In the years since we first started pedaling, a lot has changed in the world of bicycling. While cogs and pedals still power the bikes of today, there exists a more powerful electric option that is quickly becoming all the rage. I talk, of course, about electric bikes. But do you have to buy a new bike or can you simply use a conversion kit to add this new functionality to a traditional bike?
For most people, a conversion kit is a great way to recycle or upgrade an existing bike, and it’s cheaper than buying a new e-bike. They can range in price from ~$300 clear up to ~$1200, and are typically easy to install yourself. While there are several styles, a front hub conversion kit is the most popular.
Converting your bike to electric is easier than you think. For most people, it won’t be a hard installation. For others, well, you can always enlist the help of your local bike mechanic if you’re worried. Overall, you get quite a lot of performance from a conversion kit, but how does it compare to a full e-bike? Let’s dive into those questions, and more. Read on!
Are Electric Bike Conversion Kits Worth It?
Okay, so you want to add some extra power to your existing bicycle — upgraded parts can only get you so far. Adding an electric motor can truly transform your biking experience and add miles to your trips and leave you less exhausted.
But where do you start? With so many kits out there on the market today, it can be daunting to ever start making a decision on which option to choose.
Additionally, you might be curious as to the reality of using a conversion kit in the first place. While kits have come quite a long way in the last decade, there is no mistaking a converted bike into a full-fledged e-bike.
It’s true that a conversion kit will cost quite less than an e-bike, but you still might be dissuaded by the price. And cheaper e-bike conversion kits can leave you wanting when you convert your bike and don’t have the juice/features you need to get the experience you wanted.
Why Convert Your Bike with a Conversion Kit?
When it comes to reasons why you might want to convert your existing bicycle, there are plenty of things to consider. First of all is the price. While there is quite a disparity between different kits, you can expect to find prices much lower than an e-bike in most cases.
So if you are looking to add an electric motor to your ride using a conversion kit can be your best option when it comes to cost.
Another factor that comes into play is the fact that you can use all the same parts you are already comfortable with. It can also be a great way to add a few more years to an existing bicycle, a great way to recycle a bike that would otherwise become scrap metal.
One factor that might turn some people off is the labor of a conversion kit. While you can easily have a bike mechanic set everything up for you, it will cost you to get things worked out. If you’re a die-hard DIYer, get ready for an involved process.
While it’s doable, it could mean a few long nights of messing with parts and troubleshooting. But, if you’re up for the challenge, you can reasonably install your own conversion kit without too much hassle. It’s just good to know what you’re getting yourself into.
How Much do E-Bike Conversion Kits Cost?
Some kits cost less, around $300, but don’t come with all the equipment you need to convert your existing bike to electric power safely. Other kits can range all the way up to $1200 and come with all the required equipment needed, but even these come with their own set of issues.
Here are two conversion kits from either side of the price scale:
- Cheap option: L-Faster Conversion Kit (on Amazon); this barebones kit can get the job done, but you’ll most likely find some issues both with riding experience and longevity.
- Expensive option: If you are looking for the best conversion kit, this Bafang Electric Conversion Kit (see on Amazon) has everything you need to get your regular bike ready for an electric motor.
To truly develop an understanding of why these prices are so different, let’s take a quick look at what you’re paying for. At the very core, an electric conversion kit adds a motor. This can be quite a crude installation as all you really need is a motor that can somehow move either of the wheels of the pedals themselves. Some of these kits do just that and not much else.
The more expensive kits will address some of the major issues of adding a motor to an existing bicycle. Often, they are built to redistribute the weight correctly and allow for parts not to be worn down by the extra power.
Additionally, they can add a higher level of performance when compared to the cheaper kits. But, even with the more expensive kits, how do they compare to regular e-bikes?
What’s the Performance of an E-Bike Conversion Kit Like Compared to a Full Electric Bike?
When it comes to performance between an e-bike and a converted electric bike, there is quite a noticeable difference. This will, of course, depend on the type of bike you are converting and the quality of your parts. In most cases, the added weight from the motor and other parts will have an effect on the weight distribution of the bike.
Unfortunately, in more expensive bikes, this can become a very pronounced issue. It’s not to say you won’t get used to the new weight of the bike, but it will certainly feel different than the original model.
Because of this, a lot of people opt for the e-bike option. Since manufacturers design e-bikes with the weight of the motor in mind, the balance of the bike is tuned.
Additionally, the addition of extra parts can have an effect on overall performance. While your bike may be more than ready for all kinds of riding conditions, the extra stress from the weight and the motor can cause damage over time.
Again, this will depend on the quality of the conversion kit you opt for. For cheaper kits, all you have is a motor to add to your existing wheel. While this gets the job done, it can cause undue stress to the wheel being motorized.
This has to do with the amount of torque the motor gives off and the amount of torque that normal bike operation provides. The disparity between the two can cause your wheel to untrue, or worse, your rim to bend.
Overall, you will see some loss of performance in balance. But you’ll often make up for it with higher possible speeds and a less exhausting ride with the addition of the motor. If you have an expensive road bike, you might opt-out of a conversion kit and go for a true e-bike.
One of the most important parts of any electric bike is the battery. The performance of your battery will determine how long you ride and how fast you go.
While you can always purchase an expensive battery from the start, e-bikes offer some advantages when it comes to power that you just can’t get with a conversion kit.
Mostly, the location of the battery is an issue. With e-bikes, the battery is usually hidden away somewhere in the frame. This is important as exposure to the elements can easily wear down a battery.
