Electric Bicycle History

reikiman's picture

Adapted from Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorized_bicycle

A electric bicycle is a bicycle with an attached electric motor used to assist with pedaling. Motorized bicycles are distinguished from motorcycles by being capable of being powered by pedals alone if required. The actual usage of the pedals varies widely according to the type of vehicle. Those known as mopeds mostly have pedals for emergency use or because of legal requirements and these are not normally used. Those known as power-assist bikes have the pedals as the main form of propulsion with the motor used to give a bit of extra speed, especially uphill. Many motorized bicycles are based on standard bicycle frame designs and technologies, although the modifications to the design to support motorization may be extensive.

Electric Bicycle patent granted to Ogden Bolton, December 1895
http://www.google.com/patents?vid=552271 - Patent number: 552271, Filing date: Sep 19, 1895, Issue date: Dec 1895

It shows a standard bicycle frame, the rear wheel having a hub motor in it. The design of the hub motor is described as a 6 pole brushed motor. The drawings do not show pedals or chain.

Electric Bicycle patent granted to HOSEA W. LIBBET, December 1897
http://www.google.com/patents?vid=596272 - Patent number: 596272, Issue date: Dec 28, 1897, Inventor: HOSEA W. LIBBET

Shows a standard bicycle frame, a motor mounted in the middle of the frame, and a belt going to the rear wheel. It appears this one has pedals as well.

Electric Bicycle patent, JOHN SCHNEPF, June 1899
Patent number: 627066
Filing date: May 6, 1898
Issue date: Jun 1899
Assignee: F ONE

Shows a standard bicycle frame, with a platform attached to the seat tube. The platform has a set of small electric motors driving a roller gizmo that rests on the rear wheel driving it with friction.

WHEEL MOTOR UNIT Jesse D. Tucker, May 1946
Patent number: 2514460, Filing date: May 7, 1946, Issue date: Jul 1950, Inventor: Jesse D. Tucker

Shows a hub motor design with internal gearing and the ability to freewheel.

Patent number: 3289780, Filing date: Mar 3, 1965, Issue date: Dec 1966, Inventor: D. R. FERRIS, Assignee: Kysor Industrial Corporation

Shows a vehicle very much like an mobility assist scooter.

Patent number: 3280932, Filing date: Mar 18, 1965, Issue date: Oct 1966, Inventor: A. E. MOULTON

Shows a bicycle with gas power assist. There are two chains going to the rear wheel.

Patent number: 3431994, Filing date: Jun 13, 1967, Issue date: Mar 1969, Inventors: Wood, Jr.

Shows an electric motor mounted on the front fork with a friction drive powering the front wheel.

ELECTRIC POWER UNIT, Wood et al, October 1970
Patent number: 3533484, Filing date: May 16, 1968, Issue date: Oct 1970, Inventors: Wood, Jr.

Shows three vehicle designs, an electric powered go-kart, an electric powered "adult trike", and a bicycle. In the bicycle design the motor is mounted on the rear frame next to the wheel. It also shows hub motors built into the wheels of bicycles or cars. Also shows some kind of planetary gearing system. This is a very broad patent covering a wide range of possible vehicles.

Patent number: 3894599, Filing date: Jun 21, 1974, Issue date: Jul 1975, Inventor: Vincent A. Murray

Some kind of rear friction drive setup.

BICYCLE WITH ELECTRIC MOTOR ASSIST, Garfinkle et al., November 1975
Patent number: 3921741, Filing date: Jul 11, 1974, Issue date: Nov 1975, Inventor: Garfinkle et al.

Shows an electric motor mounted to the rear triangle and a friction drive to the rear wheel.

Simple electric bicycle, Yukio Hirano et al, June 1976
Patent number: 3961678, Filing date: Aug 22, 1974, Issue date: Jun 8, 1976, Inventors: Yukio Hirano, Akio Iwata, Assignees: Mitsubadenkiseisakusho Company, Ltd., Primary Examiner: John P. Silverstrim

Shows a platform mounted on the rear of the bicycle frame holding an electric motor with friction connection to the rear wheel.

