Do Electric Bikes Have Gears? (And When to Use Them)

Most road and mountain bikes have gears. These make it easy to climb hills and conserve energy. But when it comes to electric bikes, things are a little different. Electric bikes often have throttle and pedal assist – so do electric bikes have gears? And if so, do you really need them?

To answer that, it depends. Many electric bikes do have gears, but some don’t. To understand why some do and some don’t, we’ll look at a few examples…

Some electric bikes, like the RadRover, have a single speed. This means while you can use different levels of pedal assist and the throttle, you won’t be able to change gears like a road or mountain bike.

Not having gears on an ebike does offer some advantages. There’s a whole community of riders who prefer fixed bicycles for their simplicity. In fact, some road bikes don’t have gears either. When it comes to ebikes, Rad says single speed bikes are ideal for new riders looking to cruise:

The simplified drivetrain makes for easy riding and low maintenance. Ideal for new riders or those just looking to cruise.

Single speed electric bike
Single speed electric bike

Another example of a single speed electric bike is the Foffa Boost. The Foffa Boost looks really sleek and is designed for roads only.

However, while these bikes don’t have gears and work great without them, there are some good reasons to still have gears.

Do You Need Gears for Your Electric Bike?

Unless you live somewhere flat and are doing short rides, chances are you’ll want gears on your electric bike. While most ebikes have various levels of pedal assist, many riders keep their bikes in low PAS (pedal assist system) in conjunction with gears.

Here’s what some riders had to say:

Yep, after 5 months on my RadCity, I find myself using only PAS 1 and 2. I want the exercise and don’t want the motor to do all the work. It’s just enough.

When you are using gears, you can fine-tune your workout. How hard do you want to pedal? What cadence to maintain? Long ride? Stay in PAS 1 or 2 and use your gears. More gears mean more options.

If you want to do hills, have more fun, and conserve your battery, then gears on your ebike are a must.

Why Not Just Use Pedal Assist?

So gears on electric bikes can be confusing. Why wouldn’t someone just use pedal assist all the time instead of gears? Well, there are a few reasons.

One reason is that, depending on the size motor, the pedal assist system might not be strong enough to climb the hill. Gears make climbing hills much easier and help save your bike from having to do too much work. Even if you did have a strong motor, climbing hills will be slower. Gears allow you to climb these hills even faster.

Another reason to use gears is to extend your battery. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get more mileage out of your bike. You can save a lot more power by pedaling along with the motor and using the right gears will make pedaling more fun.

As one rider suggested:

If you plan on using the bike for exercise or long rides where you will need leg power to supplement the battery, I would get a model with 5-8 speeds on the rear cassette.

Keep in mind, electric bikes are much heavier than traditional bikes. If you are a heavier rider or carrying weight, having an electric bike with gears will be especially important.

And if you do want to ride your ebike without the battery or your battery is flat, you’ll be very thankful to have gears help you ride home.

Most of the time, it’s best to use gears with pedal assist at the same time. By putting the bike in a specific gear allows you to apply force in tandem with electric bike’s motor. This can increase your ability to ride steeper hills and travel further on a single charge.

Overall, having gears on your bike allows for:

  • Fine-tune your workout
  • Help going up hills
  • Extend battery life
  • Keep good cadence

How Do the Gears on an Electrical Bike Work?

On electric bikes, the gears work similarly to regular bikes. The lower you set the gear number, the easier it will be to pedal. However, lower gears also mean the motor must work harder and use more battery power. The higher you set the gear number, the harder you will have to pedal, but it will allow the motor to work less.

Typically, electric bikes will have a gear shifter on the right side of the handlebar and a PAS unit on the left. The gear shifter on the right of the handlebars is used to adjust the mechanical gear. The unit on the left side of the bike is responsible for how much additional power comes from the battery in the motor. Bikes typically have 5 levels of pedal assist, but can be more or less.

To decide which gear you should put your mechanical lever in, assess whether you will be going into a decline or an incline on your ride. When approaching a hill, it is a good idea to put your mechanical gear into a low level, which allows the motor to do more work. The reverse is recommended for a declining ride. By putting the mechanical gear into a higher setting, you can let gravity and your own energy do most of the work and give the motor a rest.

Is It Okay to Shift Gears While Using Pedal Assist?

It’s perfectly fine to shift gears when using the Pedal Assist System and is common practice. Many riders will constantly shift gears and change pedal assist to match their speed and terrain. Pedal assist will and gears work very similarly to a normal bike, except that the motor will help you pedal.

Most motors on electric bikes have a guided system that allows you to shift gears while pedaling. However, if the rider wants to take extra care to prevent any issues, the pedals can be continuously rotated while not applying pressure when switching gears.

It’s also not a bad idea to shift into a lower gear when you are coming to a stop. This will help you get going faster again.

Some people like to use the throttle after coming to a stop. This allows them to get going more quickly:

I only use my throttle to get a little burst of power from a dead stop at a traffic light. Once in a while there is a fairly steep bridge to cross and then I just give it a quick burst of the throttle. 

If attempting to shift to a much higher gear at once, or to a much lower gear, it is advisable to first change your PAS mode first. However, if you are attempting smaller changes in gear speed in either direction, the mechanical gear is the best option to change.

How to Get the Most out of Your Gears

When you’re pedaling, it’s nice to get into a rhythm called cadence. Having the right pedal assist and gear ratio will help a lot with this. This will take some practice, so don’t expect to find the right PAS and gear ratio right away. Everyone will be different.

For longer rides, you’ll want to get more out of your battery. In this instance, you can rely more on your gears and use a lower pedal assist mode.

Here’s what a few Rad Riders had to say:

As time goes on, you’ll develop a feel for what gearing gives you the speed you want and the pedaling comfort that feels best. The same holds true for the type of riding and what kind of traffic stops you encounter (red light, crosswalks, etc.). I’ve got about 1,000 miles on mine and I can tell you that I do not ride it like I did when I first got it. Enjoy and explore…

If I want to go for a longer ride and explore new areas, I will just chill in mostly PAS 1 or 2 for extra range and take my time. If I want to zoom around for fun, PAS 3 is pretty nice. For really big hills, sometimes I use PAS 4 or 5. The throttle is handy for getting going from a stop or crossing an intersection.

So take your time and have fun. As you get more experienced, changing gears will become intuitive.

What Are Some Additional Ways I Can Go Father Using My Gears?

Here are some tips for using your gears to go further:

  1. Check your tire pressure before starting your ride. The flatter your wheel is, the more surface area of the tire will be coming into contact with the road, which will slow the rotation of the tire.
  2. Lubrication of your chain will also aid in your mile lengthening goal. A rusty or degraded chain will not move smoothly through its track when shifting gears and will slow the rider down. Consistent chain lubrication will prevent this from happening.
  3. Lastly, wheel alignment and brake pad condition will negatively affect your ride and should be checked 1 to 2 times a month if ridden routinely. 

In order to get the most out of the gears associated with your electric bike, be sure to pay attention to these maintenance factors on a regular basis. If you are not sure how to combine these tips in your routine rides, check with your local bike shop to get a better understanding.