How Does an Electric Bicycle Work?

What Exactly is an Electric Bicycle?

Although it sounds pretty straightforward, some readers may not be sure what exactly an electric bicycle is. Fortunately, an electric bicycle is about as simple as it sounds. It is a standard bicycle in every way except that it also has a battery, a battery-powered (electric) engine and a controller system that activates and regulates the electric-assistance delivered to the standard bicycle from the electric engine.

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The key defining feature that sets an electric bicycle apart from all other similar vehicles is this “electric-assistance”. The engine does not drive the bicycle gears on its own, but only assists gears that are already turning under normal pedal-power. This classification makes electric bicycles a unique vehicle on the road that uses an engine, yet does not require special licensing or insurance, which is why they are such a popular means of transportation.

Ok, Now How Does it Work?

The process begins when you first start to pedal, and the wheels of your bike turn as they are cranked by the gears. Part of the controller-system is composed of a pair of magnetic sensors, one in the spindle of a wheel and the other in the frame. These sensors read the rate of wheel revolutions whenever they cross paths, and then feed this information back into the controller system. The controller system then automatically activates the engine and sets an output that is directly related to the rate at which the wheels are already turning, which then augments your existing pedal-power by also turning the gears with power from the engine.

This is the standard and basic set-up required of any electric bicycle for it to work. However, within these basic requirements are a number of additional options and variations that can alter the performance of an electric bicycle.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

The biggest variation in design comes from the different methods of reading the bike’s existing movement and regulating the corresponding power output.

  • Bracket-based assistance: this is the standard control system described above. Sensors in the wheel and frame feed information to the engine, which then sets the appropriate assistance level.
  • Pressure-based assistance: this system reads activity from the pedal itself. The harder the rider is pushing down on the pedal, the more assistance is delivered.
  • Chain-based assistance: this is the most responsive system as it starts to work as soon as the chain is tensed, and delivers power according to the degree of tension in the chain.

The other main area for variation is in the additional features that are powered by the battery.

  • Electric brakes: this is an optional feature where the engine also has the ability to slow or stop the gear mechanism based on a control attached to the handlebars.
  • Lights: everything from hazard lights to headlights can be powered by the bike’s battery.

And some bikes come with advanced control systems.

  • On/Off switch: some bike’s have the additional option of only turning the entire electric mechanism on when desired.
  • Speed regulator: an extension of the on/off switch, these advanced versions allow the user to select exactly how much assistance they want from the engine at any time.

Cheap, Simple and Easy to Use

The great appeal of electric bicycles is evident from this look at just how simple they really are. They provide a steady boost in power using a system that rarely breaks down, is cheap and easy to fix, and provides decent speed.

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