With over 1 billion bicycles worldwide and 300 million to be out on the roads by 2023 (50% more than today), it is remarkable to see how far e-bikes have come and how much farther they can take us.
First documented in France and the United States in the 1880s and 1890s, respectively, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that e-bikes began to experience the first instances of mass production.
As time went on, the late 1990s saw the introduction of a wide variety of new technologies, including several distinct types of sensors and controls for the electric bicycle power supply.
Nevertheless, the manufacture of electric bicycles started to truly take off in the years leading up to the turn of the 21st century, gaining increased momentum in a market that has previously been dominated by the production and usage of conventional bicycles (with the absence of battery pack).
Moving forward, by 2001, the terms e-bike, pedelec, power bike, power-assisted bicycle, and pedal-assisted became prevalent to refer to electric bicycles.
However, one question still disturbs the customers, “Can electric bikes charge when you pedal?” The answer is yes and no.
How Do Electric Bikes Normally Charge?
To charge an electric bike in the USA, just insert one end of the enclosed charger into a wall outlet and the other end into the port on the bike itself.
Normally, it takes a completely discharged battery to regain its full charge between 4-6 hours; however, it is common for the last hour to add a few finishing touches.
It is possible to charge the battery either while the bike is being ridden or away from it, and since all of the battery types are simple to remove, you may also charge it indoors.
It is not necessary for the lithium-ion battery of an electric bike to be completely depleted for it to be recharged. Because it does not include any memory, most of them may be charged anytime you wish.
Regenerative braking is a mechanism found on most hybrid and full-electric vehicles that captures the kinetic energy and converts it into electrical power to charge the high voltage battery.
In layman’s terms, regenerative braking is capturing energy that would normally be wasted while braking and then recharging the vehicle’s battery.
Power Regeneration Through Pedaling – Why it’s NOT Worth it
With a constant surge in the popularity of individuals riding an e-bike, riders are increasingly thinking more autonomously about managing battery capacity and range.
Certainly, that thought leads to power regeneration, leaving riders wondering whether their electric bikes charge while pedaling.
For instance, if an electric bike can assist in riding up a high hill, it should be able to recuperate part of that energy when used to power down the gradient.
Some even wonder, why don’t disc brakes convert the heat and friction energy to produce something that can maintain the battery’s capacity.
There is a feature in some electric bikes known as regenerative braking. This basically converts the heat energy of the brakes into electrical energy that the bike can then use to charge the battery.
However, this only works while braking and not while pedaling. So is there a mechanism by which electric bikes can charge their batteries while the rider pedals?
Retaining the Feel of a Bicycle
It’s easy to see why an e-bike cannot be refueled by pedaling: it’s a false economy.
Your pedaling effort is converted into forwarding momentum by the design of electric bikes, just as it would be on a bicycle that does not have a motor.
The motor provides additional help depending on the amount of effort you put in and the degree of assistance you choose.
To begin, it would be a considerably less efficient use of your time to try to convert the kinetic energy created by your legs into battery power so that it might be used to move the bike forward later on.
Secondly, to harness the power output for charging, you would need to disconnect it from the forward propulsion of the bike.
This would significantly change the sensation of riding the bike because your power output would no longer be connected to the bike’s movement.
The concept of gradient-assisted regeneration is where things become a little more complicated, making riders wonder why an electric bike cannot regenerate energy while going downhill.
Technically speaking, when it comes to the positioning of motors, most e-bikes have either a mid-drive or a rear-hub-assisted configuration.
Surprisingly, if the electric bike is equipped with a hub-drive motor, it is possible, in theory, to collect kinetic energy while it is overrunning.
The Technology is Still in the Early Stage
As a general rule of thumb, some e-bikes may be equipped with regenerative braking, which enables the battery to be recharged and extends the range of the bike by 15%.
However, given how new the regenerative technology is, occurrences like this are exceedingly rare (at least for e-bikes, if not e-cars in the USA).
On the other hand, some manufacturers market their innovations as bikes that can recoup lost power when the rider uses the brakes or is descending a slope.
Nonetheless, even while it is technically feasible to charge an electric bike while pedaling, there are several reasons why you probably shouldn’t do it.
Regenerative braking on an e-bike may significantly increase its cost without adding much to the range. To forge extra energy, you need a sensor that signals the engine as you brake and activates the motor to use the forward-motion energy to charge the battery rather than letting it be lost as heat via the brakes.
The problem is that it does not provide a very good return in terms of power, which means that the additional burden of weight and complexity that comes with a regeneration system is sometimes seen as pointless or damaging. Therefore, at least for the time being, it’s better just to charge normally.
Mid-Drive Motors Aren’t Dynamos
Every rider who has ever pedaled an electric bicycle will be familiar with how the electrical assistance may be engaged or disengaged depending on the situation.
Normally, it decouples at a certain speed, which differs depending on the nation you are riding in and the local regulation governing the usage of e-bikes.
To design a system that could re-engage, you would need to create a complex direct drive system, complete with difficult clutch packs.
A rear-hub motor capable of collecting regenerative energy would be too costly if it could not use the conventional freehub.
On the other hand, a genuine direct drive system would be similar to a fixie, and fixies may be fairly difficult to ride down steep inclines due to their fixed gear systems.
