How to buy a motorized bike kit.
If your reading this article you have probably already discovered that buying an e-bike kit is more of a pain than it ought to be. Reading “Why I can’t buy an E Bike” or one of my reviews “E-BikeKit-Review” can help you get up to speed quickly and reading Must-have knowledge will give you additional must have knowledge.
It seems that many websites and advertisers take advantage of the confusing and often conflicting information surrounding e-bikes, e-bike kits and batteries by arranging it to suit their needs. Are they safe? Are the legal? Do I need regenerative braking? Is there much of a difference between 350W, 500W or 1000W motors or 24v, 36v, 48v or 72v motors? Direct drive or geared drive? What’s the difference between e-bikes, motorized bikes or electric scooters? Is it worth the effort in the first place? Spend a little time and read this article and I’ll help you to understand what it is you need to know. I bought my first e-bike kit about two years ago so I know what you’re going through. I literally spent more time and effort purchasing that first e-bike than I did in buying a delivery truck for my rental business the year before. By the time your done reading this you should know what you need and where to get it. More importantly, by demystifing the process of motorizing your bicycle I hope you’ll find the whole project to be fairly simple and a lot of fun. After all is’nt that the primary reason we choose to cycle in the first place place? OK, let’s begin with the big green automotive picture and zoom down to what we need.
The electric car has received a disproportional amount of press in the last few years. It’s promotion and development is often on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of private and federal research dollars. It is has been the subject of legislative debate, it’s the beneficiary of huge tax subsidies, and not surprisingly, the electric car or hybrid vehicle is often heralded as the Holy Grail of transportation by the environmentally conscious commuter. Between the escalation in fuel prices and the growing alarm over greenhouse gas emissions development of electric, alternative fuel, low emission or zero emission automobiles has become a world-wide imperative.
What we often overlook in this quest for cleaner more fuel-efficient transportation is whether or not we really need our cars in the first place. Of course most of us can’t do without a car all together but we can and should be looking at ways to significantly reduce our complete dependency on them. How many cars do you have in your driveway?
How often do we hop in our car to make a trip less than 2 miles to the store and back. How many of us live 8 miles or less from work? Over the course of week how many trips do you take in your car that are less than 6 miles round trip? Now just for the moment forget about all of that. Forget the statistical data showing the need to reduce our carbon footprint. Forget about the political ramifications our dependence on foreign oil can cause, the very real cost savings you’ll receive by driving less or even the benefits of regular exercise. Forget all of that, turn of the TV & the radio, just sit & listen, shhsh………. hear that ? Yep,.. nothing, the same sound you & your e-bike will make on the way to the store. There are so many practical benefits for parking the car and taking your bike we sometimes forget that riding a bike is also fun and relaxing. After all having fun was the only thing we were thinking about when we first climbed on our bikes or trikes so many years ago.
In writing this article I made a few assumptions about the reader:
- You already own a bicycle.
- You like to ride.
- You wish you could ride more & do more with your ride. I.e. run errands, haul stuff.
- You’re not a mechanic, part time inventor or hard core tinkerer.
- You’ve already decided to motorize you’re current ride as opposed to buying a new one.
- You’ve been overwhelmed with information overload.
- The total cost will be a very real consideration in your final decision.
A little bit about me. I am an avid cyclist and currently ride an older Mongoose mountain bike with a two-year old 36 volt Go-Hub e-bike kit with SLA batteries. (see Welcome to EZgo-Now article). I’m the owner and editor for this e bike blog. I also own and operate a small repair & bike shop where I sell and install e-bike kits. This and my previous background with tools & equipment has afforded me with a lot of knowledge regarding electric motors, electronics, batteries and bikes. Still my experience with selecting an e bike kit and power source for my mountain bike was far more difficult and stressful than I had been prepared for. When I purchased that kit over two years ago from Largo Scooters (highly recommended) it was only after many hours of research on-line and off looking for a good kit. Today the number of e-bike kits and options has increased 3 fold, the number of websites “reviewing” these products has increased 10 fold & today I could easily spend two days visiting websites and researching options and still not have seen half of them. Actually I had dedicated a full day for putting this article together. It took me a week.
