The next episode in our history of ebikes is about Ben Bowden, an Anglo-American designer who was popular in the car design field. In 1946 he tried something new: he created the “Bicycle of the Future”, an ebike of course.
We can see in the picture above how proud Ben was of his creation. The public was rather puzzled instead.
This photo was taken in September 1946 during the “Britain Can Make It” fair in London: at the end of WWII Europe was in a critical economic situation, and the Marshall Plan was still far in the future. At that time, it was crucial to convince citizens that “Britain could make it”. There were a lot of common use objects that were redesigned and revised for the occasion: among them, Ben Bowden’s “Bicycle of the Future”.
Bowden chose that name because he wanted to catch the fair visitors’ attention. Unfortunately, the name was a prophecy for what would happen: the bike was never produced on a large scale and remained a project for…a distant future.
There was someone interested at the beginning: Farouk, the king of Egypt, ordered 6 of them. The bike was meant to be produced in Wales in a factory that employed fomer miners. Sadly, the project never started at all.
In 1949, Bowden moved to South Africa, where the government seemed to be interested in funding his project. They gave him enough money to order the material he needed from the UK. Unfortunately, they blocked the import of goods shortly afterwards: that made the production of the Bicycle of the Future impossible. They even confiscated the only working prototype Ben owned.
The bike was very interesting on the technical side of things. The battery and the cables were internal to the frame. It had a hub motor on the back wheel that even worked as a dynamo to recharge the battery. From what we can read on the original patent, the bike could reach a 8 km/h speed on a 10% uphill slope.
Bowden went back to designing cars. His Bicycle of the Future was too innovative for the time. During the Sixties, in the US, he managed to produce a bike that looked like his Bicycle of the Future, but without the motor.
Those were the years of the competition “in space” between the US and the USSR and the bike was called “Bowden Spacelander”. Again, the bike didn’t have the success he hoped for. Only 522 Bowden Spacelanders were produced. If you want to get one today, you must be prepared to spend a lot of money: we saw one recently on eBay at $42.000. A lot of replicas were produced and they’re often sold as originals.
Bowden died in 1998, but he would be very happy to know that the “future” he had in mind is here now. Ebikes like the one he designed 70 years ago are growing more popular by the day.