Electric bicycles have a rich history, and over time they have been tinkered with and vastly improved upon. Moreover, e-bikes and their evolution have tremendously impacted the level of popularity that they have today.
It was not always this way, but through innovation and diligence, the e-bike has evolved to be a model of convenience that can facilitate exercise, commuting, and fun all wrapped in one bicycle.
This article will provide a comprehensive breakdown of e-bikes from past to present, granting insight on their development and pertinent information concerning these bikes. We will even include a list of frequently asked questions for your convenience.
Keep reading for a thorough understanding of all information related to an electric bike!
What is the History of the Electric Bike?
You may be surprised to learn that the e-bike has a rich and long history dating back to the late 17th century. The following is the documented development of the e-bike over many years.
Surprisingly, electric bikes have been around since the 1890s. Ogden Bolton Jr. was one of the first individuals to receive a United States patent for an electric bike. That occured on December, 31, 1895, for his battery-powered e-bike that features a hub motor with a direct current, constructed in the back wheel. The motor he constructed could reach 100 amps from a small battery with 10 volts of power.
In 1898, Matthew J. Steffens patented a rear-wheel drive electric bicycle. Another variation of the electric bike was patented by John Schnepf in 1899.
In 1969, G.A. Wood Jr. expanded on Schnepf’s model and he also received a United States patent. Wood’s bike utilized motors that produced fractional horsepower. These motors were connected through a series of gears.
The late 1990s saw the development of power controls and torque sensors.
In 1992, an electric bike called Zike was developed by Vector Services Limited. E-bikes on the commercial market were still a rare sight to see despite Zike’s success.
1993 saw the invention of the first e-bike with pedal-assist, created by Yamaha. Some estimated that from 1993 to 2004, the production of e-bikes increased by 35%
In 1997, EV Global Motors produced the E-bike SX. This bike was an early effort to commercialize and popularize electric bicycles in the United States.
The terminology surrounding e-bikes became hegemonic by the year 2001. Terms such as power bike, e-bike, power-assisted, and pedal-assisted become common to refer to electric bikes. Other terms such as electric motorbike would refer to more powerful bikes capable of attaining 80 km/h (50 mph).
In many major Chinese cities, by 2007, 10 to 20 percent of all two-wheeled vehicles were e-bikes.
How is an Electric Bike Defined Today?
An electric bicycle or an e-bike is a bike with an integrated electric motor designed to assist with propulsion.
E-bikes generally fall into two broader categories: bikes that add a throttle or integrating moped-style functionality and pedelecs, which are bikes that assist the rider’s pedal power.
Local laws determine how to classify many e-bikes. Many models get legally classified as bicycles instead of motorcycles or mopeds.
Legislation in the USA
In 2002, at the Federal level, Congress enacted HB 728, which amended the Consumer Product Safety Commission of electric bikes.
This law declared a low-speed e-bike as a two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals. Moreover, the e-bike has to have an electric motor with less than one horsepower or 750 watts.
The maximum speed on a level surface when powered only by the motor and driven by a person weighing 170 pounds, has to be less than 20 mph.
Federal law allows electric bicycles to be powered by the motor alone, or by human power and the motor. The latter is known as a pedal-assist e-bike.
Clarification from the Consumer Product Safety Commission says that the federal law allows e-bikes to go over the 20 mph limit when using both a motor and human power.
At the Federal level, e-bikes which can travel 20 mph or less by motor power alone are separate from mopeds, motorcycles, and motor vehicles.
Despite the federal decree concerning e-bikes, state traffic laws and vehicle codes remain in the purview of the states and their legislatures.
Therefore, the manufacturing and first sale of the bike gets regulated by the federal government. But when it comes to the operation of the bikes on the bikeways and streets, regulation is in the state’s control.
As a result, lots of states have their classification system that categorizes e-bikes with mopeds and other motorized vehicles. In these cases, e-bikes require licenses and registration, or you can’t use them on multi-purpose trails or bike lanes.
E-Bikes: Do You Need A License?
The Anatomy of Electric Bikes
E-bikes have changed and developed significantly over the years. For this reason, there are different motors and ways in which these motors function. Below is an in-depth overview of the anatomy of electric bikes and the way m they are typically composed.
