This article is not about just one electric bike or just one inventor as usual: today we’re talking about the whole period of time between Wordl War I and the 1920s.
Howard Hughes and his motorized bike
While the first conversion kit in history was still on sale (the Wall Auto-Wheel was available until 1925) many other inventors were working hard in their basements. One of those people was the young Howard Hughes who mounted a motor on his bike in 1918, when he was just 13 years old. His story has been told in the 2004 movie The Aviator; Hughes was impersonated by Leonardo di Caprio.
This is a photo of him next to his invention:
Howard’s favourite hobby was apparently riding his bike and disassembling any kind of objects and then putting the pieces together again in the back of his dad’s workshop. Apparently Hughes Jr was so good that his dad bought him a car so that he could disassemble it and assemble it back together.
Howard Hughes’s story is vital to understand the Zeitgeist of the time (the motorization myth and the speed’s myth) and better understand his life.
His bike’s motor wasn’t electric though. We have to wait until 1920 to hear about electric bikes again. Until then, ebikes had mostly been prototypes, used only by their inventors (see Ogden Bolton’s history for example).
In 1920 Heinzmann, a German company, started to mass produce electric motors for bikes. Their first motor was mounted on a tandem. Unfortunately we don’t have much information about these models, we couldn’t even find a photo.
Heinzmann never stopped producing electric motors for bikes (and for a number of other vehicles and tools). This company became known and grew its reputation of trustworthiness and quality over time. Their motors were very popular and they were even used for German post’s bikes.
The company still produces ebike systems today.
The rivalry between France and Germany was way more serious than engineering, and it had much more tragic consequences. Anyway, French people didn’t want to come second so they launched their own ebike in 1927. Its name was a simple and effective “Electrocyclette”. This is an advertising from the time:
The Electrocylcette was 1,8 meters long, it had a motor with 0,5 HP (for a maximum speed of 25 km/h). A battery of 150 Ah guaranteed a range of 30 km. Its weak point was the weight: a whopping 75 kg.
A review of the time tells us that the battery was easily removable, and that the Electrocyclette wasn’t noisy, it was cheap, small and fast. But there was still a long way to go until the modern ebikes with pedalling assistance.