Electric Bike Throttles: Twist Vs Thumb - Which Is Best?
November 10, 2019
Hey everyone, it's Steve here from Really Good Ebikes. I often get asked which ebike throttle is best, a thumb throttle or twist throttle. What are the pros and cons of each type? Which is my favorite? These are great questions, which I hope to answer in this article.
Twist Vs Thumb Throttles
There are actually three common types of throttles you will see on ebikes, including thumb throttles, full-twist throttles and half-twist throttles. The benefit of throttles is that they allow you to use the motor to propel your ebike with no pedaling required. They are common on most ebikes today, and work seamlessly with the pedal assist system and regular gears.
As the name suggests, thumb throttles are operated using your thumb, where you push down on a small, spring-loaded thumb-size paddle to engage the motor. The more you push down, the faster the bike will go.
Twist throttles, which can include the full hand grip or half the grip, are twisted downward to activate the motor, similar to throttles you find on scooters and motorcycles.
Each of these types of throttles has its pros and cons, of course, and the real question is which throttle type is right for you. The choice in throttles is really such a personal question. So you have to weigh those pros and cons to see what fits you best.
Now I'm not going to tell you which one is my favorite until the end of this article, because I want to try and keep my bias out of this as much as I can. But you're free to guess which one I like best and I'll let you know at the end.
Let's start with the thumb throttle, also sometimes referred to as a lever or trigger throttle. The thumb throttle has a number of advantages twist throttle.
First, if you have a bike that has twist shifters (to shift the conventional gears on your bike), then you're basically limited to a thumb throttle. You could put a twist throttle on a bike with twist shifters, but it's really going to be annoying if you have to reach over the throttle each time you want to twist. It's not a great situation, so if you have twist shifters you're pretty much stuck with a thumb throttle.
But don’t get me wrong. Thumb throttles have a lot of advantages. For one, you're not going to get that sore wrist some people complain about with twist throttles. When you use a half-twist or a full-twist throttle, after going in a straight line for a while, your wrist is putting pressure on the throttle, and it can get sore holding it steady in that position.
For people with wrist issues such as weakness or arthritis, you're probably gonna prefer a thumb throttle. Thumb throttles are also usually smaller, so they put less clutter on the handlebars. They don't take up the whole end of the bar. They even let you use your original handlebar grips or to put on accessory handlebar grips, since they don't actually replace the handlebar ends.
That said, there are some downsides to thumb throttles that you should consider. Your thumb can get tired over time, especially if you're in an area where you're just doing full speed straight ahead for a long time. One workaround I use in this situation is to press the throttle down with the palm of my hand or even a finger, thereby relieving my thumb of all the work.
Another thing is that in cold environments, sometimes the thumb can get kind of frozen. I know that sounds strange, but my brother who lives in Minnesota, rode his ebike with a thumb throttle in the dead of winter, when it was well below zero out, and he complained that while his fingers were nicely wrapped around the handlebar, that one thumb out there, sort of the jet stream, would get frozen like a little ice cube on the end of his hand. So that’s something to consider, that if you're in really cold environments, that one digit’s gonna be away from the rest of your hand and it's gonna get cold pretty quickly.
Another issue is that if you have trigger shifters or thumb shifters, you're probably going to have interference with a thumb throttle. This isn't always the case, but if you're doing your own electric bike conversion and you have trigger shifters, it's probably a safer idea to go with a twist throttle or a half-twist throttle.
One other thing that can be an issue with thumb throttles is when you’re riding off-road and there are lots of bumps or rutted out roads. When the handlebars are really bouncing up and down, it can be hard to modulate the thumb throttle, because the thumb is also bouncing up and down.
With a half-twist throttle or a full-twist throttle, because the twist is what actually provides the modulation of the throttle, you can maintain more of a constant throttle. You don't have it bouncing around the way you might with a thumb throttle.