The good news however is that motor technology and quality has improved considerably. The kits themselves are better assembled using higher quality components and have a number of new and useful features. One of best bits of good news is the advancements in battery technology. Specifically Lithium Ion, LiMnNi and LiFePO4 batteries. See the Battery links in the Directory of e-bike related websites for articles on battery technology. The bad news is every Tom, Dick & Harry (& Jane) with a website is selling e-bikes, motorized bike kits and cheap batteries. There are a ton of these sites and although you don’t have to visit them they still clog-up your search results. The majority of them are junk websites or blog pages of re-spun technical data from hub motor manufacturing sites, marketing material from Chinese battery builders or copied reviews from Best Buy, Target, Nextag, Amazon, etc. They waste a huge amount of your time by sending you off on useless searchess or filling your search results with useless links. I would be re-miss in my responsibility if I didn’t mention EBay at this point. As an EBay seller the last thing I want to do is shed EBay in a negative light. They have done a lot to legitimatize the Internet as a viable market place. That said “BUYER BEWARE”. Even with all the safety measures EBay has put in place there is still a lot of unscrupulous vendors selling their wares and e-bike kits are no exception. SEE THESE EBay notes for “taking precautions”.
That said let’s get down to business. The following is “my list of 7″ for choosing an e-bike kit. Spend a little bit of time up-front and save a whole lot of time and frustration down the road.
- The first order of business is to list everything you plan to do with your new electric bike & how far will you be going with it?
- Under what conditions will you using your bike? (weather, safety & security)
- What type of bike do you have & what condition is it in?
- Determine how much you can spend on the TOTAL PROJECT. This is in caps because freight is very often overlooked & it can be a significant amount. $500 is the bare minimum & $700 is more realistic.
- Determine the amount of effort you’re willing to put into the acquisition of this kit, batteries and hardware & how much work you’re prepared to do in installing it.
- Sort out, identify and list the individual components needed for your complete e-bike conversion.
- Locate & compare vendors & their pricing, warranties, return policies & shipping charges.
Before I start I’d like to mention two excellent sources for detailed information on the subject of e-bike kits. The recent book titled Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit Installation – Made Easy.by Claude Rosay, MBA AR Publishing Company. Kindle Edition. and the website for Grin Technologies Ltd. Specifically their FAQ about e-bikes page at www.ebikes.ca. The former is $7.95 as a Kindle download & the latter is free. Now “My list of 7″ explained
- #1 OK. You have a bike. You want to ride it more and you want to use it for more stuff. Even if you already use your bike regularly how often do you take your car because you have stuff to carry, or cause it’s hot and you don’t want to arrive all hot & sweaty, or you’re beat and just not up to the extra effort? Those three situations alone probably account for at least half of that time. Now add in the ones I didn’t mention plus the ones you’ve yet to discover & you’ll find your biking mileage to be doubling, tripling or more. Now take a few minutes and make a list. Here’s my list to get you started. By the way this would be a real good time to get your significant other involved.
- Convenience store trips. 3 per week. 3 mi. O trip. Drug store. 1 per month. 3 mi. O trip Men’s group meetings 2 per week. 4 mi. O trip. Grocery store 2 per month. 5 mi. O trip. Leisure ride. 3 per week. (Increase time & distance) Exercise. (See above) Commute to work. 2 per week. 8 mi O trip. (Increase when possible)
- #2 Your not just taking a bike-ride you’re completing a task. The question now is what conditions will that place on your bike? I.e The 110 lb 68 yr. old retired women living in Nevada will have significantly different requirements than a 190 lb 20 yr. old college student living in West Virginia. The following should get you started but keep in mind there are a lot of variables. How much do you weight? What will your cargo weight? Don’t forget an e-bike kit w/SLA batteries will be + or – 40 lbs. Will you ride in wet conditions? How many and how steep are your hills? Do you have any prevailing winds to deal with? Do you have a dry,
protected place with electricity to store your bike? Do you have a similar place at work if you’re using this for commuting?
