Learning to ride an ebike: How ebiking skills are different from general cycling skills, and how they develop


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I've been riding my ebike for over a year now, and am nearly at 4,000 miles of riding. In that year, I've noticed areas of my own skill development. I was a good bike rider before getting an ebike, though somewhat lapsed (I hadn't ridden much for about 6 years). There are, though, some differences in riding an ebike that I got better at handling over time. Some of these differences can cause falls if one doesn't take care to realize that there is a learning curve and one needs to be careful. Here's my list. Maybe you have some other things to add? If so, please share!!! :)

1) I must take care when the bike is loaded with cargo. The heaviness is not very evident during RIDING, because ebikes are powerful, but when stopped when the bike is loaded. I never carried heavy loads on my conventional bike. On my regular bike, when I'd stop I often "held" my bike between my legs. On an ebike, I can do this if my bike is not loaded, but with a load, the bike can fall over in this situation so I have to be more careful. Especially if the bike is loaded with weight on one side and not the other, or if I have a heavy load of three bags of groceries, there is a higher risk of the bike falling over.

2) Ebikes are great for carrying a load, but a load can create an off-balance bike that might fall more easily. This relates to (1), standing straddling one's stopped bike, but also relates to using the kickstand. When loading my bike, I have to take care that the front wheel is straight and not sharply turned, for example.

3) Ebikes may have more controls than standard bikes. My hybrid conventional bike had brakes and a 20 speed shifter. My ebike has brakes, a 7 speed shifter, a throttle, and a display where I can control the PAS. Not two things, but four things. In that sense, learning to ride an ebike smoothly is a bit like learning to drive. One needs a lot of practice with controls before everything becomes automatized. I felt I learned the controls rapidly, but nearly 4,000 miles later I can see that I've gotten better at them over time.

4) Momentum is very important on conventional bikes. The need for momentum on a conventional bike, and the physical effort needed to create it, combine to create cycling strategies that work hard to create momentum and to maximize the benefit of that momentum. This means, for example, taking good advantage of getting up lots of downhill speed in order to benefit from that speed going back up hill. It also means getting a "running start" on hills by working up as much momentum as possible before hitting the hill.
On an ebike, momentum is at one's fingertips. This means it is reasonable to go slower down hills (and, actually, safer), allowing much better visibility of cross-streets, driveways, etc., to make sure they are clear and safe to ride through. It also means that there is no need to gain momentum before going up hill. It took me many many miles before I realized this, and has changed how I ride tremendously. For example, on my way home from work there is a side street that is a handy route, but has an immediate steep hill. This was challenging for me because I would build momentum to face the hill, and that made it nearly impossible for me to safely turn onto the side street. Meanwhile, as I was trying to go fast, I'd also have to downshift to a lower gear so I'd have some pedal power once I hit the hill. One day, I realized ... I don't need to go fast when I turn onto that street. I can go slowly enough to feel quite comfortable making the turn while in a low gear, and then use the throttle or rapidly up the PAS so I can pedal up the hill in the low gear. Once I understood this, it became easy peasy to turn onto the side street and manage the hill. Another effect of having momentum at one's fingertips is that there's no longer a need to preserve momentum, which makes it much easier to put a priority on other people and safety than it is on a regular bike when one is trying to eke every ounce of energy out of the momentum one is working to gain.

Well, this is a set of ebiking skills that, for me, have been different from conventional cycling skills. Maybe you've noticed other things? Please share! :)
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The only load my bike generally carries is me! That said, I agree on the learning curve. Mine was more focused on maximizing useful battery capacity (range) and arriving at a compromise regarding just how much of the bike's required energy I wanted to supply personally. This involved how fast I wanted (needed?) to go as well. Realizing it takes more power to go fast compared to anything slower, there are compromises to be made there as well.

Bottom line, after a while, I found there was a range of speeds I ran most often, using a no higher than necessary pass level, and contributing no more than I was able (or willing to use) of my own energy/pedaling power! When I started riding e-bikes, there is no way I realized there would be so many decisions and compromises to be made on a JOY ride! During one of MY average rides, I find I'm frequently changing gears, as well as PAS levels, to suit conditions I am riding in.
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One thing for me has been to really focus on shifting so as to minimize chain wear/stress (for my bikes with traditional drive train). Prior to purchasing my first bike, I read all the pros/cons of mid-drive vs hub so I was hyper sensitive to the potential for chain failure on a mid-drive. Thus part of that e-bike education was to learn to optimize shifting to minimize load/stress on the components.