So that sort of leads into a half-twist and full-twist throttles. So let's talk about their advantages. As I already mentioned, they can be easier to modulate on rough terrain, but that's just one of their advantages.
Half-twist and full-twist throttles are sometimes better for people with arthritis, or that just don't have as good mobility with their fingers. Because you're using your entire hand to grip and twist the throttle, you don't have to worry about just one thumb getting tired or aching.
Now there are people that will say that their wrist gets tired when they use a twist throttle. I personally find that this happens more often with a full-twist throttle than with a half-twist throttle, and this is one of the big differentiators between the two.
With a full-twist throttle you really have to maintain that twist with your hand the entire time. So if you're in a long straight section and you're just going full-speed the entire time, you're gonna have to use those twisting muscles in your wrist.
What I found is that you can actually twist the throttle and then with your other fingers grip the rest of the handlebar, and that way you're not using your wrist muscles any more. You're simply using your fingers to hold the twisted part of the grip, or the half twist of the throttle, in the same place - as the rest of the grip which is stationary.
In this way I found that the half-twist throttle is actually better for people who complain about getting hand fatigue, because you're not using the wrist muscles. You're simply using the grip that you're already applying to the handlebar to hold the half twist in place.
In addition to hand fatigue, another disadvantage to full-twist throttles is that they can be more dangerous when you're moving the bike around. Because if you were to accidentally brush the end of the handlebar against a wall or bump it under a handrail or anything that's just gonna twist it, the bike can take off.
Now this can happen too with a thumb throttle, but it's usually a different situation. It might be where something falls on the bike or you just go to put your hands on the handlebars to move it and you accidentally press the throttle, but because the thumb throttle is more in the center of the handlebar, you're less likely to accidentally bump it into things when you're moving the bike around.
A way around this is, of course, is to just turn the bike off when you're moving it around. But you know we don't always remember to do that and so it can be more dangerous if you accidentally bump a twist throttle into something while you're walking it around.
One other thing that I've seen, which is a bit more of a rare situation, but sometimes people walk up to an e-bike and think ‘oh that's cool I want to see it rev and they'll just twist the throttle while you're sitting on it at rest.’
Obviously the bike will then just shoot off and people aren't doing this maliciously but sometimes they just think oh cool a throttle and they want to twist it for you. That happens less with the thumb throttle because most people don't realize what that is.
So that's sort of how I break down thumb throttles versus half-twist versus full-twist throttles. In my opinion, personally I prefer the half twist throttle the best. And the main reason that I prefer it is simply for that sort of DIY cruise control feature, where I can turn the throttle and then just grip the handle bar end with the rest of my fingers. That way I sort of maintain my own cruise control and we're not using any extra wrist strength.
I'm not not getting any more wrist fatigue because I'm just relying on the grip that I already have on the handlebars. Thumb throttles are fine and a lot of people prefer them just because they don't like that twisting sensation. But for me personally I definitely prefer the half-twist type of throttle, and between the full twist and the thumb, I would probably still choose a full twist.
Now here's one other bonus thing, and that is right versus left side throttles. It's becoming increasingly common, though it's still not the majority, to find throttles on the left side of the bike.
Obviously the right side is the standard. It's where they are on motorcycles and for the longest time it's the only place they were on bikes. But because there is often already a shifter on the right side of the handlebars for the rear gears, lots of companies are starting to put the throttle on the left side of the bike. To be honest I am NOT a fan of this. It works and obviously you can get used to it, but because I also ride motorcycles and mopeds and basically all sorts of things, the right side throttle just feels the most natural to me and I much prefer it on the right side of the handlebar.
So if you're an OEM ebike company and you're reading this, please stick to the right side throttle if you can. Left side is just kind of weird for anyone who has gotten used to a normal standard throttle.
Alright, that's all I have to say about throttles. I'm certainly curious to hear what you guys think. There are probably other advantages and disadvantages that I didn't even think of, so let me know in the comments below which type of throttle you use, and why you use it or why you prefer it.