Electric Motors and Hub Motors
There are two kinds of hub motors that electric bicycles commonly use, brushed and brushless. Moreover, many available configurations vary in the complexity and cost of the motor.
With pedal cycles, the motor is directly on the wheel hub. The stator gets mounted firmly to the axle, and the magnets are attached to the wheel.
The magnets rotate with the wheel when in motion. There are varying power levels of motors, but they get impacted by legal mandates and are usually (but not always) limited to 750 watts or less.
E-bike motor technology has evolved to such a degree that now there are only two kinds of motors worthy of being considered when buying an e-bike. These motors are cutting edge, energy-efficient, reliable, and are the future of the e-bike industry.
1. Rear Hub Drive Motors
Direct Drive: This motor is best for high-speed commutes on flat and paved roads. Furthermore, they are proficient at climbing up most hills; however, not steep ones, and they are great for transportation, fun, and exercise.
Geared Hub: This motor is best for climbing steep hills and carrying heavy loads. However, they also function very well for exercise, commuting, and having fun, and if the battery ever dies, the motor pedals efficiently.
2. Mid Drive and Center Drive Motors
These motors are the most efficient, and they usually offer the longest range for travel. These motors are versatile and are excellent for many applications such as speed, commuting, hills, exercise, and fun.
Furthermore, compared to their counterparts, these motors are lighter and possess a much better center of gravity. That makes for better handling. There is only one drawback: mid/center drive motors are usually more expensive than hub-drive motors.
3. Mid-drive motors
This is gaining in popularity. The motor is not built into the wheel but mounted near or under the bottom bracket shell. As a result, the propulsion takes place at the pedals rather than the wheels. The power is limited to 250 to 500 watts with this model to protect against fast wear on the drivetrain.
Electric Bike Batteries
E-bikes utilize recharge batteries and electric motors coupled with a form of control. Battery systems will include the following: nickel-cadmium (NiCad), lithium-ion polymer (Li-ion), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), or sealed lead-acid (SLA).
Batteries can differ based on total charge capacity, weight, voltage, ability to handle over-voltage charging conditions and several charging cycles before performance degradation. Although the energy cost for operating an e-bike is small, battery replacements can be a bit costly.
The range is an essential component when considering an e-bike. The range is dependent on factors such as battery capacity, motor efficiency, aerodynamics, the efficiency of the driving electronics, hills, and the weight of the bike and the rider.
Related post: How To Change Electric Bike Battery
Electric Bike Controllers
An electric bike controller gets used to be the connection between every electrical component of the e-bike. The motor, display, battery, throttle, pedal-assist, and multiple sensors all come together thanks to the controller.
The controller draws energy from the battery and it guides it to the bike motor. When you twist the throttle, the rider can control the amount of power that gets sent to the controller, which controls how fast the bike travels.
As a general rule of thumb, all controllers come with a sealed electric box, since they are placed on the bike while opened. There are a few controllers that get mounted inside the frame and are not visible.
You can classify controllers based on the motor. A brushless DC motor is the most popular type of Kotor that gets used on an e-bike. These brushless motors have permanent magnets. They are very reliable and have a simple design.
Controllers for this form of engine typically have three phases that get controlled by the keys, as well as two transistors for every phase.
You also have brushed DC motor controllers, which have permanent magnets as well as a collector. The design is not complex, it utilizes one set of keys that can change the electric current supplied to the motor. So the speed is based on the energy supplied.
Controllers for this type of motor are reserved for small electric vehicles such as e-bikes, e-scooters, pedelecs, and more.
Though there are other forms of controllers, it’s rare that they get used. Most electric bike enthusiasts will use a brushless or a brushed motor.
Electric Bike Frames
The main part of the e-bike, the part that supports your weight, gets constructed from a lightweight aluminum alloy. Lighter frames are more desirable because the lighter the frame, the further the bike will travel before the batteries need recharging.
When compared to the thin spokes on a traditional bike, the spokes on an e-bike have to be stronger. That is because the electric motor in the hub spins with great turning force, and if the spokes don’t come reinforced, they could bend or even buckle.
