A Clean & Simple Bicycle Regenerative Braking System


Remember those wind-up toy cars you pull back & let go? What if you put one of those springs in a bike wheel so when you stopped at a light you could get that momentum back again? The idea is so simple – perfect for a bicycle.

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58 Responses to “A Clean & Simple Bicycle Regenerative Braking System”

  1. 1 thinksketch March 25, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Update: Here’s a great discussion thread on this topic:
    The question remains, why HASN’T someone made this yet?

    Also, even as I posted this sketch using a metal spring, I’ve been also thinking of using a pneumatic air tank. It’d be expensive, but maybe we could even use one of the carbon fiber air tanks from a paint ball gun. You could even fill it before your ride and get an extra boost right from the start. Then of course there is always the chemical battery option, but that definitely seems too expensive.

  2. 2 Mark McClure May 26, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    That’s a nice stab at the problem. Most cyclists would probably shun the weight, and some would avoid it because of the looks.

    Air tanks would be too heavy, although you could use the bike’s frame tubes to hold some air. But you’d still need a compressor.

    But back to the spring idea, I’ve wondered about stressing the bike frame in order to hold the energy. It takes a lot of bending on a bike tube it just a little bit.

    I don’t know how you’d get the energy from the wheels into the frame though. Maybe a racheting device?

    Interesting idea . . .


  3. 3 Conrad B. August 15, 2008 at 8:45 am

    But, I still don’t get it. The cars had to be pulled backwards, so unless you want to flip your bike around at the intersection and shoot out backwards and then do Bond style turn, It seems kinda silly… But I would LOVE to see regenerative braking on a bike. Perhaps a flywheel of sorts?

  4. 4 Scott J. January 28, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Let’s get serious. Energy costs will continue to rise and we need a new way of generating electricity for a community. A Reliable source of energy that doesn’t rely on burning fossil fuels but rather on the community of people that uses the energy.

    At the superbowl in Glendale last year, people in local community were recruited to supply their “human energy” by pedaling 42 stationary bikes over 40 hours in honor of Super Bowl XLII. Each bicycle was equipped with a generator and battery mounted to it in order to convert energy into electricity; the energy flowing from the generators was stored in the batteries. At the end of each day, the power was uploaded from the batteries to the Phoenix, Arizona power grid, culminating in enough energy to power 30-minutes of the pre-game show and the AMP Energy event.

    Why isn’t this a event that happens everyday? Think of all the health clubs alone that could put energy onto the local power grid.

    How hard can it be to set up if they did it in a tent at the superbowl?

    Let’s put this together…. I need a venture capitalist out there to help make this a reality. Regenerative braking technology must be put to work by every community to generate their own energy needs.

  5. 5 Jake February 15, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    The energy to process and produce the food to feed the humans far outweighs what a human would produce.

  6. 6 thinksketch February 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    @ Conrad B:
    Nice catch Conrad. The solution would be this: When you apply the breaks to activate the spring, they would shift a gear box to change the direction of the spring. This would be a simplified version of what your car transmission does when you shift into reverse- the motor still turns the same direction, but the gear box adds an extra wheel in the gears so that the axle spins backwards.

    @Jake and Scott J:
    thanks, but the point isn’t to save the world from an energy shortage with this device, it’s just to add a little something to your biking experience. It’s true that human muscle power is insignificant compared to our energy demands – to try to feed the grid with human power will always be an impossible bootstrapping scheme. However, the benefit of making our human powered devices more elegant and efficient is that it means people will have one more reason not to drive. It’s a small step towards awareness and placing an increased focus on local pedestrian scale activities.

    Thanks everyone, keep the comments coming –

  7. 8 Matt May 15, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Believe in the concept and would love to see it come to fruition.
    A friend and I are working on it.
    Thanks for the input/creative thinking.

  8. 9 Butch Driveshaft May 22, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Most people ride bicycles for exercise ( of course there are exceptions to this ).

    For those people who do ues it for excercise, having the bike do the work for you would not be an option.

  9. 10 Dana July 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

    It’s not about the exercise factor at all – it’s about urban riding. The safest place to be on a city street is ahead of the traffic flow – bikes suffer from poor accelleration compared to cars to the only way to stay ahead is to blow traffic/stop signs (plus conserving our momentum is a kind of big deal).

