Have you been seeing more e-bikes in recent years? This piece of equipment looks like a bike, but it is faster and has a stockier frame. The rider doesn’t have to work as hard to pedal on inclines and is able to keep up with traffic. E-bikes or electronic bikes are just like a regular bicycle, but it is powered by a motor. So, when did e-bikes make their debut and how have they evolved since then?

Not-So-Humble Beginnings

Inventors began working with the idea of motorized bicycles in the 1880s and 1890s in France and the United States. One of the early models in France had three wheels, no pedals, and was controlled by a hand-held lever system. Meanwhile in the United States, Ogden Bolton Jr. was awarded one of the first patents for his motorized bicycle in 1895. The motor was mounted inside the rear wheel while the battery was housed inside the triangular frame. Hosea Libby invented his creation in 1897 that featured a double electric motor. The development of combustion engines combined with the popularity and availability of automobiles unfortunately caused several of these inventions to be left on the drawing room floor, but these early designs provided the prototypes for many of the current e-bikes on the market today.

The 20th Century

The electric bike started to catch on in Europe in the early 1900s as production increased. A notable example is the 1932 Phillips Simplex Electric Bike. Several years passed before further developments took place, but the idea of the motorized bike continued to prove its feasibility. In 1975, Japanese manufacturers joined the quest and Panasonic offered its first e-bike. In 1989, Sanyo offered its version, the Enacle. While these new companies furthered the creation of the e-bike, there were still problems, such as the use of the heavy NiCad and lead-acid batteries.

The year 1989 was very important for e-bike development. Michael Kutter developed a “pedelec” system or a Pedal Electric Cycle. Also called pedal-assist, the motor on these bikes is triggered by the operation of the pedals. That allowed the Velocity Company to release the Dolphin Electric Bike for sale to the public in 1992. Manufacturers then had the option to offer pedal-assisted bikes or throttle-style assisted bikes and even bikes that offer both methods. Companies also replaced the old-fashioned, heavy batteries in favor of lithium-ion batteries that weighed less and lasted longer.

Sensor styles and power controls continued to be developed into the late 1990s, but even with the newer technologies, regular bikes still controlled the market while fewer e-bikes were available to consumers. Production of e-bikes finally took off at the end of the 20th Century and terms like “e-bike” and “power-assisted bike” became more commonplace by the year 2001.

The Future

Motorized engines are making it easier for a wider range of people to use bikes worldwide. Long commutes can now be accomplished by riding an e-bike. E-bikes also provide a source of green transportation for our planet. Companies like Black Rock Bikes USA offer new models and accessories and can offer guidance about the different features of newer e-bikes.

There are currently over one billion bikes in the world. By the year 2023, it’s estimated that about 40 million of them will be electric bikes. E-bikes have evolved to suit the needs of a 21st Century world and are here to stay.