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The History of Electric Bikes - From Humble Beginnings To The Next Big Thing

Posted by EBC Support on

Electric bikes have gained a lot of popularity in the recent years, however saying that an electric bike is a new or recent concept is false. The technology used in an electric bike has been claimed for a patent by various developers since 1800s which means that it is an almost 120-year-old invention.

Electric bike motors

An electrical bicycle or an e-bike is one that has attached to its rear end an electric motor. This motor helps or assists in pedaling and can thus be very useful for a rider. This is especially true for people who ride bikes uphill or other hard terrains that are difficult to navigate. When motorized bikes are built with electronically powered motors, they are called e-bikes.

The first motorized bicycle

The very first motorized bicycle that is believed to be the predecessor of the modern day e-bike was developed by two inventors who used a steam engine along with an internal combustion engine for it. This happened sometime around 1870. A few years later, during the end of 1895, Ogden Bolton Jr. was issued the first patent for an e-bike. However, his patent was regarding the improvements for the bike and did not consist of any new invention as such. Therefore, it is largely possible that it wasn’t his idea originally.

The next big thing

The next big upgrade of the e-bike came in 1897 when Hosea W. Libbey used two motors and batteries rather than one each while designing it. It was called the ‘double electric motor’. In 1898, Mathew J. Steffens patented an e-bike that had a driving belt on the wheel’s outer edge. A US patent was granted to John Schnepf in 1899 for a bike that was ‘roller-wheel’ style bike driven rear-wheel. 50 years after this, Jesse D. Tucker was issued a patent. He developed a motor that allowed one to freewheel and also used internal gearing systems. The rider now had the option to choose whether he wanted to use the pedals together with the electric motor as a combination or not.

Torque motors and power controllers

In the 1990s, the development of torque motors and power controllers came into the picture. Zike was sold as the only commercial e-bike that was available then, in 1992. Another device using power controls with torque motors was first patented in Japan in 1997.

New technology and a rise in demand

In the 10 year period of 1994 to 2004, the production of e-bikes saw an astonishing hike of almost 35%. During the same period, the production of a normal bicycle fell down radically. The new e-bikes used light and less bulky batteries. The new power bikes that emerged in 2001 were called ‘pedelec’.

E-bikes have been broadly classified into three categories - pedal assist, power on demand and both combined.

Market analysis has shown that e-bikes are perhaps going to be capturing 65% of the market, the largest share in the economies worldwide. There are various factors influencing this. Health benefits being the prime reason. An awareness amongst the people about the planet and global warming are also reasons why more and more people have lately been moving towards investing in e-bikes especially in countries like China where the population is vast.

Want to learn more about electric bikes? Read out our electric bike buyer's guide.


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