When we think about technologies that have changed the world, and how we function and exist in it, there are certain ones that come to mind. The automobile, the computer, and most recently, the smartphone. There is, however, another technology that is quietly flourishing and spreading around us without getting nearly as much attention. One that has the world changing potential - the Electric Bicycle. In fact, the technology is so popular that in Asia, the world's largest e-bike market, there are two hundred million of them in use. They account for over a quarter of all the bicycles in the country. In the United States, the numbers are smaller for now. Yet, more and more people are becoming aware of them, and adoption rates are increasing. 20 years from now, as we reflect back on our search for the personal mobility solution, we are likely not going to remember the world before ebikes just as it is becoming harder to remember it before the smartphones came along. The Back Story Electric vehicles have been in existence for over a hundred years. They predate the gasoline-driven versions by several decades. In fact, if someone in the year 1900 had to bet on the future of cars, they'd have put their money on electricity. Although the first patents for something resembling today’s bicycles date to the 1890s, the modern electric bike is only about 20 years old with most popularity gained in the past few years. The early modern ebike suffered from the same issue it’s vintage counterpart did - both used heavy, short-lived and expensive batteries – like lead-acid technology making them heavy, unreliable and impractical. One of the side effects of the technological revolution of the recent past is finally shaking things up. Thanks to the rapid scaling of laptop, cell phone and other mobile electronic device production, a much lighter and durable battery became affordable – lithium ion. Battery packs that used to weigh 20 lbs and provide only a few miles of range now weigh less than 10 lbs and provide up to 60+ miles of range. Today, most electric bicycles use these cells. Finally after a century of being little more than a fringe idea, ebikes are starting to boom and come into the mainstream. The technology is maturing, and we are atarting to consider e-bikes as reliable daily transportation and recreation for the masses. This led people to wonder what separates an electric bike from a regular bike.‹ Go back to the blog
Why people choose to get an electric bike.Once they find out about electric bikes, many people wonder why someone would buy one instead of a regular bike. These doubts resolve around:
- what's the technical difference between the two?
- what are the advantages of an electric bike?
- isn’t the point of riding a bike to get exercise?
- why are they much more expensive than regular bikes?
What are the technical differences between a regular bike and an electric one?So, now we come to the question: How are they different, technically? It’s simple! An electric bike is a regular bike with the addition of an electrical drive system. This consists of a battery, a motor, a way to integrate the motor’s power into the drivetrain, and a way to control that power. In the image above you can spot the 4 components:
- Our mid-drive motor is at the center, below the frame.
- The battery that powers the motor is in the rear rack.
- The drivetrain that integrates the power is in the rear wheel. In this case, it's the NuVinci N360.
- Finally, the throttle, which controls that power, is in the handlebar.
How does it affect the actual riding experienceWe've talked about the technical difference between both worlds. But I'm sure that's not why you came here. You want to know what's the difference for you. There is a clear answer: e-bikes take some of the disadvantages of a regular bike and throw them out the window. A regular bike is a fantastic method of transportation and recreation. People have been riding bikes since the 1800s and they still do today. It gives you freedom and fun Entire cities, like Amsterdam, run on bikes.
Many of Amsterdam's residents commute on bikes. Photo by Sabina Fratila.The problem is when things like hills, fitness levels, health or even the simple inconvenience of arriving to work sweaty gets in the way of enjoying the ride. The electric motor solves that. It shortens the time and distance and flattens out the hills. It makes riding convenient, easy and effortless when otherwise it wouldn't have been. Big hills on your route? You live on a super windy area? No problem! Use that electric boost and swift through the hills. You'll be able to conquer them in no time. Is your destination 20 miles away and you don’t have 2 hours to get there? Use the electric motor to travel at 20 mph without breaking a sweat. This will save you time. Are your knees or hips (or heart or leg muscles) not what they were when you were 20 years old? Again, no problem! As we age, in general, we have less capacity to put out power. Our knees start to ache more, and we feel discouraged. We stop exercising, gain weight and put even more load on those poor knees. An e-bike will get you out of there - it makes it super easy to start exercising again! Are you afraid your recreational ride will end in terror? Maybe in the past, you could ride 20 or more miles with no problems, but now it’s not so easy. We know the feeling. When you have an electric bike, you don’t need to worry about getting halfway through a ride and finding yourself far from home, exhausted. The motor is your friend, and we'll get you home without a pinch. Any bike gives you freedom. Freedom from having to drive everywhere and sit in traffic. Freedom to go where you need, when you need, and not have to worry about the price of gas. Freedom to have fun. An e-bike just adds to this freedom by making biking easier and more fun, or just accessible in the first place. That's the real difference.