How Fast And How Far Do Electric Bikes Go Without Pedaling?


Developments in batteries and motors have made it possible to produce light, powerful e-bikes that can travel for dozens of miles on a single charge while giving a boost that turns anyone into a pro cyclist – or so their manufacturers claim. But we aren’t really interested in what the manufacturers claim.

So how fast and far do e-bikes go without human help, and how can we make the most out of our machines as riders? 

Electric bikes can go on average 20 miles between 20-28 miles an hour depending on the weight of the rider, the capacity and health of the battery, the ambient temperature, the watt output of the motor, the wheel lacing, and truing, how well the drivetrain is maintained, and the terrain.

Let’s take a detailed look at how e-bikes function and give a comprehensive rundown of the factors that affect range and speed so that you can easily go faster and farther on your bike.

How Fast Do E-Bikes Go Without Pedaling?

In the United States, street-legal e-bikes have a legal top speed of 20 miles an hour while the rider isn’t pedaling. The details of these regulations vary somewhat between states, with many (but not all) states allowing e-bikes that are being pedaled to go up to 28 miles per hour. This means that an e-bike that might be street-legal in California could run afoul of New York laws. 

In general, however, e-bike manufacturers err on the side of caution and ensure that your bike’s motor will cut out at 20 miles an hour if you’re not pedaling. You’ll also often find a switch or setting to limit your bike to 20 miles per hour at all times to keep it legal in states with more restrictive laws.

That said, not all e-bikes can actually hit 20 miles an hour on their own. Most e-bikes with throttles use hub motors, which come in a variety of sizes and gear ranges. The watt output of the motor is a good way to estimate how easily the bike will achieve high speeds, but it’s definitely not the only factor. 

Bikes that are geared for torque may struggle to output the raw RPM necessary to get the last bit of speed, while bikes that are designed to cruise at 20 miles an hour sometimes have difficulties climbing up hills on throttle alone. This means that the gearing of your motor can have a big impact on how fast you actually go in real-world conditions.

In general, bikes with 750-watt hub motors can hit 20 miles per hour, although some will require a bit of patience. 

Bikes with 500-watt hub motors are more of a mixed bag, while bikes with smaller motors are likely to top out somewhere between 15 and 20 miles per hour.

What Factors Affect E-Bike Speed?

In addition to the gearing of your motor, factors like the health of your battery, the ambient temperature, and how well your bike has been maintained, and the weight of the rider play big roles. 

An old battery might not supply your motor with the power it needs, while hot or cold temperatures can dramatically reduce the power output of a battery of any age. 

Underinflated tires will increase the rolling resistance of your wheels, too, and failing to keep up with wheel or brake maintenance can add huge amounts of drag to your bike if you’re not careful. 

When combined, these factors can easily keep a super powerful 750-watt motor from hitting 20 miles an hour, even with a lightweight rider.

Finally, the terrain you’re riding on can also make a difference. Smooth, well-maintained pavement will reduce the amount of work your bike’s motor needs to do. Traveling on dirt or grass will slow you down slightly. 

Your bike’s wheels will waste energy moving dirt around instead of propelling you forward. Hills are also a really big deal when it comes to your top speed. Unpowered bikes can hit well over 20 miles an hour on long downhill stretches, so your e-bike will likely do the same. 

When it comes to uphill sections, however, you’ll find that running on throttle only can be quite slow. If speed is your goal, you’ll definitely want to help your bike out on long or steep hills.

Don’t Some E-Bikes Go More Than 20 Miles Per Hour?

Just because the law limits e-bikes on streets and public bike paths to 20 miles an hour doesn’t mean e-bikes can’t go faster. 

Bikes that are sold for outdoor use (for hunters, for example) often have motors that are bigger than street-legal e-bikes are allowed to have and top speeds that are well in excess of 20 or 28 miles per hour. 

You can also tweak the software on most e-bikes to overwrite the governor and uncap your bike’s motor, but you might not get as big of a boost as you might think. 

E-bikes are designed with the 20-mile-per-hour limitation in mind, so unless you’re adding a lot of extra power from your pedals, you’ll probably find that your modified top speed isn’t too much higher than the legal limit.

Your e-bike’s motor isn’t allowed to help you once you’re going above a certain speed. This doesn’t mean your bike can’t go faster than 20 (or 28) miles per hour. Road cyclists often go well over 28 miles per hour on their e-bikes, using their legs to maintain speed on flat ground and letting the motor reduce their workload on uphill stretches. 

