Around the place where I live the electric bicycle is gaining popularity and it's easy to pick those on such bike from far away not just from posture (rather stiff upper body even on steep hills) but also from their cadence: for some reason the majority (I'd estimate more than 90%) of the people I see on an ebike ride at a rather low cadence. It's hard to estimate how low but I'd say something like 30rpm; in any case: lower than any other cyclist on a normal bicycle no matter what type. So I've been wondering why and I cannot really figure it out (nor if they all do it for the same single reason). I don't really have the guts to just ride next to one and ask, also because I'm afraid to get frowning faces and answers like 'no idea'.

I was thinking it is maybe just as simple as 'because they can'. Maybe they all just think 'if it works ok spinning slowly, why spin faster'. But to me this is counterintuitive as even when I don't have to output a lot of power I'd still go for a decent cadence rather than a lower one as it just seems to work better and science seems to agree with me. And in any case I wouldn't go as low as they do. So I was thinking maybe they all were told to ride like that in the shop and/or there is some technical reason related to the whole drive system? Like it is more beneficial in terms of power usage or so? Or the bikes are just built with less gears and favouring the higher ratios?

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    In a word - "noobs" You'll also see them with saddles far too low, knees apart, and if they wear a helmet it may be tilted back on the crown of the head not on the forehead, or hanging directly from the bars. They'll also forget they're riding a legal road vehicle and may do Pedestrian-like things without warning. This isn't unique to e-bikes either.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 18:41
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    I ride a bunch of different bikes, and sometimes riding a big gear slowly is an awesome way to just cruise. Its not about Max Speed at all times. To people who would otherwise drive or walk, just being on a bike is an improvement. I've learned to not offer suggestions, just offer encouragements if the opportunity arises but it can scare them too, if they're used to the isolation of a car. In short - riding for transport is quite different to cycling for exercise.
    – Criggie
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 2:52
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    "science seems to agree with me"? Cadence is a product of how much power you can output, the chosen gear you're using, and how much speed you want to attain. I typically choose the highest gear I can use, then crank the cadence up to match the desired speed. My legs are much stronger than many of my friends who choose to use a higher cadence/lower torque combination. Add some details about what "science" you are relying on. Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 15:51
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    Could be cognitive bias. You identify eBikers from afar by posture and cadence thus all eBikers not pertaining such traits are therefore not identified as such giving weight to the initial observation.
    – Frankie
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 5:59
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    @Criddie: "Noob" sounds a bit harsh. Personally, I simply enjoy having my saddle a tad deeper than mandated by the "pros" like you. I am always in full movability (which saved my arse a number of times, when e.g. my front wheel slipped over pebbles and I literally jumped of, astounding myself (actually, I found that funny afterwards; who doesn't love a dose of adrenaline?)). I also know ppl who had chronic problems with "correct" or "Pro" posture, struggling to find the one saddle for years, only to discover that a non-standard adjustment of the saddle and handlebar was all that was required.
    – phresnel
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 10:58

13 Answers 13


There are (at least) two reasons. First, most (but not all) E-bikes use a control system that multiplies the amount of force or torque that you put into the pedals or cranks. Since power is the product of pedal speed and pedal force (or torque), increasing the torque allows the rider to reduce the pedal speed -- that is, the rider's cadence. Electric motors (can) produce full torque at any rpm, so these controllers typically modulate the torque output rather than the rpm.

Second, if a rider on an E-bike were riding at "normal" cadence for his or her speed you would be less likely to notice the rider, so your observational sample is likely to be more heavily weighted to those with lower than normal cadence.

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    Most e-bikes are cheap models, and most cheap models don't sense torque but have on/off switches for the pedal assistance (usually with a selector for how much assistance you want). I suspect it's got more to do with people not understanding or not caring
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 17:04
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    2nd paragraph makes a fair point (could even be plain old confirmation bias though I doubt it) so now I'm really going to start counting.
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 8:41
  • @stijn you could get a dashcam and go over the footage after driving, if you're really curious. Then update us!
    – user34625
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 21:31
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    @AytAyt don't have a dashcam, but started to look more carefully and noting down countings after riding. However one thing which is already bringing down my initial and faulty '90%' estimate is that the weather is becoming colder and more wet, which seems to lead to more noobs (assumingly) being filtered out, leaving more epxerienced riders. Which don't seem to opt for the extremely low cadences.
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 7:46
  • Nah, it is easy to detect an ebike on the shape of its frame (that is, the battery). Sample bias is problably not the main answer. I reckon they pedal just as much as they need to make the engine kick in. At least where I live the engine must not run if the person on the bike isn't also pedalling. If the engine runs without the rider pedalling then it's no longer a bike but a motorbike with all legal complications that brings.
    – d-b
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 18:27

In general studies have indicated that trained cyclists use pedaling frequencies higher than 90 rpm whereas untrained cyclists prefer frequencies around 60 rpm. I suspect the majority of e-bikers you encounter are not "trained" cyclists. Cycling co-opts a number of pathways we use for walking so people who are untrained typically cycle like they would walk, where a casual pace translates to a cadence of somewhere around 50-60 RPM.

