Electric Bike History

Electric bikes are undergoing a surge in popularity as commuters and couriers around the world embrace them as a cheaper and greener alternative to cars. In the UK, electric bike sales have approximately doubled in 2017 and are expected to continue their upward trajectory. But electric bikes have been around since the Victorian era - so what’s changed?

What are electric bikes?

You may imagine a scooter or motorbike when you hear the term electric bike, but they actually look almost identical to a regular push bike. The only difference is a few electrical components; a motor, a battery and a controller all integrated into the design of the bicycle. Just like a regular bike, you still need to pedal and steer with the handles. The idea of the electric motor is to assist, not completely replace pedalling. It means that hills and headwind are much more approachable and manageable, meaning you can travel further without getting tired and sweaty – perfect for a morning commute!

Raleigh electric bikes use various motor systems in each of our ranges; front hub, rear hub and mid-drive. You can find out about these systems on our electric bike pages. We also use four types of motors on each of our ranges; Bosch, TransX, Emotion and Yahama. We’ve got more information on these systems too – just head on over to our page on electric bike motor systems.

The Evolution of Electric Bikes


Frenchman Gustav Trouvé is credited with inventing the first electric bike which was actually a tricycle with only a few watts of electricity, so it didn’t give riders much of a boost.

British bike brand Humber released an electric tandem bike.

The US Patent Office issued Ogden Bolton Jr a patent for his electric bike which had a hub motor in the rear wheel but no gears. The bike had a 10 volt battery in the triangle of the frame and produced 100 amps of electricity.

Hosea W. Libbey of Boston was given a patent for his bike’s double electric motor which he placed inside the bottom bracket. It used the same principles as today’s Bosch drive system and Shimano STEPS but was less aesthetically pleasing.

The first belt driven electric bike was designed.

John Schnepf patented a friction-drive e-bike.

Mass production of electric bikes began in the Netherlands, where they continue to be popular today.

Japanese technology brought the next leap in the evolution of e-bikes as the Panasonic e-bike, which used 24V lead-acid car batteries, was invented. The batteries are cheap and easy to recycle but have a short lifetime.

NiCad batteries were used in electric bikes for the first time in the Sanyo Enacle. Although these batteries have a great lifetime, they are expensive and hard to recycle.

The electric bike as we know it today was invented when Swiss Michael Kutter created the Pedelec. Riders no longer needed to use a direct throttle control, instead pedalling caused the motor to kick in and assist the rider

Early 1900s

Electric bike developments largely stalled as cars became the main focus.

Electric bikes were propelled into the modern world with lower weight lithium batteries, quieter and more efficient motors, and more effective torque sensors.

The Sinclair Zike bike was marketed as a lightweight and portable e-bike but was a commercial failure as it was criticised for lacking power and being too unstable.

Early 2000s

Batteries used in electric bikes became lighter and more efficient.

Electric bike production was reported to have grown by 35% in less than 10 years.

A third of all bikes sold in the Netherlands were electric.

Electric bikes were now generating $11 billion as a global industry. Sales were booming in places like Germany, where postal employees were using them. They also grew in popularity among delivery workers in New York and commuters in China and Japan.

Bosch introduced a bike with an integrated computer with a GPS system and touch screen control.

By now motors had become so discreet that a report by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission expressed concern about them being used for mechanical doping in competitive cycling.


We expect e-bikes to become even more lightweight with cleaner designs, more power and further battery improvements.  

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