25 Jul 2024


Chainless drive gives a novel spin to e-cargo bikes

The chainless drive system makes it easier for drivers of e-cargo bikes to pedal, as well as reducing the need for maintenance.

Schaeffler has partnered with the German drive specialist Heinzmann to develop a chainless electric drive system for cargo and utility bikes that achieves efficient power transmission from the pedal to the wheel. By doing away with chains, belts, gear rings, sprockets and other mechanical drive components, the Free Drive system is much less prone to mechanical wear, reducing the need for maintenance.

“With the Free Drive, replacing worn-out drive chains is a thing of the past,” says Dr Jochen Schröder, head of Schaeffler’s e-mobility business.

The serial hybrid drive consists of a pedal generator, a wheel motor, a battery and an HMI. The generator, developed by Schaeffler, produces a constant pedal resistance and powers the motor in the rear-wheel hub. Pushing the pedals is said to need much less muscle power than conventional e-bike drives – a major attraction for cargo bike riders, especially on long delivery routes. Surplus energy is stored in the battery for later use. The drive can deliver up to 250W.

The design of conventional e-bike drives is largely dictated by the need for a mechanical connection between the pedals and the motor. The new drive allows considerable freedom of design. “The chainless drive system opens up completely new possibilities in bike architecture and pedal configuration – including designs with two, three or four wheels, with or without a roof,” Schröder explains. A digital bike-by-wire technology also means that gear shifts and changes between operating modes are performed by software. All of the system’s components communicate with each other via Can connections.

The first order for the new drive has been placed by a German company called CIP Mobility which is using it in its innovative Mocci cargo bikes, whose structural components – frames, wheels and fork frames – are made from recyclable, high-performance plastics, rather than steel or aluminium. The wheels consist of a single structural component, making them stronger, while the frame is made using an injection-moulding process that produces 68% less CO2 than processes used to produce aluminium frames.

Electric cargo and utility bikes are becoming an increasingly common sight in cities, where they are used for speedy, climate-friendly transportation and distribution of food, mail, medicine and more. The global market for these bikes was worth $630m in 2021, and is predicted to reach $2.14bn by 2032.

“We need to rethink mobility for tomorrow’s cities,” says Matthias Zink, CEO of Schaeffler’s automotive technologies business. “Electric cargo bikes fill an important gap here, particularly in last-mile goods delivery.”

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