Electric bikes have been dominating the electric vehicle market; they are powerful, slick, convenient, and environmentally friendly. It’s not a surprise that electric bikes are far more sophisticated than regular bikes as they are installed with a motor and battery.
In addition, electric bikes are also equipped with a pedal assist system that allows you to go faster and longer. An electric bike uses a pedal assist system to tell the motor when to engage, disengage, and how much power it needs depending on the level of assistance you set your bike to. The two main types of pedal assist systems are torque sensors and the cadence sensors.
Since cadence sensors are the more primitive choice, torque sensors offer more benefits when biking and will guarantee a smoother ride, even in off-road conditions, and are more intuitive to use. Although, they are far more expensive than cadence sensors.
In this article, we will compare torque vs. cadence sensors on electric bikes. We tackle their differences, advantage, and disadvantages, which of the two is better, and many more.
Let’s get right into it.
Tell me about the Cadence Sensor
Cadence sensors are the more basic choice between the two sensor types. A cadence sensor utilizes a magnet on the crank that turns on when you are pedaling and turns off when you stop pedaling. Simply put, it acts like a switch; the sensor adjusts the amount of power output depending on the revolutions of the cranks.
A cadence sensor is made up of a magnet and a sensor. When you start pedaling, the magnets pass through the sensor, indicating that you are moving, and when you stop pedaling, the magnets no longer pass through the sensor, meaning that you have stopped.
Since a cadence sensor uses magnets passing by the sensor to measure your movement, having more magnets will make the sensor smoother and more responsive. A typical e bike will have 8-14 magnets arranged in a circular shape; they are treated as checkpoints to check whether you are moving or not.
Basic cadence sensors act as on or off switches that turn off or on, depending on your movement. But more advanced cadence sensors measure your speed depending on the revolutions of the magnet and automatically adjust the level of assistance needed from your pedaling rate.
If you pedal harder and faster, the cadence also increases, which means the assist level from your motor automatically decreases. If you pedal faster, less power is needed from your motor, and if you are traveling slower, more energy is required from your engine.
When you start from a stop, the motor will supply a specified power you selected beforehand. Once you pass a certain cadence sensor threshold, the power output from your engine will automatically decrease.
In contrast, once your pedaling speed is below the cadence threshold, the power output will go back to 100% of the specified pedal assist settings you predetermined.
Cheaper electric bikes like ones priced below $1500 and bikes with a hub motor are most likely installed with a cadence sensor.
Pros of cadence sensors
A good thing about cadence sensor bikes is that they require minimal effort to get the cycle going.
Other than the less effort needed to get the electric bike moving, they are also cheaper and easier to install on an electric bike, is great for biking on flat surfaces, and are generally more accessible to the general public by providing them with a wider array of electric bike options.
Cons of cadence sensors
The cons of a cadence sensor are that they don’t function as efficiently on off road terrain such as steep hills. They are less responsive, counterintuitive, and harder to control. In addition, an electric bike with a cadence sensor typically travels less distance than a bike with torque sensors as the engines have to work harder with constantly adjusting the motor power needed by the bike.
Lastly, riding an electric bike with a cadence sensor might feel jerky because of the uneven delivery of electric power.
Tell me about the Torque Sensor
Torque sensors, also known as smart sensing, are the more advanced pedal assist sensors among the two. Torque sensors operate by measuring how hard you are pedaling by using a precision strain gauge.
Data from the precision strain gauge then relays this information to the motor to determine how much power is needed based on the pressure your pedaling produces. The harder you pedal, the more power the motor supplies. In contrast, the lighter you pedal, the lower the motor’s power is needed.
For example, when you reach an inclined surface, you will be forced to pedal harder, the strain gauge will then measure how hard you are pedaling, and the sensor sends this information to the motor to supply you with the adequate power you need.
And once you get back on flat terrain, you will most likely pedal lighter, which means the motor will also supply you with less power. If you are going downhill, you most likely won’t need to pedal, which means the pedal assist from the bike will also turn off.
Torque sensors are also more responsive than a cadence sensor. A good quality torque sensor can sample up to 1000 times per second of the entire pedal stroke, more accurately adjusting the power needed in real-time.
They are more intuitive, and you’ll be connected more to your bike than usual, making you feel like you’re riding a conventional bike with bionic legs.
Torque sensors are commonly installed on high-end e bikes. Most bikes with mid drive motors are likely also installed with torque sensors.
