Ebikes use pedal assist sensors to tell the motor when to engage, when to disengage, and how much power to supply. You don’t need to use a throttle on to control the motor. There are two types of pedal assist sensors used on ebikes. These include cadence and torque sensors. Cadence sensors measure if you are pedaling and torque sensors measure how hard you are pedaling. The sensor type plays a major role in the ebike’s performance, efficiency, and ride quality. In this guide, I’ll explain how cadence and torque sensors work and outline the main differences between them. I’ll also list the pros and cons of using a torque vs cadence sensor. I’ll cover ride quality, acceleration, efficiency, cost, and much more. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best pedal assist system (PAS) for your next ebike.
What is a Cadence Sensor?
Cadence sensors measure if you are pedaling. The most basic models work like a simple on/off switch. When you start pedaling, the sensor sends a signal to the ebike’s controller or computer. The controller turns the motor on. When you stop pedaling, the sensor signals the computer, which turns the motor off. The sensor measures if you are pedaling multiple times per revolution of the cranks.
Cadence sensors consist of two parts: a sensor and a magnet. The sensor attaches to the bike’s frame, usually near the bottom bracket. A series of magnets attached to a disc mount on the crank.
When you start pedaling, the magnets pass by the sensor. When you stop pedaling, the magnets stop passing by the sensor. This is how the cadence sensor measures if you are pedaling. It senses the movement of the magnets.
The magnet disc of a cadence sensor usually contains 3-14 magnets. The more magnets, the smoother and more responsive the pedal assist system will be. This is because the computer receives information more frequently when there are more magnets.
For example, if there are 3 magnets, a magnet passes by the sensor every time you rotate the crank 120 degrees (360 degrees/3 magnets = 120 degrees). This means the ebike controller only gets feedback from the cadence sensor every 120 degree rotation of the cranks. If there are 12 magnets, a magnet passes the sensor every time you rotate the crank 30 degrees (360 degrees/12 magnets = 30 degrees). In this case, the controller gets feedback much more frequently.
Different pedal assist systems use the information from the sensor in different ways. Simple cadence sensor systems use the information to turn the motor on and off. When the magnets pass by the sensor, the motor turns on. When they stop passing by the sensor, the motor turns off. The sensor is an on/off switch.
More advanced cadence sensor systems measure how fast you are pedaling based on the rate that the magnets pass by the sensor. These systems can adjust the level of assistance automatically based on your pedaling speed.
As your pedaling speed or cadence increases, the pedal assist system automatically reduces the output of the motor. In other words, when you pedal faster, power output becomes lower. This is because you don’t need as much assistance when you pedal hard. If you pedal slower, the power output increases because you need more assistance.
When you’re pedaling slowly or starting from a stop, the motor supplies a preset amount of pedal assist to get you up to speed. When you reach a predefined cadence threshold, the power output automatically reduces. For example, the power output may be 100% while you’re accelerating then decrease to 75% when you gain some momentum and reach a cadence of 60 rpm.
If you downshift into a harder gear and your cadence drops below the threshold, the pedal assist will increase back to 100% power until you achieve the threshold cadence again. Once you reach that cadence, the pedal assist will reduce again.
Many ebikes also allow you to adjust the level of pedal assist manually with a handlebar-mounted control unit. There may be 3-5 different preset pedal assist settings to choose from. At each level, the motor supplies a preset amount of power when it receives a signal from the pedal assist sensor.
For example, at level 1 pedal assist, the motor just provides a little bit of assistance. The motor may operate at 25% power. In this case, you must do most of the pedaling. At level 5, the motor operates at 100%. While riding on this setting, you barely have to spin the pedals.
It takes very little effort to engage pedal assist when your ebike has cadence sensors. You just have to move the cranks a few degrees and the assist will engage. In order to engage cadence sensors, you do need to spin the cranks.
To keep the motor engaged, you just have to keep spinning the cranks. You don’t necessarily have to provide any pedaling force. You can pretend to pedal and the motor will continue supplying power.
