Less chain, more flexibility
© Schaeffler
September 2021

Less chain, more flexibility

By Jan Horst
Neither chain, nor shaft, nor belt - Schaeffler presented the "Bike-by-Wire" system Free Drive as an innovative solution for bicycles at Eurobike 2021 in Friedrichshafen.

The chainless drive system is a joint development with two-wheel electric drive specialist Heinzmann GmbH & Co. KG, which dispenses with the mechanical connection between the generator and motor, thus enabling completely new bicycle architectures and pedal configurations combined with an even lower requirement for wear parts. “Schaeffler 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, Schaeffler AG.

“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 e-mobility partner, further business potential.”

One system for all applications

Schaeffler already has many years of experience in the e-bike segment and most recently presented the mechatronic automatic gearshift system VELOMATIC in 2016. The central component of the Free Drive system is the Schaeffler generator, which sets the constant resistance on the pedal while simultaneously absorbing the rider's pedaling power. The regenerative solution is a serial hybrid drive that converts the mechanical energy generated during pedaling into electric energy, which in turn is converted back into mechanical energy in the wheel hub motor. Excess energy is stored in the battery. As with cars, all system components communicate with each other via a CAN connection.

The complete, optimally matched system sold by Heinzmann GmbH & Co. KG, which generates a continuous output of 250 watts, consists of a pedal generator, drive motor, battery powerpack, and human-machine interface (HMI). “Regardless of whether the system is used in 2-, 3-, or 4-wheel applications, the absence of a mechanical connection between the generator and motor means that Free Drive can provide maximum flexibility in the bicycle architecture and a freely configurable pedaling sensation, which is tailored to the requirements of the bicycle and the needs of the rider, while ensuring minimal wear,” says Dr. Jochen Schröder, President of the E-Mobility Division.

Less chain, more flexibility
The pedal generator from Schaeffler can be individually configured and used on a modular basis for various systems and applications.© Schaeffler

The compact dimensions of the Free Drive system permit a standard distance of 138 millimeters between the two pedals. The Free Drive system can be specified for various applications, irrespective of the manufacturer. For fleet operators, Free Drive offers an ergonomic, low-maintenance, and robust system with low operating and maintenance costs, as wear parts and peripheral chain equipment are not required. Dr. Jochen Schröder: “With the expansion of the portfolio in the bicycle segment, Schaeffler is not only stepping up its commitment to the fast-growing e-bike market but is also substantiating its own claim to help shape future movement with a pioneering spirit.”

Less chain, more flexibility
For fleet operators, Free Drive offers an ergonomic, low-maintenance, and robust system with low operating and maintenance costs.© Schaeffler