Yes, you read that right. If you’ve always wanted to see what this E-bike trend is about but you can’t let go of your old traditional bike, this guide on how to convert a bicycle to an electric bicycle is for you. Not only do you get to keep your old bike but also evolve it.
The only differences between e-bikes and your traditional bikes are the motor, battery, and control panel. We are going to look into the different types of motors, and which one suits you best. With this guide, you don’t have to splash the cash and you can easily learn how to make an electric cycle at home.
Before we get into details on how to convert a bicycle into an electric bicycle let’s take a look at some important things to consider!
What Kind of Electric Bike Do I Want?
There are 3 kinds of E-bikes out there:
1. Pedal Assist – The pedal assist E-bike is the most widely recognized class of E-bikes out there. It’s designed to let the rider to pedal the bike similar to a traditional bike.
However, the motor on the bike makes this easier by assisting the rider and increases the total power transferred to the wheels. The addition of the motor thereby reduces the pedal effort required to move.
2. Throttle Assist – The easiest type of e-bike to ride. A throttle assist e-bike is similar to a scooter or motorcycle, and the rider is not required to do any kind of pedaling.
As a replacement for the pedaling the wheels is powered by a throttle connected to the motor. This kind of e-bike is mostly used by the elderly and isn’t as common as the pedal assist.
3. Speed Pedelec – This type is similar to the pedal-assist bike. Just as the name suggests the difference between a Pedal assist and a speed pedelec is the speed. The Speed pedelec requires the rider to pedal and is usually powered by a strong motor that allows the bike to accelerate to higher speeds.
Many cities require a license to operate a speed pedelec and they are not allowed on normal bike paths.
How Will I Use My E-bike?
Before converting your precious old bike into an electric bike, think about what your main riding goal is. E-bikes are used for the same purposes as traditional bikes. Depending on what your main uses are, the type of motor will differ.
What is the Best E-bike Motor/Conversion Kit for Me? (Pros and Cons)
An electric bike conversion kit is a prepackaged set of components designed to fit your traditional bike. To convert a traditional bike, you need a motor, battery, throttle, electric brake handles, and a speed controller. They have to be compatible with each other.
Instead of mixing and matching, these sets of tools are prepackaged to make it easier for users to find compatible parts and purchase them all together.
Some kits will come with a wheel and components to be fixed on your bike and can be as simple as changing a flat tire. Some kits can cost over $2000 and some are less than $200. You should consider the construction of the kit, degree of customer support, the value of the kit, warranty, replacement parts, etc. before purchasing a kit.
There are 3 main types of conversion kits, let’s take a look at each one with the pros and cons that will make it easier for you to make an ideal choice for your goal.
1. Front Wheel Conversion Kit
This is usually the easiest and simplest way to convert your normal bike into an electric version. Using this type of kit typically involves the replacement of the front wheel with a mechanical wheel and leaving the rest of the bike as it was.
There are several things to consider when selecting a front wheel hub motor. Weight plays an important role when selecting between a front and rear motor hub. The weight should always be distributed evenly from the front to the rear. The battery is usually mounted in the back or middle of the frame so picking a front hub motor could spread the weight evenly.
A front motor is usually installed in the center of the front wheel which might increase the weight of the front wheel making it harder for the rider to steer. If you’re picking a powerful motor, the lack of traction might cause it to spin out of the tire. Using a torque arm might solve this issue.
• Easy installation, ideal for beginners who aren’t handy with bike gear systems.
• Changing the tire is easier
• The motor is separated from the rest of the bike
• Weight evenly distributed
• Ideal for people who want to do some pedaling, the rear wheel requires the rider to pedal(All wheel drive)
• Compatible with hub gear bikes
• Steering might be difficult
• Pressure on the front fork
• Less traction, the possibility of front tire spinning out
• The pulling feeling might make you feel like you’re not in control
This type of conversion kit is best suited for daily commuters and is best for smooth paved roads.
2. Rear Wheel Conversion Kit
A rear hub motor gives you a ‘push’ feeling rather than being pulled. This provides better control and grip. A rear hub motor is considered better given the fact that most E-bikes in the market today feature a rear hub motor.