Some ebikes with cadence sensors also come with a throttle. This can be helpful when starting from a stop. You can press the throttle to gain some momentum. You don’t have to peddle when using the throttle. Once you get up to speed, you can start pedaling and using the pedal assist system.
Cadence sensors are common on lower-end to mid-range ebikes. Most ebikes with hub drive motors use cadence sensors. Almost all ebikes under $2000 come with cadence sensors.
What is a Torque Sensor?
Torque sensors use a precision strain gauge to measure if and how hard you are pedaling. The gauge measures the amount of force you are applying to the peddles. The sensor sends this information to the ebike’s control unit. The control unit then calculates how much power the motor needs to supply based on your pedaling force.
With a torque sensor, the controller changes the motor’s power output relative to the amount of force you’re applying to the peddles. The harder you pedal, the more power the pedal assist system supplies. When you pedal more gently, power delivery automatically decreases. When you stop pedaling, the power cuts off.
A torque sensor pedal assist system basically amplifies or multiplies your pedal input. Most ebikes have several different pedal assist settings. On the lowest setting or ‘eco mode,’ the system may increase your pedaling force by 50%. On the highest setting or ‘performance mode,’ the system may increase your pedaling force by 300%.
A quality torque sensor can sample your pedaling force up to 1000 times per second throughout the entire pedal stroke. This allows the system to make adjustments to the pedaling power in real-time. Torque sensor pedal assist can also engage instantly when you apply pressure to the peddles. This makes the system feel smooth and intuitive. You feel more connected to the motor. A torque sensor makes it feel like you’re riding a conventional bike with super-human legs.
While riding an ebike with a torque sensor, you always have to supply part of the pedaling power. Even while riding at the maximum power setting, you still have to provide force to the pedals to keep the motor engaged. If you reduce pressure on the pedals, the power decreases. In other words, you must supply constant effort to maintain a constant speed. If you change your effort, your speed changes.
Torque sensors are common on higher-end ebikes. Most mid-drive ebikes come with torque sensors. In some countries, torque sensors are required for an ebike to be legal.
What’s the Difference Between a Cadence and Torque Sensor?
Cadence and torque sensors both serve the same purpose. They measure your pedaling and send a signal to the ebike’s control unit. The control unit tells the motor when to engage and when to disengage.
The main difference is what the sensors measure. Cadence sensors measure if you are pedaling. Some models also measure how fast you’re pedaling. Torque sensors measure both if and how hard you are pedaling.
The power delivery of both pedal assist systems is also different. Most cadence sensor systems work like an on/off switch. When you start pedaling, the motor kicks on. When you stop pedaling, power delivery stops. The power delivery is constant. Some systems have 3-5 different predefined levels of pedal assist that provide different amounts of power. Some have cadence thresholds where the power delivery changes.
Torque sensors vary the power delivery depending on how much force you apply to the pedals. The harder you push down on the peddles, the more power the motor supplies. When you peddle softer, power reduces. Most models have several different settings that allow you to vary the power delivery.
Another key difference is the frequency that your pedaling is measured. Cadence sensors measure your pedaling 3-14 times per revolution while torque sensors measure your pedaling up to a thousand times per second.
This results in a completely different ride feel. The pedal assist on a bike with torque sensors feels smooth and natural. When you pedal harder, the motor speeds up. The pedal assist on a bike with cadence sensors feels a bit less intuitive. The bike can jerk forward when the motor kicks on.
The cost is also a major difference. Torque sensors are significantly more expensive than cadence sensors. More on that later.
There are some similarities. Both systems are lightweight. The sensors themselves weigh just a couple of ounces. The weight is so little that it’s not worth considering. Maintenance and reliability are also non-issues. The sensor systems are maintenance-free and are extremely reliable.
Pros and Cons of Cadence Sensors
- Cheaper- A cadence sensor costs around $20. Entry-level ebikes cost around $800.
- Easier to activate pedal assist- You just have to rotate the pedals a few degrees and the motor kicks in.
- More ebike options- Most ebikes have cadence sensors.
