At this time in my life I am firmly committed to only riding a bike that requires my energy to power it. I might not say the same thing in 40 years, but for now, riding is fun and I like the work out as well. When I left NYC a few years ago eBikes were on the rise with food delivery riders, and a few eBikes hum by me occasionally in Boston.
Although I am not a fan of the concept of an eBike at this time, a reader contacted us and asked if we would be interested in running a post on hacking a regular bike into an eBike. I am all for options that get people out of cars when possible so I thought, why not? Plus, from my brief research, it appears that the Copenhagen Wheel featured in Weeds was real, and is the brainchild of people in Boston (Cambridge to the locals who are picky).
One thing that makes me immediately skeptical is that the author, Micah, writes that installing an eBike kit only takes an hour or two. It can take me an hour or two just to install a bike light so I can't imagine how long it would take me to do something like this. After all, I have to sip a beer between each step. Readers who like, loathe, or have experience with eBikes are welcome to chime in with comments. Take it away Micah . . .
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I built my first eBike as a way to replace my car for longer trips that I didn’t think I could complete on pedal power alone. I instantly fell in love with the performance of eBikes. In the past few years I’ve built hundreds of Ebikes and begun volunteering by teaching people how to build their own eBikes. The way I see it, every eBike is one less car running us all off the road.
It always amazes people when I tell them that instead of buying an expensive commercial eBike, they can easily build a better one for a fraction of the price by using an eBike conversion kit. The eBike kits are easy to install and the whole process usually takes only an hour to two.
Conversion kits for eBike are available all over the web and even eBay. They generally start at a few hundred dollars. The major difference in the kits is the type of battery and the power level. Low power kits are alright if you live in a flat area but someone who lives in a hilly city will want a higher powered kit.
When it comes to building the eBike, you’ll only need to install four parts: The hubmotor, battery, controller and throttle.
The hubmotor is essentially a replacement bicycle wheel that has the motor built into the hub and can be either a front or rear wheel. All you have to do is remove and replace your old bicycle wheel with the hubmotor wheel, making sure to transfer over the tire and tube.
There are two types of eBike batteries: Sealed Lead Acids (SLAs) and lithium batteries. I prefer lithium batteries because they’re smaller and are usually designed to mount nicely on a bicycle. You’ll want to choose your eBike kit according to which battery you want.
The best places for the battery are either on the rack above the rear wheel or in the front triangle of the frame. One trick I use is to put the battery in a triangular frame bag which gives the bike a nice balance, but rack mounting works too.
The controller handles the power flowing from the battery to the motor and usually comes with a few additional features like safety cutoffs, lighting options, alarms, etc.
The controller can be placed anywhere on the frame, as long as you make sure the wires coming from all the other components can reach it easily. Some people like to put the controller in a bicycle bag to hide it and make the bicycle look more stealthy. This is fine for a lower powered eBike, but if you have a powerful ebike then you’ll want to make sure the controller gets enough airflow around it to keep cool. I like to mount the controller below the down tube or on the water bottle brackets.
There are two types of eBike throttles: twist throttles (like on a motorcycle) and thumb throttles, which have a lever for your thumb to press down. I personally think twist throttles are more comfortable, but I know others who prefer the thumb throttle.
The throttle is the easiest piece of the kit to install. Just remove your old handle bar grip, slide the throttle into its place, then tighten it down.
The last step is to connect all the wires. Snake your throttle wire along the handlebars and frame to the controller. Do the same with the battery motor wires. If you received all your parts together in a kit then the connectors should all match and make this step a snap. Use zip ties (also known as cable ties) to secure your wires to the frame every few inches and keep them from getting caught on anything while riding.
That’s all there is to it! Building an eBike is really that simple. The hardest part for most people is planning out exactly what they want in an eBike, choosing all the components and finding the right vendors to buy from. To help make the whole eBike building process easier for beginners, I recently finished writing The Ultimate DIY eBike Guide, which you can learn more about below. Good luck building your own two-wheeled electric commuter soon!
Micah Toll is an engineer who is more at home with a wrench than a calculator in his hand. Five years ago he began building eBikes and has recently written The Ultimate DIY eBike Guide, available at www.UltimateEbikeEbook.com or for a limited time at a discount on Kickstarter.