Is it possible to construct your own DIY electric bicycle? Yes! With adequate technical know-how and research skills, you can convert your conventional pedal bike into an amazing electric motorized bicycle. E-bike conversion is as simple as any homemade project, and it does not even cost much to build your own electrically powered pedal assist (pedelec) two-wheeler. Not only this is possible and affordable, but is also fun.
DIY electric bicycle: Why build and not just buy?
Why bother building your own electric bike when you can just buy one from Walmart or Amazon or from a bike shop near you? Well, there may be good reasons why you should just buy a ready-made e-bike:
- You are not that technically nor mechanically inclined.
- You do not have time for a DIY electric bicycle project.
- You can afford a complete standard electric bicycle.
- You find a model or make that you really like.
- You just don’t want to do your own e-bike conversion.
There is nothing wrong with buying a complete electric bike as long as it is quality built, comes with the features you can use, and suits your riding requirements. But for the sake of product quality and customer service, it would be best if you buy from a reputable bike shop or directly from the manufacture and not from Walmart or eBay.
But a DIY electric bicycle conversion should be a fun project for a bike enthusiast like you. There are two main benefits of building your own electric bike: better cost-savings and custom specifications. Not only you do save a lot of money in a DIY electric bicycle project, but you also get the e-bike that you need, built according to your design and style.
By not buying a ready-made e-bike from the store, you are not paying for the markup and overhead that go into selling ready-made ebikes. By building your own device, you can buy the same parts and components from reputable bike shops for much less than the cost of ready-made electric bicycles with the same parts and components. By building a DIY electric bicycle, you get the exact specs you are looking for, and you start by choosing a bicycle, battery, motor, brake, throttle, etc., from among hundreds of different selections.
Selecting the right bicycle
Your bicycle will be the most important component of your DIY electric bicycle project. You can either use a bicycle that you already have or buy a better quality bike, using the money you have already saved from buying a ready-made e-bike.
Make sure your choice of a bike is appropriate for e-bike conversion. Be it a BMX, mountain bike, folding bike, or off-road, it has to be a bicycle that has a strong frame (to handle the extra weight of the battery and motor) with good, beefy dropouts (the area where the bike holds the wheels’ axles). Steel bikes with steel dropouts are the best for DIY electric bicycle conversion. Aluminum bicycles are okay too, but they require additional torque arm to strengthen the dropouts. Avoid carbon fiber bicycles or those with lightweight frames. When choosing a bike to convert into e-bike, don’t skimp on the quality of your frame.
Another important component of your DIY electric bicycle is the motor. Most e-bikes use a hub motor (a motor that is installed into a wheel’s hub. Hub motors are available in front and rear wheel configurations. There are two types of hub motors:
- Direct drive – Simpler and less expensive type of hub motor. Quieter and more reliable as they have fewer moving parts, but not very efficient.
- Internally geared – More efficient but noisier and less reliable as they have more moving parts. Suitable for driving up hills and steep inclines as they have more torque.
Your choice of a motor for your DIY electric bicycle depends on how you intend to use your e-bike and what performance metrics you are aiming for, in terms of speed, power, and range. For daily urban commuting on flat roads, a 250W motor will do (but you will need a higher voltage battery pack for better range). For off road or driving over steep inclines, a 500W rear hub motor will be your best option.
There are two types of battery that you can choose for your DIY electric bicycle:
- Lithium batteries – Lightweight, maintenance-free, longer-lasting, and quick-charging.
- Sealed lead acid (SLA) – Cheaper and heavier than lithium batteries, but boasts of higher power output.
When choosing a battery pack for your DIY electric bicycle, consider its voltage and amp hour (AH) rating. Higher voltage e-bikes are generally the fastest, and e-bikes with higher battery AH ratings usually offer better range. However, battery performance will depend on few factors, such as rider’s weight, terrain, motor efficiency, and rider input (driving on full throttle or with pedal assist).
How fast and how far do you want your DIY electric bicycle to go? As to provide an example, one ready-made electric bike (with 250W motor) has a maximum speed of 18.7mph (29 kph) and an estimated minimum range of 15 miles (24 km) on a single charge. The device is powered by a 36V 8AH lithium-ion battery pack. Another e-bike (with 500W motor) can speed up to 28 mph (45 kph) and cover 40 miles (64 km) at a single charge of a 48V 19AH battery pack.
Brake and throttle
What throttle and brake to go with your DIY electric bicycle? There are two categories of throttle:
- Thumb throttle – A small lever protruding from the handlebar towards the rider. Easily fits into most e-bikes and is operated by a thumb. Though they take up little room, they exhaust the thumb and present a potential safety risk as they keep one finger short on the handlebar.
- Twist throttle – Take up the whole end of the handlebar, thus requiring the whole hand to operate. Though they provide more control, they lead to a sore wrist and are a safety risk too as they can be accidnetally engage.
Your choice of a throttle for your DIY electric bicycle depends on how you comfortable and secured you want to be in controlling your e-bike. Choose wisely.
What about brakes? There are two types of brakes:
- Disc brakes – Highly effective and maintenance-free. They provide stronger braking power. However, they are hard to replace when the brake pads are worn out, and make hub motor installation a bit difficult.
- Rim brakes – Simple, lightweight, and cheaper. They are also strong and effective. But they require regular maintenance, and wear out the rim walls, thus necessitating replacement from time to time.
When choosing a braking system for your DIY electric bicycle, don’t skimp on the quality of your brakes and brake pads. Make sure your desired brakes are appropriate for your front or rear wheel. Rim brakes are best on wheels that hold the hub motor. And lastly, check with your motor and the brakes options it is compatible with. Brakes on a DIY electric bicycle are important because you will be traveling at higher speeds more frequently.
Choosing the right DIY electric bicycle conversion kit
There is a wide array of e-bike conversion kits that have parts and components that can be fitted into your bicycle. But bear in mind that not all kits will fit all bicycles. So in this aspect, consider the kit’s ease of installation. Is it suitable for a DIY beginner like you or does it require the assistance of a competent mechanic?
When deciding on a DIY electric bicycle project, ask yourself whether you possess the inclination to fit a kit (or the skill to assemble a bike). Know if you have enough time or interest to research about e-bike conversion. That is when you make the choice whether to build your own e-bike or just buy one from the store.