What Is an Electric Bike & How Do They Work?

Do you know someone who has already started riding an electrical bike? Or have you seen electric bicycles on the road or bike paths? If so, you are among many Canadians asking about them and wondering how they work. Ebike riders easily navigate city streets, tackle rugged off-road trails, and enjoy leisurely rides on bike paths. So, this versatile and eco-friendly transport solution is becoming more popular every day in Canada.

Let’s look through the essentials of electrical bikes, the different types to choose from, how they work, and key considerations before you make a purchase.

What Is an Electric Bike?

An electric bike, or e-bike, is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically a traditional bicycle but equipped with an electric motor. That motor assists you as you pedal with extra propulsion to make it easier to ride longer and for greater distances. Unlike a traditional bike, an electric bicycle gives you an extra boost when you need it, like up hills, to avoid getting tired and on challenging terrains

The various models are all designed specifically for different purposes, like commuting in the city or adventure riding on the weekend.

Types of Electric Bikes

No matter your lifestyle, you’ll find an electric bicycle that fits. E-bikes come in several types tailored to your specific riding style and preferences. Here are some of the most popular:

Off-road E-bikes

heybike Brawn off-road ebike

Built to manage rugged terrain, challenging trails, and uneven surfaces, off-road e-bikes fit with the weekend adventurer lifestyle. The robust frame, high-torque motor, and solid suspension systems are perfect for enthusiasts to explore the great outdoors. That said, you can certainly ride your off-road e-bike on city trails and around town to run errands.

Fat Tire E-bikes

Heybike Mars 2.0 fat tire ebike

Fat tire e-bikes have – you guessed it – oversized, wider (fat) tires! The extra contact with the ground provides excellent stability and traction. You can even ride your fat tire electrical bike on the sand, mud, and even on Canadian winter roads in the snow!

For regular riding, though, these fat tire electric bicycles are great if you feel you need some extra support and greater control as you ride anywhere, but especially in off-road conditions.

Folding E-bikes

Heybike Ranger S folding ebike

A folding e-bike is the ultimate choice for Canadians looking for convenience commuting on public transport (Yes! You can carry your folding e-bike on the bus, subway, or train.) If you love camping all summer, a folding e-bike is ideal as it fits nicely into the trunk or bed of the truck without a bike rack.

Many folding e-bike enthusiasts like how they can carry the bike upstairs or store it in their condo storage unit like a traditional bike. You can even slip your foldable electric bicycle into a closet or corner of the office.

Commuter E-bikes

Heybike Cityrun cruise commuter ebike

Heading into the city for work or school every day? Commuter e-bikes make daily travel within cities and towns easier, more affordable, and more sustainable. (And downright fun!)

No more fighting traffic or circling the parkade for a spot. Comfortable. Efficient. Commuter electrical bikes often have super practical accessories like racks, fenders, phone holders, and lights. These electric bicycles are perfect if you want to replace your car or some transit routes with a more sustainable (and enjoyable!) mode of transport.

How do Electric Bikes Work?

When you understand how electric bikes work, you can better appreciate the features and advantages. This will make it easier for you to choose the right model for your needs. Essentially, a traditional bike with the addition of an electric motor, electric bikes provide an eco-friendly riding experience.

Key Components of an Electric Bike

Four key components in your new electric bike work together seamlessly.


The motor is the heart of any e-bike. This is where you get the power you need to assist your pedalling efforts. There’s more than one type of motor, each with unique benefits.

Motor Types

  • Hub Motors– Hub motors are (unsurprisingly) in the wheel hub, in the front or rear wheel. The hub motor is relatively simple, requires the least maintenance, and is often more affordable. But, some electric bike riders like a more natural riding experience that a mid-drive motor provides.
  • Mid-drive Motors – Mid-drive motors are at the bike’s bottom bracket, providing a more even weight distribution. Plus, a mid-drive motor offers a more efficient power transfer. The more natural feel has some riders willing to pay the extra and spend a little more time maintaining them.

Further Reading: How to Choose an E-Bike Motor?


The battery is a critical part of what powers the motor in an electrical bike. The battery capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh), gives you an idea of how far you can ride on a single charge. Other factors influence the distance you can ride, like cargo weight and terrain. Learn more about e-bike batteries in our comprehensive guide.


