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How Does An Electric Bicycle Work?

Electric bicycles are a popular mode of transport for many nowadays. The reason is that they are quick, nimble and convenient.

They offer a better riding experience compared to regular bicycles as you can pedal if you want or not.

Regular bicycles offer health benefits as they offer exercise, and guess what an electric bicycle does this too, you can use electric bicycles as regular bicycles if you want to exercise. 

Electric bicycles offer the best of travel convenience too and are good for the environment doing so compared to a gasoline bike or car because they run on electricity and are zero-emission vehicles.

But why is this so, and how does an electric bicycle work offering all these benefits and this is the question I will answer.

When you are done with this article you will know how an electric bicycle works. 

How Does An Electric Bicycle Work?

Like most devices or machines, multiple components come together in making an electric bicycle function.

The following components are integral to an electric bicycle and differ compared to a regular bicycle. I will explain how each component contributes to the working of an electric bicycle.

The components are:

  • Motor
  • Battery
  • Frame & Spokes
  • Brakes
  • Handlebar

Let’s go over each component and how they function as a unit to make the electric bicycle work.

Motor 

Motors are vital for an electric bicycle to run. They are responsible for converting al the electrical energy from the batteries to mechanical energy that moves the bicycle forward.

Motors come in a variety of power ratings, right from 200W to more than 1000W. The power rating directly corresponds to how easily the bicycle can pull more weight.

While higher-rated motors mean better performance, it also means higher battery consumption which is a downside. So, a 1000W motor will be more powerful than a 500W motor, but it will also drain the battery quicker.  

One more important factor about motors is the type and placement of the motor itself.

There are two types of motors found in electric bicycles, they are 

  • HUB motors: This is the more common type which is placed at the front or back wheel. It is popular cause it works well and simple in its underlying technology. It runs the wheel when power is provided to it, the higher the power, the faster it runs.
    The one disadvantage is that it doesn’t have a gear system which makes it lose efficiency on varied terrain like that of a hill. These are also great for people who want to pedal less. And since the battery is the one producing most of the energy to run, the range on these bicycles are considerably less.  
  • Mid-Drive Motor: These as the name suggests are placed in the middle of the bicycle, right at the pedal sprocket. This gives variety in terms of gears and can adjust depending on the terrain, making it more efficient. The one disadvantage is that it can be prone to more maintenance as more moving parts means more maintenance.
    These motors also rely on you pedaling a lot more compared to hub motors. They will help I making the pedaling job easier as the motor will assist you. This type is easier to pedal compared to hub motors and offers longer range but you will have to physically put in more effort over short ranges. 

Battery

The battery is the heart of an electric bicycle as it is the one providing energy for the bicycle to run. If you are someone who doesn’t want to pedal, the battery is the one powering your bicycle.

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Any battery can power an electric bicycle but it’s not practically possible. The best battery would be something that can hold a lot of charge while weighing and taking less space. This is because it will be more efficient, the heavier your electric bicycle is the lower its range will be.

There are two types of batteries used in bicycles:  

  • Lead-Acid Batteries: Lead-Acid batteries are cheap but they are not the most efficient as they are heavy. These are also found in cars aiding them to start and power the lights and audio system. They offer a relatively shorter range for electric bicycles.
    They also have lower charge cycles meaning they will lose charge holding capacity sooner at just 100-300 charge cycles. Lead-Acid batteries are an inferior battery technology compared to their competitors, Lithium-ion batteries. 
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries: One of the most popular battery technologies in the world right now. Found in almost all laptops, mobile, MP3 players and now in electric cars and electric bicycles too. The reason for their popularity is the advantages. They are lightweight and high density, therefore more efficient.
    They offer a considerably longer range compared to Lead-Acid batteries. And the battery life is also high, allowing up to 500-800 charge cycles. The only disadvantage is that lithium-ion batteries are expensive, but like all things, the better a product the more it costs. Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient making it better for the environment.  

Frame and Spokes

The frames of an electric bicycle are different compared to regular bicycles. The frame needs to be lightweight, mostly made from aluminum alloy.

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The reason, the lighter the frame, the lighter the bicycle is. And the lighter the bicycle is, the higher the range. The higher the range means longer traveling distances and less frequent charging.

Along with the frame, the spoke on the wheels has to be stronger because the motor applies a lot of torque on the wheels and weak spokes and bend at such forces.  

Brakes 

Electric bicycles can function on a normal brake just fine, but a special kind of braking can make it better. This special braking technique is called regenerative braking.

What it does is, when an electric bicycle is slowing down or going down a hill, the motor runs in reverse which now charges the battery. While this sounds like an excellent idea to conserve energy and improve range and efficiency, it is not so useful in electric bicycles compared to electric cars or trains.

The lower mass and velocity are the reason but it does help electric bicycles just not as good as that of an electric car or train. 

Handlebar 

The handlebar is where you directly interact with an electric bicycle. Handlebar houses the controller also which manages the speed, pedal support and other functions of the electric bicycle. 

Speed controllers work with a throttle mechanism. Two types are used on electric bicycles, either a twist or a thumb press type. The throttle controller determines the power that needs to be used based on the twist or pressure of the press. Throttle based controllers are 

Pedal support controllers offer electric assistance when you press down on the pedals. You can control the level of assistance by changing it on the controller on the handlebar. The assistance is only offered when you start pedaling to save energy. 

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Other functions like turning on lights, horn, and monitoring data are also done on the handlebar. Therefore, the handlebar is an important component for electric bicycles.  

How Does All This Come Together To Work As One? 

As soon as you start your electric bicycle, the throttle sensor is ready for input. As you increase the twist or pressure on the button, the controller tells the battery to provide power to the motor to run. The amount of power given to the motor depends on the intensity of your twist/press. The motor in turn turns the wheel, making the bicycle move. 

It is different if you are using a pedal-assist mode, as the motor helps in assisting you rather than running the bicycle all on its own. You can control the assist you need from the controller in the handlebar. This mode offers a longer range. 

The charge in the battery reduces as you travel. If your electric bicycle has regenerative braking then the battery gets charged, whenever you slowdown increases range. Once all the battery is depleted you won’t be able to run the bicycle needing you to recharge the battery. The better the battery the longer the range and more charge cycles you will get increasing the lifetime of your electric bicycle.  

Conclusion 

An electric bicycle works similar to a regular bicycle. Instead of using your energy to run, it uses the energy stored in its battery.

It also gives you the option to use both your energy and the energy stored in its battery to extended range and reduce your workload.

This makes electric bicycles versatile, efficient and convenient. You can travel more comfortably, get some exercise done and at the same time do your part in helping the environment.  

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