#3 All-Right that’s what you want to do with your bike. Now what’s your bike able to do for you? Keep in mind your about to do things that you weren’t thinking about when you bought this bike. More importantly the manufacturer was definitely not thinking about somebody strapping a power plant to their bike. The style, build, features and mechanical condition are of the up-most importance. To get you started here’s what you need to look at and some of the minimum requirements. But PLEASE be honest. Not only will an unsuitable bike cost you money in the long run. There is the very real possibility that it could land you in the hospital. Talk about an unintended expense. OUCH! Mountain bikes, Recreation Bikes, Cruisers & hybrids are all good fits for an e-bike conversion. Racing Bikes or light weight road bikes are not. What’s the condition of the frame & frame parts. Is anything bent? Is there any major rust? Are the components free of excessive play and do they work smoothly & quietly? What’s the condition of the mechanical parts? I.e. brakes, shifters, chain, de-railers, rims, tires. What’s the wheel size? (20″, 24″, 26”, 700cm, ) This will be on the sidewall of your tire. Are the front forks steel or aluminum? Use a magnet to check. What’s the width of the front forks at the axle line & at 5 inches up from that? What’s the width of the rear wheel mount at the axle line & at 5 inches up from that? Do you have front suspension?
- #4 Now you need a budget. If budgets aren’t your thing at the very least you need to figure out how much you can spend and how you’ll pay for what you’ve spent. If you’re purchasing some or all of your e-bike kit on-line you’ll need a credit card or at least a PayPal account. If you purchase from any type of on-line auction site or a retail website that your not absolutely 100% sure about use your credit card even if you have an PayPal account. The extra layer of protection goes a long way in giving you some peace of mind. $500.00 will be the minimum cost for a complete kit using SLA batteries and $800.00 will give you a little flexibility. Lithium Batteries will add $400.00 to $1200.00. See “My choice for batteries” . Most of the prices you’ll find are for the “e-kits only”! THEY DO NOT INCLUDE BATTERIES! Nor do they include shipping which can be a significant amount. If you do not have at least $500 wait until you do.
IMPORTANT! – A COMPLETE READY TO RIDE E-BIKE KIT MUST INCLUDE BATTERIES. MOST ADVERTISED PRICES ARE FOR E-BIKE KITS LESS THE BATTERY PACK. A BATTERY PACK WITH A CHARGER CAN COST AS MUCH OR MORE THAN MANY OF THE E-BIKE KITS.
- #5, 6 & 7 have for the sake of space and readability been combined. How much time are you willing to spend on electrifying your bike? Are you going to shop around for the best price & the latest technology? Do you want to learn e-bike terminology and electric motor terminology? Are you interested in knowing how many watts it takes to produce one horse power or figuring out wattage by computing volts and amps? How closely are you prepared to read the advertisements to insure you’re ordering what you think you’re ordering and how much anxiety are you willing to endure after placing that order? Don’t forget about returns & warranties. A no name kit purchased from an unknown vendor can be a real gamble. Even if you can return the kit for a FULL REFUND that FULL REFUND will seldom include any credit towards the return freight charges. Freight back to China can be over a $100. Large retail sites like Amazon.com will usually offer their own MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. Use these sites and a Credit Card and at least your money will be safe.
And that my soon to be e-bikers is how this article came to be. Electrifying your bicycle is just far to complicated and I thought I’d try my hand at simplifing it. So if by the time you read to the bottom of this page you know what you need to know to purchase everything needed to build the e-bike of your dreams then I succeeded. Let me know how I’m doing.