- It takes less effort to ride- You just have to spin the pedals to keep the motor engaged.
- Less responsive- Cadence sensors measure your pedaling speed less frequently.
- The ride quality isn’t as good- Cadence sensors produce jerky and uneven power delivery.
- Harder to control- There can be a lag before the motor turns on or off. The motor can also produce a surge of power when it kicks on.
- Less range- Cadence sensor ebikes can’t travel as far per charge because the motor has to work harder.
Pros and Cons of Torque Sensors
- Better ride quality- Torque sensors offer a smooth, natural, and intuitive power delivery.
- More range- Torque sensors increase range by 5-10 miles per charge.
- More responsive- Torque sensors respond almost instantly to changes in your pedaling.
- Better handling- Smooth and predictable power delivery allows you to steer confidently and precisely.
- More exercise- You have to overcome some resistance to ride.
- Safer- Torque sensors make the bike easier to control. Power delivery is smooth, easy to control, and easy to anticipate.
- Expensive- A torque sensor costs around $150. Torque sensor ebikes start at around $2000.
- Harder to activate pedal assist- you have to provide force to the pedals to engage the motor.
- Fewer options- Torque sensor ebikes are less common.
- It takes more effort to ride- You have to continuously provide pedaling force to keep the motor engaged.
Torque Vs Cadence Sensors
Both cadence and torque sensors tell the pedal assist system when to engage and disengage. In some situations, one works better than the other. In this section, I’ll outline the strengths and weaknesses of both pedal assist systems.
Ride Quality of Torque Vs Cadence Sensors
Torque sensors offer a smoother ride than cadence sensors. This is possible because torque sensors allow the pedal assist system to react more quickly to changes in your pedaling power. High-end torque sensors can take up to 1000 torque samples per second and adjust the motor’s power accordingly.
As you change your pedaling power, the motor adjusts almost instantly. This results in a smooth and natural ride feel. You feel a direct connection with the motor because it reacts to changes in your input in real-time. There is no delay or jerkiness in power delivery. It’s fast and smooth.
Torque sensors also feel more intuitive to use because the bike responds to changes in your input just like a normal non-powered bike would. When you pedal harder, the motor provides more power and you accelerate. When you pedal softer, the power reduces and you slow down. You control the speed of the bike through your legs. Riding an ebike with torque sensors is like riding a regular non-powered bike with bionic legs.
With torque sensors, you also don’t have to mess with the controls on the handlebars nearly as much as you do on an ebike with cadence sensors because the motor’s power adjusts automatically. The bike just works.
Cadence sensors can make the ride feel a bit jerky. When the motor engages, it can cause a surge of power that jerks you forward. This happens because the motor only has one speed. It’s either on or off.
You feel this jerky motion every time you stop pedaling then start pedaling again. For example, maybe you decide to stop pedaling and coast for a bit. The motor will cut off. When you start pedaling again, the motor re-engages and you surge forward until you reach your cursing speed.
This jerky motion is more noticeable while riding at higher levels of assist. At the lower levels of assist, the ride feels smoother. It is also more noticeable on ebikes with larger motors. With a 1000 watt motor, you’ll feel a strong surge of power when the motor kicks in. With a 250 watt motor, the ride feels smoother.
This can be annoying if you change your pedaling speed constantly, like while riding in stop-and-go city traffic. The ride feels much less smooth because the motor is regularly engaging and disengaging. Higher-end cadence sensor ebikes can make this less noticeable by varying the motor’s power based on your pedaling speed, as outlined above.
When you ride at a constant speed, cadence sensors can make the ride feel smoother than torque sensors because you receive a constant amount of power from the motor. Your speed remains constant as long as you keep pedaling. Torque sensors can make minor adjustments as your pedaling force varies. This can make the power delivery feel a bit uneven. This is really only an issue on bikes with low-end torque sensors.
Of course, the pedal assist sensors aren’t the only factor affecting ride quality. Motor placement also plays a big role. Mid-motor ebikes usually offer a more natural ride quality than hub motor ebike because the power is delivered through the chain. The power delivery feels the same as when you pedal. Hub motor ebikes provide power directly to the wheel. This feels a bit less natural. Like you’re being pushed or pulled.