The other item has been, as already mentioned, learning how to plan-out my commute so as to optimize my range. On my single battery bikes, I've trained myself and learned that if I push myself and work harder on the morning commute, relying more on Eco mode, then I can take it a bit easier on the trip home and still arrive with 15-20% of battery remaining. And I know the particular sections of my commute and what mode each section warrants. For example, my 16.5 mile commute to work usually plays out like this: 5 miles Eco (residential) - this is my warm-up and wake-up section, 1.5 mile Tour (boulevard with bike lane), 1 mile Eco (residential) - catching my breath prior to the sprint, 5 miles Tour+Sport (park with bike lane and city boulevard) - this is my sprint due to it being the most dangerous section, 4.5 miles Eco (hospital district, campus, downtown much of it using bike lanes) - this is my cool down and usually where I start to mix with more traffic and denser urban life.
Mid drives are so natural feeling that I had little trouble acclimating to it. I rode a few hub drives and they felt "different" than an analog bike. I guess the weight imbalance was most of it.
I agree about shifting gears especially if your e-bike isn't equipped with a gear sensor. I hear it can even brake the internal hub gear at least some shimano nexus got fairly damaged. I guess alfine or nuvinci should be ok.
No one has mentioned keeping a finger on the brake lever to prevent motor operation during low speed maneuvers. It's needed more on a cadence sensor than torque sensing, but am surprised ebikemom hasn't had unintended acceleration incidents on her Pedago's. I guess she includes this in "being familiar" with the controls.

Walking your throttle equipped bike with the power assist off ... that's another habit you learn. Otherwise you may bump it and get a bucking bike on your hands. I might have done this twice in 4 years. How did I learn. Having a bike pull a wheelie while holding it will teach you.

One thing that shouldn't be new is to downshift to the lower gears when you come to a stop, to enable an easier start for legs/motor. I think shifting is fun, anyway, and I do this, even though my geared hubmotors don't care. However, it will save battery power, and lessen wear on their gears.
You likely never introduced your friends to the multiple levels of PAS available, operation using PAS vs. throttle, and features like regen and cruise control.

My friends have all loved the e-bikes as well (made obvious from the moment they feel the motor helping them and the HUGE resulting grins!), but it takes them at least half an hour to get their head wrapped around just the basics.
Great thread.
  • The greater weight of e-bikes can actually be a feature and not a bug at times. In particular when you need to carry momentum over a short section of road where you can't pedal (e.g. crossing railroad tracks or a cattle guard) that extra weight means extra momentum.
  • How various models of e-bikes interpret "pedal assist" is quite varied and produces very different ride feel and behavior. For example, with Pedego and Rad bikes the various pedal assist levels seem to assign a fixed amount of power to the wheel, without any regards to how much pedal input you are providing. While Bosch-powered bikes provide power in proportion to your pedal effort, where Turbo might provide 200% of your pedal effort, Tour might provide 100%, and Eco might provide 50%. These different behaviors have a dramatic effect on what strategies the e-biker will use to have a comfortable and efficient ride.
  • E-bikes generally have slightly greater rolling resistance than acoustic bikes. This is most noticeable on very slight downhills.
  • With e-bikes you are simultaneously balancing two different efficiencies. One is obviously trying to get as much distance and speed out of the bike with as little physical effort as possible, and the other is to get as much distance and speed out of the bike using as few electrons as possible. Both of those efficiencies are often in opposition, but there are often "sweet spots" where both come together. An example is with Bosch-equipped e-bikes on fast flats where the pedal assist starts to cut out (Bosch pedal assist starts gradually decreasing when you get within 2-3mph of the maximum speed) -- you can get into a place where you are pedaling at fairly good speed for modest effort and the motor is not working very hard either.
  • With regards to @ebikemom 's comments: the Pedego Interceptor is a particularly unstable e-bike, and her observations are much more true for that bike than many other e-bikes in the wild. Note that "unstable" isn't necessarily a bad thing: any bicycle has a tradeoff between stability and liveliness, and the Interceptor's instability make it lively and fun to ride, especially at more normal speeds between 12 and 25mph. At lower speeds that instability kind of becomes a hassle.
I think, Pedego instability is aggravated by the battery placed up high on the rear rack. Most of their bikes have this design (or all of them?). It's like having a bagful of groceries there all the time. And if you do add groceries on top of this, I can see it becoming unstable when stopping and leaning slightly to one side.
I think, Pedego instability is aggravated by the battery placed up high on the rear rack. Most of their bikes have this design (or all of them?). It's like having a bagful of groceries there all the time. And if you do add groceries on top of this, I can see it becoming unstable when stopping and leaning slightly to one side.
That is true. THey haven't changed most of their designs. I personally don't like any of rear rack batteries, besides pedego has a longer frame than most conventional e-bikes with such battery position (as they are mostly cruisers rather than city bikes) which makes them more instable.
Getting off-topic, but this is a real question. How do you tell a bike is unbalanced? What does it feel like? Does it mean you cannot ride no-hands? Does it wobble at high speeds?
When I built my first e-bike, I first located the battery on a rear rack. Couldn't get much simpler, right? This was a 29'er, and being an older sort of rider, that meant pulling the bike over at an angle to get aboard. I had been riding this bike for a while previous to the conversion and found pulling the bike over at an angle was just about the only way I could get on it.