Every e-bike kit is made of the same basic components. However the size, technical specifications, quality, price, freight and packaging of these components can vary tremendously. Even the information about these kits or the way in which they are advertised will vary a great deal. Please be extra careful about motorized bike kits, batteries & accessories sold on Ebay or similar sites. If it’s a vendor you don’t know or one with low # of units sold email them & ask where the product is shipping from? More often than not it’s coming from somewhere in China. The vendor’s Ebay address say’s USA. The Ebay vendor you are buying from has no more information about what you will ultimately end up with or when you will get it than the Man In The Moon does. OK, with that out of the way let me start by listing each e-bike component along with a brief description of what it does along with some links to additional factual information.
Wheel w/Hub Motor: Hub Motors are available separately but for the purposes of this article they will be laced to a bicycle wheel. Wheels will come in 20″, 24″, 26″ & 700cm sizes. They will come laced to a FRONT wheel or a REAR wheel. REAR wheels come with a special (narrow) 5 or 6 gear sprocket in case yours is to wide. Which one you decide on will be based on both practical considerations and personal preferences. **** (see e-bike kit details for list) Hub motors are available as Brush-less direct drive, (the most widely available) direct drive with brushes, (common at the lower end) Geared (not as common but available) and the newest called the MagicPie hub motor a multi voltage disk or pancake motor. As there is lots of good in-depth information already available on hub motors I’ll refer you to the following websites. The Grin Cyclery Page @ www.ebikes.ca/, Eric Peltzer’s FAQ Page @ peltzer.net/ebike/ and Wikipedia @ wikipedia.org/
Motor Controller: The controller will always be part of an e-bike kit but can also be purchased separately. These are the brains of the operation and come in various sizes and configurations. The basic considerations for these controllers will will be voltage, amperage and whether the motor is brushless or not. Hub motors with brushes can use a very inexpensive controller or even none at all. Get the wrong motor controller and poor performance might be the least of your problems. The controller must be matched to the hub motor and both need to be matched to a battery pack of the proper output. For more information about controllers and how they work please visit these websites or do an Internet search on “ebike motor controller”. livestrong.com or Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits
Battery Pack: Next to the Wheel w/Hub Motor the battery pack is the the most expensive part of an e-bike conversion. It is no doubt because of sticker shock that many websites do not include the price of batteries in their advertised price. In addition to the price of the product you also have the hugely variable cost of shipping. SLA Batteries have been around for over a 100 years and are built all around the globe. Consequently they will probably ship from some place reasonably close to where you live. Dollar for dollar they will provide the most bang for the buck. Unfortunately they are also very heavy at 24 lbs or more and therefore cost a lot to ship. Lithium batteries on the other hand are much newer and much lighter at around 5 lbs. In addition to their light weight they have a number of other advantages over SLA batteries. Unfortunately they are almost exclusively built in China so they to have a shipping premium associated with their cost along with a number of technical issues to consider. Because of these highly variable shipping cost and the large price differences between battery technologies almost all e-bike kits will be priced WITH or WITH-OUT batteries. This is a good thing but It’s to bad that so many websites seem compelled to bury this information in small print at the bottom of the page. Please visit these websites for information on batteries and chargers.
- Battery University ,
- Wikipedia on Lithium_iron_phosphate
- Wikipedia on Lithium-ion_batteries
ANOTHER STRONG NOTE ABOUT BATTERIES: Battery packs are made of multiple batteries. The uniform charging and dis-charging of each battery at the proper voltage is critical for good performance and long life. This is true for both SLA batteries & Lithium-ion batteries. BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL WITH LITHIUM-ION CELLS FOR BOTH PERFORMANCE & SAFETY! Because of this most lithium-ion batteries come with a charger & ALL OF THEM MUST have a BMS (Battery Management System). A poor or non-existent battery management systems is the main reason for such huge price discrepancies for batteries that appear to have the same specs. Sub-par construction and materials are two more. The list is long so BUYER BEWARE! The only thing costlier than an expensive lithium-ion battery is a cheap one.
Battery Charger: SLA battery chargers are often included in the basic e-bike kits even when sold without batteries. Chargers are sometimes but not always included with the purchase of lithium batteries. Low amperage (2 amp) SLA chargers are relatively inexpensive but be sure to purchase the correct voltage. Even low amperage lithium chargers will probably cost at least $40. The lower the amperage the cheaper the cost but the longer the charge time. If you are purchasing your batteries separately from the e-bike then buy your charger from your battery supplier. Ask them to throw one in. You might be surprised. At the very least you’ll probably get a discount.