Electric Bike Brakes
Regenerative braking is popular with some e-bikes. When you begin to pedal or cruise downhill, the spinning wheels turn the motor in the hub in reverse. Consequently, they start charging the batteries. However, regenerative braking is not remotely as useful as it is on cars and trains.
That is because e-bikes have much less mass than trains or bikes; as a result, e-bikes never gain or lose enough kinetic energy to make them truly worthwhile. You would have to go down a lot of hills to fully recharge the batteries, and that is just impractical.
Electric Bike Classes
Electric bicycles get categorized according to the power that their motors can produce along with the control system. The control system refers to when and how the power gets applied to the motor.
Furthermore, the classification of e-bikes and what constitutes one becomes considerably more complicated when the legal classification system comes into play.
Consequently, the classification of electric bicycles varies markedly across countries and within local jurisdictions.
E-bikes can fall into two broad classifications:
Pedelecs get legally classified as bicycles, and S-Pedelecs get generally classified as mopeds.
Pedelecs: These are pedal-assist e-bikes with an electric motor that is relatively low-powered. As stated previously, these get classified as bicycles rather than mopeds or low-powered motorcycles. Usually has a top speed of 25 km/h when powered solely by the motor.
S-Pedelecs: These bikes have pedal assist only. The motor power can be greater than 250 watts and can achieve speeds of up to 45 km/h before the motor ceases to assist. These are sometimes categorized legally as motorcycles or mopeds.
E-bikes with power on demand only: These bikes often have more powerful motors than pedelecs. The most powerful version of these gets classified as motorcycles or mopeds.
S-Pedelecs are usually classified as motorcycles or mopeds rather than bicycles and may need to be registered and insured. The rider might need a driver’s license, and a motorcycle helmet is mandatory.
Related post: Three-Class Electric Bike System Explained
What Are Ampere Hours, Watt Hours, Volts, Watts, and Conversion?
Electricity and its energy can get measured in many different ways. The rate that a device uses electric energy is the watts. The amount of energy used for time is watt-hours.
However, Amperes or amps measure current or the flow of electricity. Moreover, amp-hours measure a battery’s capacity for electrical storage.
Current refers to the amount of electrical charge that flows in a given circuit. For example, static electricity is an electrical charge that remains still on an object. When the charge moves, a current gets produced.
Low-powered devices such as a digital watch use millionths of an amp of current, while a toaster or a hair dryer may use up to ten amps. For comparison, the starter motor in your car uses hundreds of amps but only for a few seconds.
Voltage refers to the pressure from an electrical circuit’s power source that then pushes the current through a conducting loop. That allows the current to work by providing the energy to illuminate the light. In short, voltage is the pressure that is measured in volts (V).
Electrical energy conversion is the conversion of a set of values of voltage, current, and frequency to a different set of such values. A transformer gets used for energy conversions.
Electric Bike Popularity
E-bikes have become increasingly popular over the past decade. In 2009, the U.S. had an available fleet of around 200,000 electric bikes. By 2012 they had become the vehicle of choice for the food delivery sector in New York.
In that same year, two advocates for e-bike expansion completed the first-ever 4,000-mile e-bike tour. They traveled to San Francisco from New York to spread the news of e-bikes to get adopted in all major cities across the country.
A large number of e-bikes in the United States are standard bikes that have gotten converted using a kit. You can also purchase complete e-bikes that have advanced features as the electric bike industry continues to evolve and become more technologically advanced.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a higher need for individual transportation. Electric bikes were the perfect solution for commuting. A tire shortage occurred as a result of the increased demand felt around the world.
Manufacturers struggled to keep up with the orders they began receiving as a result of people that wanted to travel without the risk of contact.
Additionally, countries all over the world, including China, Germany, and England, have seen a huge uptick in electric bike sales.
Top Manufacturers in the USA
So who are the top manufacturers of electric bikes in the United States? We’ve selected these companies not only based on the revenue they’ve generated but also the value and versatility they offer customers. Check out the top producers of e-bikes in the U.S.:
This electric bike company is in Seattle, and they offer electric bikes, fully integrated, designed for use on the road or off the road. The company started in 2007, and they focused on complying with the laws related to electric bikes, while also exceeding buyer expectations. Their electric bikes give you high performance for a reasonable price.