    The only way I see urban riding while obeying traffic laws to be practical and safe is to have regenerative breaking allowing me to accelerate quicker off the line and stay out ahead of the wave of angry metal death pressing behind me.

    I would absolutely worship regenerative breaking

  10. 13 Rich August 3, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    City traffic doesn’t accelerate that fast. Work on your sprint ;)

    Bike regen would help a little, but 15mph to 0 won’t take you back to 15, maybe 10mph if it’s a really efficient system.

    You’re far better off just riding an efficient lightweight road bike, which will accelerate much better than a typical casual biker’s bike.

  11. 14 Jeff September 21, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Does anyone know how heavy the steel spring would need to be to start a rider of average weight up from a dead stop?

  12. 16 Nate November 10, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I had such a thought this morning, and Googled “spring powered accelleration bicycle” to find this thread. Matt, keep working on it, and lets keep the discussion going.

    Conrad B., from the look of this simplified concept/sketch, I’d guess that the simplist way (at least in terms of design) is that the spring gets “loaded” simply by backpedeling (or at least applying some reverse resistance to the motion) upon decellerating towards a stop sign. This is similar to how riders of fixed-gear bikes stop all the time. And my non-expert understand is that back-pedalling does not feel as taxing on the human muscle as one might expect.

    At any rate, the rider could choose when and how much to resist, or how much to use a handbrake instead. Of course, the spring could likely be loaded by some other more-complicated mechanism that does decellerate the bike without any effort, or any need to backpedal.

  13. 17 joe December 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

    i agree with Nate,as a non-expert from a country with one of the largest users of bikes (India- abt 30% ppl of the total 2.5 billion ppl still use a conventional non gearless bike for their daily jobs, i think its a fairly worthwhile idea as long as it viable and cheap to produce. and by that i don’t mean a daily commute to office and back without wrinkling ur clothes, but an effective way to help make things easier on a lot of ppl. ppl here often travel vast distances on bicycles that are primitive, gear less, cumbersome, overweight and very less efficient…. so think abt it and keep the discussion going.. may be along the way someone will get a bright idea !!!!

  14. 18 Mayank Gupta March 16, 2010 at 6:51 am

    even i got a very similar idea of spring regenerative braking bicycle, but you got it before me.

  15. 19 DON LEE August 2, 2010 at 4:53 am


    Well i just got regenerative braking finished on my bike.
    i used gas springs to store the energy, it has very good braking, and launches me quite well, i’am over 200 lbs. i’am thinking it’s in the 90% efficiency range, gas springs are very


    • 20 Velognonec August 6, 2010 at 12:26 am

      Could you share more details with us, like:
      how did you manage to transfer the kinetic energy in compressed air, and to transform compressed air back into a turning wheel we you start? Any picture?

  16. 21 DON LEE August 11, 2010 at 3:53 am

    hope you like the pictures


    • 22 Christian November 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm

      What a great post. its so funny, this conversation almost mimics my thought process on a regenerative breaking bicycle over the last couple years. From coil spring to flywheel/gyroscope concepts, and finally to the pneumatic spring idea. Don, i would love to see pictures of your bike! i’m not sure why, but i can’t seem to link to them from here, if anyone knows where to find photos of Don’s bike, i’d love to get a look at them. Question, what process are you using to convert the breaking energy into the air compressor?


      • 23 DON LEE December 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

        gas springs are the things that hold up your hood and trunk lid on your car but stronger, i’am using the backwheel, gears, a freewheel on the crank and a piece of chain to winch the gas springs down, then when they expand it pulls the chain turning the freewheel and the crank.

    • 24 Velognonec January 18, 2011 at 6:49 am

      Don Lee: where are the pictures? I don’t see any link.

  17. 25 divine January 18, 2011 at 6:29 am

    don lee did your idea work on the prototype?

