How Does An Electric Bike Work?

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We’ve all heard the term “It’s like riding a bike”, meaning that an act or process is so simple and easy to remember, that you’ll never forget how it’s done, no matter how infrequently you attempt it.

This is because, conceptually, bikes are incredibly rudimentary: you sit down, you pump your legs, which moves a chain that transfers the kinetic energy to the back wheel, and you move forward… that’s pretty much it.

However, now that we’ve given bikes the electric makeover, they’re not such basic contraptions, and not many of us really understand the forces at play. Even those of us that often use electric bikes are a little blind to the process happening beneath us each time we head out for a spin.

So, to help us better understand our favorite mode of transport, let’s slow things down, dismount, and take a closer look at the workings of these amazing works of technological prowess.

Are There Any Major Differences Between A Push Bike And An E-Bike?

Okay, so first of all, the core form of an electric bike is exactly the same as a standard bike. It has your handlebars, your chain, your wheels, your brakes, and so on — nothing has been taken away or replaced.

An electric bike is the product of augmentations. In other words, certain things have been added to the traditional structure of the bike to give it new functionalities. The additional components are a battery, a motor, and a controller.

Types of E-Bike And How They Work

There are two different types of e-bike, each with a slightly different way of doing things. These are throttle assist electric bikes, and pedal assist electric bikes.

Throttle Assist

On a throttle assist electric bike, you’ll have some form of control on your handlebars that opens a throttle and fires up the motor. Sometimes this control is a button, and sometimes it’s activated by twisting one of the grips.

Once you’ve used the throttle control to get the motor up and running, you can stop pedaling altogether, chill, and enjoy a leisurely ride through the landscape — nice!

Pedal Assist

A pedal assist bike makes riding a lot easier, but you always have to pedal manually to kick the motor into action. If you don’t pedal, the motor will remain dormant, and, well… you won’t be going anywhere.

This kind of electronic bike usually comes with tiers of assistance, starting with what’s often called “eco” assistance, all the way through to a 3rd or 4th powerful tier that takes almost all the effort out of pedaling. However, the higher the tier, the quicker the battery will run dry.

Much like a throttle assist e-bike, you can control the tiers from a control unit on the handlebars.

Electric Bike Batteries

Batteries on e-bikes come in all different types, shapes, and sizes. They can be lithium, lead, or nickel-based, but due to their durability, feather weight, and longevity, lithium is the most popular type in e-bikes today.

There are also three mounting types for these batteries, the most simple of which is an external bay on top of the downtube that the battery pack slides into before being locked in place by some form of holding mechanism.

Some bikes have what are known as semi-integrated batteries, meaning the battery is partly concealed within the bike frame, while others will have fully integrated batteries, meaning they’re entirely built into the frame of the bike.

As you might expect, semi-integrated and fully integrated batteries are trickier to remove for recharging, but they offer more of a sleek look and provide more protection for the battery, something that’s pretty vital if you plan on riding over some rough terrain.

How Do Batteries In Electronic Bikes Power The Motor?

When we ride a traditional bike, our pedaling provides kinetic energy that filters through the bike mechanisms until it reaches the bike wheel, but kinetic is just one form of energy.

How Do Batteries In Electronic Bikes Power The Motor?

Batteries are used to harness electrical energy. When activated, they release their energy to the motor, which bursts into action, and starts pedaling the bike for us. This is the simple, abridged version of what’s happening.

What’s Really Going On

A more “sciency” way of explaining things is that the negative electrons within the battery are guided through the positive terminal, where they meet a wire that transports them into one end of the motor.

The motor contains armatures, which are essentially magnetic components used to complete a circuit with the battery.

Where these armatures meet the circuit wiring, they’re paired with something known as a commutator, which, combined with a pair of brushes (not the sweeping kind), is capable of switching the polarity of the magnetic armatures by alternating the flow of the current through the circuit.

On either side of the armatures is a magnet, one with a north pole facing inwards and one with a south pole facing inwards, creating an electromagnetic field.

This field, combined with the constantly shifting polarity of the armatures causes the armatures and commutator to spin, creating a force known as torque.

It’s torque that spins the axle, a metal rod poking out the other end of the motor. The spinning force of the axle is then transferred through a mechanism to the chain of the e-bike, which, in turn, drives the rear wheel.

But not all motors are mounted in the middle of the bike next to the battery. Some, known as cab-drive motors, are mounted on the rear wheel itself. The power process is the same, but with this kind of motor, the battery circuit will be longer.

Final Thoughts

Without a degree in electronic engineering, it can be kind of difficult to wrap your head around how exactly a battery powers a motor, which, in turn, can power the rear wheel of your bike, but hopefully, now you have a rudimentary understanding of how a typical e-bike works.

With the mystery of this contraption well and truly busted, you can get back to doing what you love, taking in some nature as your power-assisted bike drives you through the landscape!