Many eBikes may look similar, but they aren’t all the same. The most common style (Class I) has an electric motor that turns on and provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling ("pedal assist"), while all Class II and some Class III models have throttles - they allow the motor to turn on and propel the bike, even when the rider is not pedaling at all.
Grip-style twist throttles and push button thumb throttles are both common on eBikes. Whether one of these throttle options is right for you depends on your needs and the type of riding you plan to do. Here are some tools to help you decide:
When a throttle-equipped eBike makes sense
EBikes equipped with throttles work great for riders who are injured or differently-abled. For example, a rider recovering from knee surgery may be able to ride for miles, but can’t get over a steep hill without pain. Using an eBike with a throttle allows them to continue building fitness while they get stronger.
Riders in urban environments with many stop lights or stop signs may also benefit from a throttle. Accelerating an eBike (which are heavier than traditional bikes) from a dead stop can be challenging for riders who don’t produce much power. The throttle can be used for a quick boost to get the bike moving, after which the rider can release the throttle and start pedaling. This technique can also be used for eBike riders carrying a heavy load or towing a trailer.
When you should skip a throttle-equipped eBike
You should consider where you plan to ride before choosing an eBike with a throttle. If your plans include off-road mountain bike trails, be aware that many trail systems don’t permit throttles - access is often limited to Class I eBikes without throttles.
Also note that throttle eBikes are usually speed limited when on throttle. For example, a Class III eBike capable of 28 MPH on pedal assist will only go 20 MPH on throttle alone. To reach the top speeds, the rider will need to pedal. Don’t expect to purchase a Class III eBike and ride at 28 MPH without pedaling. Some models may offer adjustable pedal-assist top speed, but even if you tweak those settings, a throttle will typically be locked at 20 MPH max.
Finally, consider that for slower speed riding (think a crowded downtown farmer’s market, or Saturday morning on a multi-user trail with dog walkers, cyclists, joggers, etc.) it can be difficult to modulate speed when using a throttle alone. It’s important to maintain control for safety at all times. Throttles work great when used at their maximum - hold down the throttle to get over a steep hill, or cruising steadily at 20 MPH on a flat, open road for miles on end. It’s harder to precisely modulate from 6 MPH to 10 MPH and back on throttle alone. For that type of riding, it may be better to ride with no pedal assist or throttle at all, or a combination of pedal assist and braking to help control your speed.