E-bikes offer bike commuters a lot of options, especially as the weather heats up. A cool ride in the late fall may be a nightmare in July. An e-bike can also make a tough trail much easier to manage. However, these bikes are under more stress as they move over the ground and if you suffer a wreck.
What parts do you need to build an e-bike?
An e-bike is a bike with motor assist. For a successful e-bike conversion, you’ll need the following parts/components:
- motor, speed control hub and throttle, which can often be bought in a kit
- battery pack and charger
- tools to install
- gear sensor
- strong zip ties
If you don’t already do your own bicycle maintenance, find a video and learn how to clean, lubricate and adjust your regular bike before you convert it. Keeping a standard bike clean and lubed will make it run more smoothly and safely. If you aren’t ready for the maintenance your new e-bike will take, you may destroy it through neglect.
Can you realistically build your own e-bike?
It’s possible to put a motor on just about any bike. However, you can quickly turn a perfectly safe bike into a dangerous ride. If you or someone you know may get on the bike and do something at a dangerous speed, get a kit with a speed limiter to prevent a tragedy before it can get rolling.
Best type of bike to convert to e-bike
If your current bike is a lightweight aluminum racer, it’s time to shop for an older, steel-framed bike. A hardtail mountain bike frame could be ideal for your conversion.
Look for a bike with disc brakes and forks with shocks. E-bikes take a pounding as the speed goes up and the frame’s weight and battery chatters down on the tires. Additionally, carefully consider how you’re going to use the bike. A hearty steel frame could be a great commuter, but if you’ve got a backpack, lunch kit, or groceries strapped on that back bar, you’re going to struggle to swing your leg over the back.
You may want to look for an older steel-framed cruiser with a step-thru frame if you plan to haul a lot of product on your e-bike.
How to Build the e-bike from scratch
If you plan to build your e-bike from the ground up instead of converting it, create a space in your home or garage where you can spread everything out, walk away from it and come back when you’re fresh.
Handling the front hub, hooking up the motor, and making sure the brakes function will make sense when you’re watching the video, but once you start actually working on the mechanics, you will need to slow down.
The front hub for your new e-bike will come with a pre-threaded wheel, including spokes and the rim. If you need new tires, now is the time to invest before you hook up the wheel to the hub. Since disc brakes are best for this mode of travel, carefully check your brake condition and replace them as needed.
The torque arms will need to be fitted in carefully. Your torque arms protect the dropouts or connection where the bike connects to the axle from the cranking power of the e-bike motor. An ordinary bicycle mechanism doesn’t put much pressure on the dropouts, so your torque arm choice will have a big impact on your road safety.
Then wire the electronics to the motor and bind the wires to the frame with loose zip ties. Once your battery has a safe, waterproof space to be on the frame, you can tighten up the zips.
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If you choose to power your e-bike from the rear hub and have never taken the back wheel apart or off, be prepared to practice that. The mechanisms on the back wheel are inherently more involved than the front wheels, so adding your power assist back here will take more knowledge.
The front and rear hub additions are both self-contained and fairly easy to swap out. Adding a crank motor to your DIY e-bike can make for a smoother ride, but it can also render the bike unusable if it fails.
Additionally, converting a standard bike into an e-bike with a crank drive motor adapter means that your motion depends on the chain and sprockets that were built to turn under pedal power. They will wear out and fail faster than if you were just pedaling on your own.
These kits are quite a bit more costly than a hub motor. As of August 2021, a hub motor for the front or back tire will cost less than $200, while a crank motor conversion will cost less than $900.
If you have changed out the gear mechanism on your bike in the past, this task may be quite manageable, and you can enjoy a smoother ride on your e-bike. However, the learning curve may be very steep if you have not replaced this mechanism.
Once encased, your gear mechanism will be sleek and completely covered. If you plan to use your e-bike as your primary commuting tool and need to wear something a bit dressy to the office, the process may well be worth it to reduce the risk of chain damage to your garments.
If you’re turning an existing bike into an e-bike, do make sure to upgrade the protective hardware on your bike. A carrying rack on the back will come in handy, but those faster-spinning tires will spatter and soak the rider and whatever you’re carrying. Add fenders!
Do be ready to upgrade your locks. E-bikes are theft targets. If you plan to leave your battery box on the bike, make sure you get a great bike lock to keep your new e-bike safe. If your e-bike has hub motors, pulling the battery case may be enough to protect you from thieves targeting e-bikes. However, if you choose a crank motor, your ability to disguise your e-bike will be nearly nil.
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