Do Electric Bikes Have Gears?

Last Edited
November 6, 2021

Do Electric Bikes Have Gears?

Christian Angelo - August 17, 2021

There are electric bikes that have gears, and there are others that do not. The gears in the electric bike are integrated not in the motor, but the bicycle itself. The Curt ebike has two variations: single-speed, and 11-speed. A single-speed bike refers to a bicycle that has a fixed gear, while an 11-speed bike refers to a bicycle that has 11 gears in the rear cassette.

For reference, here is a side by side comparison between a single-speed bike and a bike with a certain number of gears. The speed number refers to the number of gears. 

The mechanical gears on an e-bike should not be confused with the pedal assist system. The pedal assist provides power from the engaged electric motor to help you ride easily. Most PAS have five levels of assistance. On the other hand, the mechanical gears of an e-bike can be shifted up and down to adjust the resistance of pedaling.

How do gears on an e-bike work?

Electric bike gears work similarly with regular bike gears. Shifting refers to going from one gear to another. When you shift, the chain moves up or down the chainring (for front gears), or the rear cassette (rear gears). Upshifting is shifting to a higher gear, and downshifting is shifting to a lower gear.

The most basic explanation for gears in bicycles is: the lower the gear, the easier to pedal; the higher the gear, the harder to pedal. For electric bikes, an additional factor comes to play: the motor. Lower gears mean that the motor must work harder, while higher gears allow the motor to work less. Other than that, it’s just the same with regular bikes.

If you are climbing hills, pedaling in a lower gear would help you climb easily. On flat roads, using the middle range gears would smoothen your ride. If you want to sprint, or accelerate downhill, the higher gears would be best. 

To understand better how gears work, low resistance in turning the pedal means you travel easily, but less. High resistance in turning the pedal means you travel more, while exerting more effort. That is why there are recommended gears for every terrain.

Do I need gears?

It all depends on your preference, after all you always have a choice. Gears offer a lot of advantages. It can help you fine-tune your ride or workout, go up the hills, extend battery life, and keep good cadence. Cadence is the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) of the cranks, so it is the rate at which you pedal. 

Having gears, along with the pedal assist,  gives you more options to tweak how you want to ride. If the plan is to be comfortable and breezy, then using low to middle gears would work. For a rigorous workout, minimizing the use of pedal assist and focusing on middle to high gears would fit the setting. It all depends on how you want to ride.

The pedal assist may not be enough for climbing very steep hills. Complimenting it with a low gear would make the climb easier. 

The battery life could be extended if you rely on the gears rather than pedal assist. The more you use pedal assist, the faster the battery drains. This would be helpful in long rides wherein saving the last charge for the most important time matters. 

Good cadence allows your bike to function to the optimum level. The goal is to achieve and maintain 80-90 RPM. To do this, mixing gears with the ebike pedal assist level is very important.

How to use gears?

A simple click or a slide of the shifter will allow you to move up or down a gear. Generally, the gear shifter is found in the right side of the handlebar, while the pedal assist system shifter is on the left. Shifting is pretty easy. What is more complicated is finding the right timing to shift.

When shifting, you must pedal slightly to allow the chain to move from one gear to the other. The pedaling must not be too hard since there is a split second wherein the chain is in the air. There is a tendency for the chain to go off or split if you pedal too harshly. 

When to utilize gears?

In general, a good indication to downshift is when pedaling a full turn is becoming more difficult. On the contrary, a great sign to upshift is when pedaling is becoming too easy and the bike is slowing down.

Timing is very important in shifting gears. A late downshift when climbing hills could lead to a midway stop. An early upshift on a flat road could slow you down since you have not accumulated enough speed for a smooth transition. Any accidental shift could ruin the ongoing momentum in your ride. 

Anticipate hills to know when to shift. Shift before reaching the steepest part to continue your rhythm. When you see that the hill is sloping, shift through the gears as you go up. Avoid the common mistake of shifting when pedaling is already extremely hard. This could lead to a midway stop or may force you to pedal harder than necessary just to go on.

Another benefit of having gears to play with is that you can extend battery life. By using higher gears and less pedal assist, the electric motor would be less engaged and the battery would not deplete faster. Basically, you can utilize your gears to save battery life.

To utilize both gears and pedal assist, mix and match them according to the level of effort you want to exert. Let’s take a Bosch electric assistance system with five levels as an example and look at some possible combinations:

Pedal Assist LevelGear LevelResult
OFFAny LevelNormal bicycle riding experience, battery saving
ECOLow/Middle+40% additional power, relaxed effort
TOURMiddle+100% additional power, fast speeds on flats and downhills, good cadence on flats, faster acceleration
SPORTHigh+150% additional power, super fast on flats and downhills, less effort, easier acceleration, faster acceleration, faster battery drain
TURBOAny Level+225% additional power, super easy and super fast on flats and downhills (especially with middle to high gears), faster acceleration, easier climbs, fastest to drain battery
TOURLow+100% additional power, easier climb, relaxed on flats and downhills but not that fast

Watch this video to know more about how and when to change gears on an electric bike.

Experience is the key…

There are e-bikes who have gears and there are others that don’t. Ebikes with multiple gears could be more advantageous than single-speed ones. The choice is always yours. The right timing for shifting is more complicated than the act of shifting itself. There are different ways to properly utilize the gears for the rider’s own benefit. 

It is never easy to master the art of shifting. It requires a lot of experience, so making mistakes is normal. The takeaway here is to always practice to produce better results, and eventually, achieve mastery. 

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