- Estimated revenue: $69.5M per year.
- E-bike cost: $1000-$4000 on average
Rad Power E-Bike Models
Rad Power currently has seven bike models that have received a prestigious award for the “Best E-Bike” for various categories. They offer nine models in total; that says a lot!
Rad Power offers e-bikes with high-tech accessories, a high quality. Two of their most popular bikes are the RadRover, which has fat tires and is perfect for rocky terrain, and their cargo model, the RadWagon, excellent for the transportation of goods. The company typically produces e-bikes that get at least 750W of power.
Low prices, high quality, and comfort characterize the Rad Power electric bikes.
This is a fairly new e-bike company founded in 2018. The product warehouse is in Nevada, but the company itself is on the outskirts of San Diego, CA.
You may get the impression that they couldn’t possibly be a top manufacturer in such a short period. However, they have quickly established themselves as a leading competitor by delivering top-of-the-line e-bikes to urban areas for extremely low costs.
Well, they’ve essentially eliminated the middle man, and they operate as a direct-to-consumer company. Their goal is to offer highly efficient, smooth-riding, fast e-bikes at a fraction of the cost. They also offer a one-year warranty with every purchase, plus you can return it within 30 days, no questions asked.
The Ride1Up style of electric bikes is described as commuter, city, or hybrid bikes because most of them come with fenders, sleek tires, a rear rack, and lights.
- Estimated revenue: (The company has not yet reported its annual sales)
- E-bike cost: $1000-$2200 on average
Ride1Up E-Bike Models
The look of their models may not be as fancy with all of the bells and whistles, but they will likely outperform the other high-priced brands due to the smart and efficient design of the bikes. These budget city electric bikes can get up to 28mph, which is a rarity in the e-bike community.
Top all of this off with an amazing customer service team that’s always available to help, free shipping, and plenty of helpful user information, and you’ve got yourself one of the top producers of budget e-bikes in the country. Check out their 500 or 700 series today to review the structure of their bicycles.
Despite being more widely known for their standard bike models, Cannondale is a top competitor in the e-bike industry. Currently housing 15 models, they have a pronounced focus on fitness and performance.
You can ride for long periods with no problem, and you know that you have a long-lasting e-bike that will make you feel safe and secure on unstable terrain.
- Estimated annual revenue: The company generates around $800 million each year, but that’s between their standard and electric models
- E-bike cost: $1500-$4000
Their models are sturdy and durable, which is no surprise given their track record with standard bikes. Cannondale seems to excel when it comes to on-road e-bikes and electric mountain bikes. One of their most popular models, the Synapse Neo, gives you versatility, ultimate motor power, and comfort while riding.
Types of Electric Bikes
These are the different classifications of electric bikes, according to their capabilities:
TYPE 1 E-Bike (Pedal Assist)
This form of electric bike requires you to pedal to activate the motor. It’s very similar to a standard bicycle, except a standard bike doesn’t have a motor that can sense when you’re pedaling. Once it senses the motion, it will start to add power to contribute to your pedaling efforts.
This type of e-bike doesn’t require a driver’s license or minimum age, it doesn’t go over 20mph, and it may or may not have a throttle.
TYPE 2 E-Bike (Throttle Only)
A type 2 e-bike has a motor that gets controlled by a throttle. In this case, you don’t have to pedal to get the assistance of the more. You only need to crank the throttle to get the power, and off you go!
You’ll have the capability to accelerate at will, which produces more traction. It’s important to note that with these types of electric bikes, the less you’re pedaling, the quicker your battery will die. You also don’t have to be a certain age to ride this bike, you don’t need a driver’s license, and the max speed is 20mph.
TYPE 3 E-Bike (Pedal-Assist)
The type 3 e-bike is similar to the first type because it is pedal-assist only. However, the difference is that you must be at least 17 years old to ride this bike, and a helmet is necessary for operation. It can achieve speeds of up to 28mph, but you do not need a driver’s license to ride a type 3 e-bike.
*All e-bikes are only allowed one horsepower or 750W of power.
