Off-the-shelf E-bikes are not cheap, that's very true, but that does not mean to say you cannot build your own using a kit whether you've got a mountain bike, a road bike, a cruiser, or a BMX. So today, we'll take a look at a few different options, and the pros and cons of each system.
Now, before we dive into the different systems on the market, let's have a look at some of the key considerations need to be thinking about before you start building your own E-bike kit.
You really need to take into account whether you want throttle assist, where you twist the grip or push a button, or you want to pedal assist. Also the terrain you're riding, is it hilly, or is it flat? Whether you want that kit for commuting, or plain mountain biking's a big difference. There's the hardware issues to take into account, as well. Now, can the bike you're converting, can it actually deal with the added weight of a motor, and a battery, and a control?
Second thing is such things as the bottom bracket with now some of these motors only suitable for certain widths such as 60 to 73. And also think about the chain line on your bike. Also, a hub drive or a mid-drive motor? And the frame type that you're going to be using. Now, a traditional hardtail is quite easy to swap across to an E-bike motor kit. Because you can fit the battery inside that front triangle quite easy. But if you've got a full suspension frame, you might struggle to fit that big bulky battery inside there. And also think about the axles that your bike runs. Now, a traditional old school mountain bike's 135 mm dropouts, and that back wheel should slot in there quite nicely. But if you're using a newer school bike, something that may outboost or bolt your axles, then it's not going to be compatible.
Lastly, are you technical minded enough to put that kit in? Or we cannot take it to a shop and spend even more money. Is the bike you're about to build, is it suitable for the purpose that it's going to be intended to be used for? Because if it's not, then maybe you should think of an alternative. And also, don't underestimate the technical know how needed to put a kit together.
So you've got the bicycle that you're going to convert using your E-bike kit, what then are the main types of kits on the market? - Well, first up, you've got your front hub drive kit, which obviously powers the front wheel clamped in the front forks, propels the bike forward. Then of course, there's the mid-drive kit, which is centrally located on the bike and is actually powered off the cranks. And bringing up the rear, you got the rear hub drive unit, which bolts into the rear dropouts of the bike, and again, propels the bike forward pretty simply.
Let's start off with the front hub drives. Many companies there are now making these kits for E-bikes. We're going to be looking at a few systems from Cyclotricity which is a small UK brand, and they make front, rear, and mid-drives for E-bikes. The great things about the front hub drive motor is that they're small, they're great for commuting, and you can fit them fairly easy at your own home if you're a confident mechanic.
And obviously there's a lot of motors is throttle assist drive, but you might want to go to a pedal assist system. How can you do that? A lot of these kits are actually upgradeable to a pedal assist sensor. All you need to do is just add a ring to the bottom bracket and a sensor that clips onto your seat tube usually, and it just detects our crank movements, meaning you get a lot more range, and a lot more natural feel to that ride. And that doesn't cost much, you can get all sorts of things, LCD screens, pedal assist upgrade, usually it's going to come in that kit.
What you need to be aware of is, a lot these kits do start from maybe $200 for a front hub drive, but you've also got to get the battery on top of that, usually kind of doubles the price of the kit, to be fair. So they range in lots of different sizes. Watt hours and amps, and things like that, so just make sure you're getting the right sized battery to see that kit.
If you're looking for a very straightforward system, you're going to be using fire roads or commuting to work and I think front hub drive is a great option.
Now, the advantage of a mid-drive over a hub drive is they're actually better suited for those really hilly conditions. And that's because they're operated through the cranks and the gears, rather than that rear hub, which means you can get the optimum cadence for the bike involved. Not forgetting you're removing the weight from the wheels and transferring it into the middle of the bike. Therefore, the suspension's going to work better and the grip of the wheels. You're not lugging those big hub motors up the steps and down routes.
But it is a hugely complex area, the mid-drive market. You're thinking about such things as the weight, the power, the legality, throttle or pedal assist, it's a total minefield.
Right, let's have a look at some of the systems on the market. This is from Cyclotricity. It starts at 350 pounds. Really easy to fit but doesn't include the battery, but it's a really good starting point. Moving on to something a little bit more expensive. This is now from Dillenger UK. It involves a Samsung unit. About $900, it’s a little bit more expensive, but remember, that's the whole kit you're getting there to get your E-bike going.