The quality of the components also plays a role in ride quality. High-end drivetrain components can make the ride feel smoother. Wide, high-volume tires and a suspension system can improve traction and handling and give the bike a more plush ride.
Winner: Torque sensors offer a smoother and more natural ride quality. Cadence sensors can create a jerky sensation when the motor kicks on.
Cost of Torque and Cadence Sensor eBikes
Cadence sensors are much cheaper than torque sensors. A simple 12 magnet cadence sensor costs around $20. To compare, a quality torque sensor costs around $150. These days, you can buy a decent ebike with a hub motor and cadence sensor for less than $1500. An ebike with a torque sensor costs closer to $2000.
Cadence sensors are cheaper because they are much simpler. They use magnets and a basic sensor that counts the number of times the magnets pass. Torque sensors use a precision-built strain gauge. The technology is more modern and complex.
An ebike with a cadence sensor can also use a simpler and cheaper control unit. All the control unit needs to do is turn the motor on and off. The cadence sensor pedal assist system also doesn’t require advanced programming. The whole pedal assist system is simple.
Torque sensors require a more advanced controller. The controller must be powerful enough to process much more data from the sensor and control the speed of the motor based on that data. This requires much more computing power. The more powerful controller is more expensive.
There is also a significant cost involved in writing the software that controls the torque sensor pedal assist system. It’s not as simple as bolting a sensor to the frame and wiring the sensor to the system. Programmers need to write the firmware so the sensor computer can effectively use the data that the sensor provides. Engineers need to account for the position of the sensor as well as the bike materials. This is necessary due to the precision of the strain gauge and the magnitude of forces involved.
This all makes ebikes with cadence sensors much cheaper and easier to manufacture. The sales price can be much lower. Due to the lower cost, cadence sensors are common on lower-end to mid-range ebikes. Most hub motor ebikes come with a cadence sensor. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off choosing an ebike with a cadence sensor.
Winner: Cadence sensors are cheaper. Ebikes with torque sensors are $200-$500 more expensive than comparable quality ebikes with cadence sensors.
Range and Efficiency of Torque Vs Cadence Sensors
Ebikes with torque sensors get better range than ebikes with cadence sensors. For example, an ebike with torque sensors might get 35-40 miles of range. An ebike with cadence sensors might get 25-30 miles of range. On average, you might be able to travel 5-10 miles further per charge on a bike with torque sensors than cadence sensors. This is assuming the battery size and motor size are the same on both bikes.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, torque sensors force you to apply power to the peddles in order to keep the motor engaged. In other words, you must provide part of the pedaling power. You can’t rely on the motor to supply all of the power. You may provide 1/4 of the total pedaling power while the motor supplies the other 75%. As a result, the motor doesn’t have to work as hard. It uses less power and your battery doesn’t drain as fast. You can ride further on a single charge when you are supplying part of the pedaling power.
With cadence sensors, you just have to spin the peddles to make the motor engage. When you’re at speed, you can spin the peddles without actually creating any additional pedaling power. You can simply pretend to pedal without applying any force. In this case, the motor has to do all of the work. Naturally, you end up using the motor more. This uses more power. Your battery drains faster, reducing range.
Torque sensors also allow the motor’s speed to vary. While you’re pedaling gently, the motor may only be working at 25% power. While you’re pedaling at a normal speed, the motor may be at 75% power. When you need to climb a hill or ride fast, you can pedal hard and use 100% of the motor’s power temporarily. You can ride further on a single charge when the motor isn’t constantly running at full power.
With cadence sensors, the motor is either on or off. Most of the time, the motor is at 100% power. This uses much more energy. Your battery drains much more quickly. Some bikes with cadence sensors do reduce the power of the motor when you reach a specific cadence. This improves efficiency.