Bicycle drive means, Theodore F. Schwartz, September 1976
Patent number: 3978936, Filing date: Jul 11, 1974, Issue date: Sep 7, 1976, Inventor: Theodore F. Schwartz, Primary Examiner: A. Russell Burke

Shows an electric motor mounted on the front fork with a friction drive powering the front wheel.

Electrically-powered tricycle, M. Dale King et al, September 1978
Patent number: 4111274, Filing date: Aug 11, 1975, Issue date: Sep 5, 1978, Inventors: M. Dale King, Kerry Binder, Assignee: M. Dale King, Primary Examiner: Donn McGiehan

Shows a trike with an electric drive system. The electric motor is connected by chain to the rear wheel, separately from the pedal chain going to the rear wheel.

Motor and pedal driven bicycles, Lawrence A. Rudwick, July 1981
Patent number: 4280581, Filing date: May 12, 1978, Issue date: Jul 28, 1981, Inventor: Lawrence A. Rudwick, Primary Examiner: Donn McGiehan

An elongated bicycle frame with an electric motor built into the rear section. It includes a mid-drive arrangement with the pedals and motor both connecting with a jack-shaft that then goes to the rear wheel.

Auxiliary drive for pedal-driven road vehicles, Iliya Goldenfeld, January 1987
Patent number: 4637274, Filing date: Mar 11, 1985, Issue date: Jan 20, 1987, Inventor: Iliya Goldenfeld, Assignee: Kibbutz Gordonia Hulda

Shows a motor mounted just behind the pedals and connecting to the chainring. The design is very strongly remniscient to the Cyclone assist kit.

Flat rim type motor drive mechanism for bicycles, Chi-Hsueh Hsu et al, December 1993
Patent number: 5272938, Filing date: Dec 4, 1992, Issue date: Dec 28, 1993, Inventors: Chi-Hsueh Hsu, I-Ho Li

Shows a hub motor built into the front wheel of a bicycle, very much like dozens of such motors on the market today.

Electric and pedal driven bicycle with solar charging, Henry M. Gannon, May 1994
Patent number: 5316101, Filing date: Apr 29, 1993, Issue date: May 31, 1994, Inventor: Henry M. Gannon, Primary Examiner: Carla Mattix

Shows a bicycle with an electric motor mounted in the frame and a friction drive connection to the rear wheel. It shows solar panels embedded in the front wheel.

Electric propulsion system for a bicycle, James R. McGreen, Feb 1996
http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=jjYTAAAAEBAJ and http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=Gd8fAAAAEBAJ
Patent number: 5491390, Filing date: Jan 18, 1994, Issue date: Feb 13, 1996, Inventor: James R. McGreen

Shows an electric motor mounted on the front fork with friction drive connection to the wheel. It also covers a method for mounting a battery pack in the middle triangle of the bike frame. NOTE, James McGreen was the founder of ZAP, designer of the ZAP DX kit, and the ZAP DX kit mounted on the rear wheel.

High performance bicycle propulsion, Paul B. MacCready et al, June 1998
Patent number: 5758735, Filing date: Jul 26, 1996, Issue date: Jun 2, 1998, Inventors: Paul B. MacCready, Jr., William J. Nicoloff, Assignees: Aerovironment, Inc.

Several designs to have an electric motor driving the rear wheel of a bicycle along with the pedals. These are the designers of the Charger bicycle mentioned below, however none of the drawings correspond to the Charger design.

Direct drive power assist apparatus for a bicycle, Richard A. Mayer et al, February 1999
Patent number: 5865267, Filing date: Aug 16, 1996, Issue date: Feb 2, 1999, Inventors: Richard A. Mayer, Bruce S. Widmann, Assignee: Electric Bicycle Company

Shows an electric motor mounted to the front fork, with a chain drive connection to the front wheel.