So, when pulling the bike over, hands on the handlebars, she went crashing right down onto the ground, causing me to loose my balance, resulting in me, with all the grace I could muster at the time, to land on top of the fallen down bike. Not hurt, I was glad there were no witnesses to this "incident".

With the battery mounted up so high, it's weight became a real factor. When pulling the bike over at an angle to mount, that weight, located that high, literally lifted the FRONT tire right off the ground! Hands on the handlebars getting ready to swing your leg over the bike, you are in no position to keep this slow motion crash from happening, so you land on it!

That was my first lesson on "balance". I HATE learning stuff like this the hard way! That lesson one I won't forget any time soon. It led me to fabricating a mount within the "triangle" to hold the battery. That location worked out great....

If the bike had been a step through design, I doubt the battery location would have been a factor. There would be no need to pull the bike over at an angle to mount. There WOULD still be a danger of crashes similar to above if this bike were leaned over when using a kick stand that didn't hold the bike nearly vertical. -Al
The rear rack battery location does not and has never presented a problem for me.

I must take care when the is loaded with heavy groceries or if I have loaded my computer bag on one side and I am stopped. No issues with riding. No issues when the bike is not loaded. I haven’t been comfortable riding any bike with no hands since I was a young adult.
Pedego Interceptor is a particularly unstable e-bike, and her observations are much more true for that bike than many other e-bikes in the wild.

I only have had the bike fall when stopped AND under a heavy load— a couple of gallons of milk and other groceries... a laptop and books... I use side baskets. A cargo bike type platform kickstand would be a help. I also have to keep a hand on the handlebars when stopped under load. with a conventional bike, I never attempted riding with such a load. I edited my original post to clarify.
The combination of the high rear mounted battery and the weight of the hub motor contributes to a very different riding dynamic than a mid drive, IMO.
... may bump it and get a bucking bike on your hands.

Learning not to bump or twist the throttle on a stopped ebike. Yes! For sure! I accidentally flipped my brand new bike when I first got it. I also added a throttle lever later and accidentally bumped it with my elbow when grabbing my water bottle.

I do use the throttle touch when walking my bike up a hill. Works great!
After inadvertently hitting the thumb throttle a few times, I took mine off. Don't miss it a bit. It's a bike, not an electric scooter.
I need mine to start when facing uphill and some other times also... I did hav my son’s taken off before he testrode his ebike because I thought he might bump it and think ebikes were dangerous. We had his throttle put back on after he was well adjusted to his bike. I don’t think he’s ever bumped it.

one advantage of a twist throttle over a lever is that it is harder to accidentally engage... though I did do it once by accidentally grabbing it when my bike was brand new.
The thing that was hard to learn for me is when stopped at a stop sign, or anywhere, I must not move the pedal accidently or the bike wants to take off. My Radmini seems to be sensitive that way. It only takes a small bit of pedal movement for the bike to try to take off. It took my small brain a while to figure out what was happening, as the bike tried to take off and I put it on its side. It still happens once in a while but I know what and why.