That said, mechanically and metabolically a lower cadence may actually be optimal for e-bikes. The assistance provided by the motor means your physical effort tends to be less. Studies have shown lower cadences (i.e., < 90 RPM) can be energetically optimal for lower efforts and longer duration activities. Higher cadences tend to be associated with harder efforts, especially in trained cyclists. Furthermore, people also have a tendency to self select the most the energetically optimal cadences, especially for longer duration activities. For what they are doing, a slower cadence may be sensible.

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    +1 I have only briefly ridden an e-bike, but in my experience the optimal speed is at a slower cadence than a normal bicycle. If you try and push the speed above that, it feels like running through sand. I believe the motors have this intentionally built in, because my brother built his own ebike without such limitations and he can get moving really fast on his bike.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 15:28
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    @TBear I suspect the designers of e-bikes may have designed for a lower cadence as their target audience may be "non-cyclists." I have virtually no experience with e-bikes so this is rampant speculation.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 16:15
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    OP is likely from Holland, given their name. Everyone is an experienced biker there. My daughter cycles everyday and she's four. Yet I see many people slowly pedaling. What's experienced? I think you mean that people experienced in biking fast, e.g., road biking or mountain biking, use high rpm. I road-bike a lot and low gears/high spin works best to keep on going at 30+ km/h.
    – AliceD
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 8:28
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    I think the second paragraph is spot-on. I've ridden an e-bike for a week, and in fact you don't need to increase the cadence that much since the motor helps you with torque. The main advantage is that you are far less likely to push too much and get to work sweated.
    – clabacchio
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:52
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    @AliceD - you are correct, my usage of "experienced" was implying performance training, I have updated the wording to "trained" to make the intent clearer.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 16:27

Personally it's because I'm using my ebike to get to work, wearing work clothes (which restrict my pedalling) and not wanting to get too sweaty. If I were just out for a ride I'd pedal faster.

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    That implies pedalling faster while putting less force on the pedals would make you hotter. I'm not really sure it does as the same amount of work is done, I think?
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 8:39
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    There is a constant friction force inside the body (muscles/tendons/joints), so moving body parts faster will increase heat generation because of that friction.
    – anatolyg
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 10:06
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    @anatolyg And you'd get more friction from your clothes cycling faster unless they were skin-tight.
    – SGR
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 10:46
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    @anatolyg thanks for sorting that out. I guess that's what I get for not actively using/thinking about any physics theories for more than a decade: lack of 'physics mindset'
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 7:30

For me, as an occassional ebike rider, it feels I get kind of better connection to the bike when pedaling at lower cadence, but higher force.

Because the electric assist otherwise reduces the needed force, it can feel like eternal downhill and it gets harder to sense your speed. But when I switch to higher gear so that I need to push harder on the pedals for a given power output it feels more like normal biking. I tend to do the same when going downhill on a regular bike also, even though I could as easily just not pedal at all.


It could be that all they are doing is rotating the pedals - not because they have to input any force to make the bike go but because the motor will not run with receiving a continuous signal from a hall-effect switch coupled to the pedals.

Thus the motor is enough to move the rider alone, but unless the rider is also rotating the pedals a cadence sensor as "safety feature", legislated in some areas, will detect that the rider is no longer rotating the pedals and will cut off the motor.

This is not a torque sensor, a much more expensive device.

  • 1
    There are also a lot of e-bikes (admittedly higher end) that force sensors rather than cadence, so as to multiply the the riders input rather than do all the work for them. Here riders have to contribute a bigger effort to go faster (rather than to just turn the pedals). E-bike" is a wide banner of systems.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 21:43

I am a representative of "they", the slow pedaling e bike riders. Following a severe illness I am left weak as a baby. I have insufficient strength to pedal a standard bike, I need PAS (Pedal Assistance). Indeed after more than a years practice I rarely leave the turbo (max assist) mode.

Overall gearing is 1.08-1 in full underdrive. (42/22 x 0.5). My Elemnt records cadence to my phone and displays cadence in real time. Up a steep hill cadence may be as low as 35 RPM with about 65 RPM down hill. Any more than that and I collapse at the roadside panting and pissing. However the bike is designed for the fit too and will respond to whoever is capable of asking for it up to a cadence of 120 RPM so I suggest all the slow pedaling riders fit the category, unfit disabled and aged. Watch the young sporty lads and lasses racing e bikes, they are not us, pedal like billio.