On top of that, this process may be much more complicated when using mid-drive motors since the electrical assistance doesn’t directly push the wheels.
Instead, the chain and drivetrain act as an intermediate between the electric assistance and the wheels.
This shows that several obstacles work against the implementation of regenerative braking, even though it has the potential to recharge the battery of an electric bike while pedaling.
The regenerative braking coefficient of smaller bicycles is lower than that of larger ones; therefore, the braking system can convert much more energy due to the weight of an automobile or train.
But when it comes to an e-bike, the weight is insufficient to provide an appropriate amount of kinetic energy.
Another problem is aero, which necessitates the expenditure of a substantial quantity of energy to counteract the effects of aerodynamic drag.
Because of this, there will be less accessible energy to convert into an electrical system that provides regenerative braking.
Too Many Losses in Energy Transfer
The watts required to fully charge or top up the battery are not trivial. As a customer, you may make the most of your time and energy by charging your e-bike from an existing power infrastructure.
In the same vein, significant efficiency and conversion losses come with trying to fully charge or top up the electric bike battery on a much smaller scale while traveling.
As soon as you plug in your electric bicycle, renewable energy sources such as the sun, the wind, or the water are converted in an environmentally friendly manner into electrical energy.
It is a waste of resources to spin brake rotors while clamping them to convert kinetic energy to heat and then attempt to channel that heat energy into electrical storage in your battery pack.
On the other hand, a loaded bike may produce more rolling mass, resulting in increased friction and heat conversion.
However, the investment would not be nearly sufficient to justify the cost of developing such a solution. Additionally, the added energy expense comes with pushing it upward.
Since most e-bike frame designers choose the mid-drive motor layout for their creations, there is not enough scale for developing an effective regenerative braking breakthrough.
Simply put, it is not worth it when the possibility of recharging is only in the single-digit % range.
Self-Charging Electric Bikes Available to Buy
The Austrian company VELLO debuted the crowdfunded VELLO BIKE+ in 2016, describing it as “the first self-charging electric folding bike.”
It weighs less than 12 kilograms (26 pounds). In the United States, the BIKE+ BELT and BIKE+ TITANIUM cost $3,039 and $4,055, respectively.
The two versions each tout a speed range that varies from around 30 to 50 kilometers when operating in “Turbo mode” to a limitless range when using the technology that allows for self-charging. However, VELLO is not alone in the list of e-bikes working on self-charging bikes.
As previously stated, electric bikes with regenerative brakes are rare; however, we’ve done the legwork for you. Here’s a list of e-bikes in the United States that do have regenerative braking.
- Jasion EB7 Electric Bike
- Heybike Cityscape Electric Bike
- Jetson Electric Bike Bolt Folding
- Gyroor C3 Folding Electric Bike
- Segway Ninebot ES1L Electric Kick
- ELEGOO UNO Project Super Starter
- Heybike Mars Electric Bike Foldable
- Electric Bike, Sailnovo Electric Bicycle
- MICLON Cybertrack 100 Electric Bike
It is common for manufacturers to assert that regenerative braking would increase the bike’s range by 10–20%, although this is sometimes very difficult to do in practice. The idea is to choose wisely.
The Future of Self-Charging E-Bikes
Many individuals are still skeptical about the authenticity of e-bikes when it comes to self-charging, while others just believe that their exorbitant pricing reflects very little value for the money.
Many criticisms center on the fact that it is prohibitively expensive—each of the examples shown above costs four figures—and that the idea of “regenerative braking” has been exaggerated.
Meanwhile, a review of the Eahora Snow X6 states that “this system is the most remarkable kind of energy recapture I have attempted to date,” but it continues to note that “that bar is very, very low.” This very well encapsulates that self-charging electric bikes are still at an infant stage of their development.
If they become more accessible financially or improve, individuals may start using them more often. However, there appears to be a significant degree of skepticism at this time.
Climate change has become a serious problem we cannot sidestep in the modern world. Even though many things could be to blame, one of the main reasons is vehicle pollution.
Against such a background, it is necessary to investigate and implement alternate problem-solving strategies.
As a result, cycling or riding has emerged as one mode of transportation that is not only kind to the ever-worsening environment but also beneficial to one’s health.
Even though businesses are solely dedicated to producing self-charging bikes, using such bicycles is still rather rare.
The regenerative braking system we see in a lot of electric cars seems to be the way forward for now, and there is still a way to go before they become commercially viable for use in electric bikes.
However, this does not mean that the development of a self-charging electric bike will not be significant in the future. But for now, there is still a long way to go.
You may also like:
- Do You Have to Pedal with an Electric Bike?
- Can you Pedal an Electric Bike Without the Battery?
- How Do Electric Bikes Without Pedals Work?
- Can an Electric Bike Run Without Pedaling?
- Can You Overcharge an Electric Bike Battery?
- Electric Bike Hub Motor Problems
- Electric Mountain Bike Hardtail vs. Full Suspension
My name is Matthew, staying in Seattle, Washington. Electric Vehicles (Electric Cars & Electric bikes) caught my attention for the last few years and my love for electric cars and bikes is everlasting. I spend many of my weekends traveling to various places all over various cities with my electric vehicle (e-bike and electric car). Here I am sharing my expertise, experience, and invaluable information about electric cars and electric bikes. Check out more.