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Electric Bike History, patents from the 1800’s

1881 Trouvé Tricycle

In 1881, Gustave Trouvé (from France) wanted to conduct experiments with electric drive. He used a British tricycle called a Starley Coventry Lever Tricycle. 

This lever-drive tricycle was produced in 1877-78, but by 1881 the Coventry factory had upgraded the new models to a modern rotary pedal drive. This would have likely made the older lever-drives less expensive on the used bicycle market.

The only known drawing of this historic event was published in the French science magazine  “Physique et chimie populaires” Volume 2, by Alexis Clerc, 1881-1883.

The similar Ayrton & Perry” that is also from 1881 deserves honorable mention, but it does not have pedals.

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The 1881 Trouvé Electric Tricycle. The “M” is for Monsieur

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1892 Graffigny Tricycle

Here is a link sent to me from endless-sphere member “Lock”: the 1892 Graffigny electric tricycle from the archives of “Eureka” the inventors forum:

The 1892 Graffigny tricycle

The 1892 Graffigny tricycle

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1895 Bolton

Here’s a direct-drive rear hub-motor patent from Ogden Bolton in 1895 (Patent No. US552271). The rear hub is a very recognizable permanent-magnet direct-current (PMDC) radial-flux outrunner. It is brushed, rather than brushless, but…for an antique, it looks surprisingly modern. DD hubs remain relevant because they can be powered at very high watt-levels that would break bicycle chains, and they also remain one of the quietest drives, so I suspect they will survive in some form for quite some time.

118 years old (1895-2013)

118 years old (1895-2013), using 10-volts and up to 100-Amps.

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This 118 year-old electric bicycle patent remains relevant today.

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Six poles, 8 turns, six compound magnets, radial-flux, permanent-magnet, brushed outrunner…you can see the 6 pawls in the center for the freewheeling ratchet  mechanism.

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1896 Theryc

No sooner had the idea of the new hubmotors become known, that the next step was needed to find some way to increase the power and efficiency by getting the motor to spin much faster than the wheel. This patent from 1896 (only a year later!) from Charles Theryc, shows a brushed planetary-geared hub-motor! The sun-gear is a 10T, the single planet-gear is a 24T, and the ring-gear is a 56T, for a total RPM reduction of  5.6:1

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The 1896 Theryc geared hub-motor. I don’t know which one of these “finds” were the most exciting for me, but this geared hub-motor is near the top of the list!

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The 5.6:1 ratio is interesting, it is approximately the same ratio that modern geared hubs use, such as the eZee, BMC, and Bafang-BPM.

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Here’s an example of the popular BMC geared hub.

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1896 O’Brien

Here’s an obscure reference to an electric bicycle built in new York by James O’Brien in 1896. The small motor is located just under the seat, and it states a woven silk belt drives the hub of the rear wheel.

The 1896 O'Brien

The 1896 O’Brien

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1897 Libbey

Patent US596272 is quite an exciting find…It’s from inventor Hosea W. Libbey in 1897, and it is a mid-drive! I don’t see any pedals, but they were not required for the patent application. Having the motor separate from the wheel means that the motor is free to spin much faster than the wheel, and sprocket/chain gearing can greatly multiply the power density of the system. This means that a smaller non-hub motor can provide as much power as a larger motor that is located in the wheel, which is then restricted to spinning at the less-efficient lower RPMs of the wheel (only 333-RPMs for a 26-inch wheel at 26-MPH).

Unfortunately, this particular mid-drive only spins at the RPMs of the wheel, however it does move the weight of the motor to the center of the bike. The motor is a permanent-magnet dual-stator axial-flux style, with the rotor being the central section with a stator on either side.

The brushes are “Item R” in the drawing. Brushed DC (of course), and the battery is located in the frame triangle. The drive is two rod-actuated cranks (as opposed to sprocket and chain), 180-degrees apart in phase. The rear wheel appears to be two side-by-side wheels that are closely attached, and they have bow-shaped “leaf springs” that are mounted crosswise, that provide a crude rear suspension, to add to the spring-suspended seat.

The second page features the same bike frame, battery, and motor, but…configured as a friction-drive over the rear wheel. A purist might argue that the lack of pedals on the drawing makes this an “electric scooter”, but it clearly uses two crank-arms, to which pedals could be attached (I suspect he wanted to avoid licensing the existing chain & sprocket patents). Beat me with a stick if you wish, but I will continue to call this an electric bicycle.

The 1897 Libbey mid-drive.

The 1897 Libbey mid-drive.

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1897 Humber

This is not a patent, but an advertisement for the British 1897 Humber electric tandem.

“The Humber Electric Tandem below, with four accumulators and an electric motor, plus pedal power from two riders, was exhibited at the Stanley Show in November 1897.”French Electric Tandem around 1900, ridden by Dacier & Jalabert

This tandem électrique was an invention of the Frenchmen de Clerc and Pingault, and is ridden by the French bicycle racers Dacier and Jalabert. On May 22, 1897 this tandem rode one-kilometer in 57 seconds.

The 1897 Humber.

The 1897 Humber.

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1898 Scott

Here is patent No. US598819, granted to Gordon J. Scott in 1898. If you haven’t seen this one before from similar E-bike patent searches (doesn’t everyone do this in their spare time?), it may be because it was filed as an electric “velocipede”. It is somewhat odd, in that…instead of a battery, the pedals spin a generator (dynamo), and the power from that dynamo drives a small motor. I suppose it might be called a “series drive”?

I know of one recent project where the pedals turned a generator that charged a battery pack (there was no chain connecting the BB to the rear wheel). The rear wheel was powered by a motor, and it was hoped that the pedaling would extend the battery to much farther than a full battery charge would normally provide. That real-world experiment proved that it was a very inefficient design, and the design shown here…would be even worse.

The 1898 Scott E-bike

The 1898 Scott E-bike

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1899 Schnepf

Getting back to patents that actually work: Here’s patent US627066 from John Schnepf in 1899. The page shown here is the direct-drive motor that is concentric with a shaft that powers a roller atop the rear tire to make a “friction drive”. There is a second page in the patent that has a 90-degree geared reduction to allow the motor to spin much faster than the roller (which theoretically would help efficiency), so he was a creative inventor, but…it is the first design that has proven to be something that has continued to pop up the last 113 years because it is so easy for garage-builders to put one together.

A friction drive is the first electric bike system that I ever had. An ES builder called EVTodd designed a drive using the compact and powerful RC motors that had grown larger over the years, and had finally reached a large-enough size in 2010 where they were a viable option for driving an E-bike. This motor in the patent is a simple brushed radial-flux 2-pole / 3-magnet type, and even with the crude and simple materials of the day, it would have been capable of very high RPMs. This isn’t the earliest example of a friction-drive, but this one takes the form that modern friction-drives have proven will work well.

1899 Friction drive from John Schnepf.

1899 Friction drive from John Schnepf.

Here’s a picture of my personal friction-drive. In spite of it’s small size, I pump 36V X 30A = ~1,100W of power through it. I had to switch to a square-profile tread tire from a Beach Cruiser to get enough traction so that it wouldn’t slip at high power or when riding through a wet patch in the road.

A friction drive is probably the easiest E-bike system to make yourself.

A friction drive is probably the easiest E-bike system to make yourself.

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1900 Hansel

I searched a little more, and found an incredibly modern non-hub mid-drive. Patent number US656323, by Aebert Hansel, applied for in 1899 and granted in 1900. It has two stages of reduction, and uses a frame-mounted jackshaft to power the left side of the wheel.

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