Of course, the sensor type isn’t the only thing that affects your ebike’s range. The battery capacity plays a major role. An ebike with a 500 Wh battery will offer much more range than an ebike with a 300 Wh battery. Motor placement is also important. Mid-drive ebikes offer better range than hub motor models. This is because mid-drives use the mechanical advantage of the bike’s gears to keep the motor running at the optimal RPM. The motor size also plays a role. Larger motors use more power. The weight of the bike and rider is also important. A 100 lb person will get much more range than a 200 lb person on the same bike because it takes more energy to move more weight. Some hub motor ebikes also include regenerative braking. This feature can improve your range by a few miles per charge.
Winner: Torque sensors increase range by 5-10 miles per charge, assuming all else is equal.
Torque sensors are much more responsive than cadence sensors. When you change your pedaling power, the motor reacts almost instantly. This is possible because the torque sensor pedal assist system measures the force you’re putting into the peddles over 1000 times per second and instantly makes adjustments to the motor’s power.
A quality torque sensor system makes it feel like you’re riding a regular bike with bionic legs. When you pedal harder, the motor instantly provides more power and the bike accelerates. When you pedal softer, the motor instantly reduces power and you slow down. If you stop pedaling, the power instantly cuts. It’s seamless.
Most cadence sensors just measure whether or not you’re pedaling. They simply turn on when you start pedaling and turn off when you stop pedaling. Ebikes with this kind of pedal assist system feel much less responsive because the motor is either on or off. The pedal assist doesn’t respond to changes in your pedaling speed.
Higher-end cadence sensor systems can vary the level of assist based on your pedaling speed. You must speed up or slow your pedaling and reach a predefined cadence threshold before the motor responds. The power supply works in steps. For example, maybe the motor provides 100% power when you start pedaling. When you reach a cadence of 60prm the motor reduces power from 100% to 70%. When you fall below the cadence threshold, the power increases back to 100%. The power cuts off when you stop pedaling. This system makes the motor feel a bit more responsive.
Cadence sensors also feel less responsive because they measure your pedaling input less frequently than torque sensors. They can’t start, stop, or adjust as quickly. Cadence sensors may only send data to the controller 3-12 times per rotation of the cranks depending on the number of magnets in the sensor and your pedaling speed. As a result, cadence sensors can’t make adjustments to the pedal assist nearly as quickly as torque sensors. This can make the bike feel less responsive to your pedaling inputs.
Cadence sensors can have a bit of a lag between the time you start pedaling and the time that the motor engages. This is because cadence sensors have fewer points of engagement. A magnet has to pass the sensor in order for it to sense the motion of the cranks and engage the motor. On some ebikes, you may have to rotate the cranks 30-60 degrees before the motor engages. This causes a slight lag between the time that you start pedaling and the time that the motor starts producing power.
When you stop pedaling, it can take a moment for the system to sense that you’ve stopped. Cadence sensors can also lag when you stop pedaling. The motor continues to run for a second or two. This feels unintuitive.
Winner: Torque sensors are more responsive than cadence sensors.
Ebikes with torque sensors handle better than those with cadence sensors better because the power delivery is smoother and more predictable. This allows you to take corners faster, turn harder, and steer more precisely while the motor is engaged.
With torque sensors, you can confidently accelerate through a corner because the power delivery is predictable. You can hold your line better because the power delivery is smooth. This makes torque sensors the better choice if you plan to ride off-road, at high speeds, or on busy city streets. The bike is easier to control when you know exactly when the motor will engage and how much power it will provide.
Cadence sensors can create a jerky motion or surge of power when the motor engages. There can also be a lag between the time you start pedaling and the time that the motor engages. If you’re riding on a slippery or loose surface, the tires can lose grip pretty easily. The power delivery also isn’t quite as smooth or predictable.
This makes cadence sensor ebikes a bit harder to steer at the moment that the motor kicks in. If the motor engages while you’re taking a tight corner or maneuvering around a pothole, you can lose control of the bike. You must be careful about when you start pedaling so the bike doesn’t get away from you. This can be an issue while riding near traffic or in crowded areas or off-road. Cadence sensors can make the bike difficult to control.
