Looking Back At The Start

The first bicycles were produced in the early 1800’s.

Can’t Stop Technology

James Brownie wrote, “Electric bikes may seem futuristic, and the Trek Lift + certainly is the pinnacle of e-bike technology, but did you know electric bikes come from a rich history and are almost as old as the bicycle itself?”

This 1897 Humber Electric Tandem


The History of Electric Pedal-Assist Cycling

There is a surprisingly long history behind the invention of the electric powered bicycle. Dating back to into the mid-1890’s, there have been patents and prototypes developed both in the US and Europe. People have attempted to motorize personal transport throughout the ages and the bicycle seemed like a perfect platform even back then.

The key objective for most of the designs was to supplement the power needed to keep the bikes moving through all types of terrain or to carry larger loads. This assist model has varied in power and capacity but always included pedaling as an integral part of the propulsion process. It is this integration that has clearly separated electric bicycles from mopeds and motorcycles.

Electric-powered bicycles come in a wide variety of styles and capacities and their versatility has proven indispensable throughout Asia and Europe. In the congested streets of many of the world’s capitals, commuters have relied on bicycles as their primary means of personal transport for more than 100 years. In many parts of Asia, for the general population, bicycles were the only means of personal transport available. To this day, even with the rise of the middle class, there are more than 34 million electric-powered bicycles produced in China every year.

As technology improved, the electric motors gained important sensors and controls that allowed the drive system to “feel” the need for powered support, thus providing the added boost to the rider. Now known as both torque and speed sensors, these measurement methods didn’t actually become commonplace until the late 1990’s when a Japanese engineer Takada Yutky filed for the patent. The general idea of this technology was to add power only when needed, allowing the bike’s power source to last longer and go further on a single charge.

Another important milestone in the development of electric bikes has been the rechargeable battery. While the dominant platform for Asian bikes still remains the large lead-acid battery, the type found in your car. Later developments experimented with NiCd and now Lithium-ion battery packs. Today, when cost dictates, toxic lead acid continues to be the primary power source in Asia and India. In Europe, North and South America, as well as countries like Australia, have migrated to the advanced lithium battery chemistries and charging solutions. These battery packs have become more powerful, safer, smaller and offer a longer lifespan.

From a forward-looking perspective, the advancement of lithium rechargeable technology will only continue to improve both in performance and cycle life. Much of the motivation for this is coming from the growing demand for electric cars, buses, and trucks.

In 2001 the term “Pedelec”, referring to pedal-assisted, and/or a power-assisted bicycle was commonly used to refer to e-bikes. The most common variations being either front or rear wheel hub motors or the mid-drive motor that replaces the traditional bottom bracket, are used right through today. Some motors are designed as direct drives while others use a combination of gears to supply the necessary level of torque and power to drive the bicycle forward.

According to reports, by 2007 more than 20 percent of all two-wheeled vehicles in China were driven by electric power. Since 1998, the pedal-assist electric bike has grown rapidly. Besides the reported 120 million electric bikes being used in China by 2010, a total of 700,000 electric bikes were sold in Europe in that year alone.

Great Rides

As part of the goal of the Electric Bike Association, we will bring readers stories about some great rides that you can enjoy around the country.

Commemorative Tour Shirt

For so many attendees that have asked, starting in Long Beach, we will have some great shirts that you can get!


Rather than worry about the technical details (we leave that up to the Electric Bike Report), here we tell great stories of how people are using eBikes in their everyday routines.