In the theoretical electric bike we considered up above, we had the dynamo/motor driving the back wheel directly, simply by pressing on the tire. Most electric bikes work a different way. They have compact electric motors built into the hub of the back or front wheel (or mounted in the center of the bike and connected to the pedal sprocket). Take a look at the hub of an electric bike and probably you'll see it's much fatter and bulkier than on a normal bike. You can read more about how these motors work in our main article about hub motors.
There's no question that electric bikes are far better for the environment than petrol-powered car engines. But that doesn't mean they're completely perfect. Making and disposing of batteries can be very polluting. Not only that, but an electric bicycle is still using energy that has to come from somewhere. You may think you're using clean green power, but the electricity you use for getting about might have come from a filthy old, coal-fired power plant or one driven by nuclear energy. (If you're lucky, of course, it might have come from solar panels or a wind turbine!) Electric bikes are nowhere near as environmentally friendly as ordinary push bikes, but nothing is ever perfect—and, as people often say, "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Electric bikes are certainly a step in the right direction. If everyone used them to get about instead of cars, global warming might be less of a problem, and the world would be a far cleaner and healthier place!
Photo: Could solar power be the future of electric bicycles? The large solar panel mounted over the back wheel of this experimental bike powers an electric motor connected by a chain drive to the back wheel, helping the rider when he doesn't feel like pedaling. Using clean, green solar power would remove the problem of having to charge electric bikes with electricity generated from fossil fuels—and help to extend their range significantly. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE/NREL.
At $799, it is one of the most affordable full-size folding electric bicycles on the market. There are cheaper folding e-bikes out there, but they generally have much smaller wheels and lower top speeds. With 16″ wheels and a max speed of 32 km/h (20 mph), the Shift S1 combines the specs of higher priced e-bikes with the affordability of a budget folder.
For many bikes, battery range is more important than total power (because they’re all pretty powerful). You want a bike that delivers a range long enough for your rides at the power levels you want. Most e-bikes will have three to five levels of assist that kick in anywhere from 25 percent of your pedal power to 200 percent. Consider how fast the battery takes to recharge, especially if you’ll be using your bike for long commutes.
I'm one of the hardcore cyclists at Ars, along with Jay Timmer and his new-as-of-last-fall road bike as well as copyeditor Kerry Staurseth. I love cycling, and it was a major factor in my dropping 120lb over a 12-month period starting in the summer of 2009. My daily rider/errand-runner is a 1998 Gary Fisher Marlin mountain bike. For longer rides, I use my 2009 Trek XO2 cyclecross bike. I've made a few modifications to it, including removing the bumpy cyclecross tires and swapping out the front 46-tooth chainring for a 50-tooth one. I went with a cross bike over a road bike because I'm still a Clydesdale, and I like the slightly longer wheelbase of a cross bike. I've also briefly owned a 2011 Trek Madone 5.9, which I sold not long after I bought it due to severely screwing up my right knee.
The other shout-out goes to Paul Bogaert who decided to close the Bike Doctor after 27 years and instead cycle tour the world with his wife. Paul had an early role in Vancouver bicycle advocacy and at bringing cycle riding to a less elitist/athletic and more everyday commuter crowd through their shop. They were among the early shops to embrace family friendly cargo bikes and appreciated the role that electric would play in making cycling more broadly appealing.
The Bulls Cross E8 Step-Thru is an urban bike—a bicycle often used as a primary mode of transportation for those who choose not to own a car. Priced at $3,099, it's solid and durable. The aluminum frame comes in three sizes (45cm, 50cm, and 53cm; I tested the latter). It's got an eight-speed Shimano shifter and a Shimano Deore CS-HG50 cassette. Shimano is a small change for me, as my XO2 uses the SRAM Rival Double Tap shifter, and I really like the action on that. It's got a front suspension with 63mm of travel for a smoother ride, along with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. Cable runs are all internal, making for a cleaner-looking profile. Rack, fenders, and a headlight all come standard.