For this reason, an e-bike has a win over any conversion kit. With a converted electric bike, your battery will always rest outside the frame in the full brunt of all the rain and heat. Over time, this will degrade the quality of the battery and its overall performance.
How Hard Is It to Convert a Bike with a Conversion Kit?
Before we jump into the steps toward conversion, it’s best to start with the required materials. We put this upfront as some conversion kits won’t come with certain parts and you’ll have to source them yourself. In most cases, this will be the battery.
Since this is one of the most important parts of the conversion kit, it makes sense that it’s often left out of certain kits — giving you more flexibility when it comes to choice.
Other than the battery, you’ll have:
- LCD screen (for displaying battery levels)
- Mounting equipment
- Special tire or hub (optional)
Some kits are more advanced with features like GPS and speed tracking. When you go to make a choice between kits, you’ll see different types.
Types of kits:
- Front hub conversion — The most common type, these are easy to install and often require no special tools.
- Rear hub conversion — Rear hub conversion is very similar to the front hub but offers other advantages since the controller will be closer to the wheel.
- Friction drive conversion kit — These simply push your existing wheel along. While easy to install, they often don’t work well in wet conditions.
When it comes to which kit is right for you, it will depend on your skill level and desired finished product. If you want a simple and no-fuss solution, friction drive is by and large the easiest to install and won’t require you to take any parts off your bike.
With both front and rear hubs different, you’ll need to be comfortable taking off your wheel and replacing it entirely. Other types of kits may require even more work. With kits that replace the gears, you’ll need to retrofit your existing setup. This can be quite an involved process and is best left for your local bike mechanic.
Mounting the Battery
While front and back hub conversion are one part of the electric bike conversion, finding a place for the battery is another. In most situations, you’ll have two choices:
- Frame-mounted battery
- Frame bag battery
A frame-mounted battery will go in a similar position to where you place a water bottle holder. This does offer the advantage of giving you more of a centralized weight point for one of the heavier parts of the conversion.
Frame bag batteries can get heavy. This is especially the case if you intend to also carry a load on the back of your bike. Some people feel that this configuration is easy to use weight-wise. It’s a matter of personal choice. In most cases, though, a frame-mounted battery will provide more juice and be bigger.
Pros and Cons of E-Bike Conversion
Before you make any decisions, it’s great to weigh the pros and cons of a purchase. In the case of a full electric bike conversion, there are a few things to keep in mind in that regard.
Pros of a e-bike conversion:
- You’ll get to keep your original bike — Plenty of people love the bikes they already have. If you want to keep your bike but add some extra power, a conversion kit can be an excellent way to provide you the best of both worlds.
- Easy to install — For most of us, converting a bike to an electric unit isn’t too much of a hassle. If you are somewhat familiar with the basics of bike repair, or can just follow instructions, you’ll find the process quite easy and enjoyable.
- Cheaper than a full e-bike — Almost always, you’ll be paying less for a conversion kit than you would for a full e-bike. While you do sacrifice some performance, you can’t beat the price.
- Easy to customize — While you can always purchase a kit with all the right parts, the more adventurous builders can custom create a conversion kit by picking the best parts from other kits.
- Upgrading is easy — Looking for more power? If that’s the case, you can always purchase a more powerful battery. In most cases, this will add the extra juice you need to reach higher speeds and go even further.
Cons of e-bike conversion:
- It’s easy to buy the wrong parts — It’s common for some bikes to have different-sized wheels. In some cases, the front wheel will be smaller than the back. If you happen to buy a front hub, or back hub, conversion kit by matching it to only one of your existing wheels, you could end up needing to buy either a new kit or a new wheel to match.
- Heavier — There’s no denying that a full electric conversion will add extra weight to your bike. If you happen to carry your bike a lot, like upstairs or into work, get ready for a little extra heft.
- Performance is lacking — While an electric conversion can add quite a bit of versatility and power to your existing bicycle, it’s no match for a real e-bike.
- Price doesn’t mean it’s the best kit for you — Manufacturers design some types of kits for certain riders. Just because it has a high price tag doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you.
- Conversion can be easy to mess up — If you aren’t mechanically inclined, it might be best to leave the installation to a bike mechanic.
What’s the best electric bike conversion kit?
When it comes to which system is best, it is going to depend a lot on your preference. Are you looking for more power? Wanting an easy install? These will all play a role in which type of kit is best for you.
Overall, a front hub conversion kit is your best bet. The Bafang 500W Front Wheel Hub kit (on Amazon) comes from a reputable manufacturer and has all you need to convert your current bike. Overall, this option is easy to install and can work with most types of bikes.
Another popular option is a mid-drive conversion kit like this Bafang 750W model (also on Amazon) which puts a motor right behind the pedals and can offer an even easier way to convert your bike. There are some challenges with this particular option, but overall it is a great way to easily convert any bike style.
Additionally, there are more and more all-in-one kit conversions out on the market. The Swytch is a great option if you are on the lookout for a more polished product. The sporty design and easy-to-follow instruction place it far ahead of the pack when it comes to customer support and build quality. You do pay a premium for the kit, but it does pay off during easy installation and everyday use.
When it comes to converting your bike to an electric unit, there are some downsides and upsides to the process. While you certainly gain more power and longevity for your rides, often kits can feel clumsy on the bike itself and offer less in the form of performance than a full e-bike.
Overall, the price is hard to beat, and in most cases, conversion is quite easy to accomplish. If you choose to go for conversion, opt for a front hub installation for the most pain-free experience. In no time, you’ll have everything set up and ready for your next ride!