Speed control & wiring harness: Unless you’re putting your e-bike kit together from the ground up these items will be included with the basic e-bike kit. The speed control which is often incorrectly labeled as a throttle is actually a potentiometer. You’ll usually have the option of a twist grip (like a motorcycle) or a thumb lever.
E-Brake levers, misc. wiring, cargo rack & battery bag: Some kits will come with replacement brake levers whether you need them or not. There are two reasons for this. First a direct drive hub motor equipped with the proper motor controller is capable of regenerative braking. (Not something I recommend, see ampedbikes.com) A regenerative brake in is simplest form is a switch that changes your DC motor into a DC generator. When that switch is made the DC motor is now a DC generator. It creates drag on the motor there by slowing the bike while at the same time putting current back into the battery. Read this Wikipedia article on regenerative brakes for a proper explanation of regenerative braking. Secondly in some countries for claimed safety reasons its required that when the brake is applied the power to the hub motor must be shut off. The misc. wiring, cargo rack and battery bag are all for the battery pack. Some, all or none of these components might be found an e-bike kit without a battery pack. Apparently the overall cost of these items to many suppliers is apparently less than the additional expense of itemizing, storing and retailing these items separately.
Accessories: Heavy duty kick stand, lights, horn or bell. Once you have electrified your old ride and found that you are USING IT MORE you’ll quickly decide that you now naturally want to DO MORE. Hence you’ll need some extra stuff. This extra stuff can be added later. Don’t let it become a reason for choosing one e-bike kit over the other.
There you have it. An explanation of e-bike kit components and the reasons why buying an e-bike kit can be so complicated. What follows is a list of specific e-bike kits and the information needed to make an anxiety free purchase.
E-bike kit details and ordering information. The EASY PART:
The first two groups of e-bike kits I have listed DO NOT INCLUDE BATTERIES. Both groups have 250 watt or 500 watt brush-less direct drive hub motors. They come in 26 ” front or 26″ rear wheel configurations and are available in both 36 volt or 48 volt. They will work with standard pull brakes or disc brakes. They come WITH A TIRE. Please re-read the previous section on batteries before deciding on whether to go with a 36 volt or 48 volt e-bike kit. These kits will work with both SLA (sealed lead acid) and Lithium-ion batteries. (Li-ion or LiFePO4) They all ship with a battery bag, rear bike racks, tie downs & a 36V or a 48V charger for SLA batteries. These kits may or may not include all of the wiring or electrical connectors necessary to wire the individual batteries together. SLA batteries will be widely available from any number of local sources. SLA batteries are inexpensive but very heavy at 8 lbs. to 14 lbs each. The have an average cycle life of 200 to 300 charges. A 36V e-bike kit will require 3 12V batteries. A 48V e-bike kit will require 4 12V batteries. The higher the Ah (amp hour) the longer the run time but the heavier the weight. (see below)
- A 36V kit with 3 – 12V 12 Ah batteries will weigh approx 24 lbs. & cost about $75
- A 36V kit with 3 – 12V 20 Ah batteries will weight approx 42 lbs. & cost about $105.
The model # usually indicates the voltage & the amperage. I.e A 12V 12 Ah battery will be a M #1212, 12120, 12V12, etc. Lithium-ion batteries are generally not available locally and will usually have to be ordered on-line. The majority of these come from China although there are a few made in the USA. (See Chicago Electric bicycles for ordering Allcelltech.com lithium-ion batteries) The higher the Ah (amp hour) the longer the run time but the higher the cost. Lithium-ion batteries are very expensive at 4 to 6 times the cost of SLA batteries but they are 1/5th the weight, go further on a single charge & charge faster. They also have an average cycle life of 1000 charges which is 3 to 4 times greater than SLA batteries. Lithium-ion batteries will be pre-assembled and priced as a 36V or 48V battery pack. These are usually sold with a battery charger which is important as you must use the correct charger. All Lithium-ion batteries must also have a battery management system to control the charge rate and the dis-charge rate. Please re-read A STRONG NOTE ABOUT BATTERIES: A cheap Lithium-ion battery may be the most expensive battery you ever bought.