If you feel like you want to just let loose and cruise to higher speeds, a powerful motor is usually the first recommendation. A rear hub motor is ideal for a powerful motor over 500W.
The weight is taken off the front fork and is transferred to the rear wheel which will give a better grip on any terrain or situation.
• Better traction on any type of condition
• Less likely of the wheel spinning out
• Choice of powerful motors
• Better acceleration
• Pushed instead of pulled
• Better control
• Installation is usually complicated, involves the gear system on the rear wheel
• Weight distribution on the rear wheel might make the bike harder to carry around
• Limited to 7-speed freewheel
• Not compatible with internal hub gears
This type of kit is ideal for off-road/mountain bike fans.
3. Mid-Drive Conversion Kit
The last type of conversion kit has the motor fit in with a bottom bracket and cranks at the center of the bike. This is the best type of kit for even distribution of the weight of the motor. Mid-drive kits are usually more expensive. A torque sensor can also be easily integrated with a mid-drive motor due to its position on the bike. To utilize the maximum potential of your drivetrain, the mid-drive kit is the best option.
• Low and Centered weight distribution
• Tires are not affected
• Maximum use of the gear system
• Easy to carry
• Usually compatible with gear hub systems.
• Drivetrain components more prone to wear and tear
• Quite expensive comparatively
• Complex installation
Perfect for experienced riders and extreme mountain bikers.
Is It Better to BUY an E-bike?
When I converted my dear old Helga (Yes, I’ve named my bike ), I had enough money to buy an E-bike. But I didn’t want to splurge and buy another bike when I could convert my old bike at a fraction of the cost. I also didn’t want to let go of Helga.
There are 2 main benefits of doing your own conversion: Price and Customization.
If you are experienced with bike systems, you can easily customize your bike by cherry-picking among a wide variety of components.
You wouldn’t be paying for all the overheads that go into making an E-bike and you can save the bucks for when you need it.
If you’ve purchased a conversion kit most of the tools required for the conversion are already included. If you haven’t and want to research and pick compatible products from a variety of different components, you’re going to need the following,
• Control Panel
• Electric Brakes
Installing the 3 different types of conversion kits have the same general steps but differs in terms of the motor installation. Different brands and models have various installation methods and a guide is usually included in the conversion kit. The general steps are listed below.
STEP 1 – Chose your Conversion Kit
Taking the above points into consideration, pick a conversion kit.
STEP 2 – Work on your Old Pal
This step is crucial because the ‘donor bike’ or your old traditional bike has to be sturdy enough to support the motor and battery. Fixing up the old frame and giving it a paint job will result in a durable and stylish end product.
STEP 3 – Install the Motor
Install the motor carefully according to the instructions provided in the conversion kit. Do not stray from the guidelines provided.
A front wheel kit will usually ask you to replace the front wheel and connect the motor. A mid-drive motor needs to be attached using a bracket. The rear kit will be a bit complex with the rear derailleur coming off.
STEP 4 – Install the switches
After the motor is installed, you need to install the switches close to the gear lever.
If your bike has handlebar grips, you’re going to have to remove them. This can be quite tricky.
What always works for me is soapy water. Using a screwdriver pry open the grips and pour some soapy water into the opening you just made. Wiggle the grips around until they are loose enough to slide them right out.
Install the switches according to the manual close to the gear lever and the on/off switch on the other side. Carefully connect the wires to the motor and tie up the wires with the provided zip-ties. Remember not to leave any wires dangling around.
STEP 5 – Install the Battery
Make a battery box depending on the size of your battery. You can use wood, plastic, or metal.
Place the box strategically so that it doesn’t obstruct your movement. Connect the wires to the battery through a hole in the battery box.
STEP 6 – Give it a test ride
Time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you should have a brand new(ish) E-bike. Congratulations!
With these 6 easy steps, you can now convert your old bicycle into an electric bicycle at home. The most important part isn’t the installation but picking the right conversion kit.