eBike Conversion Kits, the Pros and Cons

Electric bikes are great fun to ride, and there are a lot of different models you can choose from when you’re looking for your first eCycle. One option new eBikers have is to install an ebike kit on their regular bike frame.

The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits.
The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits.

At first glance, this may seem like a good way for new bikers to break into e-riding. Most of the people who take up eBiking already have experience with pedal-powered bikes, and many have a mountain bike or pavement cruiser available to work with.

However, before you invest money on a kit, take the time to answer these questions. What are the upsides of an ebike conversion kit? How much trouble is it to convert a human-powered bike with an electric motor, and is it worth it? Maybe most important, is this the best way to get on the road with an electric bike of your own?

What Is an Electric Bike Conversion Kit?

Electric bike kits are compact electric motors that can be affixed to the frame of regular bicycles to convert them into motored bikes. They range in power from around 250 watts to over 750 watts. They’ll typically add between 12 and 25 pounds to the total weight of a bike. Depending on the type of bike you’re converting, powered speeds can average between 15 and 20 mph, with ranges of 12 and 40 miles. 

BUY OR CONVERT: The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits
BUY OR CONVERT: The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits

Who Uses Kits to Convert Their Bikes?

DIY kits are popular options for some people who are new to eBiking. Maybe they’re tinkerers at heart? Maybe they already own a mountain bike that they love? For those who already own mountain bikes, a conversion kit can feel like an investment. An electric kit will help them conquer steep hills and tough trails – especially an e-conversion kit with pedal-assist function – using the familiar bike they’re already used to.

Conversions are also a niche hobby among bikers who already have at least moderate amounts of experience working with electric motors and what can sometimes be very complicated gearing mechanisms. Converting a pedaled bike to electric is also attractive for some young people who live in dense urban areas or for people who already commute on a bicycle and would like a bit of a boost without getting rid of their old bikes. 

Potential Drawbacks to Electric Bike Conversions

Electric bicycle conversions have a certain appeal, but there are more than a few downsides to installing one, especially for first-timers. For one, the conversion takes time and experience to do correctly. Unless you’ve worked on motors and bike modifications in the past, it can be hard to properly install an electric motor onto a bicycle that wasn’t built for it.

If the bike wasn’t specifically built for holding a motor and battery, you might run into more than one issue during the conversion. Even with professional installation, many bicycle frames simply can’t handle the added stress a power drive puts on them. Installing a 750-watt electric motor on a tubular steel frame that was never meant to handle the extra weight can push your bike past its limits. For this reason, it’s always important to follow a kit’s manual and have your converted bike checked out by an expert before trusting it on a trail or city street.

And placement of the motor and battery can also pose problems. With the bike’s frame, it may make sense to place the motor/battery to one wheel over the other – front or rear. But adding the extra weight without carefully considering the riding balance will likely result in an eBike that’s hard to ride and difficult to maneuver.

Conversion kit bikes have another drawback? They’re performance isn’t much better than purpose-built electric bikes. While it’s tempting to think a conversion is quicker and less expensive than a ground-up electric bike build, this usually isn’t the case. A typical conversion kit, without any labor costs factored into it, can range between $500 and $1,000. A model that was built from the wheels-up as an electric bike falls into that same price range, with some pedal-less models dipping into the $200 to $300 range.

Purpose-Built Electric Bikes

Unless you have your heart set on converting your favorite bicycle into a powered rider, you may be best off with a purpose-built eBike. With a dedicated power bike model, you can be sure that the frame can handle the extra force a motor puts on it. Also, eBikes are very likely assembled by the factory to a product standard that’s been tested and tested again to make sure it’s safe, which a DIY kit bike can really never match.

The range, speed and power you’re likely to get out of an eBike is also probably better than what you can expect from a conversion kit. Even middle-tier eBikes deliver between 16 and 25 mph for speed. And the range you get on a single charge is competitive with converted bikes – especially at the high end of the power spectrum.

The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits
The Pros and Cons of Electric Bike Kits.

eBike Conversion Kits: the Verdict

So . . . this might seem like a lot of information. Buy outright or convert existing. Which you prefer ultimately depends on what you want to get out of your electric-assisted bike. But to recap, let’s look over the pros and cons of using an electric bicycle conversion kit.

Conversion kits have a place in the eBike world. But they are definitely a niche product. Some people love being able to ride the bike they’ve had for years – just with an added electric motor. Others enjoy the technical challenge of converting a conventional bike into an electric-powered powerhouse. For most people, however, there’s no significant advantage to the performance, durability or price you get over a purpose-built eBike.

Pros Cons
You can use your current bike, which is already fitted to how you ride. Your bike’s frame may not be able to support the motor weight or the increased speed.
You may enjoy the challenge if you’re a mechanical hobbyist. If you can’t install the motor yourself, you’ll need to spend extra money on labor costs.
You could save on initial costs (but don’t forget to factor in the battery). Placing a new motor on an old bike is not a practical investment in the long run.
  Your maximum speed will probably not match a pre-built eBike.
  You won’t have the advantage of product safety testing.

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