How to Shift Gears and Select Support Modes on an E-bike

with CAROLINE WASHAM, Liv Ambassador and Professional MTB Skills Coach

The first time I ever hopped on an electric bike, I was having so much fun I forgot one of the basic skills of riding a mountain bike: how to shift gears. It’s easy to do, because with the added boost of power from the motor, you can actually get up most hills without shifting… that is, until you can’t. I came around a tight left-hand switchback to an unexpected punchy, rooty climb. I took one pedal stroke, but when I tried to take a second my cadence had slowed to a crawl and I stalled out. Luckily, my instinct kicked in and I came out of my clip-in pedals before tipping over in front of a group of my fellow coaches. Whew! 

When introducing others to the joys of riding an E-MTB, this is always the first story I share. Discovering how to use gears on an electric bike in addition to the motor support modes is the first step to learning how to operate and ride an E-bike. Here’s how to get started:

a woman riding an e-mtb

What are the E-bike support levels?

On a Liv E-bike, you have six different support modes to choose from that give you varying amounts of additional power to each of your own pedal strokes.

  • Power (highest support)
  • Sport
  • Active
  • Tour
  • Eco (lowest support)
  • Smart Assist (“auto”)

Riding in Smart Assist mode will automatically adjust the support level based on information from multiple sensors, both rider input and terrain feedback, for a natural feeling assist.

You can also adjust how much each support mode will assist you using the RideControl App. Just log in, connect your bike, and select “E-bike setup” to customize your support.

a closeup of a rider using the RideControl App for E-bikes

When should I change my support mode on an E-bike?

Riding in “Power”, or the highest support mode, is pretty fun. With each pedal stroke, you’ll get the biggest power boost from the motor, enabling you to accelerate faster and climb with less effort. So why wouldn’t you always ride in Power mode? 

Well, less sweat isn’t always better. Riding in lower support modes, like Eco or Tour are beneficial for: 

  • Extending your battery’s range. The higher your support mode, the faster you will drain your battery. It’s important to think about how long you want to ride and the range you wish to achieve when choosing a support mode. If you want to go farther and ride longer on a single charge, ride in a lower support mode. Learn more about how to maximize your E-bike’s battery life HERE>
  • Making your E-bike easier to control. On tighter, more technical trails or when pedalling hard out of corners, higher support modes could cause surges of power that make your bike harder to control. Choose a lower support mode to avoid accelerating too quickly with each pedal stroke. 
  • Getting a workout. Looking to make your muscles work a little harder on the climbs? Using a lower support mode can help you feel the burn. Save Power mode for your rest days.

PRO TIP: When I’m riding on XC trails with less elevation, I like to choose a support mode and ride at that level for the entire ride. For me, that’s usually “Active”, which is right in the middle of the support range. This support mode allows me to ride for a long time, gives me just enough boost that I don’t get too fatigued, and keeps me moving at a predictable pace through the twists and turns -- just set it and forget it! 

When I ride in the mountains where there are longer climbs and longer descents, I’ll give myself a little more juice on the climbs, using Active, Sport or Power modes depending on how long I want to ride. On the descents, I will drop the support down to Eco or Tour modes. Not only does it save my battery, it also gives me a more comfortable amount of power when I want to pedal up to a jump or out of a berm.

a rider changing the support mode on her e-bike

When and how do I shift on an E-bike?

Shifting on your E-bike serves a very important role, it helps keep your cadence consistent. Cadence is the speed at which you spin your cranks and is measured by the amount of revolutions your crank makes in one minute (RPM). If you were to leave your E-bike in the same gear for an entire ride, your cadence would fluctuate, it would get slower as you climb and faster as you descend. That’s not ideal for your E-bike.

Sure, you can pedal your E-bike in the smallest cog on your cassette at 40 RPM, but it will cause your motor to work harder and will drain your battery faster. If you try to climb a steep trail without shifting into an easier gear, your cadence could slow to the point where you stall out. 

To extend your E-bike’s range and keep your pedalling smooth as you climb and descend, focus on keeping your cadence consistent by shifting your gears to match the terrain. Look ahead. As you approach a climb, shift into easier pedalling gears (bigger cogs on your cassette). If the climb is super steep, maybe go up a support mode as well to give you an extra boost of power. As the trail flattens out, shift into harder pedalling gears (smaller cogs). You should be constantly shifting to keep your legs spinning! 

PRO TIP: Be careful when shifting on your E-bike. Make sure you lighten up on your pedal stroke before you shift to allow the chain to move into the new cog on your cassette. Shifting under load (while pedalling hard) isn’t good for the drivetrain on any bike. But on an E-bike that gives extra power to each pedal stroke, shifting under load could cause even more damage, like a broken chain!

a rider shifting on an e-mtb

Now that you know how and when to use your gears and support modes on your E-bike, you should be ready to rip! Be sure to check out our other E-MTB skills guides for tips on how to climb and brake on your E-bike.