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Introduction to Electric Bicycle

Adding electric motors to a bicycle brings it much closer a car's function in urban transportation. With a 20 miles (32km) average range, recharge time of less than 3 hours, the ability to go door to door, rather than garage to parking lot or parking meter, make choosing an electric powered bicycle a compelling option. Here's some other advantages:

  • Zero chance of traffic tickets, expired meters, or parking violations.
  • No auto insurance needed.
  • No special licensing.
  • Store your bicycle in your office or place of work rather than taking a full car space in a parking garage or curb.
  • Zero carbon emissions.
  • No gasoline budget.
  • Reduced pot bellies and couch potatoes.
  • Reduced driver anxiety.
  • No monthly car payment.
  • Reduces chances of contracting chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.

According to the Electric Bikes Worldwide Report, 2008 Update ( http://www.ebwr.com/), 20.8 million eBikes were sold worldwide in 2007, a total expected to show only modest worldwide growth in 2009 to 21.6 million units. However, eBikes represent the fastest-growing bicycle category within the U.S., Europe and a number of other regions. For example, U.S. eBike sales are projected to hit 220,000 units in 2009, a two-year increase of 83 percent from 2007 U.S. eBike sales of 120,000 units. Projections for Europe are even more robust, with eBike sales in Europe expected to hit 750,000 units in 2009 a three-fold increase versus 2007 sales of 250,000 eBikes in Europe.

Types of Electric Bicycles

Electric bicycles come in every shape and form. You can find mountain, road, hybrid, cruiser, and such kind of cycles with electric motors. However, there are two distintive forms that dominate the menu: those that look like a bicycle and those that look like a scooter. Typically, the ones that look like scooters have more powerful motors, go faster, and behave more like a motocycle.

Types of Electric Bicycle Propulsion

Just as there are many kinds of bicycles, there are many kinds of propulsion systems for electric bicycles.

Electric Assist Bicycles

Electric assist bicycles add power to your pedaling. As you pedal faster, the hub motor increases its power to assist and make the ride feel much easier. When you stop pedaling, the motor shuts down. The motor is actually part of the hub of the wheel, is brush-less (meaning the two pole never touch), and is completely quiet. Power and speed capabilities are fairly consistent across the range of bikes available. You typically have a 12-20 mile (19 - 32km) range, 20MPH (32KPH) top speed, 200 - 300 watts of power. The typically come with an unattached charger that takes in the neighborhood of three hours to fully charge an empty battery pack. The charger can be plugged in to your standard home electrical outlet, without modification, unlike electric car chargers, which may need special hi-capacity wiring and outlets installed in the home, which may require municipal permits.

Some Electric Assist Bicycles Available Today

Many bicycle manufacturers today have electric versions of their non-powered conventional bicycles. Many versions of mountain bikes are available in electric powered form. However, electric bicycles for commuting and other practical use, are typically in the form of hybrid, cruiser, and road bikes.

  • Trek 7200+

    The Trek 7200+ is a hybrid style electric assist bicycle that has 250 watts from a motor that is integrated into the rear wheel. It has no throttle, but using a computer, the electric motor activates when you pedal. The electric assist has four levels. The higher the level of assist, the quicker the battery discharges. The BioniX system uses bionic drive technology, which means a brushless hubs. This eliminates friction, reduces noise, increases reliability, and reduces part count. The result is an extremely quite motor.

    Trek Electric Bicycle
    Trek 7200+ Electric Bicycle

    The power source is a Lithium Manganese battery pack that delivers 250 watts of power. The motor system also includes regenerative braking. Like the Toyota Prius, power can be returned to the battery when braking, only in this case, the motor provides resistance when rolling down hill. With four levels available, the motor can actually help slow the bike down on a down slope, while recharging the battery.

    All of Trek electric bikes are available in a female version called WSD.

    Women's Trek Electric Bicycle
    Women's Trek 7200+ Electric Bicycle

  • Schwinn Searcher E8

    The Schwinn Searcher E8 is a hybrid commuter bicycle that has the electric motor in the front hub. The bike sellers boast the Toshiba battery's ability to fully recharge in 30 minutes and achieve 2000 recharges. Like the Trek+, it is primarily an electric assist bicycle, meaning the motor activates when you pedal.