  • You have an excellent point - its hard to spot when someone requires the assistance of an ebike, being the difference between riding or not riding at all. I suspect you're not really representative of the vast bulk of new riders who mash the pedals slowly and ride with low saddles and knees wide, because they know no better. Welcome to the site !
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:54

The riders are pedaling only for the electric motor to kick in, not for creating leg power. For this they pedal as slow as they possibly can.

The main reason for the bike to work this way is a legislative one: it is a "power assist" bike not a scooter. Effectively most ppl use it as a scooter, some even install a throttle handle to override the pedaling mechanism.

  • 1
    Thanks for contributing but really, this is one of the two main reasons why new users aren't allowed to post comments. "This answer is right" comments aren't helpful -- that's what voting is for. "This answer is right" answers takes up even more space on the page and aren't even closely linked to the answer they're talking about. (The other reason new users can't comment is to avoid spam, but that's obviously not relevant, here.) Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 10:41
  • Well, after reading all answers, I'm more and more thinking there is not going to be just one single definitive answer. Not only because it seems there are multiple types of drive systems/sensors/... but also different type of cyclists, I think not all people do it for the same reason. In other words: while e.g. Adam's makes complete sense for that particular type of bike it is, as far as I know, not the single answer applying to all cyclists I see.
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 10:42
  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. It only takes 15 reputation to upvote an answer. Once you've asked and answered a couple of questions, you'll have that privilege. In the meantime, I'd recommend deleting this answer so that it doesn't continue to attract downvotes.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 18:02

I tested ebike today. I'm used to full-carbon race bike and ride daily for commute + hobby. i'm used to ride at 90+ RPM and i'm very happy with this cadence.

2 ebike : an low-end urban ebike, a mid/high-range mountain bike.

I tested the urban ebike first at my usual RPM. a few later after startup i was at 30+km/h (huh?), way above the 25km/h assist limit. i mostly wanted to play with how it handle at low assist, for endurance purpose.

Then i played with the MTB in "i'm super lazy mode" with the ridiculously high torque of the bosh performance CX.

It turn out immediately dropped my RPM to less than 60.

Simply because pedalling at high speed, even with 0 resistance (eg : freewheel or descent) IS work. 90+ is work for moderately trained cyclist, and impossible to untrained people sitting in front of a computer all day long. (i know i couldn't do it, 75rpm was my bested painful maximum for some time).

we ride at 90+ because it's more efficient to have high-speed low-torque than the opposite. And if you care aboute aerodynamic it's even more difficult to put high torque in crouched position.

But with ebike, you don't care about your muscle torque and don't care about efficiency if you just commute 10km on a bike that have 80+km battery. So.. max assist, no leg work, and not a care in the world about sucking up your battery at crazy rate.

Therefore : low rpm = less work (as long as you don't care about torque, which is the case on ebike at max assist)

offtopic PS : my tiny experience shown that the lowest assist mode on a heavy eMTB is pretty much the same thing as riding a lightweight carbon race bike. (on flat road, i didn't have any hill close enough)


My cadence on a road bike is usually between 90/min and 105/min. That is when I put about 200 W of power through the cranks. However, when I nearly coast my cadence goes down. There is no point in spinning rapidly when I do not work.

Over the course of the last two years I have ridden e-bikes on a few occasions. I am in Europe where a limiter kicks in at 25 km/h. With the electric assist I get to that speed without exerting myself at all. Now the same thing applies as when coasting on a regular bike. Namely, I pedal slowly in a low gear:

If I were to increase cadence by shifting down I would spin my pedals almost without resistance. This is uncomfortable.

Going over 25 km/h the motor assist would drop and I have to push pretty hard to go just slightly faster. The situation (family ride) never suited going that fast. It is also not all that fun on such an upright bike. Lastly, I took the e-bike because I did not want to get sweaty.

In summary: There is no reward for spinning faster in a high gear since the electric assist will drop out. Spinning fast in a low gear does not provide enough resistance to be comfortable.

  • 1
    I get your point, but maybe this answer focuses a bit much on the 25km/h and considering that as light work for which low cadence is sufficient. But just speed isn't everything, there's also weight being carried, against the wind going uphill vs flat road etc. And the fitness level of the person having to do that. And the type of e-bike and amount of assistance it provides even before the 25km/h limit is reached. tldr; spinning fast in low gear is indeed not comfortable, but there are plenty of occasions on an e-bike where there's enough resistance (theoretically, but also in my experience)
    – stijn
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 9:25

Most people that I see on e-bikes are not 22 year old athletes wearing a yellow shirt. They're 45-75 years olds and just want to move their legs a bit (but not too much, to be honest) and be out in nature.
Or, as it happens, they're bankers in suits cycling to Bankfurt, which except during the heaviest rain and hailstorms seems to be a lot more appealing than driving with a car, given the traffic and parking situation.

