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History of cycling and electric bikes

Apr 30, 2018

History of cycling and electric bikes

The Draisine

Since the invention of the wheel, man has been trying to improve upon its capabilities. From the lowly wheelbarrow of the second century, to the two wheeled cart shortly after, to Karl Drais' "dandy horse", or running machine of 1817, man made great strides toward pedestrian mobility. 

The Velocipede

A crank set with pedals was developed in 1860, making the bicycle a viable means of transportation. Cheaper to purchase and maintain than a horse, and more maneuverable than a stagecoach, bicycles leveled the transportation playing field. With travel no longer restricted to the wealthy, everyone with strong legs could go anywhere. 

Battery powered bike

It didn't stop at mere pedal power. On New Year's Eve 1895, Ogden Bolton Jr. became the first person to patent a battery powered bike. The celebrated bike was a 10 volt/ 100 amp, single speed, with a DC hub motor, mounted on the rear wheel. 

Belt drive and the"Roller wheel"

The turn of the twentieth century ushered in a rear wheel, belt drive,electric bike, patented by Mathew J. Steffens, and a “roller-wheel style rear-wheel friction drive electric bicycle, patented by John Schnepf. Other developments through the next few decades included the freewheeling for coaster brakes, dynamo lighting, and Derailleur gear systems.

Uphill "Booster" eBike

A couple of years later, Hosea W. Libbey doubled up on the fun by incorporating a "booster" battery and dual motor for uphill travel. His initial design was a crank rod system that was soon replaced with a chain drive. The Libbey bike was somewhat short lived, but the concept was sound, and became part of the booster bike renaissance of the 1990s.

Freewheeling motor

Jesse D. Tucker developed the first patented freewheeling motor that allowed pedal- and power-drive on a bicycle in 1946. The design allowed the rider to pedal, motor, or combine the two modes of power.  


With the development of batteries as opposed to inconvenient power cords, the range and usability of electric bikes increased drastically. Initially heavy and relatively inefficient lead acid batteries had been used, before the industry gradually shifted first to nickel cadmium, and finally to lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries can contain more power per volume unit than other types of batteries, making them very suitable for use in products with limited amount of space.

The first "pedelec"

The 1992 "Zike" was the first e-bike to be marketed as such. It boasted an integrated nickel cadmium battery system and an 850 g permanent magnet motor. Even though the Zike didn't catch on, the idea did, and the first crank drive "pedelec" bike was invented in 1993. This led to a 35 percent increase in booster bike sales over the next decade. Today, lithium ion battery e-bikes are being sold by the millions.

How the future of e-bikes looks like is anyone's guess, but the continued technological advancements leading to longer range per charge, as well as the fact that e-bikes are great at tackling some of today's most daunting infrastructure challenges, such as air pollution and traffic jams, makes it a top contender for the future of urban transportation.
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