With all the latest high-tech electric scooters innovations, it’s easy to think that the so-known escooters or ebikes are something that emerged in the 21st century.
Surprisingly enough, the first patent of a functional ebike dates back to… 1895, a year before the first gas-powered scooter was created. Let’s take a quick look back and see how it all started!
How It Originated and Evolved Over the Last 130 Years
It’s unclear when the first electrical bicycle was invented. We do know that the first patent called “electrical bicycle” was filled by inventor Ogden Bolton Jr. of Canton Ohio back in 1895. Interestingly enough, the patent states that “My invention relates to an improvement in electric bicycles”, which suggests that the electric bicycles already existed back in the day, at least on paper.
This is not as crazy as it seems since the first electrostatic motors date back to 1740, while lead acid batteries, the ones we see in modern cars, have been invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Planté. Moreover, the first tricycle was created in 1881 by Gustave Trouvé and overhauled the same year by Ayrton and Perry – their “electric carriage” could reach a top speed of 14 km/h (8.69 mph) with a range of 40 km (24.8 miles).
It’s not a stretch to suppose that someone, at some point before 1895, came out with the idea to combine a bicycle, an electric motor and some lead acid batteries to create a fully-functional vehicle.
In 1896 Humber, a pioneering British bicycle manufacturer, exhibited the first electric tandem bicycle at the Stanley Cycle Show (lately supplanted by the Olympia Motor Cycle Show, which still exists today). In May 22 1897, this tandem reached a speed of 60 km/h (37 mph).
Since Nickel Cadmium batteries weren’t invented until 1899, Humber’s tandem ebike was powered by the lead acid batteries, making it pretty bulky and heavy.
While the first ebike prototypes look a bit funny from the point of view of a modern person, back in 1890’s-1910’s they were seriously considered as a viable alternative.
You see, unlike modern ebikes, the first electric scooters didn’t really have competition among gas-fueled ones. For instance, the first non-electric motorcycle that was available for purchase was released in 1894 in Germany by Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. With a maximum speed of 40 km/h (25 mph), the bike ended up being a financial failure due to the high price and technical difficulties.
Before the first generation of mopeds came out in 1915 with the release of the Motoped and the Autoped, the October 1911 issue of Popular Mechanics mentioned the introduction of an ebike that could reach a max speed of 56 km/h (35mph), which was a 40% improvement over the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller fuel-powered motorcycle. The ebike also had three different speeds and featured a range of 121 km (75 miles) to 160 km (100 miles) per charge.
In 1919, Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies – a major British agricultural machinery maker developed an electric motorcycle with a sidecar. The latter carried the batteries. However, even though it was registered for road use, it only remained as a prototype.
For the next 15 years, no major innovations in the field of ebikes were made. One of the main reasons being the release of the gas-fueled Autoped in 1916. The scooter was a pretty competent model and it saw mass production both in the US and in Germany until 1922. It was also the first scooter with a foldable handle bar.
Moreover in 1919, ABC motorcycles joined the race and released the Skootamota that ended up being even widely adopted than the Autoped. The Skootamota was a stand-up scooter, though it also came with a chair for long-distance riding.
1910-1940’s – The Fall and Rebirth of the Scooter
The sudden success of scooter vehicles in the 1910’s motivated companies from all over the globe to rush dozens of new different gas-powered models, most of which were crude, uncomfortable and difficult to handle. This quickly damaged the reputation of scooters as a vehicle class and it took people a couple decades to change their mind about them. This might also have slowed down the development and adoption of electric scooters.
In fact, ebikes disappeared from the spotlight almost completely. They seemed to exist only in private workshops where inventors were working on new models and styles.
One of those inventors was Maurice Limelette, who together with his brother Albert founded an electric motorcycle company called SOCOVEL in 1938. In 1941, Maurice invented, developed and started to manufacture his own electric scooter to solve problems linked to petrol rationing during the German occupation.
Not only the scooter could work without gas, it was also lightweight, which immediately sparked the interest in German forces. In the first year, SOCOVEL managed to produce and sell over 400 units, despite those having high price.
SOCOVEL kept producing and selling ebikes until 1945.
credits to kiobuy & brichard
During the World War II, the US population had gas shortages too, which motivated Merle Williams of Long Beach, California, to develop his own ebike with a single-wheeled trailer. What started as a small side project soon became Merle’s main occupation. After successfully manufacturing and selling his ebikes in the States during the whole WW II period, Merle decided to partner with another local business owner and start the Marketeer Company. Now known as ParCar Corp, the company is still developing and manufacturing electric vehicles.
