Ah, the amazing old bicycle – a beloved mode of transit that’s been getting people around towns and the countryside for a few hundred years. But here’s something not everyone knows – the electric bicycle is almost as old as the regular bike, with the first patents filed in the late 19th century.
Sadly, ebikes lingered in obscurity for many decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s that their boom began, first in Asia, before heading to Europe and the Americas. Nowadays, ebikes are fascinating contraptions, so let’s see exactly how they work.
Early electric bicycle patent.
A Bike Frame
At its heart, an ebike is like a regular bicycle: it’s not gas powered or some sort of electric motorcycle. An ebike has all the regular components of a bicycle: gears, shifters, pedals, and a big steel or aluminum frame.
Add in A Battery
An electric bike wouldn’t be very convenient if you had to plug it in to the wall! Instead, you have a battery, offering between 250 and 500 watts, meaning an output of around 20 to 50 volts and 10 to 12 amps.
How far that gets a rider depends on the conditions: is it hilly, is the rider pedaling, etc. In general an ebike will get a rider about 40 miles with a little bit of pedaling to help. Extended range batteries will get riders even further.
That battery powers the bike’s motors. In some bikes, the motor is in the back, in a rear hub style setup. The motor directly pushes the rear wheel, giving the rider the sensation of being pushed.
Newer ebikes have a middrive motor. In this configuration, the motor sits by the drivetrain, giving a sensation similar to how a rider’s legs push the bike. The motor spins the chain, which can then interact with the bike’s gears, before transferring power to the rear wheel.
Like any electrical device, power is controlled by a “controller.” This basically determines how fast the bike wheel spins. Other components include a display to show fast you’re going and cool info like calories burnt, buttons to change settings, and all the wiring.
You can think of a modern ebike as a bicycle crossed with a computer. Not bad for a way to get around town!