    Schwinn Electric Bicycle
    Schwinn Searcher E8 Electric Bicycle

  • Stromer

    Stromer is a Swiss designed electric bicycle that we've included because of the Swiss reputation for mechanical precision and reliability. However, the bike is made in China. The price, however, is competitive with other bicycle described here. The battery pack is part of the frame, but can be removed for home or office charging. The bike can be switched from all electric mode, with a range of 20 miles (32km), to electric assist mode with a range of up to 45 miles (72km), using the bicycle's torque sensing function. The battery recharging system is typical, recharging the battery pack in 3-4 hours from a normal household electrical outlet. It has front movable suspension and custom saddle to provide additional riding comfort.

    Stromer Electric Bicycle
    Stromer Electric Bike, Swiss designed bicycle

  • Currie IZIP

    Currie only makes electric bicycles and scooters with an emphasis on low cost. They do not have a line of non-powered bikes. Most of the electric bicycles available are cruiser and comfort styles designed for casual riders running errands, bike path recreation, and commuting.

    Currie IZip Electric Bicycle
    Currie IZip Electric Bicycle

    Older models are powered by SLA. Newer Currie models use Lithium batteries.

These are just a few of the production electric bicycles available now. There are dozens more brands. Shop around, then go with a reputable brand named electric bike.

Folding Electric Bikes

Folding bikes fit into tight spaces in cars, buses, and trains. When you exit the vehicles, the bike unfolds and is ready for riding very quickly. After you reach your destination on the folding bicycle, you can break it down and carry it in a snap. Because folding bicycles meet a growing niche for commuters, the quality and quantity of folding bikes has increased dramatically over the past few years. Add an electric motor and Lithium battery if your commute is long or hilly. Electric folding bikes can be pricey, but total cost of ownership is still much less than owning a car in a big city.

Pedego Latch Electric Folding Bike
Pedego Latch Electric Folding Bike

The Pedego Latch folding electric bicycle is a fine example of a versatile folding electric bicycle. The Pedego Latch has the following advantageous features:

  • Adjustable for all sizes and shapes
  • Latest Lithium battery chemistry by Samsung for light weight long distance rides.
  • Internally geared hub for easy pedalling and smooth shifting – even at a complete stop
  • Five levels of pedal assist mode for a more natural riding experience
  • The Latch is comfortable with its upright riding position that feels like a full-size bike.

Geared Motor Units

These kind of electric bikes work independently of your pedal power. They typically have their own throttle that mounts on the handlebar, much a like a motorcycle throttle. Thus, you can ride the bike faster without pedalling at all. They are usually sold as bike conversion kits. They typically use Sealed Lead Acid or NiMH rechargeable batteries. They can be equipped with a large array of batteries, making them very powerful and fast.

Dual Power Electric Bicycles

Dual power, simply means, you can switch from controlling the electric motor by throttle to assist mode, where a torque sensor controls the electric motor and adds to your pedal motion. Most better quality factory made electric assist bicycles include this ability to switch power sources. Most kit gear motor units do not have this feature. You either pedal without the electric motor or let the electric motor propel the bike.

Do It Yourself Kits

The hub or gear motor, speed controller, and wiring are pretty much the same across all the electric bicycle conversion kits available. The differences in offerings have to do with what kind of battery is included with the kit. Some sellers give you the option of purchasing a kit with no battery included. The type of battery included greatly influences cost. Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) battery kits are usually the lowest cost. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) costs are in the middle. And, Lithium based batteries are the most expensive. SLA batteries are usually the heaviest, while Lithum batteries are the lightest.

Wattage, an indication of how powerful the motor is, typically varies from 200 to 1000 watts. Ratings in the 250 to 500 watt range, typically give you the same general range: 15 - 20 miles (24 - 32km) and speeds of 13 - 22 miles per hour (21 - 35KPH). When you are shopping, you'll also notice different voltage ratings, typically 24v, 36v, 48v, and 72v. Although voltage is a measure of potential electrical charge between one contact and another, you usually will not see a significant increase in motor performance until you get into the 72v range. Electric bicycle conversion kits containing a motor rated at 72v are very high powered, and can attain speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 KPH). However, for safe commuting and errand running, a 36v, 300w motor, with a 20 miles (32km) rated range should be more than adequate. The higher powered motors are for the Evil Knievels out there.