These bikes generally have aggressive gearing that makes this sort of riding easier, but you can do the same thing on just about any geared e-bike if you’re willing to put in the effort.

How Far Can An E-Bike Go Without Pedaling?

Most consumer e-bikes have around an hour’s worth of charge on throttle-only mode. This means that you’ll get between 15 and 30 miles per change if you don’t pedal your bike.

Pedaling your bike even a little bit can dramatically increase this range, especially if you’re strategic about how and when you apply your human power. It’s not uncommon to get between 40 and 50 miles out of a single charge while pedaling at a leisurely pace without putting in a lot of effort.

Just like with speed, this is a fuzzy metric that will change dramatically based on real-world conditions. The condition of your battery, how well you’ve cared for your bike, the terrain of your ride, and the ambient temperature all can have a big impact on how far you get per charge.

The “one hour or 20 miles” range metric is surprisingly accurate across a wide variety of hub-motor e-bikes. Most manufacturers put small batteries on bikes with small motors, resulting in a light bike that can efficiently cruise around at 15 or 16 miles an hour for an hour or so. 

On the other end of the spectrum, bikes with big, heavy hub motors can afford to carry a big, heavy battery, The extra weight from the motor and the battery decreases the efficiency of these bikes, meaning that they’ll usually do about 20 miles an hour on throttle only for about an hour on a full charge. 

The more efficient bikes with bigger batteries can do 25-30 miles on throttle only in good conditions, but these bikes are quite heavy and aren’t fun at all to ride when you’re out of juice. If you’ve got one of these bikes, try to avoid testing the upper limit of your bike’s range.

You’ll certainly see some deviations from this pattern, but these deviations are surprisingly rare. Some bikes give you the option to add a bigger battery or an extra battery, but you’ll find that the weight of the bike plays a big impact on its range. This means that your gains might not be as big as you expect. 

Other bikes are designed to be really light, coming with small batteries that won’t give you a full hour of riding on throttle only. These bikes tend to be quite easy to ride without any assistance at all, however, so it’s not as big of a deal to run out of juice.

What Factors Affect E-Bike Range?

If you want to maximize your range, the first thing to think about is your battery. Lithium batteries lose their ability to hold a charge over time. 

Storing your battery in a climate-controlled environment and keeping its charge level at around 80% while it’s stored can help increase the lifespan of your battery, but even a perfectly maintained battery will eventually fail. 

If your rides are getting shorter and shorter, it’s almost certainly time to pick up a new battery to give your e-bike its pep back.

The outside temperature affects your battery’s performance in a big way. If you live in a cold climate, consider insulating your battery from the outside air with a battery cover. You can purchase these from some bike shops, but you can also just wrap your battery in a thick cloth to help keep the cold out. 

Cold batteries struggle to output as much power as room temperature ones, so the extra step of giving your battery a sweater will often give you a few more miles per charge. When your ride is over, try to take your bike inside. If you can’t keep the whole bike out of the cold, be sure to remove the battery and keep it in a temperature-controlled environment.

The effects of heat are more subtle than the effects of cold, but you’ll still lose a bit of range if you’re riding in 100+ degree heat. Unlike with cold, there’s not much you can do to improve your bike’s ability to tolerate extreme heat. Just like with cold, do your best to store your bike in a temperature-controlled environment to keep temperature swings from damaging the battery.

As far as maintenance goes, you’ll want to stay on top of tire pressure, wheel lacing and truing, and brake, chain, and derailleur maintenance. Deflated tires will force your motor to work harder to achieve the same speeds, while wheels that aren’t true or wheels with loose spokes can similarly add drag and siphon off power. 

Brakes and derailleurs that are improperly adjusted will drag on your wheels and chain, again causing your bike to go slower and forcing the motor to put in more effort. Finally, while your chain isn’t strictly necessary in a hub motor setup, keeping it clean and lubricated will make it easier for you to pedal when you feel like helping out your bike. 

The easier it is for you to add power, the more power you’ll be able to add over the course of a ride, increasing your range by a fair bit.

Bike Commuter Hero

When it comes to Cycling to Work, SAM IS THE MAN because he doesn't just talk the talk, but he also walks the walk - or rides the ride, to be more precise... Come, pedal with me and be a HERO!

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