Learn about this exciting mode of transportation
and how popular it has become in the United States!
How does an E-Bike work?
Did you know that the ELECTRIC BICYCLE (also known as E-Bikes) had its first patents dating back to the 1890s? E-Bikes didn't begin to gain popularity until as early as the 1990s, E-Bikes have been booming in Asia, Europe, and now in North America. View chart 1.2 below.
As E-Bikes have gained more popularity, they’re becoming more interesting and complex machines. This is how they work:
An E-Bike isn’t gas powered. It doesn’t require a driver’s license. A true E-Bike has all the basic parts of a conventional bicycle: pedals, gears, shifters, a chain drive, and of course a bicycle frame. The frames are usually made of steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber.
The rider of an E-Bike can choose to:
■ Rely on the motor completely
■ Pedal and use the motor at the same time (pedal-assist)
■ Pedal only (use as a conventional bicycle).
Now take a conventional bike and add electricity. Since you don’t want to charge the bike in a wall outlet, you'll need a battery. Typical batteries offer between 250 and 500 watts, meaning they put out around 20-50 volts and 10-12 amps. Imagine the volts are the potential energy, and amps are how much electricity can flow through any given point. Amps times volts equals watts. How far a battery will get you will depend on how much energy your motor uses, the terrain, and how much the cyclist assists with pedaling.
On average, a decent E-Bike will go about 40 miles
if the rider is helping pedal, or just 20 if they’re not.
If you were to use an upgraded battery, you might get an impressive 60 miles if the rider assists in pedaling and 30 miles when they don't. Older E-Bikes used lead-acid batteries, like the ones used to start cars. Lead-acid batteries are cheaper, but they are heavier and slower to recharge. Modern E-Bikes are using lithium batteries, which are much lighter, require less maintenance, and have greater lifespans.
Now, we'll add the motor. In lower cost E-Bikes the motor is on the rear, known as a “rear hub” setup. Power goes from the battery to the rear motor, which then directly spins the wheel. This can give the rider the sensation of being “pushed.”
More advanced E-Bikes use a “mid-drive” motor. This is where the motor sits in the middle of the bike, engaging the bike’s drivetrain. This is similar to how a rider would normally pedal their bike, with the power they generate then being sent along their chain to spin the back wheel. It also means that the motor interacts with your bike’s gearing the same way you would. Hill climbs are more efficient for both your legs and your battery if the bike is in a low gear.
Another important aspect of an electric bike is the controller. In any electronic device, the controller manages how much power is being delivered to the motor. This determines how fast the E-Bike will go.
For an E-Bike, you can be in “pedal only mode". This means the motor does not receive power, and all the work is being done the old fashioned way, by your legs.
You can enter “pedal assist mode,” where both you and the motor work together. Depending on how much you work, and how hard you pull on the throttle, the ratio of human and machine power will vary.
Often, a small device with a display, mounted on the handlebars, will let you choose which mode you want to be in, as well as offer you helpful information about your ride: how far you’ve ridden, how much power you have left, calories burnt, and more.
Finally, you can kick back and go into “electric only mode.” In this mode, you can even take your feet off the pedals, and let the motor do all the work for you, almost like an electric scooter or moped.
The best part is, if you know how to ride a bike, you can also easily get going on an electric bicycle. There are no special licenses required, no tests to pass, and no insurance to buy. So if you’re ready to take your biking to the next level, consider taking a ride on an E-Bike. After all, you’re an expert now!
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