Front wheel or rear wheel drive?
Front wheel kits are very easy to install. Front wheel kits can be easily removed. They distribute the weight better since batteries almost always mount at the rear of the bike. They provide better steering when the road surface is wet or covered with gravel, dirt or cinders & give better control in the event of wheel spin. You can keep your original gearing. You must have steel forks with no front suspension. (Check with a magnet. If it sticks your good.) There is minimum clearance between the front forks measured at the dropouts. (where the wheel bolts on) For these kits it’s 3 1/2″. Rear wheel kits are practically invisible to the casual observer. They can provide better traction in certain off-road conditions.Rear frame dropouts are normally stronger than the front & will therefore handle more torque and increased power. It’s much easier to jump your front wheel over curbs and other obstacles. With light weight Li-ion batteries they offer a somewhat more natural feel but they can be squirrely with rear mounted SLA batteries.
The following e-bike kits will work for you if: You have a bike with 26″ wheels & your prepared to buy your batteries separately. Many bikes & practically all adult sized mountain bikes use a 26″ rim. The easiest place to check for this is on your tires sidewall. It will have a number that starts with a 26 & reads something like 26-1.50 or 26-1.75. A front wheel kit must be installed on rigid STEEL front forks. (no shocks) The fork must have a minimum of 3 1/2″ clearance between the dropouts (where the wheel bolts on) and have a 10mm dropout hole or slot. (where the axle goes through) This is the standard size but it’s not universal. The rear wheel comes with 6 gears pre-installed in case your gear cluster is to wide. Lack of space usually negates any gear sets of 7 or more.
These are e bike kits built in the USA. They are high quality reliable kits using high quality components backed up with excellent service. They will arrive at your door complete and with easy to read instructions. Unlike the “bargin kits” coming out of China you won’t be stuck scratching your head trying to figure out where all the wires go or how to mount the componets. If you do have a question with assembly or a problem somewhere down the road you can call (866) 882-3245 and talk to a person.
Do yourself a favor and try to contact the company BEFORE you buy their kit. There is a lot of good companies selling e bike kits today. Sadly, there are far more bad ones.
Directory of e-bike related websites.
E-bike kit & hub motor manufacturers:
- Golden Motor Technology Co., Ltd. – China
- Crystalyte Motor – China
- ConhisMotor Technology Co.,Ltd. – China
- Nine Continent – China
- Yongkang Kerry Industry & Trade Co., Ltd. – China
- Leaf Motor Technology – China
- Desheng Industrial International Co., Ltd – China
- Repow – China
- Gru Bee, Inc – China
- Elebike – Taiwan
- Cyclone e-Bikes – Taiwan
- FalconEV Phantom Motor Works- USA Tallahasee FL
- Clean Republic – USA
E-bike Information & Reference Sources:
- Sheldon Brown Tools & Tips
- Top10Bike Fixes
- On-line home of Grin Tech
- Amped Bikes
- V is for Voltage
- How to Make a Battery Powered Bike
- Endless-sphere.com an Electric Vehicle Technology Forums
- Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit Installation—Made Simple $7.95
- Momentum MagazineE-volution – The Age of the Electric Bike
- Bicycle Design Neat stuff
- Wikipedia – Electric bicycles worldwide. Reach 120 million in China.
- Battery University
- Wikipedia on Lithium-ion_batteries
- Battery Knowledge
- Wikipedia on Lithium_iron_phosphate
More Good Reading:
- Commute by Bike
- Utility Cycling
- My Cargo Bike
- Urban Velo
- Plug Bike
- Pedego Electric Bikes
- LIGHTNING MOTORCYCLES Just because