Power-Assisted Bicycles (PABs)
Extended Range: a Schwinn Tailwind equipped with hub motor for electric assist (Photo: richardmasoner on flickr)
Electrically- or power assisted bicycles (PABs) represent the biggest growth area for the bike industry to sell new bikes and get more people cycling.
The term pedelec, an abbreviation for 'pedal-electric cycle', was first coined in a research paper by Susanne Brüsch in 1999 and is more commonly used in Europe compared to the term ebike short for 'electric bike' in North America. In fact, in many jurisdictions worldwide, pedelecs and e-bikes actually have different meanings implying legally distinct sets of technical specifications.
Pedelecs are bicycles and human powered vehicles equipped with an electric motor providing power-assist while still requiring the rider to pedal to move forward. The word e-bike applies to bikes equipped with full drive electric motors that do not require the rider to pedal or are rated for a higher top speed than allowed by local law for pedelecs and can resemble a traditional bike, scooter or even motorcycle.
According to European Union (EU) law, a power assisted bicycle that provides rider assistance only up to 25 km/h and with power limited to 250 W, is a pedelec and is legislated as a bicycle, requiring no registration, licensing, insurance or helmet. The power limit of 250 W is comparable to the maximum human power by a trained rider.  In Canada, pedelecs are limited to electric motoros of 500 W output and a top speed of 32 km/h. Unfortunately, while the federal government has defined legislation covered pedelecs, their legality differs from province to province, a similar situation in the U.S. from state to state.
In a relatively short period of time, pedelecs have become very popular in China, the leading bicycle manufacturing nation along with Taiwan, and where most pedelec components are also built. Both pedelecs and e-bikes are becoming more commonplace as manufacturing costs and retail prices come down and more suppliers and vendors enter the market.
'Pedal assist' is the phrase increasingly used by vendors in North America for power assisted bicycles.
Motor & Battery Types
Rear Wheel Drive: an eletric hub motor mounted for use with derailleur shifting (Photo: richardmasoner on flickr)
The main choices of electric motors for pedelecs are friction vs direct drive and external vs hub motors, with a rear-mounted hub motor the most common pedelec configuration.
The higher the voltage, the more powerful the motor. 24 V and 36 V motors are most common with 72 V becoming increasingly available. This also applies to the motor's wattage, with 250 W being the most common power rating and anywhere from between 180 W and 500 W on offer. Pedelec hub motor manufacturers have introduced electric motors with integrated internal hub gearing (initially with 3-speeds) for use on city bikes. Pedelec motors for use on mountain- and trekking bikes are compatible with derailleur shifting.
A given model of motor can generally be integrated with many different types of bikes, whether front or rear mounted. Some early commercial pedelec systems designed were based on bike trailer used for touring with the motor mounted in the wheel and the batteries carried on the trailer. These systems were marketed as electric push trailers with a removable power source but never gained in popularity and really only remain an option for DIYers.
Lithium ion (LiIon) polymer is the state of the art in current battery technology with its price continuing to drop. Longer in the market, nickel cadmium (NiCd) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) cells still remain an option but are being phased out.
Great Canadian: an Ohm pedelec bike powered by BionX (Photo: the manufacturer)
Power Mom: the 3-person Amazon is a power-assisted moederfiets [mother bike]
(Photo: the manufacturer)
This section is under development.
A Panasonic folding pedelec bike (Photo: the manufacturer)
See the folding bikes page for more information on folders.
A Giant Revive comfort pedelec bike (Photo: the manufacturer)
This section is under development.
An HP Velotechnik Spirit recumbent pedelec bike (Photo: the manufacturer)
See the recumbents page for more information on non-power-assisted bent bikes and trikes.
After-Market Conversion Kits
You don't need to buy a new bike to get access to electric-assist. An increasing number of companies are offering retro-fit kits for all types of bicycles. Kits can be installed on most bicycles by replacing the rear wheel with the motor-wheel.
There are several components common to all pedelecs OEM and after-market conversion kits, namely; the battery, a lockable battery holder (usually in the form of a custom luggage rack or in place of a water bottle cage), the motor, the grip controller, a dashboard or display (with a power switch and a battery life indicator) and the external battery charging unit (which plugs into a standard power socket).
One of the earliest and most popular (but also more expensive) aftermarket kits is the Canadian designed and manufactured BionX system.
BionX Kit after market pedelec kit (Photo: the manufacturer)
The BionX system and other kits can be mounted to almost any type of cycle including traditional bicycles, recumbents as well as velomobiles. Other manufacturers providing quality product in North America include Currie Electro-Drive, Bosch, Scott, ZAP, Bikit, HCF, Thinkar, Sanyo and Crystalyte.
There are an increasing number of electric motor manufacturers from Asia offering affordably priced units for sale online via auction sites. While the low purchase price may be tempting, often there are issues with warranty coverage affecting replacement parts and service.
Established European manufacturers of electric motors for bicycles and human powered vehicles include Heinzmann in Germany and Schachner in Austria among others.
Electric Bicycles (E-Bikes)
Scooter Style Ebike: the Daymak Milan resembles a fossil fuel-powered scooter (Photo: the manufacturer)
Electric Bicycles or E-Bikes (also written ebikes), differ technically and legally from pedelecs in that the electric motor can be utilized without the need to pedal. In addition, the top-speed of an e-bike is not limited as it is with pedelecs, making such vehicles correctly subject to registration, insurance and mandatory helmet use.
Some ebike models strongly resemble gas- and electric powered scooters and have become popular in several cities in North America.
Green Energy: pedelec and ebike batteries are re-charged using renewable energy (Photo: solarthermienator on flickr)
It is not necessary to completely drain a Li-ion battery before recharging it as NiMH and Li-ion batteries have no memory. The battery can be recharged at any time without damage, as a result your battery can always be at full capacity for your next ride.
Since a pedelec's battery can usually be quickly unlocked and removed from the bike, most riders will charge the battery at home overnight or during the day in the office. Another place to leave the bike to charge is at a bike station equipped with charing facilities.
See the bike parking & charging section on the bike station page for more information.
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