Part 1 of eBike Conversions For Beginners - Introduction to eBike Conversions

Let’s face it, a good eBike is expensive but it is possible to save thousands of dollars on the cost of a brand new eBike. In this beginners guide on how to convert a regular bike to electric, we look at

  • the different options available to upgrade your current bike to a quality eBike
  • examine what’s inside various conversion kits
  • we also look at some safety and legal considerations  
  • average costings

This Introduction to eBike Conversions is the first part of the series: eBike Conversions for Beginners. The next three parts are DIY step by step guides on

Five reasons why you would want to convert your bike?

  1. Savings of thousands of dollars over a decent retail eBke
  2. You already have a bicycle and see no point in having both
  3. Can’t find a retail eBike that suits your style or supports your weight
  4. You don’t want to be stuck with a particular company’s electronic hardware
  5. It’s exciting!

Nowadays it is increasingly possible to buy budget eBikes for a few hundred dollars but the quality of the bicycle components themselves can sometimes leave a lot to be desired particularly for long commutes and trail or mountain riding. However budget eBikes are a fantastic introduction to the world of eBiking.  You can read the 8 Questions You Need To Ask Before Buying an eBike Online here.

If you already own a decent regular bicycle or are prepared to buy one, then for a few hundred dollars it’s possible to convert your bike to a top quality eBike with the exact specifications you want.

You do need to be handy though and not afraid to get your hands dirty. But with the right conversion kit access to decent bike tools and a confident attitude you should be able to upgrade your bike within an hour or two.

While on the subject of tools, apart from those found in a standard bike kit, for mid-drive conversions you will also need a crank extractor and chain rivet extractor

What type of conversion kits are available?

There are three general types of conversion kit i) a front wheel hub motor kit ii) a rear wheel hub motor kit and iii) a mid drive motor kit.

The conversion kit that you choose will determine how easily the conversion is completed, as well as how long it will take.

All conversion kits will include as an absolute minimum a motor and a controller. Also included will be a combination of a pedal assist sensor and/or a throttle assembly. The controller will either be a separate component or built into the motor. One of its main jobs is to control the amount of power going to the motor.

You will also need a battery to power the motor, the higher the capacity the better. Some of these kits will include a battery, others will only offer it as an option. The battery, arguably, is the most expensive component on any eBike and will therefore add to the overall cost of any eBike conversion kit. It’s therefore important to know how to look after your battery properly.

Shop for batteries for eBike

Hub Motor Types

Hub kits are made up of a front or rear wheel with a hub motor built into the center of the wheel. The hub motor literally drives the wheel moving the bike forwards.

There are two types of hub motors i) the gearless or direct drive motor which is heavy and large in size, best for speed but a little slow to get going. They’re also not known to be great at climbing hills.
They used to be the de facto standard in most eBikes as they are very cheap to manufacture but remain very popular for speed lovers in the DIY market.
 ii) the geared motor is lighter and smaller in size and has built in gears within the casing. This means that there’s no need to actively change gears (similar to an automatic car perhaps).
They are known sometimes as climbing motors because they’re very good on hills. This is because they have a strong low end torque but they do use more energy (battery) to maintain high speeds. 
Unlike many gearless motors, it is also possible to ride it as a normal bike if something happens to the motor. This type of hub motor is increasingly found on today’s pre-built eBikes.

A front wheel hub motor  kit is the fastest and easiest way, if you’re an eBike beginner,  to convert your bike because there’s no messing around with your gears or chain.

Once installed the sensation is that of being pulled along when riding. Because of this, these front wheel conversions are considered better for commuting on flat roads. This is because there is a tendency for the front wheel to spin (if you’re not careful) when riding on rough terrain or riding up steep hills. It might also be advisable to change your front forks for stronger bulkier ones to cope with the added weight of the new front wheel.

The rear wheel hub motor  kit is a little bit more difficult to install compared to the front wheel because you have to navigate the chainset. However, the extra weight on the back gives you more grip and control of the road and therefore more torque for whatever type of riding you want to do eg mountain biking, trail riding, steep hill climbing etc. It also feels more of a ‘natural’ ride to many eBike riders. The sensation is that of being pushed along which adds to the general fun of riding such a conversion. The big bugbear is when it comes to having to replace a flat tyre as it is a much heavier wheel to remove.

