The Evolution of the Electric Bike
The Electric Bike is not a new phenomenon. One of the first patents for the electric bicycle was granted to Ogden Bolton Jr, in 1895, which included the hub motor which is widely used in the electric bicycle industry and is one of the best ways to propel an electric bicycle. Two years later, Hosea W Libbey invented the first form of an electric bicycle controller where on a flat road one battery would work but when going uphill the second battery would also operate.
In 1946 Jesse D Tucker was granted a patent for a motor with internal gearing and the ability to freewheel and thus one of the most identifying characteristics of the electric bicycle – the ability to use the pedals in combination or without the combination of the electric motor. The technologies used in today’s electric bikes are generally improvements on designs from fifty years ago or more rather than radically innovative technology from this decade.
Electric bikes have gained popularity worldwide in the last decade with countries such as China, Japan, Germany, Netherlands and the United States seeing an increase in electric bikes bought and used. However, they have struggled to take off here in the United Kingdom where sales in 2013 were 20,000; which is fifteen times fewer than Germany, for example, where sales were 300,000. However, with cycling becoming more popular in London and the rest of the country, might we now see an increase of electric bikes on the road? If so, what is the law in the United Kingdom regarding electric bikes?
For an electric bike to be legally considered as a pedal cycle it must meet the requirements for ‘Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles’. Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles do not require a licence to be ridden, but riders must be over the age of 14 years old; and they do not need to be registered, taxed or insured.
The requirements for Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles are; (a) the bike must have pedals that can be used to propel it, (b) the electric motor should not be able to propel the cycle when it is travelling faster than 15 mph, (c) the bike and its battery cannot be heavier than 40kg, or 60kg if it is a tandem or tricycle, and (d) the electric motor cannot have a maximum power output of more than 200 watts, or 250 watts if it is a tandem or a tricycle.
If the electric bicycle meets the requirements then it is legal and, like a normal pedal bicycle, it can be ridden on cycle paths and anywhere else that a pedal bicycle is allowed. If the bicycle does not meet the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles requirements then it must registered and taxed, a driving licence will be required to ride it and a crash helmet must be worn.
An electric bike can be seen as a suitable replacement for a regular pedal bike, especially for cyclists who have a longer commute or perhaps do not want to arrive at their destination sweaty! The law allows for this switch to be possible with no extra paperwork or equipment needed to ride an electric bike instead. As cycling infrastructure is improved around the country it is likely that we will see more electric bikes whirring on our roads.
 Electric Bicycle Guide: Electric Bicycle History.
 BBC News: Duncan Walker, Electric Bikes: For people who don’t cycle?