Sensors are also crucial because they control the motor’s output. There are two main sensor types:

  • Cadence Sensors measure if you are pedalling. They activate and deactivate the motor as needed. They are simple and less expensive, but some experienced riders prefer a smoother riding experience with a torque sensor.
  • Torque sensors measure how hard you are pedalling and adjust the motor to give you the help you need based on your effort. The smoother, more intuitive riding experience is worth the extra cost to many.


Controllers are like the e-bike’s brain. They manage the flow of power between the battery and the motor. The controller interprets the input from the sensor and adjusts the output of the motor for a smooth. Some basic controllers just use a simple on/ off function. More advanced models have multiple modes and settings.

Electric Bike Operation Modes

  • Pedal-assist – In pedal-assist mode, the electrical bicycle motor assists you only when pedalling. Choose from the different levels of assistance to control how much the motor helps you. This mode will extend the range of the battery for longer trips since the motor is not running all the time.
  • Throttle – In throttle mode, you engage the motor by twisting or pushing the throttle, much like on a motorcycle. The throttle mode does not require you to pedal, so you can have power instantly, on-demand, at any time. Throttle mode is very useful for a quick burst of speed or to get up to pace. But it tends to drain your battery faster than pedal-assist mode.

HeyBike electric cycles often feature both a pedal-assist and throttle mode, so you have the flexibility to choose how you want to ride.

What Factors Affect the Performance and Range of an E-bike?

There’s more than one factor to consider when looking at what influences an e-bike’s performance and how far you can travel on a single charge. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Battery Capacity – Simply put, the bigger your battery, the farther you can ride on one charge.
  • Motor Efficiency – Of course, a more efficient motor will use less energy, which drains the battery slower and thus extends your range.
  • Terrain – You’ll always ride farther on a smooth, paved path. Hills and rough surfaces just need more power.
  • Rider & Cargo Weight – It takes more energy to move more weight, so heavier riders carrying more stuff reduce the range.
  • Pedal Assist Level – The more help you get pedalling, the faster it drains the battery. So, less assistance means longer distances.
  • Weather Conditions – Cold weather can reduce the battery’s efficiency and range.
  • Tire Pressure – Properly inflated tires reduce rolling resistance for a smoother, longer ride.

E-Bike Considerations Before Buying

Before you make your final decision about which electric bicycle is best for you, use this checklist to narrow down your choices.

  • Intended Use – Will you be commuting to work or school on flat, paved paths? Taking off-road adventures in the hills? Running errands? Picking up groceries? Dropping off kids at school? Or do you want an electrical bicycle as an option for casual riding to get into better shape?
  • Range – Look for an e-bike with a battery that meets (or exceeds) your distance needs. Go for the longest range you can afford. As time goes on, you’re bound to ride your e-bike more often.
  • Motor Power – Do you live on the East or West Coast, where every path means going up and down hills? Or do you live in the middle of Canada, where you know your path is flat? Get a motor powerful enough for your terrain.
  • Comfort – Features like an adjustable seat and ergonomic grips make a big difference on longer or more frequent rides.
  • Portability – Would a folding electric bike be helpful for storage, using transit, or putting into the trunk?

E-bike Regulations and Safety

In Canada, some e-bike regulations vary by province, so check your local laws. Most provinces let you ride an e-bike up to 32 km/h (20 mph).

Please, ride your electrical bicycle safely and follow the laws in your area. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Wear a Helmet – Always, always, always wear a helmet. Helmets are mandatory in some (but not all) provinces.
  • Follow Traffic Laws – Obey the traffic signals and rules.
  • Be Visible – Use your lights and wear reflective gear so others on the road can see you.
  • Check Your E-Bike – Inspect your e-bike frequently and regularly for any maintenance needs.
  • Defensive Riding – Be aware of the surroundings and anticipate potential hazards.

Final Thoughts

An electric bicycle may well transform how you travel to work or school or explore the outdoors. The weather can be challenging in Canada, but an e-bike can provide practical year-round transport. Now that you understand more about the different types of electrical bikes, how they work, and what to think about before you buy, you can make an informed decision. Find the perfect e-bike for an exciting way to contribute to Canada’s zero-emission goals.

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