Electric bikes are a fantastic way to keep yourself fit or to commute to work without expending the same levels of physical effort needed to pedal regular bikes. The simple addition of an electric motor completely changes a bicycle and their popularity has taken off remarkably in recent years. They are widely available and stockists have different types of e-bikes on offer to buy. In fact, they have become so popular that there are now multiple names for them.
Depending on the classification of the bike and the country you are living in they can be called e-bikes, electric motorised bikes, pedelecs, power-assisted bikes, assisted bicycles or power bikes. No matter what it is that you call them the one thing that they all have in common is the same basic principle of attaching a motor to the axle of the bike which allows you to travel with ease. But how new are e-bikes really? It turns out that they are actually much older inventions than you probably realise.
The first documented evidence of what we now liken to a modern-day electric bike was all the way back in the 1890’s, when patents in the United States show a man by the name of Ogden Bolton Jr. was granted the U.S. Patent 552271 for a bike with a “6-pole brush-and-commutator DC hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.” The direct-drive rear hub-motor used on this bike could be powered at very high watt levels and still looks remarkably modern and stands up to the test of time. By 1898 an electric bike using a driving belt around the outside of the wheel was patented by Mathew J. Steffens and by the turn of the century the technologies had developed so far that there were already numerous methods of powering bike motors.
Jumping forward and by 1969 a friction drive wheel which would power one of the tires of the bicycle was really just an adaptation of designs harking back to the end of the 19th Century. The friction drive wheel on this type of bike was driven by small electric motors which in turn were connected to gears. This style of bike became very popular and numerous other types were developed but they followed the route of combustion engines rather than electric bikes.
In 1992 an e-bike known as the Zike was on sale which made use of torque sensors and power controls. It had batteries built inside of its frame and a permanent-magnet motor. However, although it was nearly 100 years since the advent of the e-bike and technologies had progressed greatly they had still not reached the point at which they were regular sights and they had not yet become mass produced. The mid to late 90’s was the time when e-bikes really took off and by 2007 they had become so popular that it was thought that they made up 10-20% of all 2 wheeled vehicles on the streets of Chinese cities. Nowadays they are readily available and are becoming even more popular than ever.