E-Volution: Behind The E-Bike’s Pedal-Assist Technology

What is an e-bike, exactly? A few common misconceptions include: an e-bike is not really a bike (isn’t it more like a Vespa?); you don’t get a workout on an e-bike (the motor does all the work); and e-bikes are for senior citizens. As we will point out here, all these statements are demonstrably false.

A lightweight and compact pedal-assist motor like the Bosch system used by Cube Bikes is engaged only when you’re pedalling. There is no throttle. Four assist modes (Eco, Tour, Sport, or Turbo) add 50 to 250 percent of your pedal-applied power. The motor maxes out at 32kph—beyond that, it shuts off automatically and you pedal or coast as on a regular bike.


E-rest-stop at The Depot, Craigleith, Ontario. Photo: Marc Landry/Courtesy Blue Mountain Resorts

We recently spoke to Erik Jensen of Cube Bikes Canada about the pedal-assist e-bike and its increasing presence on roads and trails.

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words :: Ned Morgan

How would you describe the pedal-assist to a rider who’s never seen one?
An assist motor is the greatest equalizer that’s ever been in the bike industry. You can be 85 years old or you can be 15 years old and you can go out on a family ride and all stay together. I’ve been riding bikes since I was two years old. My wife and I have always been very active in bike riding; three or four times a week we would go for rides. As life and age got in the way, my wife stopped riding with me. The level between us got too great, and since we live in a very hilly part of the country, it wasn’t much fun for her to go out. But then e-bikes came along. Her first comment was, ‘I’m not riding an electrical assist. I’m a mountain bike rider.’ The classic response: ‘I’m not ready for that.’ A year went by and we were at the Bike Show in Toronto and she got to try one. She grinned from ear to ear. That summer during her vacation she put 2300 kilometres on her e-bike. Now when we go out on road bikes, I might take off from her on the flats but ultimately she will catch me on the hill.

How can an e-bike change the way we ride?
Take for example a couple who wants to cruise in Blue Mountain and go out and explore the trails. With a pedal-assist, they can do it in relative comfort and choose the level of exercise that they want—and the distance they cover is much larger, as is the footprint of their experience. As for mountain biking, whether hardtail or full-suspension—whether you’re 18 or 35-65—the range you can explore in the backcountry is much greater. And for club rides, you have people in peak riding condition and you have older riders who don’t have the same stamina. E-bikes allow the group to stay together.


“For club rides, you have people in peak riding condition and you have older riders who don’t have the same stamina. E-bikes allow the group to stay together.”


Why did Cube choose the Bosch pedal-assist motor?
When Bosch got into this game, the pedal-assist market changed from grassroots to a viable transportation alternative, due to the range and reliability. The system’s three sensors measure your pedalling power, cadence and speed more than 1000 times per second. This enables the rider and the e-bike to interact with each other organically. So at all times it’s communicating and it knows what you’re doing. And based on your riding style it will constantly update the cockpit on the assist you have left, in kilometres.

What’s the state of the e-bike market in Canada?
Pedal-assist bikes represent more than 50 percent of bike sales in some countries but only about one percent in Canada, though it’s growing. So we’re at the very beginning of something here. In Europe, electrical-assist bike tours have exploded over the last four years. There they have charging stations so you can go in and grab another battery and continue on to the next mountain or village.


E-biking Ontario’s Georgian Trail. Photo: Marc Landry/Courtesy Blue Mountain Resorts