Related post: Three-Class Electric Bike System Explained
What is the Difference Between Electric Bikes and Electric Scooters?
Trying to decide which option is best for you between an electric bike and an electric scooter? Let’s take a look at the similarities and the differences below.
An electric bike can get summed up as a pedal or throttle-assisted vehicle. It has two wheels and an electric motor that helps supply power during a bike ride. You can choose to pedal the bike to some degree and get help from the motor, or you can go all-electric and let the bike do the work for you.
An electric scooter is also a two-wheeled vehicle that has an electric motor and handlebars as well. The motor doesn’t require any assistance, as it is self-propelled. You can also get an electric scooter with a seat so you can ride while seated.
Fundamental Differences Between the Two
Scooters have daily commuting as the focal point for operation. Think shorter distances and nearby stops in your local neighborhood. Electric bikes, on the other hand, are great for shorter distances and they give you more speed than electric scooters.
Electric scooters make the perfect companion for smooth streets. You can ride electric bikes on various types of terrain: rocky, steep, and so on. The tires are wider and they offer shock-absorbing.
These are the key differences, but the decision is ultimately yours as to which better suits your needs.
Electric Bikes and Environment, Health and Safety
Due to the electric motor that assists with pedaling, e-bikes have shown an improvement in physical activity, especially amongst those who struggle with fitness activities for extended periods. That may be a result of excessive weight or an injury, but they can still ride the bike with the pedal-assist option.
One doesn’t have to become tired or experience joint aches to stay fit if they have an e-bike. It’s great for your cardiovascular health and to keep you active.
A study conducted by the University of Texas states that the energy expenditure (EE), as well as the oxygen consumption (CO2) related to e-bikes, are both about 25% lower than the figures for standard bikes. They’re 63% lower than they are for walking. This is especially notable when traveling uphill.
Road Traffic Safety
It’s very important to stay safe when riding an electric bike in the streets, as they are fairly new components of transportation. Many drivers aren’t used to traveling alongside bikes that can reach speeds of up to 28mph.
The key to road safety is for cyclists to learn how to best handle their e-bikes to prevent crashes and fatalities on the road. Remember that e-bikes are heavier and faster than your typical commuter bike. Simple turns and navigation of other obstacles could be more difficult if you’re not used to the feel of an electric bike.
Here are six safety tips that e-bike users should practice:
- Make sure that other drivers can see you while you’re riding
- Give more attention to the traffic around yourself
- Use your brakes earlier
- Consistently check your speed
- Be attentive when your mounting or dismounting the e-bike
- Remember that you’re still riding a bike!
E-bikes do not emit any combustion by-products, therefore they’re classified as zero-emissions vehicles. Nonetheless, we must take into consideration the power distribution, recycled batteries, and electricity used to power an electric bike. Despite these factors, e-bikes are still much less harmful to the environment than most other forms of transportation.
If we were to completely cut out travel by car and replace it with e-bike riding, we could cut CO2 emissions by up to 50%. That greatly benefits urban areas struggling with low air quality.
Popular E-bike Routes in the USA
There’s something special about traveling along a bike trail, getting to observe nature while also staying in shape. There are numerous bike trails throughout the U.S. that allow riders a safe route to take in the scenery. Here are the top 8 electric bike trails in the country:
The Southern Delaware Heritage Bike Trail
This bike trail, located in Milford, Delaware, is 130 miles long. It’s amongst the longest trails in the nation, and it winds through Sussex County. It offers beautiful views and is great for any type of bike.
River to Sea Bikeway
Located in beautiful Wilmington, NC, this bike trail starts downtown. You can travel along the trolley line for 11 miles until you reach the beach.
Chief Ladiga Trail
Start your ride in the east-central area of Alabama, and you can connect to another popular trail, the Silver Comet Trail, along the way to Georgia. You get 33 miles of pleasant scenery during this smooth ride for all bikers.
East Bay Bike Path
This path is in Bristol, Rhode Island, which is a historic district. Travel along the path until you see the big blue bay, one of the more popular sights to see in the state. The trail is 14.5 miles long, and you’ll also see plenty of soft plains and hills while riding.
