What Was The First Commercially Available Folding Electric Bike?
The pursuit of the practical, affordable electric bike that can serve as effective transportation for distances too far to walk but too short to reasonably drive has existed for well over a century.
The earliest attempts at an electric bicycle came about as early as 1895, barely a decade after the first modern bike was invented in the form of the Rover Safety Bicycle. The idea was to add a motor to the crankset and drive the chain in a similar way to how someone pedalling would.
For around a century after this, there were small scale attempts to get an electric bike off the ground, including the Philips E-bike in the 1930s, a Panasonic electric bike in the 1970s and the Hercules Electra in 1989.
Early electric bikes had the problem of relying on lead-acid batteries, which are the kind used in cars and are exceptionally heavy. This, along with poor marketing and competition from other two-wheel transportation made electric bikes very difficult to buy.
One of the first bikes that attempted to change this was one of the most unique looking bikes ever made: the Sinclair Zike.
Created by the late Sir Clive Sinclair, the Zike was a lightweight folding bicycle that weighed only 11kg and had tiny wheels that were powered by a 100W electric motor and 24V NiCd battery, which helped reduce the weight and improve its lifespan.
It featured a three-speed throttle, regenerative braking, freewheeling and pedalling and could keep going for up to three hours, which was considered fairly good in a time before lithium-ion batteries.
The Zike was expected to sell 10,000 units a month when it launched in March 1992, but when production was terminated just a year later, only 2000 units were sold.
Reviewers criticised its lack of power and tiny wheels when dealing with potholes in the roads, but it is speculated that one of the biggest reasons for the failure was Sir Clive’s last attempt at an electric car, in the form of the C5 tricycle.
The C5, a project launched in 1985, was one of the most infamous failures in the history of transportation, and he would struggle for almost his entire life to develop a popular electric vehicle until 2015 when the A-Bike Electric was successfully crowdfunded and launched.