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Time to build a bike. Where to start? This step will outline the design process and some options I considered before finalizing a design. Then the next steps will go into detail about choosing parts and putting it all together.
What kind of bike?
Before you can convert a bike to an electric bike, you need the bike. The two main choices are mountain bike or road bike. Consider where you will be riding, the size of motor you’re interested in, and how much pedaling you want to do. In general, mountain bikes are more stable due to wider wheels and heavier frames. Road bikes also generally don’t have a suspension system, which means you’ll feel every little bump. This goes from being slightly uncomfortable to painful and/or dangerous as you get up to faster speeds. So, I personally think the safer bet is a mountain bike, and you still have tons of options for getting exactly what you want out of the bike.
Buy, Modify, or Build?
For those on a tight budget, pulling the dusty old mountain bike out of your garage might be the best bet. Craigslist is also a great source for cheap used bikes of decent quality. For new bikes, sites like BikesDirect have some really good deals because they cut out the middle-man retailer. If you find something that’s almost what you want, it may make sense to purchase that complete bike and swap out any components you want to upgrade (that’s what I did). Finally, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can always just collect all of the parts that make up a bike and assemble them all yourself.
Depending on the size and power of your motor, it’s important to make sure that your bike of choice can handle the extra stress and weight of your conversion.
One last thing to mention is that building a bike up from parts is not necessarily less expensive. In fact, it’s often more expensive. The tradeoff is that you get exactly what you want and don’t pay for anything else.
Motor – Hub motor, mid-drive, or chainsaw?
A hub motor is one that replaces either the front or rear wheel hub (the middle part) and occasionally both wheel hubs. They are generally the lowest cost option, most discrete, and lowest powered. They are commonly sold in power ratings of 250 to 1,000 Watts.
Mid-drive motors go – you guessed it – roughly in the middle of the bike. They generally have an extra chain that drives the front crankset, which then drives the rear wheel. One of the coolest advantages of mid-drives is that they let you shift through your rear gears as you could on a normal pedal bike. This gives you a good range of speed and torque for everything from climbing steep dirt hills to cruising along your commute to work.
I’ve seen mid-drive motors in powers from 750 to 10,000 Watts. There is a practical limit to power here. At some point (I’d like to say it’s around 3,000 W), the amount of torque and speed is just too dangerous for a bicycle. Additionally, bicycle components are usually not designed to handle super-human amounts of torque. At the very least, your components will wear faster than normal; at worst, components will break as you ride (think wheel getting bent out of shape, chain snapping, chainring bending, etc). If you really want that much power, I’d suggest a small dirt bike or motorcycle. The motor I got is the “Cyclone 3000” which is rated at 3,000 W. So far that’s more than enough speed and torque for me.
Mostly kidding about this one. You certainly can take apart a chainsaw and strap the motor onto your bike to make it go, but it’s probably a gas motor (not electric), so it doesn’t belong in this Instructable.