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I commute on my bike for fun and exercise, but my commute has two steep hills that kill my legs and add a significant amount of time to my route.

I've looked at ebikes for their electric-assist ability as a way to smooth out the steep uphill experience, but I still like biking and still want to get my exercise on other parts of the ride.

Is it possible to configure an ebike so that it only provides an assist at low speed, on hills, and is entirely unassisted above something like 7-10mph?

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    This starts from the premise an a-bike is not exercise, or not enough, which is in my experience not the case. I've used a number of different models, including speedpedelecs, and It's perfectly possible to put in the same amount of effort (compared to my race bike), difference being my ride will just take less time. Up to half the amount in case of a speedpedelec. Anecdotal, so I'd recommend you just do a test ride.
    – stijn
    Apr 27 at 19:20
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    Even then, unassisted with such bike above 10mph might actually be more exercise than you do now :) So as Affe says: just try one riding on the lowest mode.
    – stijn
    Apr 27 at 19:34
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    At least with my 27,5" EMTB I wouldn't want to ride "entirely unassisted". No fun at all - the bike is too heavy. Just choose a low assist level, if you want more exercise. Apr 28 at 6:26
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    my self-built bafang rear engine ebike has its controls at the handlebar near my left hand. i activate it (and choose the assist levels) only when needed, and ride it unassisted most of the time. In my experience, most ebikes allow that, although some models (older ones mostly) have significant resistance when turned off. Try it before buying.
    – Burki
    Apr 28 at 7:58
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    @stijn could you elaborate on your point about exercise? IIUC, you can put in the same "effort" on an ebike, but over less time. Therefore, that's less exercise (total effort), right?
    – Paul H
    Apr 28 at 17:37

3 Answers 3

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The answer to the yes-no question you asked is yes, some controllers such as many Bafang models are fully programmable by the end user.

My unsolicited input on the question you didn't ask: As an e-bike rider with experience on many different types of systems I think a bike configured that way would not be very pleasant to ride, it will "push" you a lot when you are near the configured speed and not feel natural. I would consider trying a mid-drive pedelec system (with a torque sensor) in it's eco/battery saver mode and I think you might find that gives enough of the regular riding experience you want on flats with the ability to flip it to turbo for climbs.

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    Another option is simply adjusting the amount of extra power by hand. IME electric bikes have a button of some kind on the handle bar / screen that lets you select high/medium/low/zero assist. You can keep it in low/zero for the most part if you like, then put it into high/medium on the hills. My e-bike btw is very unpleasant to ride with zero assist as there is a lot of drag (I'd imagine it is working against the motor or sth), so that would actually be my main consideration.
    – Bennet
    Apr 28 at 9:49
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    imo the most important thing when the rider wants a bike that feels like "a bike that helps me out when I need it" and not "an electric scooter than has pedals on" is a good torque sensor system.
    – Affe
    Apr 28 at 15:57
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Many controllers allow changing the level of assist as easily as you shift the gears. I commonly select much more when notably uphill and reduce again when climbing is done.

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    Maybe worth noting that the lowest level is "off", in which case the ebike simply becomes a normal bike (admittedly a rather heavy one). I'm in a similar situation as OP and often simply turn to motor off on flat parts of the route or when close to pedestrians, where I don't want to go too fast.
    – luator
    Apr 29 at 7:05
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My experience as an e-bike commuter is that using an e-bike is still good exercise. From what I have read about in media, scientists seem to agree. There are several reasons for this:

  1. The motor assist requires that you pedal, and is proportional to how hard you pedal. Therefore, you always need to pedal when going uphill, and if you want to get uphill faster, you need to pedal even harder.
  2. Even when going flat or slightly downhill, you need to pedal if you want to move. And if you want to move faster, you must pedal harder.
  3. There is a legal speed limit (EU 25 km/h) where the assistance cuts off. If you want to go faster, you must pedal as hard as on a regular bike (or harder, since an e-bike is heavier than a typical bike).
  4. Setting motor assistance to the highest setting, at least on my bike, will result in a slightly uncomfortable cutoff at 25 km/h. It also eats battery faster. Therefore I usually set motor assistance to lowest setting (but not completely off), except on very steep hills.

When arriving at work after 45 minutes e-bike commute, I feel like I've had a good workout, and usually take a shower, but I'm not so sweaty that I absolutely must take a shower before seing anyone else. But it's all up to you how hard you decide to pedal.

The good thing about e-bikes is that they are a fun and healthy way to move around on, for just about everyone with “normal” health. As long as you have good enough health to risk riding a regular bike, you're good to go. But if you are extremely fit, and want to get maximal workout per hour, you should probably not add a motor to the mix.

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