With all the buzz about e-bikes, you might be tempted to retain your existing bike.
The good news, however, is that your old faithful could be rigged up with your favorite e-bike conversion kit.
However, you should also take into account the fact that retro-fit electric bike conversion motors might not be as reliable in the long-term as compared to the Shimano or Bosch motors found in factory manufactured e-bikes.
What Are Your Conversion Options?
When it comes down to converting your standard bike into an e-bike, you’re truly not short of options. In order to choose the right conversion kit, you need to familiarize with the types of motors available and power output.
When thinking about the power output, it is important that you consider your cycling terrain.
If you often cycle in a fairly flat region, with slight inclines, a small geared motor will suffice. However, if you live in a relentlessly steep area, you will need more power and a mid-drive would suffice.
With motors, you have the option to choose between direct drive and geared hub motors.
The direct drive motor is arguably the simplest type of e-bike propulsion. The hub’s outer shell makes a crucial component of the motor and bears huge rings of powerful magnets fixed onto it. Once the motor runs, it directly drives the wheel, hence the name. In simple terms, this implies that the wheel is just a motor with a shaft fixed so that the motor spins rather than the shaft.
Although the direct drive propulsion design is quite simple, it needs a bigger motor to produce sufficient power.
On a positive note, however, direct drive motors are incredibly cheap and reliable, in addition to having the capability to handle immense power. So, if you want to transform your bike into a high-performance e-bike without spending too much, the direct drive motor is a great option.
Geared hub motors on the other hand are more efficient than their direct drive counterparts.
The geared hub motor case is usually connected to the stator via a planetary gear reduction system so that for each rotation, the motor spins several times faster. This means that the motor can work at higher speeds while allowing the wheel to rotate at slower speeds.
With geared hub motors, there’s practically no pedaling resistance should the motor turn off – you can continue pedaling just like a normal bike. Geared motors are typically maintenance-free, but lots of hill climbing could cause the planetary gears to wear out.
Types of Conversion Kits
There are a couple of ways to electrify your old bike and start hitting the inclines.
Although none of the options is cheap or easy, they are still viable with most bikes, whether it’s a hybrid, road bike or mountain bike.
Better yet, most of the conversions could be done by a home mechanic. Let’s take a look at your conversion kit options.
1. Powered e-Bike Wheels
Powered e-bike wheels are arguably the most practical conversion option on the market.
You just have to swap out one of the normal wheels for one with a special hub which contains a battery, motor, and gearing required to spin it.
While this might sound simple, the truth is that this option adds rotating mass to your bike and it might feel a bit harder for you to accelerate when compared to a non-rotating mass.
2. Rear-mounted Friction Drive Kit
These conversion kits often come in the form of motors which have a roller that rests on your bike’s rear wheel and relies on friction to transfer power from the small roller wheel to the bike wheel.
Friction-drive kits are advantageous because they can work on numerous conventional bikes in addition to offering quick installation and removal. Besides, this conversion kit is simple and things are less likely to go wrong.
On the flipside, however, a friction drive system won’t work well in wet conditions since the friction element tends to diminish. Also, there’s a chance that this kit won’t work well with your off-road tire since it is really knobby.
3. Mid-Drive Conversion Kit
Walk into your favorite e-bike shop and you’ll probably see some off-the-shelf bike models that are powered by motors which are mounted below the bottom bracket, close to the pedals.
This, however, is not a ready-made option since you can purchase an aftermarket conversion kit with a mid-drive unit. This conversion kit is quite advantageous since it places weight low on your bike, therefore increasing its stability.
In addition, most mid-drive kits use cogs, a chain, and derailleur drivetrain, making them more compatible with internally geared belt drives and hubs
The downside about this kit is that it can easily get damaged when it hits kerbs, rocks and other obstacles along the way. Besides, this kit is more sophisticated to install compared to hub motors.
4. Concealed Conversion Kit
This is probably the most low-key way to convert into an e-bike since the motor is hidden inside the bike.
If you often race, this could be something illegal to do even if you enjoy the feeling of zooming around and overtaking your competitors without the slightest indication that you’re on an e-bike.
This kit often includes a small motor which you can conceal within the bike’s seat tube so that it drives the crankshaft through a bevel gear, a battery which could go in the bottle cage to provide riding assistance, and a handlebar-mounted knob for activating your motor.
Despite being incredibly light, this kit requires a specialist to install.
5. Folding Conversion Kit
If you own a folding bike and want to join the electric revolution, then a folding conversion kit would be a great option.
This kit typically works with a powered hub fitted on the front while whereas a battery remains hidden in a bag mounted on the front.
Choosing a Conversion Kit Battery
Most e-bike conversion kits will have everything else apart from a battery.
As a result, the battery is arguably the most crucial and expensive component of the e-bike so it is important to make the selection wisely. When choosing a conversion kit battery, the main attributes to consider are the voltage and battery capacity.
An e-bike’s battery voltage is typically measured in increments of 12V, ranging from as low as 24V to 72V.
A higher voltage means that your e-bike will have more speed and power. A 24V e-bike is fairly weak and will only suffice the low speed or flat ground rides.
If you want some more power and speed, the 36V and 48V options would be great additions to your conversion kit and can get you to speeds of 28 mph. For some extra speed and power to zoom through the hills, 60V and 72V options are great and can reach speeds of 45 mph.
However, such speeds aren’t recommended for your first e-bike not unless you have the proper experience. You should also bear in mind that a battery with a higher voltage will be more expensive compared to one with a lower voltage.
Once you’ve chosen your desired voltage, you need to pick the capacity.
A battery’s capacity is typically measured in watt hours or amp hours, and goes a long way in determining how far you ride. The 10Ah is the most popular starting point, and going up to 20Ah will give you more range. The 20Ah capacity is quite rare and often reserved for touring bikes.
Is Conversion Right? The Pros and Cons
Converting your conventional bike into an e-bike presents to main advantages; familiarity and cost.
First, converting your bike lets you continue using a bike you have already mastered, whereas buying a conversion kit presents a cheaper option as compared to buying a new e-bike.
Converting a conventional bike is also disadvantageous since it might not be as efficient or smooth as a factory-manufactured e-bike. This is because manufacturers often create purpose-built frames that can neatly house different e-bike components, therefore seamlessly incorporating the battery, controls and motor into each aspect of you’re the e-bikes design.
The choice to buy a manufactured e-bike or convert your already existing bike depends on what you want to achieve from your assisted bicycle. Any option would greatly increase your bike’s capabilities in terms of speed and power.
Ultimately, although a conversion kit lets you transform your bike easily, the truth is that you can’t entirely replace the high level of performance offered by complete e-bikes.