With electric bikes taking the world by storm in the past few years, the question becomes, what is the future of electric bikes? Will they continue just to be a fun ride for their owners? Instead, can they be used in other areas of our society and even replace older methods of transport?
- Between 2020-2023 it’s estimated that 130 million e-bikes will be sold worldwide.
- By 2023 the estimated revenue from e-bikes will be US$20 billion
- By 2023 it’s estimated there will be 300 million e-bikes used worldwide
Part of the requirement for electric bikes to take on more responsibility and improve will be if manufacturers can enhance the technology. They can then make electric bikes a more viable, cheaper to produce, and reliable choice.
A German company called Schaeffler has just revealed a significant technological advancement for electric bikes. A new drive system that removes the need for bike chains, belts, and drive-shafts, they’ve called it the Schaeffler Free Drive.
Free Drive is designed for pedal-assisted bikes and not high-powered throttle e-bikes. As the rider pedals, the mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy and transferred to a generator in the rear wheel, which powers the e-bike forward with no need for bike chains, belts, or drive-shafts.
The generator will vary the resistance of the pedals based on how hard you’re pedaling or you manually select. Any excess pedaling power not needed will be stored in your battery.
Why does this matter?
Free, On-The-Go, Battery Charging
First off, most electric bikes do not charge the battery when you pedal. You can recharge your battery without stopping and waiting to get charged up with the Free Drive technology. So if you are far away from your home base and don’t have access to an outlet, you can conveniently charge and keep going further for longer.
Without the need for a drive-shaft, chain, or belt, the design of electric bikes can radically change to fit consumer or business needs. You’re no longer constrained to the conventional bicycle design. Instead, you can easily implement 2, 3, or 4 wheeled electric bikes for whatever your needs are.
Wear and Tear
By removing the mechanical components from electric bikes, such as the chains/belts and multi-stage gear reductions with jackshafts and derailleurs, the wear and tear on e-bikes drops significantly. This simplicity gives your e-bike a longer life and much less maintenance required. Less maintenance means less downtime for your e-bike and less time needed by you to maintain it, giving you more time to do what the e-bike has been designed to do.
There are 2 areas of cost to consider with the Free Drive technology. The first is that fewer components in the e-bike mean less wear and tear, which will significantly reduce the maintenance costs of your e-bike.
The second thing to look at is, with a simpler design, your 3 or 4 wheel e-bikes will be less complex, require fewer parts, and overall should be less expensive to build and for you to buy.
Downsides of Free Drive
The only slight downside of Free Drive technology is that it is around 5% less efficient than standard chain drives. So technically, you need a 5% larger battery or get 5% less distance. However, the Free Drive can recharge your battery from your pedaling power. So the efficiency drop can be easily overcome and shouldn’t be a barrier to implementing Free Drive into electric bikes.
New Opportunities to Explore
The new Free Drive technology will allow bike manufacturers to create unique designs that the previous requirements have restricted. So it’s easy to see we’re going to have a massive range of new designs for commuter e-bikes and city electric bikes popping up.
Does this also open up opportunities for electric bikes?
With or without Free Drive technology, the replacement of cars for city dwellers makes a lot of sense. Compared to a car that costs a lot of money to buy, insure and maintain, electric bikes are much cheaper for day-to-day use, such as commuting to work or running errands around the city.
Your electric bike will also let you speed by all of the cars stuck in traffic, and you won’t need to find and pay for parking.
An electric bike will also be easier to store, whether in your storage room or your work or apartment’s secure bike room. In addition, you won’t need to pay for parking, and if you have a parking space at your apartment, you can rent it out.
If you’re concerned about pollution, then riding around in an electric bike will lower your carbon footprint on the world. No more burning fossil fuels just to get groceries or go to work; you’ll also be saving a ton of money on gas.
As opposed to a conventional bike, your e-bike is going to greatly assist you in getting up those challenging hills or carrying heavy groceries home. You don’t need fantastic fitness or skill to utilize an e-bike. So, older or less fit individuals are not hindered when using an electric bike; it may even improve your fitness.
Cargo Electric Bikes
Free Drive technology has a significant implication on how electric cargo bikes are designed and used currently.
Cargo bikes, especially 3 and 4 wheel designs, are complex and expensive and usually require an extremely long chain, prone to maintenance issues. No matter how many wheels your cargo bike has, these chains limit the overall design of the cargo bike, how big it can be, and how much cargo it can carry.
With no chain or belt requirements, you can design the cargo bike any way you want so that your exact needs are met. You could even have a 4 or more wheel design to replace cargo vans with larger loads or strangely shaped cargo. This type of change greatly enhances what electric bikes can carry.
Looking around your city, you may only see electric bikes used for fast food delivery, which is a great start but more could be replaced by the electric bike when the design is not a hindrance.
Any delivery or movement around a city could use newly designed cargo e-bikes. Many cities are also enhancing their bike lanes for commuters, but cargo e-bikes also benefit.
For any delivery fleet, whether a business or contractors with vehicles, the costs in maintaining electric cargo bikes are much lower than a cargo van, and you can move around the city faster.
It’ll also start becoming crucial as cities tax cars more heavily and create car-free zones.
Mail and Courier Delivery
Due to the ease of use, the massive selection, and a pandemic, more and more people are turning to online shopping for almost everything. However, this means we have more and more cargo vans clogging up cities, spewing fumes into the air, and generally taking up space in an already crowded city.
When you look at the many benefits of electric bikes, it’s easy to see how they could replace mail delivery around cities and towns. They provide faster, greener, and safer delivery while not interfering with your use of the city.
- UPS is trialing electric tricycles that can carry up to 399lbs, with a capacity of 2.7 cubic meters.
- Canada Post has trialed delivery on electric bikes that offered 1 cubic meter of space or around 60 parcels.
What people also found during the pandemic, with lockdowns, store closures, and long lines to buy groceries, is grocery shopping can be difficult, time-consuming, and products may run out. Previously you may have been walking to a local store and just getting what you needed for the week.
Making a small investment is an electric cargo bike when a car is not feasible would mean you can go further for your groceries or shopping and bring back more and heavier items.
However, we now have delivery services like Instacart that will shop for you from various stores and deliver to your door. Furthermore, these delivery services could easily switch to enhanced electric cargo bikes instead of cars and vans. Thus, providing rapid delivery to you, cleaner and safer cities, and of course cost saving to the owner of the vehicle.
Enhancements to Infrastructure
One area that many cities are already reviewing is adding more bike lanes to allow safer travel. Studies have shown the more bike lanes you provide, the higher ridership goes up, the easier it is for novice riders to buy and use their e-bike around the city, and the more businesses that can convert their fleets to e-bikes. From a consumer perspective, people biking around the city generally spend similar amounts at businesses as consumers arriving by car. So city planners will need to continue adding bike lanes and enhancements to contribute to the future growth of electric bikes.
Another area that cities need to consider is charging stations or battery replacement options throughout the city. While free drive technology will allow you to recharge your battery, if you are heavily relying on the motor and not pedaling enough, you may need to charge your e-bike while away from home. Cargo riders may also need to recharge or switch batteries throughout their shift due to heavy use and many stops and starts as you make deliveries. Finally, the ability to safely dock and charge your e-bike will be needed as more and more people convert to electric bikes.
Electric bikes are here to stay. Improvements will continue to be made, with manufacturers implementing new technology, enhanced designs, and cities explicitly building infrastructure for electric bikes.
People want convenience, cost-saving, and of course, to be environmentally friendly. Electric bikes cover all of these, whether you’re looking for a personal vehicle or are a business looking to convert your fleet to electric cargo bikes.