  • Superpedestrian Copenhagen wheel

    The Copenhagen Wheel is an all in one, simple installation, rear wheel that is controlled by a smart phone app. You configure the wheel to fit your existing bicycle on the Superpedestrian web site. When the wheel arrives, you simply remove the rear wheel from your bike and install the Copenhagen wheel. It is typically shipped with a depleted lithium ion battery to meet shipping regulations for lithium. So plug it in to the provided charger and let it get a full charge the first night. Next to the charging plug are five white LED lights showing the charge state of the battery. While the battery is charging they will blink on and off showing the charge level of the battery. Once fully charged and unplugged all five lights will shine without blinking. The five LEDs serve to provide other wheel status indications as well. A full list of indicators provided are available on the Superpedestrian web site.

    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel
    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel

    With a full battery, you can now install the controlling application on your smart phone. The app communicates with the wheel through a Bluetooth connection. Hit the red search button in the app, while the phone is located close to the wheel. Once the wheel is found, the app will import the wheel state of charge, serial number along with other trip data, and form a permanent connection with the wheel. You'll use the smart phone app to control the wheel. The app will then give you instructions on how to initiate the wheel and begin using it's power to help you ride the bicycle. Once initiated the app has five power settings for the wheel: "Turbo, Standard, Eco, Training, and Off" modes. There are no controls on the wheel itself other than the power switch.

    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel matched with red Trek FX 7.3
    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel

    The wheel has 12 sensors reporting riding data to your smart phone. The app extracts all data accumulated by riding the wheel, including routes taken, miles ridden, estimated calories burned and more. The app then displays this data graphically on your smart phone. Take the bike out for a ride. When your ride is complete the Superpedestrian app will display Overall total number of trips, total miles ridden, and total number of hours ridden. On the same page you'll also see detailed statistics on trip distance, time duration, average speed, total calories for the trip, and a map of the trail you just finished.

    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel
    Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel

    We don't believe there is another electric bike product that offers such detailed riding information. We were one of the first to pre-order back in early 2013. The wheel arrived late in 2016, almost 2017. We think it was well worth the wait. After receiving the wheel and installing it on a blue Trek FX 7.2 commuting bicycle. We took several rides, but had some difficulty communicating with the wheel through the app installed on a small tablet device. We actually had to return the wheel after many attempts to install a firmware update through a Bluetooth connection. The wheel simply froze. When the replacement wheel arrived, we had a new smart phone and bike. The new bike is a Trek FX 7.3 in red. So it perfectly matches the red Copenhagen Wheel. The 7.3 is lighter than the 7.2, so it is much easier to move the bike around to get it in to riding position. It also performs perfectly with the wheel. It's like to the two were made for each other. The Superpedestrian app also communicates better using the smart phone rather than the tablet.

  • Add-E

    Add-E is a small bicycle kit that snaps on snugly to the bracket in front of your rear wheel. The battery fits into your bottle holder. The electric motor provides up to 600 watts of assist power. It can detect when you stop peddling and decouple from your rear wheel. This Austrian made conversion kit is currently only available in Europe.

    Add-E Conversion Kit
    Add-E Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit

  • BionX

    BionX kits have the smoothest, quietest electric hub motors. They also use Lithium Manganese battery packs that are very light weight. Kits are available in 250w, 350w, and 500w capacities with varying levels of torque. The BionX technology uses special electronics and software to sense torque and make adjustments to motor speed, as well as providing a user interface that reports data and allow control.

    BionX Conversion Kit
    BionX Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit

    In addition to the user interface providing speed and distance information, it allows control of the amount of power provided by the electric motor and the level of regenerative braking. The four levels of assist are 25%, 50%, 100%, and 200%. There are also four levels of regenerative braking; the higher levels will help slow the bike down in addition to recharging the battery pack.

    BionX User Interface
    BionX User Interface or Console

    Installation, as with most conversion kits, is very simple. The most time consuming aspect of the assembly is harnessing the cables to the frame. With practice, an installation can be done within 30 minutes. You have flexibility with battery location. Most kits are designed to strap the battery to the lower triangle bar, where the water bottle normally goes. However, if there is no space there, the battery pack can be mounted on a rack above or beside the rear wheel. Kits are available for front or rear wheels. If rear wheel, you are limited to 9 sprockets to the cassette.