When last checked, no E-bikes satisfied this requirement, so ebikes cannot be registered in New Jersey. However, NJ Bill A2581, introduced March 22, 2010, would permit the use of low-speed electric bicycles upon the roadways and bicycle paths in NJ, where a low-speed electric bicycle is defined as a two-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals for human propulsion and an electric motor of less than 100 pounds and 750 watts, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface is less than 20 miles per hour. The bill has been referred to the state's Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.
Electric-assisted bicycles, also referred to as "e-bikes," are a subset of bicycles that are equipped with a small attached motor. To be classified as an "electric-assisted bicycle" in Minnesota, the bicycle must have a saddle and operable pedals, two or three wheels, and an electric motor of up to 1,000 watts, as well as meet certain federal motor vehicle safety standards. The motor must disengage during braking and have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour (whether assisted by human power or not). Minn. Stat. §169.011, subd. 27.
Many newer or smaller companies only design and market their products; the actual production is done by Asian companies. For example, some 60% of the world's bicycles are now being made in China. Despite this shift in production, as nations such as China and India become more wealthy, their own use of bicycles has declined due to the increasing affordability of cars and motorcycles. One of the major reasons for the proliferation of Chinese-made bicycles in foreign markets is the lower cost of labor in China.
The days when eMTBs were defined solely by the power of their motors and the size of their batteries are over. Riding performance has become the most important metric. In that pursuit, manufacturers are increasingly developing eMTBs with less power and battery capacity, which in turn handle more like regular mountain bikes. FOCUS started this movement some time ago with its Project-Y concept and later presented the FOCUS RAVEN² PRO, the first production model in a new category of bikes. However this sporty ride only convinced a handful of riders. Meanwhile, Lapierre and BULLS have both announced full-suspension trail bikes featuring the lightweight FAZUA motor for next year. It remains to be seen how many other brands will jump on board this bandwagon – but the rumour mill has already started rumbling. Moreover, it is only a matter of time before the next motor manufacturer will release its own small, lightweight motor.
The oldest patent for an electric bike I've been able to find at the US Patent and Trademark Office is this one, by Ogden Bolton, Jr. of Canton Ohio, which was filed in September 1895 and granted three months later. You can see from these original diagrams that it bears an amazingly close resemblance to modern electric bikes. In the general picture on the left, you can see there's a hub motor on the rear wheel (blue), a battery suspended from the frame (red), and a simple handlebar control to make the thing stop and go. In the more detailed cutaway of the hub motor on the right, you can see there's a six-pole magnet in the center (orange) bolted to the frame and an armature (made from coiled wire, yellow) that rotates around it when the current is switched on. It's quite a hefty motor even by modern standards; Ogdon mentions "a heavy current at low voltage—for instance, to carry one hundred amperes at ten volts." So that's 1000 watts, which is about twice the power of a typical modern bike hub motor.
The basic shape and configuration of a typical upright or "safety bicycle", has changed little since the first chain-driven model was developed around 1885. However, many details have been improved, especially since the advent of modern materials and computer-aided design. These have allowed for a proliferation of specialized designs for many types of cycling.
While I would have loved to see some higher end components such as disc brakes or built-in lights, the bike still works well for what you get and is a pretty good value for the price. One missing component that I feel would make a big difference is a kickstand. I’ve never seen an e-bike that didn’t come with one, outside of ultra premium multi-thousand dollar road and downhill e-bikes that try to save every gram of weight. But for a commuter, a kickstand is pretty important. You can always add a cheap $7 kickstand from Amazon, but I would have preferred they save us the step and include their own cheap kickstand.
Perhaps the cleverest thing of all about the Electric Brompton is that despite all the extra stuff, it folds up exactly the same as the non-powered variety. It's so simple, and unlike certain folding bikes we could mention, what you're left with is a genuinely small thing, rather than something that's about the size of a bike with the front wheel taken off.