Of course, the pedal assist sensor type isn’t the only factor that affects handling. The motor placement also plays a big role. Mid-drive ebikes offer better handling than hub motor ebikes because the center of gravity remains near the center of the bike. This makes the bike feel more balanced and natural to ride. The weight of the motor is less noticeable.
Suspension also plays a big role in ebike handling. Many ebikes have a suspension fork or full suspension. Suspension helps to increase the friction between the tires and the road while you corner or ride over obstacles. This improves traction, allowing you to corner harder without losing grip. On mid-motor ebikes, the suspension also helps to accommodate for the extra weight of the motor. On hub motor ebikes, the weight of the motor is unsuspended.
Of course, the tires also play a major role in handling. Ebikes need quality tires that can handle high speeds. The frame geometry also affects handling. Some geometries offer more responsive steering than others. The handlebar type is also important. Most ebikes have wide handlebars that give you good leverage for precise steering.
Winner: Ebikes with torque sensors handle better because power delivery is smooth and more predictable.
The legality of Torque and Cadence Sensors
In some jurisdictions, ebikes with only cadence sensors are not allowed to be sold for safety reasons. In these places, ebikes must have torque sensors in order to be considered street legal. If you live in an area that regulates ebikes, you may want to check your local laws before you buy, just to be safe.
Ebikes are regulated in many countries. Oftentimes, there is a maximum motor size. In many European countries, ebike motors are limited to 250 watts. Sometimes there is a max speed limit of 20mph for pedal assist systems. In many countries, throttle-controlled ebikes are prohibited. Oftentimes, safety switches on the brakes are legally required for the ebike to be street legal. These cut the motor’s power when you grab the brakes.
It is unlikely for you to get pulled over and ticked for riding an illegal ebike. If you are involved in an accident, you could be held liable if your bike is illegal. For this reason, you should stick to the law while buying an ebike, even though the laws don’t always make sense.
Winner: Torque sensor ebikes are legal in more places.
Torque Vs Cadence Sensor Safety
Ebikes with cadence sensors can be a bit harder to control. When the motor kicks in, the bike can surge forward in an unsafe manner. For example, maybe you stop pedaling to coast, then you need to start pedaling to make a turn or to avoid an obstacle in the road. The motor may kick in during the maneuver and propel you off your line.
This can be dangerous if you’re riding in an area with pedestrians or traffic. It can also be an issue when you’re riding on a slippery surface such as on a wet street after a rainstorm or off-road. You can’t as easily control where the bike is going. You have to be prepared for the sudden surge in power when you start pedaling.
Some cadence sensors also have a bit of lag. When you start pedaling, the sensor takes a moment to measure your peddling speed and engage. When you stop pedaling, the motor may continue to run for a couple of seconds. This is due to the spacing of the magnets on the crank. There are a limited number of points of engagement. A magnet needs to pass the sensor for the system to measure your pedaling.
When the pedal assist lags, it’s difficult to anticipate the power. This can put you in a dangerous situation if you need to move out of the way or stop quickly in an emergency situation. It takes a moment to get the bike up to speed. If the motor keeps running for a moment after you stop pedaling, you may not be able to stop as fast as you need to. As you can imagine, this lag could put you in a dangerous situation.
Torque sensors make the power delivery much easier to anticipate. The bike responds instantly to your pedaling input. When you start pedaling, the motor delivers power quickly and smoothly. There is no lag or unexpected surge of power. This makes it much easier to maintain your line while cornering or riding through crowded areas.
You can also precisely control the power delivery. If you just need a bit of a boost to get yourself out of a traffic situation, you can apply a little more force to the peddles. If you need a big boost, you can push down hard on the peddles for an extra boost of power. When you stop pedaling, the motor immediately cuts off. There is no lag. This makes it easier to control the bike. Power delivery feels natural and intuitive.
One safety feature that most modern ebikes have is safety switches built into the brake levers. When you pull the brake levers, the motor automatically cuts off. This can greatly reduce your stopping distance. In some jurisdictions, these safety switches are legally required.