  18. 26 alan February 13, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Has anyone considered using a type B sterling engine to get a bike to brake

  19. 27 fylight May 9, 2011 at 6:29 am

    hi all,
    I have the prototype. It’s just a simple module you can attach on your bike frame, move the chain connection from the rear sprocket to the module’s input sprocket, connect the module’s output chain to the rear sprocket, and you are ready to fly….
    Along your riding, it’s regening just by push the right pedal down at 9 oclock position. Energy is then collected and locked inside a 2.5kg coiled spiral spring. Select the lever to pull on the grip then you’ll get a ‘normal’ or ‘fast’ extra acceleration.
    A generousman agree to funding a small mass production of the module, but I dont know when it’ll reach the market yet

  20. 28 DON LEE July 10, 2011 at 6:56 am

    I put a speedometer on the bike and made a stop from 10mph to 0 then it took me back to avg. 7mph , proto #2 will have more energy storage , a different link to the back wheel to keep the pedals stationary while it accelerates the rider . anyone that wants pictures of proto # 1 email donlee08@att.net

  21. 29 Anil Negi September 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm


  22. 30 dsan February 6, 2012 at 4:50 am

    @ Joe – hey mate, India has a population of roughly 1.3 billion, about half of that you quoted. But nice observation, yes, we do have a lot of bike riding commuters.

  23. 31 Brendan Schmid February 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    I think going green is great, but electric is kinda “cheating”. It’s easy, plus it’s “out of sight, out of mind” It doesn’t consider where that energy comes from. We still burn petroleum to produce it. Coal, natural gas, diesel. But when are we willing to consider truly green alternatives. THAT’S why I love all your comments. Regenerative braking and the such is more about resources and consumption. We can go green! But can we ALL go green? I sure hope we try…

    • 32 Rich February 25, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Brendan – the amount of electricity that moves an ebike is so incredibly small it is absolutely insigniifcant compared to how much each person wastes each day in the typical western developed countries. If you think an ebike is cheating – what is driving a motorcycle or car? Have you commuted on an ebike to have a proper opinion? Studies have shown that ebikes have the same, if not less environmental impact (all materials/production included) as a pedal cyclist over normal commute distances >5 miles a day. However, I am fully behind regen braking for bicycles, as another way to make *city* cycling more efficient and realistic

  24. 33 Rich February 25, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Guys, I am working on developing my own version of KERS for a bike. Think lightweight and efficient in your design….. Elastics have a lot of potential IMO. Very little waste heat created, very lightweight. I’ve renewed my interest in this due to being stopped by a bike cop for going through an empty 4 way stop at 10mph…. and I have to stop a LOT riding in urban areas. For those who hate on any ‘assistance’ for a bike – get over it. I’ve raced bikes for years and pedaled over 100,000km’s. ebikes and regen are incredibly valid ways to reduce our dependency on polluting, expensive, congestion, dangerous to life automobiles.

    • 34 Brendan Schmid February 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Rich, we are in fact on the same page, I’m not hating on ebikes, I’m just trying to think outside the box when it comes to “going green”, otherwise, I wouldn’t be on this website ;-) The thing I’ve run into is the wind/unwind issue. The purpose of regen is to add to the experience, not add more work. Some of the systems out there require reverse pedaling, constant pedaling, or some other added movement. It’s a pretty daunting task to create something that truly adds to the riders’ experience without adding more work and undue movement. As for the cop, I’m right along with ya, I actually got a tix for that! Good luck on the elastics. I think right now everything has potential. The biggest thing we can do for the cause is awareness. We won’t reduce the pollution if we don’t get it out there that “green” commuting is feasible. Keep up the good work.

    • 35 Brendan Schmid February 26, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Oh BTW–the reason I call it cheating is not simply the ebike, but more along the lines of consumer minds. To think that electric is truly green is a bit naive. I’m not calling us stupid, but that we need to think deeper about the “going electric” movement. ?, where does electricity come from? Electric cars are plugged in at night or at a power station. What powers it? Over 60%of our energy comes from coal, petroleum, or diesel. Renewables are catching up, but still far behind. I think that we can do ourselves a favor and think hard about how to reduce our dependence on non-renewables. Easy? No. Worth it?…yah, I’m up for the challenge. My apologies if I struck a chord with calling it cheating. I just wanted to push the concept open a little ;-)

    • 36 Brendan Schmid May 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Hey Rich, how’s the KERS coming along? I’m really interested in some pics, mine’s done for now. I produced 250 watts, but user friendly was lacking. More later…

