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E-bikes are easier on the environment than cars. They’re also easier to pedal than a standard person-powered two-wheeler. You get as much exercise riding an E-bike as you do a traditional bike. Thanks to improved technology and more people interested in alternative transit methods, E-bikes are also becoming more available — and more affordable.
But no electric bike is as cheap as the bike you already own. If you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint, live in a small space, or practicing minimalism, repurposing what you already have can be a win-win-win decision. So if you love your current ride but want to add some juice for getting uphill or for powering your cargo bike when you’re carrying a heavy load, you can thanks to electric bike converter kits. To electrify your bike, you need a battery, sensors, controls, and a motorized wheel or a drive unit.
Here are the best options for upgrading your bike with an e-bike conversion kit.
Whenever you’re buying a newer technology, sticking with a known brand makes sense. That makes Bafang’s E-bike conversion kits (view at Amazon) a sound choice — in terms of quality and price. If speed is what you’re after, the kits from Ebikeling (view at Ebikeling) and Jaxpety (view at Amazon) might make you feel more like you’re scootering than cycling.
What to Consider When Shopping for an E-Bike Conversion Kit
Is the battery included? You’ll need something to power and charge your e-bike conversion kit. Many kits include a battery. Cheaper kits may not, though, which means you’ll need to source a compatible battery separately.
You’ll also want to think about your power needs. The higher the battery wattage, the more power you’ll get. So, 250 watts may make your urban daily commute less sweaty, but it won’t help as much on steep inclines. If you want to take your converted bike out on tougher trails, you’ll want more power.
Keep in mind that according to U.S. federal regulations, e-bikes with more than 750 watts of power are considered motor vehicles, and require a motorcycle license.
You’ll want to check your state and local laws as some cities and towns have banned e-bikes from bicycle paths, so if that’s where you want to ride, you’ll want to make sure your town allows your upgraded bike to cruise around on them.
E-bikes come in three classes:
- Class 1 E-bikes that assist you while you pedal and top out about 20 mph.
- Class 2 E-bikes have a throttle that assists you regardless of whether you pedal and have a top speed of 20 mph.
- Class 3 E-bikes assist you while you pedal and top out about 28 mph.
Are electric bike conversion kits difficult to install?
There are several kinds of e-bike conversion kits, and the ease of set-up and installation varies.
- Friction Drive Conversion is a simple strategy. A roller pushes against the tire on the wheel. When the roller turns, the wheel turns. It’s a reasonably easy system to set up but often isn’t the most effective.
- Mid-Drive Conversion is the technology that the best e-bikes tend to use. A weight sits at a low point on the bike frame, and the power is applied to the crank. These can be more expensive, but the technology is typically better. There’s no standardization, however, which can make figuring out exactly what you need to make your bike work a little more challenging. Adding the parts is also a bit more complex than friction drive conversion.
- Electric Bike Wheel Conversion swaps out a non-electrified front or rear wheel with an electrified one. The process is simple depending on where and how the battery mounts — such as on a rear rack. Once installed, weight distribution can feel natural. However, powering the front wheel may impact your bike’s handling.
What tools do I need?
You’ll need a bike tool, crank arm tool, adjustable wrenches, and a screwdriver along with your electric bike conversion kit.
These demos can show you how to install your e-bike conversion kit.
Should I get a conversion kit or just buy a new e-bike?
A visit to your local bike shop mechanic is a helpful step in the decision-making process. They can help you determine if your bike is a good candidate for electric technology.
Your old bike may not be able to be converted because adding a motor can increase torque. You’ll want to make sure your bike’s drivetrain can handle it.
The extra weight from adding an electric motor also impacts your brakes, so you’ll want to make sure they are effective for stopping at a higher speed. E-bikes tend to have disk brakes for this reason. If your current bike is in disrepair, has old parts, or needs other improvements, it may be more cost-effective to sell your trusty old ten speed and buy an e-bike.
Also, consider that a quality electric bike conversion kit can be nearly the cost of an electric bike. Do some comparison shopping between the price of a conversion kit and a fully-loaded e-bike before you decide which way you want to roll. Our picks for the best e-bikes may help guide your decision.
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Author Heidi Wachter has been writing about travel and adventure for over a decade. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her riding one of her six bicycles — even in the winter.