Precision direct drive mechanism for a power assist apparatus for a, Malcolm Currie, August 1999
Patent number: 5934401, Filing date: Feb 20, 1997, Issue date: Aug 10, 1999, Inventors: Richard A. Mayer, Malcolm R. Currie, Assignees: Currie Technologies, Incorporated, Primary Examiner: Avraham H. Lerner

Shows an electric motor mounted on the rear of a bicycle, with a chain driving a sprocket attached to the rear wheel.

Note that Currie Technologies has been selling electric bicycles for a long time. Nowadays their bikes are sold through several brand names including Schwinn.

Electric bicycle, Ronald W. Whittaker, December 2000
Patent number: 6155369, Filing date: Mar 26, 1998, Issue date: Dec 5, 2000, Inventor: Ronald W. Whittaker

Shows a light weight two wheel vehicle, no pedals, a battery pack where the pedals would be, and an electric motor with chain drive to the rear wheel.

Electric bicycle and methods, James R. Turner, October 2001
Patent number: 6296072, Filing date: Jan 20, 1999, Issue date: Oct 2, 2001, Inventor: James R. Turner, Assignee: Opti-Bike LLC

Shows an electric motor built into the bottom bracket (if I understand the drawing correctly) as well as an advanced control system.

Frames for electric motor driven cycles, Ely Schless, February 2004
Patent number: 6691813, Filing date: May 16, 2002, Issue date: Feb 17, 2004, Inventor: Ely Schless, Assignee: The Electric Cycle Company, Primary Examiner: Daniel G. DePumpo, Attorney: McDermott Will & Emery, Application number: 10/147,630

Describes an electric motorcycle frame design highly remniscient of the Viento.

Luyuan & the electric bicycle industry in China: Electric bicycles are very popular in China, and there are 10's of millions on the road. "...Luyuan Electric Vehicle Limited Company was formally founded on July 3rd, 1997, and was one of the earliest enterprises specialized in electric bicycle R&D and manufacturing in China...."

moped2.org electric bicycle reviews lists reviews of some bicycles available in the late 90's. This includes the Zap DX kit, Schwinn Electro Bike, Aerovironment/Charger, US ProDrive from Currie, and EV Warrior.

The Charger bicycle was available in the late 1990's. It's frame was specifically designed to be an electric bicycle, and the overall design was done by Aerovironment. It used a pedelec design where there is no throttle, but sensors to detect pedaling and add motor power as you pedal. It used a two-chain drive system to eliminate the need for tire-driving rollers and a more efficient interconnection between the motor and each of 7 pedal gear ratios. See: http://www.electric-bikes.com/bikes/charger.html

Varsity Bike Electric Bike History & Facts has the following claims linked to articles hosted by the International Herald Tribune. IHT has changed hands and apparently the old URL's are no longer valid. However the claims seem true, e.g. the patents listed above show little work on electric bicycles until the 1970s.

E-bike History

E-bikes first appeared — briefly — in a much clunkier incarnation on the transportation scene in the 1970s following the energy crisis. (International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/14/business/transcol15.php)

They started gaining more notice in the mid-1990s. These versions incorporated pedal-activated power, followed by hub motors. (International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/14/business/transcol15.php)

Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports, an industry newsletter, estimates that 100,000 electric bikes were sold nationwide in 2005. (NY Times, www.nytimes.com/2006/02/21/business/businessspecial2/21ebike.html?pagewanted=all)

E- bike sales are forecast to double by 2009 to 200,000 from 100,000 in 2005. (International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/14/business/transcol15.php)

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reikiman's picture


Timeline of some important later electric bicycle developments. First commercial electric bicycle? When did the ZAP DX go on sale? (I owned a DX kit in 1995) Same for the Charger bicycle, EV Global, Merida, BionX, etc.

Images of the referenced bicycles.

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