Winner: Ebikes with torque sensors are safer to ride because the power delivery is smoother, more predictable, and easier to control. Cadence sensors vary in performance. Higher-end models offer smooth and predictable power delivery. Lower-end models can be jerky, laggy, and dangerous.
Ease of Pedal Assist Activation
Cadence sensors take less effort to activate. You just have to spin the pedals a few degrees and the motor will kick in. It doesn’t matter if you’re applying any force to the peddles.
While you’re riding, you can keep the motor running by simply spinning the peddles. You don’t have to apply any force if you don’t want to. This makes cadence sensors a great choice for those with knee problems. You can ride a cadence sensor ebike without putting any strain on your knee joints.
Torque sensors, on the other hand, require that you put some force on the peddles before the pedal assist kicks in. You also have to apply force to the peddles to keep the peddle assist working. If you stop applying force, the motor shuts off. Those with knee issues may have trouble creating enough force to make the pedal assist engage and keep it engaged.
If you have trouble riding a non-powered bike due to knee issues, consider choosing an ebike with a throttle and cadence sensors. You can use the throttle to accelerate the bike up to cruising speed from a stop without having to peddle at all. Once you’re at speed, you can start pedaling and using the pedal assist. Minimal effort is required.
Winner: Cadence sensors require less effort to activate than torque sensors. This makes cadence sensor ebikes easier to ride if you have knee problems. Torque sensors require you to apply force to the pedals.
Torque and Cadence Sensor eBike Options
Most ebikes on the market today come with cadence sensors. Particularly at the low-end and mid-range. This is the case because cadence sensors are much cheaper and easier to implement than torque sensors.
Most people want to spend less than $2000 on an ebike. Manufacturers design their bikes to meet lower price points because there are more potential customers. Many companies only offer bikes with cadence sensors. You’ll have far more ebike options to choose from if you go with cadence sensors.
Of course, plenty of companies offer ebikes with torque sensors as well. They are just a bit less common. The market is smaller because most people don’t want to spend $3000+ on an ebike. You won’t have as many models to choose from. The models that are available are of high quality.
Winner: Going with cadence sensors gives you more ebike options to choose from.
If you’re buying an ebike for exercise, you’re better off choosing a bike with torque sensors. This is because torque sensors require you to apply force to the peddles while you ride. The motor amplifies the force that you put in. For example, you may need to supply ¼ of the total pedaling power.
This means you have to overcome some resistance while you ride. Your heart rate will climb as you peddle and your muscles will get a workout. The pedal assist system makes pedaling easier and allows you to travel further than you could under your own power.
With cadence sensors, you just have to spin the cranks to engage the motor. If your pedaling speed doesn’t match the speed of the rear wheel, you’re just spinning the cranks without any resistance. In other words, you can just pretend to peddle. This doesn’t really give you any exercise. It takes basically no effort to spin the cranks while the bike is at speed. You won’t even break a sweat.
For some types of riding, cadence sensors are preferable. For example, maybe you ride for transportation and don’t care about exercise. In this case, cadence sensors are better because you don’t have to work as hard. If you ride to work or school, you’ll arrive less sweaty.
Winner: The winner depends on your goal. Riding an ebike with torque sensors is better exercise because you have to overcome some resistance while you ride. You’ll sweat less while riding an ebike with cadence sensors.
Who Should Choose an Ebike with Cadence Sensors?
Cadence sensors are ideal for those who are on a tight budget. If you plan to spend less than around $2000 on your ebike, you’re better off choosing a model with cadence sensors. You’ll have far more options to choose from. You can find entry-level cadence sensor ebikes for less than $1000.
Those who use their bike for transportation tend to prefer cadence sensors because they allow you to ride almost effortlessly. The motor provides constant power. All you have to do is spin the cranks to keep the motor engaged. You don’t have to provide any force. You won’t break a sweat.
Those with knee issues are also better off riding an ebike with cadence sensors. All you need to do to activate the pedal assist system is spin the peddles a few degrees. Once you’re in motion, you can easily spin the peddles with very little force and the motor will keep running.
