Schaeffler has a slogan: “nothing is more impressive than a clever idea that no one expected.” This tells you how confident Schaeffler is as an automotive and industrial supplier. Brought to you by Schaeffler, Free Drive is a new pedalling system that uses bike-by-wire technology to convert pedal watts to electrical energy that runs the wheels so you don’t have to.
The new Free Drive is currently a prototype and involves the collaboration of Schaeffler and electric bike drivetrain specialists Heinzmann. “The Free Drive system combines Heinzmann’s long-standing drive and industry expertise with Schaeffler's system and mechatronics expertise,” says Peter Mérimèche, Managing Director Electric Drives at Heinzmann GmbH & Co. KG.
What we know about Free Drive so far
In Friedrichshafen, at the Eurobike in 2021, Schaefflers presented their new “bike-by-wire” system, the Free Drive, with test drives being permitted on a three-wheeled cargo bike. They presented the innovation as a solution for bicycles. The concept is ultimately a new electric bike drive system that is based on a generator being installed at the bike's bottom bracket. No chains or belt but just the pedalling power of the rider to convert its mechanical energy into electrical energy. The electricity is sent to the motor in the rear wheel of the bike where it is then converted back into mechanical energy to get the bike moving.
The “bike-by-wire” system is controlled with Controller Area Network (CAN) communications between the generator, battery, motor, and control electronics. The generator is able to control the resistance in the pedals. This means that if excess energy is generated through the rider's pedalling power, this excess energy is stored in the battery for later use.The rear motor is also capable of ‘regenerative braking’ which means it is able to charge the battery whilst riding, offering another way of storing energy to the battery in addition to pedalling.
What decades of expertise means for Schaeffer
Regarding what this means for the upcoming German company, “Schaeffer is the preferred partner for mobility solutions of the future and is demonstrating this status once again with the innovative Free Drive for e-bikes,” says Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler. “The development is proof of our transformation into a leading supplier of electrified drives. Our decades of expertise in the field of vehicle mechatronics, which we are now also transferring to the two-wheel segment, have assisted us in this development. The e-bike market is growing steadily and offers Schaeffler, as an e-mobility partner, further business potential.”
The given motor is particularly powerful, as following the EU limit for electric bicycle motors in Germany, the motor runs at the 250W limit. Updates will be issued at this year’s Eurobike in July by Schaeffler and Heinzmann regarding the Free Drive’s release.