7 Vintage Electric Bikes That You Should Know About

7 Vintage Electric Bikes That You Should Know About

If you think of the iconic changes that the standard bicycle has been through since its first invention, there’s probably not many obvious ones.

The electric bike would have to be the biggest exception though, and these special machines now take up a huge share of the market, even though they were relatively unknown 20 years ago.

When people think of the electric bike, they probably bring to mind the image of the modern machine that’s been taking over their roads and footpaths in the last decade.

However, what most people don’t realize is that these amazing e-machines were invented long before the 21st century, even if we haven’t spotted them out and about much before now.

When was the first e-bike created and what were some of the first models?

The first rendition of the electric bike was created in the 1880s and there were various global patents to prove it. Since the first prototype of 1881 where a rotary pedal drive was used, other variations including the double electric motorbike and the rear-wheel drive bike were also invented.

To understand where the modern e-bike comes from and where it’s potentially headed to in the future, we’re here to take a look back at where it all started.

With a fun history lesson on the beginning of the electric bike and the various changes it went through over the years, you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for these unique machines and what they’re capable of.

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the vintage electric bikes, we got you covered:

Vintage Ebikes

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The History Behind the Electric Bike

Gustave Trouve E Tricycle

Although people assume electric bikes are a relatively new invention, they have around 130 years of history behind them.

The first recorded instance of an electric bike came from France in 1881, where a man named Gustave Trouve used a British tricycle and an electric drive to create his invention.

The electric-powered bike used a lever-drive to get its power and it was mass-produced for a short time from 1877 to 1878, before being replaced by cheaper and more effective models.

In the US, the first patent for an electric bike belonged to Ogden Bolton Jr. not long after, who created a battery-powered bicycle that used a hub motor mounted onto the rear.

The motor was capable of drawing 100 amperes from the battery, however, there were no gears that allowed for a variation in power and it added a lot of weight to the bike.

From there, the electric bike underwent many changes, and each time became more affordable and easier to own for the regular person.

Although these bikes look nothing like the styles we know today, they wouldn’t exist without them, so seeing where they came from helps to put things into perspective.

7 Vintage Electric Bikes Worth Knowing

The history of e-bikes is a lot longer than people realize, but these bikes of yesteryear looked quite different from the models we know today.

To get an idea of how far this machine has come, we’ve explored the most famous models that were upgraded and evolved over the years to become the modern machines of the 2000s.

#1: Bolton (1895)

O Bolton E Bike Prototype

As one of the very first e-bike prototypes, the Bolton is surprisingly modern in its features.

This bike uses a direct-drive rear hub motor with brushed operation, and it can be powered at a very high level while remaining whisper-quiet, which is a far cry from many e-bikes of today.

Although they’re not used today in this particular style the initial design and ideas about DD motors have been a huge influence on modern bikes.

#2: Humber (1897)

Tandem E Bike

The first tandem electric bike was created by two Frenchmen and showcased at the Standley Show in 1897. 

This e-bike was capable of holding two riders and using their pedal power and an electric motor to move, riding one kilometer in less than a minute.

Although tandem e-bikes aren’t huge sellers today, it is interesting to note that it was invented long before the standard electric bike became a mainstream product.

#3: McDonald (1938)

T. M. Mcdonald E Bike

Although this patent from T.M McDonald wasn’t famous at the time, it’s the earliest example of a front wheel hub motor.

McDonald also created a bike that had a central and low battery which solved the common weight distribution problems that others were having during this time and still do today.

Finally, this 1938 model used an induction motor which was more powerful and capable of speeds higher than most.

#4: Stefanos (1946)

Stefanos 1946

This patent was created by Argyris Stefanos and it was for an electric bike with a central mounted cylindrical motor.

The motor rides at 90 degrees reduction and then runs into the drive chain of the bike, so even when the power is off you’re still able to ride the bike.

Although this was never made into a bike and remained a patent, the idea is used today in many bikes.

#5: Restelli

Amedeo A Restelli E Bike

Amedeo A Restelli created this patent in 1982 for a bike with a front hub motor.

Although it doesn’t look that unique, the key difference was that it used a clutch which gave it a 2-speed transmission, unlike anything that had been done before.

Having the ability to switch gears is something that most modern e-bikes have, and we can thank the ideas from this patent for the privilege.

#6: Hercules (1989)

Hercules E Bike

Hercules was a German brand known for creating kits and bicycles that used gasoline engines to power up, but the Hercules made in 1989 was the first time they’d used an electric motor.

This is one of the earliest e-bikes to make it into the mainstream market and still remembered today as a trailblazer.

#7: Kutter (1990)

1990 E Bikes

If you drive a pedal-assist bike or pedelec, you can thank Michael Kutter for that.

Invented in 1990, this bike is often thought to be the first of it kind that uses the pedal-assist system.

This bike featured no throttle but instead relied on the power of the person pedaling to give it more oomph, and they were mass-produced in 1992 as the Dolphin without much success.

However, most e-bikes made today rely on the PAS so they wouldn’t be here today without this important prototype.

Related Questions

Electric bikes are more popular than ever, and if you’ve been thinking about upgrading yours or becoming the proud new owner of one, you probably have some questions.

We’ve answered some common FAQs about these bikes and their capabilities to give you a better understanding, so check them out for a little more background knowledge.

What is the Point of an Electric Bike?

Compared to riding a regular bike, an e-bike uses less physical exertion, as it makes pedaling easier or replaces it altogether with the use of a motor.

An electric bike is capable of traveling speeds up to 30 miles in some cases, and they’re an energy-efficient way to get where you need to be.

How Does an E-Bike Motor Work?

The e-bikes of today use a quiet and small motor located in one of two places; either the wheel hub or the crank.

These motors switch on automatically when you pedal or can be operated with a throttle, and they reduce the amount of effort you have to put in when riding your bike.

How Long Does an E-Bike Motor Last?

All e-bikes are different and the quality of their motor and how long it lasts will depend entirely on the bike itself.

Cheaper models of electric bikes were only designed to last one to two years whereas those on the expensive end of the spectrum can last for around 10,000 miles before needing to be replaced.

The Future of the Electric Bike

When the electric bike was first invented, nobody knew just how much of the bike market it would encompass in the 21st century.

Today, electric bikes are hugely successful and are expected to grow further from a $17.12 billion market to a $27.26 billion market within five years.

The e-bike of the future will be more energy-efficient, powerful, and lightweight, solving many of the problems that riders have with them today.

The physical aspects that separate these machines from standard bikes will become less obvious and they’ll blend in more with your regular road bike or MTB.

The electric bike will continue to grow in popularity as people look for ways to replace their emission causing vehicles or lifestyle choices with something greener and more energy-efficient.

The e-bike will hopefully become more affordable as advancements in technology and bulk production reduce the costs, so you’ll see more people riding them, all thanks to the very first inventors of these amazing machines.

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