Schaeffler commercialises serial hybrid e-bike system Free Drive
The chainless drive developed for electric bikes by Schaeffler and Heinzmann has made it to market. The companies presented the Free Drive system in the summer of 2021 with a focus on inner-city logistics. Production is now underway and the first customers have lined up.
Automotive supplier Schaeffler and bike specialists continued working on the Free Drive system after making it a showcase at the 2021 Eurobike fair in Friedrichshafen. The aim was to get it ready for production and distribution to clients in the fleet and cargo bike business.
To recapture the technology – their ‘Bike-by-Wire’ system does away with a mechanical connection between generator and motor, usually in form of a chain. The chainless propulsion works as a serial hybrid: a generator developed by Schaeffler on the pedal axle absorbs the pedalling power of the rider and adjusts the resistance. The thus generated electrical energy powers the wheel hub motor and turns into mechanical forward motion; excess energy can also be stored in the battery. The system is also capable of recuperation and Schaeffler says delivers 250 watts of continuous power.
Schaeffler adds they designed it in such a way that pushing the pedals requires significantly less muscle power than with conventional e-bike drives. This, so the supplier, is a major benefit for cargo bike riders, especially on long delivery routes.
This is also where they see the drive work best, in inner-city logistics. “We need to rethink mobility for tomorrow’s cities,” said Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler AG. “Electric cargo bikes fill an important gap here, particularly in last-mile goods delivery.”
Indeed, the first customer to put in an order for the Free Drive is CIP Mobility GmbH. CIP’s mocci Smart Pedal Vehicles are cargo bikes which will use the new system to get electrified.
Schaeffler here points to the “considerable freedom of design” the new system allows. “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”, Jochen Schröder explained. The digital concept also means that gear shifts and changes between operating modes are performed by software, not via the chain. To make this possible, all components of the system communicate via a CAN connection.
Heinzmann will take on the Free Drive distribution to bike manufacturers or fleet operators.