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Lee Iacocca

History of the Electric Bike

by Electric bike guru on July 3, 2010

An eZee Cadence Electric Bike

Believe it or not, electric bikes have been around for over 100 years. Attaching an electric motor to a bicycle has always been a fascination for engineers looking to improve upon the basic two-wheeled design. Until recent years, electric bikes were bulky, problematic, and inefficient. It wasn’t until the 1990′s when electric bikes could run for more than 10 miles on a single battery charge. Once this was possible, the market exploded. With rapid advancement in battery technology, there are some electric bikes that can power a rider for 40 or 50 miles on a single charge, and it’s improving every year. In countries like China, India, and the Netherlands, electric bikes are widely popular, selling one million models every year. In the U.S., people are just starting to catch on to electric bikes, and the number of bike sales have doubled each of the past few years. What is it about the development of electric bikes that caused this sudden surge in popularity?

Making the Electric Bike Practical

A big step in the popularity of the electric bike is the extended range of the battery. Before 2000, most electric bikes were using Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) batteries. Although these batteries were powerful enough to drive a large bike with a rider, they didn’t last very long. People could ride for about five to ten miles before they had to plug the bike in to charge. Additionally, these batteries were very heavy. Electric bikes using SLA batteries often weighed over 75 lbs. They were impractical for long trips, and stairs were out of the question. There needed to be a lighter, more efficient alternative with better batteries.

The dawn of the Lithium battery age pumped life back into the electric bike industry. These lightweight batteries shaved 20 pounds off of an electric bike, bringing the average weight down to about 55 lbs. Although still not as light as a standard bicycle, it was now easier to manage than the ridiculous SLA bikes. The range was also improved immensely. Lithium batteries run for 15 to 20 miles on a single battery charge, which is over three times the capacity of the SLA batteries. With this kind of range, it was now easy to ride an electric bike to work, school, or run errands without running the battery down all the way. New electric bikes even have the option to charge the battery while pedaling or braking, which can extend the range by 10-20 miles. As technology advances, these batteries will keep improving. It’s not inconceivable that we’ll see a Lithium battery with a 70 mile range in the near future.

Powering an Electric Bike

BionX Electric Hub motor

Motors have been around since the dawn of electricity, and a simple chain between a motor and a bike wheel would be the most effective way to power a bike for the first 80 years of development. Of course, there were many problems with these motors. The internal brushes wore out quickly, and had to be replaced very often. It also used a chain, which could stretch, slip, or rust. A motor that is protected from the elements would prove to be the most effective for everyday riders, and the development of the hub motor would help the popularity of the electric bike.

Sealed inside of the wheel, the hub motor is not subject to rust, rain, or rough riding conditions. Since most hub motors are now brushless (using electronics rather than mechanical moving parts), they are virtually maintenance-free. This type of motor has become the standard for electric bikes, and are much more efficient than the older brushed motors. Recently, some electric bikes have been developed with a bottom bracket motor, which turns the pedals, rather than the wheel. In the future, we may see motors that are completely sealed inside the bike, invisible to any onlooker.

Controlling an Electric Bike

The easiest way to power an electric bike is with a throttle. With variable speed control, the rider can set their speed manually by simply twisting the grip. This type of speed control is easy to use, but tends to drain the battery quickly. More efficient systems have been recently developed which utilize torque-sensitive motors. This kind of technology actually measures the rider’s pedal power and gives a percentage of motor assistance. Pedal harder, the motor works more. Pedal less, and conserve the battery. It’s the most efficient way to use an electric bike, and because it requires pedaling, the electric hybrid bike still feels like a standard bike.

In the past ten years alone, these improvements have helped the electric bike to become a prominent commuter vehicle. In China, there are three times as many electric bikes as cars, and many other countries are following their lead. If America can let go of their big-car mentality, perhaps we’ll see a more bike-friendly future where electric bikes are the primary vehicles, rather than cars.

All of the new technologies mentioned above are available for purchase on these electric bikes


Completing Your E-Bike by Choosing the Perfect Accessories

by Electric bike guru on May 7, 2010

So now you’ve purchased your dream eBike and even had it out for a spin a few times.  That’s great!  What comes next?  Well, there are a wide variety of accessories and optional equipment available which can enhance your cycling experience.  Like what, you ask?

Computer for electric bicycles

Computer for electric bicycles

One of the most useful pieces of equipment you can buy is a bicycle computer.  A bicycle computer keeps track of the total distance you have pedaled your electric bike, and can be set and reset to measure the distance for each trip you take.  It also provides a readout of your current speed, and fancier models can calculate average and maximum speeds as well.  Having a way to accurately measure your miles per hour is useful when descending long grades, where speeds may be deceptive, or for maintaining a steady speed on level terrain (that’s how you get the maximum range from your eBike).

In addition, using the trip odometer, together with your eBike’s specification for maximum range, will ensure that you do not run out of juice unexpectedly when making a long trip.  And the accumulated mileage count is useful for knowing when it’s time to oil the chain or derailleur, or perform other routine maintenance that keeps your bike’s performance at its best.

Bicycle computers are available in wired and wireless versions.  The wired versions generally cost less, but require a few minutes more to install the cable which connects the head, or display, to the sensor, which generally mounts on the front fork.  Wireless versions can be installed more easily, but they cost more, and may not work as reliably as a unit which is hardwired.  Usually there is a limit how far the sensor can transmit to the head, and on some bikes, this distance may be too large to allow the computer to work properly.  Still having problems?  You may want to look for a wired bike computer with an extra-long cable. 

Another important accessory is an audible warning to alert pedestrians and other cyclists of your presence.  Generally a bell is an inexpensive and effective warning device.  The author of this post owns an EV Global electric bike, which was designed by automotive engineer Lee Iaccoca. This bike features a built-in electric horn (Meep! Meep!) which makes bystanders I pass on my daily pedal to work smile and wave when I hit the button.  Whatever warning device you choose, don’t rely on it entirely when trying to alert motorists of your presence.  Modern cars are equipped with soundproofing  and stereos which can drown out other car horns and even police sirens, and drivers on cell phones may be too distracted to heed normal audible warnings.

Given the fact that an electric bike adds to the inherent power of the rider and allows you to climb hills and carry extra weight more easily than a conventional bike, another useful accessory is a rear rack equipped with a rack trunk or saddlebags.  These accessories, if well chosen, can transform your machine from an interesting toy to a true pack mule, capable of carrying significant loads wherever you need to go.  Recall that the cost to recharge your bike at the end of the day is measured in pennies, so it makes sense to invest a few dollars in the luggage accessories which allow you to take advantage of the electric bike’s extra power and carrying capacity.

If you ride your bike routinely after dark, you must have a red blinking strobe light on the back so that cars can see you, and a good quality headlight on the front so that you can see where you’re going.  Many of these accessories can be installed with common tools and a little experience, but if you are in doubt regarding your mechanical abilities, your local bike shop will be willing to do the installation for you.  Now that you have an idea of some of the optional equipment and accessories that are available for your eBike, it’s time to do some shopping and choose the accessories that will enhance your bike’s performance and help you get the maximum satisfaction from your electric bike.


Mustangs, Minivans and Electric Bikes – A History of EV Global

April 20, 2010

The author of this post owns an EV Global electric bike.  EV Global was started in 1996 by auto industry giant Lee Iacocca.  Thirty years earlier, in 1964, Lee Iacocca was an auto engineer at Ford, when he identified that there was a new generation of auto buyers, and they needed a new car, one [...]

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