The Silver Comet Trail
Start your journey in Smyrna, GA, and travel along a smooth bike trail that’s completely paved, for 63 miles. The trail starts at the border between Georgia and Alabama and connects to the Chief Ladiga Trail. Cords through pinelands and observe a 500-foot long trestle as you ride.
The Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes
This bike path is one of the most well-known trails in the country. Start in Cataldo, Idaho, and travel from the east to the west. You’ll see heavily wooded forest areas and pedal through thick marshlands, but you’ll finish your journey in the open prairie fields.
The Natchez Trace Parkway
Ride your electric bike along an incredible 444 miles of trail, starting in Natchez, Mississippi, and ending in Nashville, Tennessee. Pass through gorgeous farmlands and take in the views as you ride your bike through wooded acres.
The Eastern Trail
Travel through lush greenery while enjoying the Eastern Trail in Kittery, Maine. You’ll end up in Portland, Maine after riding about 65 miles. There are only a few dirt sections on this trail, so it’s suitable for all skill levels and bike types. The route is mostly paved with a few dirt sections along the way.
What are Some Commercial Uses of Electric Bikes?
There are various types of electric bikes out there that serve different purposes. More than just your standard mountain or city bike, you can find e-bikes that get used for specific functions like an
Electric Pusher Trailer. That type of e-bike has a battery and motor incorporated into the trailer used to push a bike.
The Electric Cargo Bike allows you to transport items that are heavy and large, that would otherwise be challenging to move without any electric power assistance. Folding e-bikes are also growing in popularity because they’re huge space savers, which is good for those with smaller homes or limited spacing.
You can also find Electric Self-balancing unicycles. These are less common because they do not adhere to the legislation. Therefore, you cannot utilize the unicycle on the road, only the sidewalk. These models are the cheapest, and they are perfect for very short distances.
Take tricycles into account, some international cities, like London, have already started using electric trikes for business. Produced to conform to the country’s legislation, they have been immensely beneficial to certain groups of people.
Those with disabilities appreciate the low-speed stability and sturdy design. Some business sectors switch as postmen also use tricycles for mail delivery throughout the country.
The e-bike industry is beginning to evolve based on high demand. Aside from the worldwide changes happening in different countries to appeal to their population, North America is also making strides.
The growth of the e-bike industry may rise from the 15.2 million bikes we had in 2020, to 23.3 million bikes in 2030. More importantly, in 2020, e-bikes represented $1 billion of the overall market value, and that figure should skyrocket to $4 billion by the year 2030.
That means that the e-bike industry will have to respond about investing in more production capacity.
What kind of changes can we expect to see? For starters, the weight will get lower for e-bike over time, making them more lightweight.
Additionally, there are developing ideas such as single-click shifting, motors that will automatically get tuned to the rider’s heart rates, and even suspension inputs that can help create a smoother experience for the rider.
Projections for the future depend somewhat on the companies that produce the bikes, as different owners have different visions. Some companies prefer to go lighter, simpler, and smoother, without all the extras. They want the sole focus to be on creating a more enjoyable rider experience overall.
Other ideas that we’re likely to start seeing get addressed are problems with the batteries. Improving battery charge and integrating internal gearboxes is a goal aimed at preventing limited riding times with some of the bigger bike models such as electric mountain bikes.
Some industry experts propose charging stations that can get connected to wind turbines. That allows us to ride to a wind farm and then plug the bike in to get charged, in addition to the traditional charging stations we have now.
Stronger rims, a quieter motor, sleeker designs, Bluetooth capabilities, and more technological advances are in store for the future of electric bikes.
Hopefully, this comprehensive guide on electric bikes has helped you to better understand how the industry began, how it’s developing, and what the projections are for the future. Not only are electric bikes an efficient and convenient method of travel, but they’re good for your health as well.
It’s an excellent investment that can range from a little under $1000 to well over $4000. With so many unique features and accessories, you can get e-bikes that are simple and stylish, just giving you what you need to travel, to more upscale bikes that have GPS systems, LCD touch screens for control, and more.
Ultimately, understanding the different types of e-bikes will help you make an informed decision about whether it’s the best method of transportation for you, especially in times like these.