1940’s-1980’s – The Great Boom
In 1938, Salsbury reinvented the fuel-powered scooter by introducing the Motor Glide, which became a standard for all later models. The Motor Glide became a huge success and once again, other big and small companies such as Powell, Moto-scoot, Cushman, Rock-Ola and others immediately joined the corporate race.
This time though, the standards were higher, at the point that one scooter model – the ‘Cushman Airborne’ – was even adopted by the US military.
During that time period, motorized stand-up scooters were not mass-produced. The reason might be simple – since scooters were heavy and bulky, there was no point of trying to make them portable.
The popularization of the scooter as a vehicle for the daily commute, as well as the rise of environmentalism greatly boosted the development and release of new ebike models.
In 1967, the Austrian chemist Karl Kordesch, one of the co-inventors of the alkaline battery, made a fuel cell/Nickel–cadmium battery hybrid electric motorcycle. Later, the bike was redesigned to work on a hydrazine fuel cell.
The same year, Floyd Clymer (a racer and pioneer in the sport of motorcycling, inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998), developed the Papoose, the first electric bike prototype under the famous Indian brand.
In 1975 Mike Corbin, an American innovator and racer, introduced the City Bike – a street-legal commuter ebike. With three lead acid batteries, the bike would go up to 48 km/h (30 mph) for 64 km (40 miles).
Earlier in 1974, Corbin set the electric motorcycle speed world record at 165.387 mph (266.165 km/h) by riding his custom-built motorcycle called the Quick Silver. That record stood for an amazing 38 years.
credit newatlas & evmc2
The same year, another small scooter called the ‘Charger’ was released by Auranthic Corp, a Californian manufacturer.
1980’s-2000’s – The Buildup
The trend that started in the early 70’s continued, with independent inventors and enthusiasts actively developing their own, better ebike models. While they were focusing on electric motorcycles back then, their discoveries and innovations paved the way to the modern electric kick scooter.
In 1996, Peugeot was the first one who mass-produced an electric scooter called the Scoot’Elec. With a maximum speed of 45 km/h (31 mph) and a range of 40 km (29 miles), the scooter was a great success and it has been mass-produced for 10 years. While being pretty heavyweight and not eco-friendly due to the Ni-Cd batteries it used, the Scoot’Elec was nonetheless a very important step forward.
In 1986 Go-Ped reintroduced the first gas-powered stand-up scooter since 1915 and in 2001, the company has released a new model called the “Hoverboard”that featured full suspension on both wheels.
In 1991, Lithium-Ion batteries were invented. Compared to their predecessors, those batteries can store the most energy per kilogram and can output the most current. Besides, they have faster charging times, which is why most modern devices such as laptops, smartphones and cameras use lithium-ion batteries. Last but not least, those batteries are the most eco-friendly of the bunch.
Modern Electric Scooters
It didn’t take long for enthusiasts to combine the design re-introduced by Go-Ped with the latest technologies in electric motors and batteries to create the first electric scooter prototypes.
Myway started as a garage project in 2009, and now it became Inokim, one of the leading escooter manufacturers.
E-TWOW started as a local Romanian project and now it is a huge manufacturer with facilities in two continents.
Today, there are dozens of eScooter manufacturers who are constantly innovating and introducing new useful features, and rising the standard bar. When there is demand, there is supply. There are many reasons to why so many people prefer electric stand-up scooters over the gas-powered ones.
Portability, reduced weight, less taxes, less law regulations, cheaper insurance, less maintenance, higher safety – electric scooters have a lot of pros. Besides, even though two-stroke 50cc conventional mopeds have relatively low fuel consumption, they are still far more expensive in the long run than their electric counterparts. The fuel cost to drive a gas powered scooter is in average four times higher than that of an electric one.
Last but not least, electric scooters are way eco-friendlier than their gas-powered counterparts. While conventional mopeds and scooters have usually small fuel consumption, they somehow emit ten to thirty times more hydrocarbons and particulate emissions per driven kilometer than cars (with and without catalytic converters).
Now we can see why so many people are excited about this new trend of electric scooters and why this trend is not going away anytime soon. If you want to take part in it, make sure to read about how to choose the best scooter for your needs!