The Electric Tricycle
In 1881 an obscure French science magazine tells of Gustave Trouvé modifying a British tricycle made by Starley of Coventry. It shows an electronic motor attached to a lever drive mechanism, which was later upgraded to include a pedal drive. The electricity would have provided a few watts to give the human engine a little kick to their cadence. Although given battery technology of the time, it’s more likely the cyclist was augmenting the power of the battery…
The 1890 Patent Wars
Ignoring the fact that pedal-bicycles were so efficient due to their low weight-to-power ratio, enthusiastic engineers sought to patent various electric motors. You can read about Bolton Jr’s 1895 US Patent for a 6-pole brush and commutator hub motor, or Libby of Boston’s 1897 double electric motor, set in the crankset axle. All these batteries were very heavy – in practice, battery technology wouldn’t catch up with the concepts for at least another 100 years.
The 1990 Techno Revolution
Takada Yutky of Japan filed a patent in ’97 for a device that not only added an electronic motor to a bicycle, but did so with feedback loops. Torque sensors worked in a feedback loop with power controls, and the sensation of riding what was called a Zike finally resembled what you might expect from a modern electronic bike.
Power Like It’s 1999
As we crossed from the 90s to the year 2000, batteries started to lose weight and become more efficient. Bulky and heavy lead acid batteries were superseded by NiCd or Li-ion batteries, before a compromise between longevity and weight was reached with NiMH. Modern batteries have settled on the lithium model, but you can expect the technology to continue to improve.
Trimming the Fat
Part of the power-to-weight ratio problem has already been fixed – bicycles are vastly lighter than cars, and carbon frames further reduce the weight of the vehicle. If your motor is designed to add a few watts to your cadence, rather than provide all the power, then the battery will take you much further on less charge. For competitive cyclists at the lower end of the body fat scale, you don’t need many additional watts to make a huge difference to your performance. Read more about the mechanical doping scandal – HERE.
E-bikes Are Dope
Smaller motors are very appealing for the long distance cyclist, but now that powerful motors can be made so small and discrete, we’ve reached an age where mechanical doping is a very real issue for the UCI – just see our article on mechanical doping. Leisure cyclists can go ahead and mechanically dope to their hearts content, after all, the ability to whoosh up steep inclines without any extra effort is appealing. E-bikes can be dope, for any number of reasons.