Overall hub kit conversions are an easy and cheap option for eBike beginners or budget conscious people, to work with.

Shop for hub kit conversions on Amazon or Leeds Bikes or BangGood

Mid drive Motors

The other type of conversion kit is the mid drive or crank motor kit.

All mid drive kit conversions  sit near the pedals and crankshaft and are better than the rear hub kits for off road riding. Because of  the mid drive’s position on the bike and the lower center of gravity, this can make the bike feel safer and easier for eBike beginners to ride. It gives a much more natural feel when pedalling similar to that of riding a regular bike.

Mid drive motors are generally found on high-end eBikes particularly mountain bikes and the conversion kits are significantly more expensive than the hub kits.

Mid-drive motors were designed to address potential shortcomings in hub motors. They have a great gear ratio, offer more power and control, are less likely to overheat and are fantastic for climbing steep hills. They also tend to be smaller and lighter than hub motors.

However, because of the location of the mid drive motor it is a more complicated job to convert your bike especially for a complete beginner to eBikes.  But if you’re confident, maybe more experienced you might be interested in 6 Simple Steps to Convert A Regular Bike To An eBike using a mid drive motor conversion kit.

Shop for mid drive kit conversions at Amazon

What comes inside a hub motor kit?

Motorized hub wheel.  In both front and rear kits, you’ll get a wheel with a hub motor in the middle. The rear wheel hub motor will also include a free wheel  – generally 7-speed  which may or may not be already screwed on to the wheel. The free wheel is for your gears. It may also have torque arm attached to the wheel  (rarely). The wheel may or may not come with a tire. Click on either image for typical pricing.

More expensive kits will include a battery but in the main you will need to get a battery separately. It is also worth noting that the battery voltage generally needs to be the same as the motor. For example if you used a 36V battery to run a 48V motor, there won’t be enough power for it to work.

Companies such as Leeds Bikes do offer full kits with battery at very affordable prices.

Motor controller You’ll want to be able to adjust the power going to the motor. This is the job of the motor controller. It acts as the go-between for the motor and the battery. The controller’s job is to distribute the power and convert the the battery’s direct current (DC)  to alternating current (AC) for the motor. The color coded wires also connect up the throttle, LCD, pedal assist sensor, e-brakes, any lights you may have and even a horn.
 

The motor controller will either come as a separate unit or may be hidden inside the motor itself – on a large hub or may be mounted inside the battery pack. So while this gives a cleaner look and makes your DIY project easier, the downside of such integrated units is that it can be difficult to repair or upgrade later on. Click on image for typical pricing

 
Components to control the bike itself will include one or a combination of a throttle which may be a twist grip or thumb control lever, bottom bracket pedal assist sensor or bottom bracket torque sensor. The sensors detect when you’re pedaling or how hard you’re pedaling and regulates the amount of assist needed. Also included may be an ebrake sensor cable and lever. This is designed to cut off the motor just before braking action takes hold.
 
Other components may include a display option which gives basic information on the remaining charge available on your battery, distance travelled, speed you’re travelling.
 
Display options may also give additional information like how many amp hours the battery produces, what your energy usage is in watt hours per km which makes it easier to predict how far you’ll be able to ride with the remaining battery level.
 
Additionally you may also get cable ties, a velcro sleeve to wrap around the tubing or cable bundles, and a plastic spiral wrap also to hide the cables.
 

What comes inside a mid drive motor kit?

The mid drive motor One of the differences between a mid drive kit and wheel hub kit is that there is no separate controller. This is because it is built into the motor which is very common with these types of conversion kits.

Additionally the kit will include a pair of crank arms (which the pedals connect to) and a possible choice of hydraulic sensors or e-brake levers.

The rest of the components are pretty much the same as the hub kits ie throttle, pedal assist, possible display unit and possible battery.

Average Costings

Conversion kits can vary widely in how much they cost depending on what type of kit you choose.

Generally speaking, it’s possible to get a good hub motor conversion kit for between $150 to $400. These prices do not include the battery. For a couple hundred more you can get a full hub kit including battery from Leeds Bikes.