  • Currie Technologies Electro-Drive

    Like the BionX kit, Currie electric conversion kits feature three modes of operation: total motor drive, Electric assist, and no motor at all. The implementation of these modes, however, is completely different. Rather than having a brushless motor imbedded into the hub, the electric motor is mounted externally. Magnets are mounted in the pedal crankcase to sense rider pedal action for electric assist. Currie kits use SLA battery packs mounted on either side of a rear rack. Distance capacity can be doubled by adding an addition battery pack plugged into the opposite side of the rear rack.

    Currie Simple User Interface
    Currie User Console

    Currie electric conversion kits cost about half or one quarter those of the Bionx brand. A complete kit can be had for under $500. Compared to the average, which is about $1800, they definitely have a cost advantage. Currie has incorporated several features to keep the costs down. Most Currie electric conversion kits employ a sealed lead acid (SLA) battery. The battery has some advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it is lower cost. Some of the disadvantages are that it is heavy. If the kit is mounted on a comparably priced steel frame, the total bicycle weight could reach almost 100 pounds, before the rider mounts. A full battery discharge may shorten the life of the battery pack, and not recharging in a timely manner will cause a memory effect (meaning, the battery will loose charging capacity if not fully charged everyday.)

    Currie Removable SLA Battery Pack
    Currie Convenient Removable SLA Battery Pack

    Some of the Currie electric conversion kits use an external motor that has a sprocket that connects to bike's chain for drive, rather than the motor being embedded into the hub of the wheel. Also, to save cost, there is no LCD display to interact with the rider. Instead, there are a couple of LED lights, simply indicating on or off; and a couple of mechanical switches to change modes of operation.

    Currie External Drive Motor
    Currie External Electric Motor

    Newer Currie kits have much better Lithium batteries and integrated hub motors. The cost is much higher than the external kit, but still much lower than the average of other brands. They can be found in the $1,000 range.

  • Phoenix Electric Bike Kit

    Phoenix Electric Drive Kit
    Phoenix Electric Drive Kit Installation Burning Rubber

    Phoenix kits, sold by Electric Rider, of San Angelo, Texas, has capabilities comparable with other brands. However, they also make some of the most powerful electric bicycle kits available. With voltages up to 72v and wattage up to 2880w, bikes outfitted with these kits can attain speeds of almost 50 miles per hour. And the costs are very reasonable because they use lead acid batteries.

    A typical kit comes with hub motor - wheel assembly, controller, throttle, rack - bag - battery brackets, lead acid batteries, wiring components, charger, cruise control, user interface, spoke wrench, and a self healing inner tube called a "Slimetube". Units are available in 36v, 48, and 72v; with power from 900w to 2880w. Voltage increases are achieved by adding more batteries to the pack, which makes the bicycle heavier.

    The Phoenix motor is controlled by throttle (finger controlled gas pedal so to speak), and although it is a brushless hub motor, it has no pedal assist mode. Even the most powerful kits can be bought for under $2,000.

  • E+ Electric Power

    E+ Electric Power conversion kits are unique in that the battery pack is in the front wheel. The company claims having the hub motor in the rear and the battery pack in the front wheel balances the weight so it feels more like riding a conventional bicycle. The company sells two conversion kits: 750 watt and 1000 watt. It also offers a number of different pre-built electric bicycles. Its signature bicycle, the Tidalforce M-750, is used by marine paratroopers to jump from planes. So the build quality is military grade.

    E+ TidalForce M-750
    E+ TidalForce M-750 Electric Bicycle has NiMH Battery in Front Wheel Hub

    The E+ conversion kit has a computer interface that allows you you increase or decrease power, regen levels, and even levels of back light.

Battery Types

Along with leg power, the battery is the main powering unit of an electric bicycle. Their are currently three types of rechargeable batteries used in electric bicycles: Sealed Lead Acid (SLO), Nickel-Metal-Hydride and Lithium.

Electric Bicycle Maintenance

Maintaining an electric bicycle is not much more difficult than maintaining a regular bicycle. There are just a few things you need to keep an eye on to keep it running safely. The wheel that has the motor should be checked constantly to make sure the spokes are tight. Because of the higher torque of the electric motor, the spokes may become loose at the rim or even break. You'll want to keep a small wrench with you or the bike at all times. Better yet, visit you nearest or favorite bicycle shop and pick up a small bicycle tool kit. It may be handy for other road failures that may occur.

Be sure to get an electric bicycle or conversion kit with a removable battery pack. This is will allow you to maintain full charge until you need the bicycle again. It will also reduce the chances of the bicycle battery pack getting stolen.

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