A Brief History Of Electric Bikes
Ebikes have been around for decades now, the very first motor-powered bicycles were documented at the end of the 19th century. However, pedal-assisted bikes did not spark interest until recently; making a breakthrough towards the end of the 20th century then led to the most significant improvements, before the great bicycle boom of 2020 where it became more attractive to millions of commuters.
Throughout history, individual transport modes have evolved at different rates and times which led us to the rise of electric bicycles. Cycling was first developed in the UK in the late 19th century, primarily as a leisure activity for wealthier people. By the late 1940s, the number of bicycles in the UK peaked and cycling was only second to the bus as a means of transport to commute.
Ebike’s history surprisingly also goes back to the 19th century, when inventors and engineers were trying to convert safety bicycles into powered bicycles. The first bicycles with electric motors appeared at the end of that century and in the following years, the design was tested and improved. While for the most part of the 20th century, there was low interest in cycling.
Despite the introduction of EVs, consumers didn’t worry about fuel-efficient vehicles. The automotive industry was benefiting from cheap oil, which reinforced the image of the car as a symbol of progress and innovation. As the mass-production assembly lines for cars and motorbikes became ever more efficient, interest in cycling began to decrease. As the price of oil quadrupled in 1973, this took both a toll on both energy consumption and the world’s opinion on oil-fueled cars.
As the industry entered the new millennium, the manufacture and use of electric bikes saw a complete resurgence. Production began to grow again, where ebikes now made use of technological advancements such as modern electric motors and highly efficient batteries. This was just the beginning of the ebike industry revival.
Growth Of The Global Electric Bike Market
There was a noticeable shift towards the beginning of the 21st century where ebikes enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, both as a hobby and as a means of alternative transport. Innovations in technology meant batteries now have larger capacity batteries that allow ebikes to efficiently replace cars on medium distance trips. With a desire to make people’s commute easier, Japanese companies such as Yamaha or Panasonic started developing new electric motors and battery technologies, leading to new levels of performance and marking a new beginning for the ebike industry.
The biggest issue at the time was that the batteries were bulky and very heavy compared to the ones we use today. The weight problem was solved in 1991 with the invention of the lithium-ion battery. Lighter and more capacious batteries made electric bikes the optimal mode of transport for short-distance trips. As a result, ebike’s now looking almost identical to a classic non-assisted bike – with the main difference being the ease of travelling up hills.
Ebike usage has seen rapid growth on the worldwide market, which has exploded since the 1990s when there were only a few thousand on the market. As a result, ebikes are now recognised by law and are considered as regular bicycles; therefore requiring no license, petrol, insurance or MOT.
In the 90s, a new version of powered bikes emerged, called Pedelecs. Following these improvements, the production of ebikes saw an astonishing hike and as a result, the production of a normal bicycle fell down radically. It is unlikely that any other transportation technology has experienced a decade of such growth. Consumers now have more choices than ever when it comes to buying an electric bike.
For an electric bike to be legally considered as a pedal cycle it must meet the requirements for ‘Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles’. Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles do not require a licence to be ridden, but riders must be over the age of 14 years old; and they do not need to be registered, taxed or insured.
Aboard The Electric Bike Revolution
Transports are central to the whole of society and respond to a continuously changing environment, economy and lifestyle. The way we socialise has greatly changed over the past year and electric mobility helps people to connect and sustain their way of life. The micro-mobility market is changing in conjunction with other clean modes of transport. Electric bikes have the potential to profoundly impact mobility patterns and ensure a cleaner transport mix.
Ebikes are an economic and simple solution to urban transport problems. One of the most appealing features is that they have no harmful emissions from combustion engines. It helps to reduce the high reliance on heavy fossil fuels and has the ability to ‘decarbonize’ the transport sector. As well as this, ebikes have other competitive advantages; they’re time-saving, cost-efficient, reduce congestion and also save the difficulty of finding a parking space. They can easily replace the car on distances that would otherwise be considered too long for a conventional bicycle.
“A wide range of both battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles offer routes to achieve significant levels of decarbonisation in the transport sector. Both battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles require the decarbonisation of electricity and/or the development of hydrogen. As such he believed that the provision of low carbon fuels for transport will become increasingly connected to other parts of the energy system, including power and heat.” – Professor Nigel Brandon of Imperial College London
The use of electric bikes is growing rapidly in many cities in Europe and studies have shown that using ebikes as a main mode of transport means both an increase in the user’s happiness and health. The electric motor reduces the physical effort and therefore results in the user’s likelihood to use the bike more often.
Of course, the pandemic induced a massive “bike boom” and as a result accelerated the transition to electric bicycles. The switch generated new opportunities for many people, giving them the confidence to go out longer and more often than they would have on a traditional bike. According to Forbes, Europeans are expected to buy an extra 10 million bikes per year by 2030, or 47% more than the annual number in 2019 (3.7 million bikes were sold in 2019).
Regardless of the limitations of e-bikes, it seems to provide enough benefits to increase cycling at the expense of driving. The evolution of the transport system is characterized by a pattern of replacements in which more efficient and higher quality transport modes substitute for the traditional ones. EVs are now giving us the opportunity to shape a better, cleaner future for transport as well as increase the social connectivity in the congested cities that were originally designed around cars.