A Brief History of Electric Bikes

By November 28, 2013February 5th, 2020Jim's Blog

Many people think electric bicycles are a new invention, but they are not. Read “ABrief History of ElectricBikes” exerted from my bookThe Electric Bike Book belowand see that the idea is actually very old, with the first electric bike dating to the 1890s.

The first electric bikes appeared in the late 1890s and were documented by various U.S. patents. According to Wikipedia, in December of 1895, Ogden Bolton Jr. was granted U.S. Patent 552,271 for a battery-powered bicycle with “6-pole brush-and-commutator direct current hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.” There were no gears and the motor could draw up to 100 amperes from a 10-volt battery. Two years later, in 1897, Hosea W. Libbey of Boston invented an electric bicycle (U.S. Patent 596,272) that was propelled by a “double electric motor.” The motor was designed within the hub of the crankset axle. This model was later re-invented and imitated in the late 1990s by Giant Lafree electric bicycles. By 1898 a rear wheel drive electric bicycle, which used a driving belt along the outside edge of the wheel was patented by Mathew J. Steffens. And in 1899 U.S. Patent 627,066 by John Schnepf depicted a rear wheel friction “roller-wheel” style drive electric bicycle. Schnepf’s invention was later re-examined and expanded in 1969 by G.A. Wood Jr. with his U.S. Patent 3,431,994. Wood’s device used 4 fractional horsepower motors; connected through a series of gears.

In 1992 Vector Services Limited offered and sold an electric bicycle dubbed Zike. The bicycle included Nickel-cadmium batteries that were built into a frame member and included an 850g permanent-magnet motor. Despite the Zike, in 1992 hardly any commercial electric bicycles were available. Torque sensors and power controls were developed in the mid 1990s and production grew from 1993 to 2004 by an estimated 35%. By contrast, in 1995 regular bicycle production decreased from its peak 107 million units. Some of the less expensive electric bicycles used bulky lead acid batteries, whereas newer models generally used NiMH, NiCd and/or Li-ion batteries, which offered lighter, denser capacity batteries. Performance varied; however, in general there was an increase in range and speed.

By 2001 the terms E-Bike, power bike, pedelec, assisted bicycle, and power-assisted bicycle were commonly used to refer to electric bicycles. Click here to learn more about the technology behind e bikes.

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