A not-e-bike allows you to cycle with low cadence, too (assuming a bike with gear shift, which is de facto "normal").
But why don't people do that? Well because of the lever principle, and because of the power formula. You can gain the same speed by treading harder but slower, or by treading faster and more comfortably. Similar for power, you can just interchange speed and force (torque in this case). Tread harder or faster, same thing. Absolutely no difference.

So there's no real reason? Yes, except...

Except muscles don't care about your pretty laws of physics. Muscles don't like going out of their comfort zone too much. They will rapidly tell you by generating pain instead of power (pain persisting for days if you do it too long), and outside their comfort zone power output will overall be a lot worse. Incidentially, many machines (e.g. combustion motors) do not behave a lot differently. Electric motors are really a super rare exception because they operate in "don't care" mode at virtually every speed, and with ridiculously high torque all through.

Higher cadence means not only better (much better) power efficiency, but more importantly there's less torque (i.e. less muscle force) needed, which means more comfort, less pain and sweat, less "sheesh, I'm going to die", and less inability to walk during the next two days.

That's why you cycle at 60-70 rpm (or 90+ if you are young or sportive) rather than 15-30 rpm with a conventional bike.

With an e-bike, you can as well tread slower, which is less exertive. Let the electric motor help a little, why not (that's why you bought it). You do not even need to breathe noticeably faster. Which is nice if you like having a conversation with your partner.

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    Note 'higher cadence -> less sweat' is the opposite of Rupert's answer
    – stijn
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 12:58
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    @stijn: Yes, and either claim is correct... within its bounds. With identical torque, lower cadence is less excerting, and thus translates to less sweat (pretty obvious, less power output!). Gears on a traditional bike allow you to exchange higher cadence for lower torque to the same net effect, which is within some bounds considerably less excerting, though at some point, this turns around. The trick with an e-bike is, however, that you can have lower cadence and the same or lower torque at the same time (because the motor delivers some, too). Thus slower is less excerting.
    – Damon
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 14:27
  • @Damon: The sweat is produced to cool the body, so it's a measure of your body temperature not of your level of effort, nor (at a similar level of effort) of your cadence/force/... Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 9:14
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    @CalinCeteras so it's a measure of your body temperature not of your level of effort Your body is about 21% efficient in turning chemical energy into motion - which means 79% of that energy turns into heat. So if a cyclist is putting 200W of power into the pedals (a relatively low power figure for a trained cyclist...), that cyclist's body has to dump almost 800W of heat. Having to continuously dump about a full kilowatt (or even more....) of energy as heat is certainly effort-related, and it WILL make a cyclist sweat in just about any temperature. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 16:26

One aspect not mentioned yet: With normal bikes cadence increases with speed in order to limit the force needed to sustain the speed. The wind resistance which must be overcome grows quickly with the speed, and e-bikers typically travel at speeds which would force an unassisted cyclist to increase their cadence because the force they can sustain has hit a ceiling. (This is the reason why a car typically does not reach its maximum speed in the highest gear -- too much force/torque needed.) With an e-bike the force comes from the motor, so a more comfortable and economical lower cadence can be maintained. Conventional biking at e-biking speeds at a low cadence would be hard on the muscles and knees.


High cadence is maximizing power output for trained bicyclists. Why would those be riding an E-bike?

A similar divergence is that high cadence, particularly when combined with sweat, stresses trouser legs which will get bulgy a lot sooner (and the seat area is also getting additional stress). That's one reason trained bicyclists prefer wearing biking clothes and having the work clothes stowed at work or in sidebags.

I went through a whole lot more trousers when using jeans rather than biking clothes everywhere. E-bike users tend not to wear special clothing: getting all sweaty is not what the bike is supposed to be for: rather you use it to arrive in presentable shape without significant adjustments.

A basic point of using an E-bike is putting less energy in yourself than you need for biking. Theoretically, you could just use it to buffer energy for the worst passages, but in practice they are charged externally.

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    "getting all sweaty is not what the bike is supposed to be for" - I think the purpose of an ebike should be for whatever the rider feels appropriate. Some may use it to make it long distance commutes more attainable, or have a shorter transit time (i.e., faster speed), while others may wish to arrive without sweating. I don't think we can argue for a single defining purpose.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 21:54

We just like riding in the state of mindfulness. We find our joy is first in the journey, and then the destination.

  • 1
    Why does a higher cadence not permit mindfulness? That makes no sense.
    – DavidW
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 13:32

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