And of course, there's those crazy high-powered kits, these start at around $1,000 up to $3,000. Simply bolt onto your bottom bracket, twist to throttle, you get to the top of the hill. There's a lot involved here in fitting these motors and batteries. And like we keep saying, you need to be pretty cute to be able to fit there. You got to be thinking, should I just buy an off-the-shelf bike?
Then is the rear hub drive motor kit. It comes in loads of different prices, they tend to start at around $200. So that's going to get you the motor and all the components you're going to need to get it, minus the battery. These is a pretty simple to fit. They're a plug and play kit, so fairly simple if you're fairly mechanically minded. Loads of different options. They do tend to come in throttle only, but you can get pedal assist sensors and LCD screens. Lots of different options in that package.
You've got the wheel and the motor in here, you got the cables, battery, display and speed control. It's pretty much just a matter of just putting all this together. If you're riding fire trails and not a hilly ground, it's a fantastic option. Because you can convert your bike which you might even have it in the shed for 20 years.
And some of these kits are restricted from the factory, especially if you're in the UK. It can be 25 kilometers an hour or 32 if you're in the United States and Canada. But a lot of those kits you can actually de-restrict if you want to, you're legal and you got the right place to ride it. They can be a pretty powerful unit. How that works is actually comes as you can have a mix. You can have like a 250, 500-watt mix, or a 250, 1,000-watt mix. So, you simply switch on and off between the power levels. It's a very simple system.
Let's move on to batteries. Now, as we talk earlier about the different type of bikes you've got. Obviously with a triple triangle hardtail, you can fit that onto the down tube. There's bottle mounted bosses there, that easy. So I think the key consideration is, get the measurements of the batteries and the type of battery to get on the bike. But you still can fit batteries to full suspension bikes. Such as the Lift MTB. It's got the thin Panasonic batteries, you can bolt those on.
But a key consideration is the type of mounting. And there are a few different mounting types, you can obviously fit that onto the water bottle bosses, if it will fit in the frame. We get seat post-mounted racks that the battery simply clips onto, and also panniers as well. So, there's lots of different options out there if you can't fit it in the front triangle of the frame. But it definitely needs to be super secure because it's a heavy unit, you don't want it bouncing around.
And finally, a lot of the higher powered mid-drive kits actually come with a battery pack which you carry around in your backpack, and they can range from two or three kilos up to maybe six or seven kilos depending on the capacity. So what you're going to bear in mind with those is you got a backpack with a battery in it, and you've also got a lead which comes down and plugs actually into the bike rather, to make that connection. Lots of different options out there, but just make sure you're using the right one, for the type of riding you want to do. And also that you've got the technical know how to be charging and putting those batteries together. It’s not easy.
Next is a few different items. Such as the e-bike display, it mounts on your handlebars. Can be an optional extra on some kits, but this displays your speed, what power mode you're in, what speed you're going at, and how much range you've got left off the batteries.
And over home you're out finding your kit, well, is going to be the speed controller. Now, this regulates not only the motor's speed, but it's the absolute brains of the bike. This regulates like when you're braking, it will cut the power off to the motor, and literally is the brains of the bike, so you don't want to be without one of those.
Big question is how much are these kits going to cost you? Bottom line on the cost, I think we managed to get in at just under $500, Now that is an absolute bargain for a bike like that. So if you're looking to ride fire roads or commute, or maybe just make your first journey into the countryside, because this is what these bikes allow you to do. Dip your toes into the E-bike world, is what it's about.
But then when you start going up the scale, you start spending a bit more money, you can spend maybe up to $3,000, $4,000 on these mid-drive kits. You've got to be asking the question, should I be buying an off-the-shelf bike?
So, if you are thinking about making your own homemade kit, I think there's so many considerations you're going to bring into mind. I think budget, what you want to do with the bike, and how capable you are, can you even build it, or do you want something safe as maybe you can have a warranty, and it's going to all be brand new components on that bike, as well. It's not a second-hand bike, you're putting a new kit onto it as well, so it can make a difference.