Electric bicycles have been called e-bikes, booster bikes and power assisted bicycles in various areas around the world. By integrating a motor to improve pedal power, they are close to the moped for high functionality. Being that they can still be pedaled with or without use of a motor, they are not defined as electric motorcycles. They use rechargeable batteries and can do an average of 25-32 km/h (16-20 mph). The high powered ones can average 45 km/h (28mph). They have zero emissions to our environment and are more energy efficient than modern vehicles and rail transit. In China, they are replacing small motorcycles and mopeds.
The e-bikes are very much like regular bikes. Some have their motors that help only when the rider is on a hill or has a headwind that makes pedaling difficult. These are sensible options for people living in hilly or challenging terrain. Another use is for those who have physical difficulties such as seniors, who still wish to “ride”. “Electric trikes” are an option as well for those with disabilities.
Defining and classifying e-bikes relies on the laws in different countries and their jurisdiction areas. The simplest ways to clarify the two major definition differences are as follows.
1. The “pedal-assist” bike has its motor regulated by pedaling. Its sensor detects the speed, its force or both. It can also sense brake activation.
2. “Power-on-demand” has its motor activated by a throttle instead of pedaling and is usually mounted on the handlebars for easy access.
The e-bikes can be classified further with the following details.
“Power-on-demand” only or “power-on-demand” with pedal assist are two variations. Then there is the “pedal-assist only” that can be categorized legally as bicycles. These can offer decent but not excessive speed. These are often called “pedelecs”. “Pedelec” is an acronym from Pedal Electric Cycle. Lastly, “pedal-assist only” that can obtain higher speeds such as mopeds or motorcycles, legally, is often called “s-pedelecs”.
Starting in the 1890’s several U.S. patents were approved that furthered the beginning of the electric bicycle. In 1895 Ogden Bolton Jr. received the first one. Inventors fine-tuned their motors, axles and batteries. They were the founders of the industry and thus began the improvement of the electric bicycle.
China is the world leader in production and usage of e-bikes. Their popularity is also growing in the U.S., India, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The most growth that is expected is cited to be in North America and Europe.
Canadian laws have federal requirements about e-bikes that were instigated in 2000 as part of their Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR). They categorize e-bikes as Power Assisted bicycles or PAB’s, separately and require no driving license to operate. There are also restrictions in Canada and the United States as to where they can be ridden as far as roads, paths, etc.. These differ from area to area.
Safety has become a monumental issue due to the lack of “motor” bike lanes. Presently riders of e-bikes have a choice of only two ways to travel on the roadways. There are regular car lanes where they share with conventional vehicles and where higher speeds are a big concern. The other one is using regular bicycle lanes that are also a hazard because of the bicyclists going at much slower speeds. The cyclist of both standard and e-bikes don’t always use common safety gear and can easily be seriously injured or killed in a collision. China, being the leading country in e-bike use, has seen increasing traffic accidents when mixing e-bike riders with the standard cyclists.