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If you’ve landed on this article, chances are you’d love to ride an electric bike but for whatever reason, you’re not ready to snag a pre-built version. Maybe you love your current bicycle or possibly your budget won’t allow for you to make the sizable upfront investment for a pre-built ebike. Either way, you don’t have to stay in the slow lane if your heart is set on zipping around town on an electric bicycle. These days, there’s more than one way to upgrade your ride to something built for the 21st century. Something that will look and work like any of the best electric bikes.
Thankfully, if you want an ebike but can’t afford a pre-built model, there are a few ways to modify your existing bicycle to turn it into something modern. But the option you select is going to depend on a few things:
You’re ready to upgrade your bike into a powered model that requires less effort on your part. Regardless of how easy or difficult your upgrade project will be, the first thing you need to think about is the type of bike that you currently own.
Whether you build an ebike from scratch or opt for a conversion kit, not all bikes can be reconfigured in the same way when you want to upgrade them. Bikes with rear suspension require different components than others. If you want to use this kind of bike for a conversion, we have a great article on how to put an electric motor on a rear suspension bike. Remember, in some cases, modifications required to upgrade to an ebike can make heavier bikes too bulky or difficult to maneuver — even with the added power boost the motor will supply.
Always check that the type of modification you want to do can be supported by your bike, otherwise you’ll end up wasting time and money on a pet project that goes nowhere. That said, you may want to also know the best ways to speed up your electric bike safely.
The first thing you need to think about is the type of bike that you currently own.
Along with considering your bike type, also think about your riding style. This will directly impact the battery and motor size that you select. Casual riders won’t need the most powerful battery or motor as compared to power riders who cover difficult terrain or long distances.
Still, most experts recommend opting for a battery that’s at least 48 volts as this will give you plenty of power. However, you can still select a slightly smaller battery that’s 24 or 36 volts if you’re a casual rider.
Along with considering your bike model and your riding style, it’s time to think about which modification option is going to be best. Beginning from easiest to most difficult, below are the most popular ways to upgrade your old bike to an electric bicycle. But if you do have an e-bike, a DIY on how to create your own hub motor may be useful. And if you don’t mind DIY projects, you’ll want to learn some proper maintenance for your bike to ensure it lasts a long time. To get you started, we have an article on electric bike light repair you can check out.
Hands down, conversion kits are going to be the most straightforward option for people looking to quickly overhaul their existing bikes. These kits are designed to contain everything you need to modify your bike in the least amount of time. Keep in mind that this may result in an electric bike that is noisier than one you would have purchased from a manufacturer.
While they don’t come with tools such as wrenches or screwdrivers, they typically contain the motor, battery pack, and controller. Additionally, you’ll get clear instructions for the installation process and don’t have to spend time worrying about creating a wiring system as all of this is also included.
Keep in mind that conversion kits come in a variety of configurations. The most popular options tend to be wheel kits where you either replace the front or rear wheel with a motorized hub. Front-mounted motors can make steering more difficult while rear-mounted options need to be checked for compatibility as they can interfere with your gears or derailleurs.
If messing with wheels sounds too complex, you can also choose a mid-drive conversion kit that allows you to attach the motor to your bike’s frame. Again, it’s going to depend on your overall riding goals, your bike’s design, and which kit you think is easiest for you to install.
Always check that the type of modification you want to do can be supported by your bike, otherwise you’ll end up wasting time and money on a pet project that goes nowhere.
If you’re the type who’s comfortable doing electrical work or you feel like standard aftermarket conversion kits aren’t up to your standards, you can go the true DIY route and make a lithium-ion battery pack from scratch. However, we can’t stress enough that this method isn’t ideal for beginners or people who aren’t comfortable or experienced with performing electrical work unsupervised.
While making a battery pack gives you the freedom to configure the right amount of power to complement your riding behaviors, it’s also incredibly risky because of a wide range of factors.
Although lithium-ion is a standard choice for powering electronics, they’re not without drawbacks. Specifically, if there was poor quality control during the production process, these batteries can be volatile. This means they may easily overheat and become damaged — even becoming a fire hazard.
Beyond the fire hazard, DIY battery pack installations are often clunky and can leave you with a wild wire design that’s unwieldy and impossible to contain. Beyond simply being ugly, a crazy patchwork of wires can become a nightmare if you need to repair your battery pack at a later date. This is where conversion kits and even just buying a legitimate ebike can be preferable. Both options offer a cleaner wiring system that’s easier to maintain.
DIY battery pack installations are often clunky and can leave you with a wild wire design that’s unwieldy and impossible to contain.
Can you put an electric motor on a regular bike?
Yes, you can. But you’ll need to confirm that the motor is compatible with your bike type and provides sufficient power to support your riding habits.
How much does it cost to put a motor on a bicycle?
This is going to depend on the type of motor you select. But in general, conversion kit motors can range between $300 and $900.
Are ebike conversion kits legal?
As long as the kit conforms to speed regulations within your state, the kit will be considered legal. Always check with state and local regulations for ebike speeds and configurations to ensure that your modification isn’t illegal based on your location.
STAT: As discussed in chapter 5, adding a heavy motor to the front or the rear wheel without carefully considering the overall balance is likely to result in an ebike that is difficult to ride and maneuver. (source)
STAT: If you’re using a battery with a voltage above 60V, you’ll likely be limited to a frame bag mounted battery, as higher voltage batteries rarely come in cases designed for easy mounting. (source)