Pros of torque sensors
Since a torque sensor measures the amount of power needed from the force applied to your pedals, it will offer you a smoother ride and a more balanced power delivery. In addition, a torque sensing ebike will give you a more extended battery range, better handling, and better exercise.
Also, torque sensors are more responsive; and since they are easier to control, an electric bike with a torque sensor is also safer to ride.
Cons of a torque sensor
Perhaps the biggest downside to an electric bike with a torque sensor is that they are pretty expensive as they are installed on bikes priced at $2000 and above. The pedal assist is also harder to activate as you have to pedal them.
Adding to this, you must keep pedaling your electric bike to turn the pedal assist sensors on, which means they take a lot more effort to keep going. Lastly, since an electric bike with a torque sensor is available in the high-end range, you won’t have much of an option when choosing an electric bike of your preference.
Torque vs Cadence Sensors on Electric Bikes
There is a massive difference between cadence and torque sensors. Although these two types of pedal assist systems are tasked with determining the pedal assistance you need and as much power you need, the two different processes in achieving this results in different riding experiences.
A pedal assist technology with a torque sensor will guarantee a smoother ride as the pedal assist system is aligned with your movement, which means the electric power provided is more controllable. On the other hand, a cadence sensor type electric bike might have its power turn on and off abruptly, giving you an uneven and jerky ride.
A torque sensor can also give you a smooth ride regardless of the riding conditions since they measure the power needed based on the pressure of the pedals. While a cadence sensor is only excellent at flat surfaces, they have issues with off-road terrain.
A torque sensor pedal assist system also means that you can travel longer distances as your battery power is saved much compared to a cadence sensor that constantly turns on and off.
A torque sensor is also easier to control and more intuitive as the harder you pedal, the more power you provide. In comparison, a cadence sensor does the exact opposite.
Who should choose an Ebike with Cadence Sensors?
Cadence sensors are perfect if you need to keep your budget low. When buying an ebike, you should choose one that includes a cadence sensor; many other options will also be available. The ebikes are available at a low price at just under $300. Ebikes with a cadence sensor are also great for people who ride a bicycle and love to travel fast and easily.
When choosing a bike with pedal assist technology, you should always ask several questions about whether to opt for a cadence or torque sensor. If you have underlying medical conditions that limit your effort on your knees, then the torque sensor might not be the best choice for you, as the extra effort to keep these bike types going might cause a lot of strain on your knees.
In addition to this, kids or younger riders might also encounter issues when using an electric bike with a torque sensor as it is harder to get going.
Is the torque sensor worth the extra money?
This depends on how much money you will spend on your electric bike. If you are just a commuter who wants an electric bike to ride to and from work, you might not appreciate the difference between a cadence and torque sensor.
However, if you are an avid electric bike rider and want to unlock the full power of your biking expertise, torque sensors will allow you to do so. They are easier to maneuver, safe even at a high speed, will provide you with a smoother riding experience vs cadence bikes, and enable you to travel longer distances.
Can I use both cadence and torque sensors?
Most pedal assist e bikes are installed with a cadence or torque sensor. However, this does not stop manufacturers from merging the two sensors. An example of this was a pedal assist electric bike named the 2019 Aurora Limited Edition electric bike.
This e bike allowed riders to engage with their motor either with the cadence or torque sensors which gave riders a more responsive feel to the power being provided by the engines, resulting in a far smoother biking experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a torque sensor better on an eBike?
Generally, yes, a torque sensor is better on an e bike as they accurately measure the amount of power needed based on the pressure produced by the rider's pedals. However, they are more expensive, require more effort to get the bike going, and you will need to exert more effort to keep the bike moving as you constantly need to engage with the pedals to activate the pedal assist.
Is more torque better on an ebike?
The more torque your motor can produce means the less hard you need to pedal, so more torque on an ebike is better if you want to exert less effort when riding.
What motor size is best for electric bikes?
A 250- 350 watt motor can supply you with enough energy to quickly deliver you from one place to another without needing to charge constantly. You can also opt for larger motor sizes to provide you with even more energy that will allow you to travel at faster speeds.
What happens when my power supply is too strong?
A common misconception about electric bikes is that a powerful power supply might overheat and damage your electric bike. However, there is no truth to this myth. Electric bikes are advanced enough only to receive the needed power from your motors.
We hope this informative article has helped you become more knowledgeable on which is better between the two electric bike sensor types.
Andrew Strider is an electric bike enthusiast. He currently owns 5 electric bikes and is an active member of his local electric bike club where he is able to test many other models/brands a few times a month.
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