Schaeffler and Heinzmann have developed a revolutionary drive system for e-bikes that eliminates the need for chains or belts. This year, the Free Drive ride-by-wire system for electric bikes will enter series production.
The German companies presented their innovative chainless drive system for e-bikes to the public for the first time in August 2021. The new technology will help change the design of e-bikes and reduce weight.
“The chainless drive system opens up completely new possibilities in bicycle architecture and pedal configuration – including two-, three- or four-wheel models with or without a roof,” explained Jochen Schröder, head of Schaeffler’s E-Mobility division.
No chain, no wear
It is a new running system for electric bicycles, which has no mechanical connection between the pedals and the wheels. The basic component of the system, sold by Heinzmann, is the pedal generator developed by Schaeffler. The Germans say they have thus removed many parts prone to mechanical wear, which increases maintenance and operating costs.
The Free Drive system from Schaeffler and Heinzmann is different in that it no longer has any physical mechanical connection between the pedals and the wheels. Instead, it places the electrical and mechanical transmissions in series, meaning that the cyclist’s pedaling power is converted into electricity that will power the motor.
The bad part is that something electric doesn’t work anymore, not having a classic pedaling system, it can no longer use the bike in manual mode.
The Germans fitted an electric generator to the pedals to replace a chain. The generator converts that kinetic energy into electrical energy. The electricity reaches the motor and is converted back into kinetic energy to power the bike. The Free Drive can provide a total power of 250 watts.
The digital bike-by-wire concept allows speed changes and operating modes to be done via software. To make this possible, all system components sold by Heinzmann communicate with each other via a CAN connection.
Any additional electricity that is generated over and above what is required by the motor is stored in the battery. The battery can also be charged from a wall outlet.
E-bikes cargo with a Free Drive system
The first customer to order the Free Drive system is CIP Mobility GmbH. Developed as an innovative micro-mobility platform, Mocci cargo bikes combine smart hardware with smart software and cutting-edge materials.
The Germans developed this system for a new business that is gaining momentum—electric cargo bikes. IKEA already uses them.
Electric cargo bikes are the ideal solution for fast and environmentally friendly transport and distribution of food, mail, medicine, and more.
Most cargo bike designs are limited by the need to create a long tunnel for a chain to reach the rear wheel. But Free Drive allows cargo bikes to be designed differently, lowering the floor and creating a much more stable platform that is no longer constrained by the demands of the bike’s mechanical drivetrain.
In addition, the new chainless drive system allows bike manufacturers to reduce weight by forgoing steel or aluminum components. Structural components can now be made from recyclable, high-performance plastics rather than steel or aluminium.
Electric cargo bikes will become replacements for city delivery vehicles around the world.
“We need to rethink mobility for tomorrow’s cities. Electric cargo bikes are especially for last-mile goods deliveries,” says Matthias Zink, CEO of Automotive Technologies Schaeffler AG.
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In 2021, the global electric cargo bike market was valued at $630 million, with new percentages more than the previous year, and is expected to grow to $2.14 billion by 2032, according to Persistence Market Research.