by Dave Rumsey, MeloYelo e-bikes, Ōtaki
021 103 0799 or visit

Just as there is a great variety in other types of vehicles, there are many different types of electric bicycles (e-bikes); however I will be discussing the common types that are readily available through bike shops and online, not the extreme types that are sometimes seen. I will try to dispel some myths and misunderstandings about e-bikes that seem to be common.

Before explaining what an e-bike is and how it works, I will start by saying what they are not:
They are NOT small electric motorcycles.
Many people think that you simply sit on them and use a throttle to make them go, therefore getting no exercise at all. This is not correct: a high percentage of e-bikes do not even have a throttle, and people who ride e-bikes that do come equipped with a throttle generally use it only rarely or not at all.

So how do they work then?
The electric motor and the control system is designed to ASSIST a rider who is already pedalling, not to do all the work. There is a sensor that sends a signal to the motor controller when you start to pedal forwards, and the controller sends power to the motor to assist you. When you stop pedalling, the controller stops sending power to the motor. There are safety features built in: pedalling backwards will not make the bike go forward, putting on either brake immediately stops motor power, and power is not applied until the pedals have rotated forwards for half a turn or so, so the bike will not take off on you if you are just repositioning the pedals.

The amount of power that is applied can be varied by setting the “Assist Level” on the handlebar mounted display, ranging from zero (yes, you can ride them with no assistance at all) to maximum, usually in five or nine steps, so you can dial in the amount of assistance you need. You can increase the assistance if you encounter a strong headwind, then decrease it again when heading downwind. So you set the amount of assistance (and therefore the exercise you are getting) to suit you and the riding situation you are in right now.

So if you hear someone saying “You don’t get any exercise riding an electric bike!” you realise that they probably don’t understand how e-bikes work.

What tends to happen is that people who buy e-bikes get more exercise than they did on their unpowered bikes because they use them more often, ride in stronger winds, in hillier terrain, and ride for longer each time.

So don’t worry about not getting enough exercise: turn the assist level to zero and ride until the headwind or hill means you are working harder than you want to, then turn the assist up until you are working at a comfortable level. At the top of the hill, or when you turn downwind, turn the assist to zero again if you want to.

Go further, see more and have more fun, knowing that if a strong headwind comes along, you can still get home comfortably. Explore parts of the country you haven’t ventured into because of the hills that used to be just a bit too steep on your old bike.

Another thing you hear is that e-bikes are “Cheating”.
Sure, if you turned up to a bike race on an electric bike, expect strong words. But who or what are you cheating if you are simply out for a ride? You are pedalling and putting in some of the energy, and as I said above, probably getting more exercise than you would have on a normal bike.
And if you are using your e-bike instead of your car, it is definitely “anti-cheating”!

I will get more technical in the next article and discuss various options you need to be aware of if you are thinking of buying an e-bike. In the meantime, feel free to contact me for further information or a test ride.