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Origin of electric bicycles

Mola BogdanGeorgii

When I began to think about bicycle, I have started to check information about bicycles and noticed slowly growing trend on electric bicycles. Despite to fact that it is not option for me, it is quite interesting to check what is going on in this field. Especially taking into account that Eyes Japan has project related with bicycles.

At our days, situation in market segment of electric bicycles has dynamic similar to situation with electric cars. It is developing. It is most popular not only in Asia, but become to be popular in other regions of the world. Invention of electric bicycle is not totally new. So, let’s consider origin of this transport, why it was out of focus long time and how it become to be popular at our days.

It is not surprise that motorcycle and electric bicycle has some common history. Goal was to make bicycle move autonomously. The first patents for internal combustion engines were registered in the second half of the 19th century. In that time prototypes of motorcycles used steam engine.

In 1895 there was first appearance electric bicycle. Patent was registered by Ogden Bolton(USA). Bicycle has no gears or pedals. Also there are some evidence about tandem bicycle shown in 1897 (picture below).

Photo By  Jules Beau

But invention of electric bicycle of full value belongs to Hosea W. Libbey (USA). Models has two batteries and two motors.

Mass market.

In 1920 company Heinzmann (German) begin to produce motors for electric bicycle. It was first mass production. During 1930s, number of companies with such business increased. For example Philips. One of the models was Juncker.

 Unknown photographer

Mass of this model was 50Kg. Charging took all day and provides 40 Km distance with 18Kn/h speed.

After this time of development there was delay because of World War 2. But in 1946 Benjamin Bowden announced his concept with name Classic.


Photo by Brooklyn Museum

It was presented as “bicycle of future”. It has really outstanding for those times features like battery charging during downhill move and “modern” design. As result, it did not get further development.

Next milestone.

After 30 years of oblivion, history of electric bicycles got new stage with developing of technologies in Japan. In 1970 Panasonic produced its first bicycle. It has got some improvements, but heavy batteries was big issue and next 20 years there was no important news in world of electric bicycles. There was some attempts in China, but problems with high cost and heavy batteries did not allow bicycles to spread.

In 1989 Michael Kutter developed pedaling assistance system that still used in modern models and this event was important element for current success. In 1991 Sony and Asahi Kasei produced lithium-ion power source that was more light and comp-act. This events provide way for farther development of electric bicycles. At this time Chinese government used chance and popularize electric bicycles in their country.

Speaking about Western countries, Europe and USA did not shown such popularity of electric bicycles but there was quite famous models. For example, Solo Electra with Bosch motor – first mass produces model in Germany (1973), it was able to run 37km on one charge.

In our days there are so many diferent types of electric bicycles. Starter prcie is around 1000 dollars or 100000 yens that makes it quite expensive. Growing popularit and development of technologies will make this price lower.

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