Mid-drive motor conversion kits are more expensive. You can expect to pay closer to $400 to $1000 for these kits.

Things to think about before converting your bike

Be aware of the eBike laws in your region. For example in many parts of Europe throttle only eBikes are a no-no. In fact if you have a throttle even with pedal-assist, it has to to cut-out at 3.7mph (6km/h). The motor thereafter can only run when you’re pedaling.

Your Bicycle Considerations

One of the most important things to consider is whether your bicycle is suitable for the particular conversion you have in mind and how and where you attach the electrical components.

For a comprehensive breakdown on the suitability of your bike for a conversion project read Seven Must Do Actions Before Buying ANY eBike Conversion Kit.

Battery Placement

Depending on the physical size and form factor of the battery it can be placed behind or in front of the seat tube, on the down tube or the crossbar.  You can also place it on a rear-rack and even in front of the handlebars.

To balance out the weight of the front hub many riders will place the battery nearer to the backside of the bike and vice versa if you’ve installed a rear hub motor. For a better center of gravity the battery can be placed on the downtube. If you already have a water bottle installed it’s often easiest to install the battery on the existing fittings.

Controller Placement

You need to decide the best position to place the controller. Wherever you place it, all the cables from the controller need to be long enough to reach the front or rear wheel hub motor and the components on the handlebars eg LCD display and throttle. If the cables are too short you can use extension leads.
motor controller in bag to convert a regular bike to electric
controller in bag
If you have an existing rear rack or are using a battery rear rack mount, the controller can be placed behind the seat tube against the rack rails or directly underneath the saddle so it’s less visible. If not there, it can also be placed somewhere within the triangular bike frame.

Types of Tools Needed

You will need a standard bike toolkit including wrenches, spanners, flat and crosshead screwdrivers plus a crankarm extractor and pedal wrench depending on which conversion you choose to do.

Typical eBike Batteries

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Safety Considerations

While a front wheel hub motor conversion is the easiest of all conversions to do you need to be aware that if your front bike forks are not made of steel (particularly the drop outs) you should consider either replacing the forks with steel forks or at the very least getting yourself at least one torque arm if not two, one for each side of the fork particularly if the motor being installed is greater than 500 watts – no matter what material your forks are made from.
 
The reason for this is that the torque from the motor can cause SERIOUS damage to non-steel drop outs like them snapping completely, or the forks getting twisted.

Torque arms like this improved version from Grin Technologies reduce this risk by absorbing the force on the axle. The arms remove any stresses from the metal drop outs and transfers it further up the fork to give more security against the rotating torque that the electric motor will impose on it.

This is especially important with bikes that have aluminium or carbon forks with aluminium dropouts as they are not as strong as steel in resisting the rotating force of the motor. Torque arms should also be installed on rear wheel hub motor kits.
 
If your bike has suspension in the front, it is widely seen in the eBiking community as a bad idea to install a front hub motor kit. You’re better off using a rear wheel hub motor conversion kit or even better mid drive kit conversions

Summary

In this introduction to eBike conversions for beginners we’ve covered the five main reasons to convert your regular bike to an ebike such as:

  • Financial savings
  • Ownership of an existing bike that you like and is suitable for conversion
  • Unable to find a suitable retail eBike for yourself
  • Desire for flexibility with electronic parts
  • It’s exciting and immensely satisfying!

We also looked at the types of conversion kits available with the pros and cons of each type, the things to think about before diving in including legal and safety considerations.

Plan in advance. Know your bike’s capabilites. Have the right tools to hand.

Then convert your regular bike to the quality eBike you want with your exact specifications while saving yourself potentially thousands of dollars. The fastest and cheapest way to do this is with a hub kit expecially if you are a complete beginner to eBikes. 

You can follow a step by step guide on converting your bike by clicking on one of the links in the yellow box below – eBike Conversions for Beginners.

Which ever option you choose, you will end up with an affordable better specced eBike than if you’d taken the retail route.

You might also be interested in reading Bike Accessories You Didn’t Know You Wanted which includes tips and tools to keep your bike and yourself safe on the roads and having a look at the review on eBike specific helmets for fast eBikes

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Last update on 2020-10-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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