Who Should Choose an Ebike with Torque Sensors
Torque sensors are ideal for those who want performance out of their ebike. The sensors are incredibly responsive. They give the bike quick acceleration. They also operate smoothly and predictably. This allows you to corner hard and steer precisely. Torque sensors are also intuitive to use. This allows you to ride confidently and safely at higher speeds. If you want to ride fast or off-road, you’re better off with torque sensors.
Those who need a longer range will also prefer torque sensors. They improve efficiency, allowing you to ride further on a single charge. This is nice if you need to ride further than 20-30 miles in a single day. Some torque sensor ebikes can achieve a range of 50+ miles.
Torque sensors are also better for those who have a higher budget. This technology adds about $200-$400 to the total price of the bike. If you plan to spend more than around $2000 on your ebike, you may want to consider upgrading to a model with torque sensors.
Those who value ride quality will also be happier with torque sensors. The ride will feel much smoother and more natural. You’ll feel more connected with the bike. There won’t be any jerkiness or lag. The ride experience is simply better.
If you ride an ebike for exercise, you’ll also be better off with torque sensors because they require you to provide some pedaling force. This gives you exercise.
Another Option: Throttle Controlled Ebikes
Some ebikes don’t have pedal assist at all. They simply have a throttle mounted to the handlebars, like a motorcycle or scooter. You use the throttle to control the motor. When you engage the throttle, the motor provides power. When you disengage the throttle, the motor stops producing power.
The throttle could be as simple as a button that turns the motor on and off. It could be more advanced like a twist grip motorcycle-style throttle that allows you to modulate the power. Some models use a small lever mounted near your thumb to control the throttle.
Many ebikes have a throttle in addition to a cadence or torque sensor. This is a nice feature to have. It can make it much easier to start moving from a stop. You can hit the throttle and use the motor to power you up to cruising speed then let off the throttle and start using pedal assist.
In most cases, a throttle is only available on hub motor ebikes. Mid drive models usually don’t have a throttle. There are exceptions. Throttle-controlled ebikes are considered class 2 or class 3 ebikes.
It’s important to note that throttle-controlled ebikes are illegal in some cities because they are considered dangerous for pedestrians. This is the case in New York City, for example. Before buying a throttle controlled ebike, it’s a good idea to check your local laws. Police have been known to confiscate illegal throttle-controlled ebikes and fine the rider as shown in this article.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to throttle controlled Vs pedal assist ebikes.
Ebikes with Both Torque and Cadence Sensors
Many higher-end ebikes come with both torque sensors and cadence sensors. Oftentimes the torque sensor has a cadence sensor built-in. On these models, you can select which mode you want to ride in.
This type of pedal assist system gives you the best of both worlds. If you want performance, range, or exercise, you can ride in torque sensor mode. If you want to put in less effort, you can switch to cadence sensor mode.
In some cases, the sensors are integrated into the pedal assist system. The controller uses information from both sensors at the same time to control the motor. This can improve the ride quality by making the bike more responsive to changes in your pedaling input.
Final Thoughts About Cadence Vs Torque Sensors
Ebikes are quickly increasing in popularity. In some markets, ebikes account for up to 50% of new bikes sold. They are popular among commuters, older riders, city riders, and recreational riders alike.
When it comes to choosing an ebike the pedal assist sensor system is one of the most important considerations. The best sensor type depends on a number of factors including the type of riding you do, the distances you ride, and your budget.
Torque sensors provide a better ride experience in most situations. They are smoother and more intuitive to use. Cadence sensors also have their place. They require much less effort to use. They are significantly cheaper as well.
The quality of the sensors and the implementation also play a big role in the ride quality and performance of the bike. A low-end ebike with torque sensors may not perform as well as a high-end ebike with cadence sensors.
Before buying an expensive ebike, consider taking a couple for a test ride. Try out both cadence sensors and torque sensors to see which you prefer. Whichever pedal assist sensor system you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you ride an ebike with cadence or torque sensors? Share your experience in the comments below!
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