    • 37 Paul July 23, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      The thing is that a spring would not be cheating. You are simply storing your own energy. So I mean that is one of the coolest parts of the idea. Also springs can be 90 or more percent efficient (spira.com). What are batteries around 12 maybe 20? How much weight? My shoes (Spira and Zcoil) bounce me back up and weigh less than a pound, and they can lift me straight up, maybe not all that high or fast, but still they can launch me straight up and weigh less than a pound. Think cycle trams, where cost is based on performance and average speeds could be around 50 miles per hour (52 cars 20,000 pounds of cars and riders coefficient of drag equal to one cycle, maybe two) on railed tracks (rollercoaster style where use of any slowing mechanism is minimized) with recumbent train-like cars. I mean as long as we are imagining a lower dependence on oil why not dream big? A spring based system could make it happen much faster than a battery based system because although an entire electric drive system sans battery can be above 90 percent efficiency the batteries can not be. So maybe use the spring attached to a generator attached to a motor if you are so inclined to use electronic means… (yes the pun is on purpose) The concept seems great to me have the trams store breaking energy in springs first then break through conventional means and make each person have a customizable rpm since electronic drive systems are rpm independent, and have the trams ecm control how hard it is to peddle based on the rpms selected. Or on a much smaller scale just use mechanical means to make a single car-like unit with a lighter and more efficient than battery means of helping a rider pull them selves as well as a 70 pound velomobile up hills. Think about how many times you need to break to maintain safety or speed limits, now look at the inefficiencies of batteries. They don’t make sense on such a small scale. Especially since I as a rider would still like to know that I am riding/powering my commute. ps. The idea someone on this forum had about backpeddling in addition to breaking is a genius. Unlike batteries at their very low efficiency, and current implementation. You could take the time you normally would sit bored at red lights to “recharge” the spring. On my tram idea you could use an electric motor to wind a very, very strong spring. How strong a spring do you think could exist in the thousand pounds most electric cars use to store batteries? How much better would one fourth the energy be if it could be re-charged at 90 percent instead of 12, not to mention when bored at a stoplight, also not to mention it would be your own energy for the most part. Very little cheating here :) Lastly I wonder how much faster the cycling record for non-drafting cycle speed would be without the need to get there on constant human power… I would not consider it cheating as long as there was acceleration after the springs power was totally diminished. Just think… The potential is awesome, and much greater likely possible to be made work than if we rely on crappy batteries.

  25. 38 gwpinetree April 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’ve been thinking a torsion bar might be a way to go. Maybe there are new carbon-based perhaps that might be light and strong enough to work. Imagine a torsion bar built into the frame…

  26. 39 geewizdaddy July 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve been riding a recumbent for over 5 years now. The e-bike and regen have been on my mind since I got it because in the recumbent position you loose the advantage of gravity. You can leg press more than your own body weight but it’s a lot of work. Hill climbs and dead stops require the ‘granny gears’. Downhill with a 26″ rim is just awesome. Since I use it as a commuter vehicle I would love a little assist when I hit a red light. I like the gas piston concept and would love to see Donnie Lee’s pictures. Back pedaling would be an OK option to wind it up but I was also thinking of a double rim arrangement with shock cord. Pedal a few strokes and release the caliper brake.

  27. 40 Dhiraj Sharma October 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Hi, m DHIRAJ SHARMA from INDIA,m having my own bicycle which i hv invented 2 year before , n i will show to the whole world that my cycle is best than any one else,n which is hving a speed of 40km/ph in normal padling,

    thank u
    Dhiraj sharma

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  30. 46 RonB March 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Would it be possible to use a weighted wheel, sorta like those hubcaps that spin after the car stops. The matching of speeds between the wheels and the disk would be the complicated part and might involve a transmission of sorts or a centripetal clutch. The cool thing about this approach would be that you could probably just keep your feet up when you stop. Ha Ha! Corners while braking might be interesting too : 0
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    Weight will be an issue for sure unless you can figure out how to get the storage wheel speed up to several thousand RPM.
    It would be more like those small toys that you push forward and the internal wheel screams away and then you set it down and off it goes.

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