If you are considering buying an electric bike, the choices are endless. From budget models that come with a basic specification and few frills, to high-end two-wheelers with all the trimmings.
Models like the budget Ampler Curt will do, but higher-end e-bikes including the Cowboy 4 and Specialized Turbo Vado 4.0 are dream machines. Unfortunately, they are expensive, so stick with just that for those on a tight budget to play with.
Consequently, many of us have to return to a more budgetary solution. While cheaper e-bikes like the ones above will get the job done, another option is to turn your existing bike into an e-bike. The demand for affordable e-bike solutions has seen a growing range of e-bike conversion kits developed by inventive companies who have spotted a potentially lucrative gap in the market.
Across the country, there are thousands of unused bikes in sheds, garages, hallways and guest rooms. We are now actively encouraged to resurrect them whenever possible. In fact, the UK has announced a Fix your Bike Voucher Scheme, which can give you a £50 voucher towards the cost of getting your tired old two-wheeler back in working order.
However, behind the enticing title, the rigmarole involved in getting the discount deal may mean getting around that and just doing it yourself. So why not go all the way and make your bike electric. Turning your old pedal bike into an electric machine might not necessarily be easy or cheap, but it is doable. Converting a conventional bike to an e-bike can be done in a number of ways, depending on the type of bike you need to work with and your budget.
Types of conversion kit
There’s the drive-wheel route, which replaces a front or rear wheel with a wheel with a motor, usually in the hub. Alternatively, in some cases it is possible to add a drive unit or motor to the bottom of the frame.
A twist on this theme is to mount a motor on the rear wheel to power the bike and yourself. You can even get kits that mount inside the frame for a more low-profile but pricey option.
For a relatively painless transition, Swytch is a good place to start. This is an e-bike conversion kit which its creators say will fit any bike, and there is a special version for Brompton folding bikes, making it a preferred option for riders. commuters. Whether you own a hybrid or conventional style cycle, folding number, road bike or mountain bike, all bases are apparently covered. You can even convert a trike.
Swytch is a combination of a replacement front wheel with hub-mounted motor and a removable power pack. There’s even a pedal sensor that provides a level of dynamic assistance based on cadence level. The design is rim and disc brake compatible, will allow you to hit the legal speed limit of 15mph UK / 20mph US and offers up to 50km of range. The only thing is that stock levels seem to fluctuate although they pre-order the fresh products they expect and get 50% off.
There are others though. In fact, you’ll find many themed variations of a wide variety of unknown brands online, with prices starting at around $130 / £100 / AU$180.
Don’t make the mistake of turning your bike into a twist-and-go model because there are kits that allow you to do that, but then you enter a world where tax and insurance come into play in many territories. If you’re new to the world of e-bike conversions, it’s best to keep it simple.
Cytronex is another good example that offers compatibility with many types of cycles, but as always it is essential that you check that their C1 system will work with your model. Their wheel conversion kits have a range of around 25 miles although the price is just under a grand so if you’re looking for a budget solution this may be an issue.
It really underscores why you have to choose between converting an existing bike or selling it (if it’s worth anything) and heading straight for the best budget e-bikes, which start at less than a grand.
However, all is not lost as Conv-e and Cyclotricity are two brands worth exploring if you want an e-bike for less. As an example, the former has a hub and battery combo kit that costs around $950 / £750 / AU$1,300. Meanwhile, Cyclotricity has a similar option that lets you convert for around $570 / £450 / AU$800.
Taking a different approach might be another option. Rubbee has a few options that use a motor mounted behind your saddle to push the rear wheel. It’s a little weird but it comes with modular batteries that offer different levels of battery life. Rubbee prides itself on its easy-to-install and easy-to-use design, with a base model starting at €499 (around $570 / £450 / AU$800).
The aptly named ONwheel is an alternative to the friction wheel idea, and it also has a retrofit kit that works on the same principle. ONwheel can be configured to run using more power in areas where it is legal, but getting that flexibility means the price starts heading north again. Kits start from €749 (around $860 / £670 / AU$1,200).
Finally, another route to consider, if you’re still up for a weekend spent tinkering with an old bike, is to go for a mid-race conversion kit.
Bafang is a name that has been around for a while and offers several products to convert your two-wheeler into an e-bike using a motor mounted on the bottom bracket where the pedals are. Expect to pay at least £350 (around $440 / AU$630) for this option, but there are plenty of variations of the idea available online. TongSheng, for example, offers similar kits for around $380 / £300 / AU$540.
If you like the idea but want a premium example, then something from the Pendix eDrive range will be fine, but pricey at over €1,000 (around $1,100 / £900 / AU$1,600). All of these bottom bracket motor kits certainly have potential, but being so low they are also susceptible to damage and can be expensive to repair if they get water inside them because ‘they are in such a vulnerable position.
Things to keep in mind
Also keep in mind that all of these options for converting a conventional bike into an e-bike will add weight. Batteries are heavy, as are motors, so adding extra kit to a bike that wasn’t designed that way will change its characteristics.
You will likely get a bike that handles differently, depending on where the accessories were added. In fact, the range and speed of all these options is a bit academic. The main consideration is to be on a bike that feels safe.
The only problem with this is that you will have to do the conversion in order to verify. Which really brings us back more to the loop, because with an off-the-shelf e-bike that was designed and built to be just that, you know exactly what you’re getting. A decent bike shop will also let you try it out first, which is one of the possible downsides of buying online. There’s a lot to consider, and it’s not just about saving money.
Ultimately, converting a standard bike to an e-bike can be done, but it’s not without its hurdles. The price is perhaps the most off-putting aspect, as some of the kits we reviewed negate the point of doing it yourself. If you don’t mind a bit of DIY and aren’t fazed by a tune-up weekend, an e-bike conversion kit might make sense. But if you fancy a hassle-free e-bike experience, you might be better off heading straight for the best e-bikes you can buy right now.