level before your start pedaling.
- Work on your reaction time- be ready to put your foot on the ground when you sense losing balance.
- Adjust to the lowest pedal assistance level for practice if you are completely new to the electric bike.
- Always look further ahead (beyond the front wheel) and try to steer your e-bike in your desired direction.
- Do not use the throttle until you have gained balance and confidence on the road.
- Use higher pedal assistance levels when going downhill.
- Learn how to anticipate a stop and apply the brakes smoothly to avoid falls.
- Avoid emergency brakes at all times.
- Glance at the speedometer on the display when it is safe to ensure you are keeping to the speed limit.
- Avoid pedaling the electric bike if you are moving at the desired speed, especially on a busy street.
I recommend that you first learn how to maintain balance and move smoothly while on a private road before you start riding on public roads. Electric bikes are generally easier to ride than normal bikes because there is minimal pedaling involved. However, they are fast and therefore less forgiving in some situations.
Please remember to use the throttle sparingly if you are still in the practice stage. This will help you avoid over-speeding, which may result in serious falls and injuries. Use the brakes and throttle-down buttons to slow down, and ride defensively, constantly being aware of your surroundings which include pedestrians, road signs, potential hazards, vehicles, and other things.
Overall, riding an electrical bike is more or less the same as riding a traditional bike, but it has the added benefit of pedal assist, better acceleration, additional gadgetry, and higher speeds. Take time to learn how to ride safely and follow any specific guidelines that came with your electric bike.