Four Key Parts To An Electric Bike

Update:12 Feb 2019

There are four key parts to an electric bike: the batte […]

There are four key parts to an electric bike: the batteries, the motor, the sturdy frame and spokes, and the brakes.


The batteries are the most important parts of the bike, because (if you don't do any pedaling) they contain all the power that will drive you along. Typical electric bike batteries make about 350–500 W of power (that's about 35–50 volts and 10 amps), which is about a quarter as much as you need to drive an electric toaster. In theory, you could use any kind of battery on a bicycle. In practice, however, you want to use something that stores lots of power without being too heavy—or you'll be using half your power just moving the battery along! That tends to rule out heavy lead-acid batteries like the ones that start cars, though some electric bikes do use them. Lightweight lithium-ion batteries, similar to those used in laptop computers, mobile (cellular) phones, and MP3 players, are now the most popular choice, though they're more expensive than older rechargeable battery technologies such as nickel-cadmium ("nicad"). Typical batteries will give your bicycle a range of 10–40 miles between charges (depending on the terrain) and a top speed of 10–20 mph (which is about the maximum most countries allow for these vehicles by law). You can extend the range by pedaling or free-wheeling some of the time.


Most electric bikes work a different way. They have compact electric motors built into the hub of the back or front wheel (or mounted in the center of the bike and connected to the pedal sprocket). Take a look at the hub of an electric bike and probably you'll see it's much fatter and bulkier than on a normal bike.


The frame of an electric bike also has to be slightly different. The main part of the frame (the bit that supports your weight) is usually made from lightweight aluminum alloy: the lighter the frame, the lighter the weight of the bike overall, and the further it can travel before you need to recharge the batteries. The spokes on the wheel also have to be stronger than the thin spokes on a traditional bicycle. That's because the electric motor in the hub spins the wheel with a lot of turning force (known as torque) and, if the spokes were ordinary lightweight ones, they could bend or buckle.


Some electric bikes claim to use a neat trick called regenerative braking. If you start pedaling the bicycle or going downhill, the spinning wheels turn the electric motor in the hub in reverse and start charging up the batteries. In practice, regenerative braking is nowhere near as useful on an electric bicycle as it is on an electric train or car. An electric bike has much less mass and velocity than either a train or car, so it never gains (or loses) anything like as much kinetic energy when it starts and stops. You'd have to go down an awful lot of hills to charge up the batteries completely and that's usually not practical.