(Last updated on December 21st, 2022)
I knew e-bikes were finally legit when I saw Peter Sagan professionally racing on a mountain e-bike. With this surge in popularity comes a host of e-bike options, including electric bicycle kits. But how do you know which kit to get?
In this article, we’re going to talk about electric bicycle kits. First, we’ll go over the different options for e-bike kits. Then, we’ll talk about why you might want to convert your old bike to an e-bike rather than buy a new one. Then, we’ll go over some of the considerations involved in purchasing an e-bike kit. Lastly, we’ll go over how to install one.
Let’s get started.
- What Is an Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit Anyway?
- Why You Should Convert Your Bike to an E-bike
- Types of E-Bike Conversion Kits
- Types of E-bike Kits
- Hub-Drive Conversion Kit
- What Do You Need to Know About E-bike Conversion Kits?
- Drawbacks to Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits
- How to Install an E-bike Conversion Kit
- Final Thoughts on Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is an Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit Anyway?
An electric bicycle conversion kit is a kit that you can install on your existing bike to give you extra power. There are several different types of e-bike kits, though, so you need to know which one you want.
- Mid-Drive Conversion Kit
- Front Wheel Hub-Drive Conversion Kit
- Rear Wheel Hub-Drive Conversion Kit
- Friction Drive Conversion Kit
There are plenty of reasons to ride an e-bike. First, they extend the distance and elevation that you are already physically capable of riding so you can go that much further, that much faster. Second, e-bikes make it possible to ride to work without getting too hot and sweaty, too. And they reduce the need for a car because you can ride an e-bike to run errands or pick up a few groceries.
So e-bikes are good for your health, good for the environment, they save gas, and they’re fun to ride, too.
E-bikes are expensive, though, so you may prefer to convert your existing bike with an electric bicycle kit. On the other hand, you may not have space to keep both an e-bike and a regular bike, so using a kit to convert the bike you already love means you only really need one bike. Some e-bike conversion kits are less obvious than an actual e-bike, too.
Types of E-Bike Conversion Kits
|Mid Drive||Front Wheel Hub Drive||Rear Wheel Hub Drive||Friction Drive|
|Motor Location||Cranks||Front Wheel||Rear Wheel||Rear Wheel|
|Weight Distribution||Balanced||Front heavy||Rear heavy||Rear heavy|
|Ease of Installation||Difficult/Advanced||Easier||Easier||Simplest|
|Torque||Provides the Most Torque||Middle||Middle||Least Torque|
|Price||Most Expensive||Average||Average||Least Expensive|
Let’s take a look at the different types of conversion kits so you can understand how each one works.
Mid-Drive Conversion Kit
Mid-drive motors are integrated into the crank and gears of your bike so that you can shift your gears like normal. This gives you a number of advantages. First of all, the weight of the motor is lower and centered on the bike, so it gives your bike better handling overall.
It’s also more efficient, so you’ll use less battery power for the same amount of work. You’ll get better power climbing up hills, too, and it gives the bike a more natural feel and less of an ‘e-bike’ feel. This type of kit is great for mountain bikes.
There are a few drawbacks, though. These kits are more expensive to purchase and not the easiest to install. They also cause more wear and tear on the drive-train of the bike because they’re using the drive-train to propel the bike forward.
A great example of a mid-drive conversion kit is the Bafang 750 Watt Mid Drive Kit. It offers natural pedaling, pedal assist, and throttle, and it fits standard bottom brackets between 68 and 73 mm in length. It retails for $531.
If you’re not worried about installation or the cost, this is the most natural feeling e-bike conversion kit. However, if you’re into mountain biking, you’ll love this kit because it provides a stable ride since the weight is low and in the middle of the bike.
The first hub drive was connected to the rear wheel all the way back in 1895! There are now two types of hub drives: front wheel and rear wheel.
The front-wheel hub drive has the motor on the front wheel, while the rear-wheel hub drive has the motor on the rear wheel.
Hub drives are much more affordable than mid-drive conversion kits. They’re also easier to install. Of course, the bike isn’t as well balanced as a mid-drive e-bike, and the motors are a little bit in the way. But they still get the job done well!
A nice example of a front hub e-bike kit is the AW Front Wheel Electric Bicycle Motor Kit for 20 to 24-inch wheels. This kit is easy to install and retails for $265.99.
The front drove conversion kit is easy to install and will work fine for easier commutes and fun rides, but I don’t recommend it for anything that needs precise bike handling.
The Ebikeling Waterproof Ebike Conversion Kit retails for $469.99. It comes with a 700C mountain bike rim.
The rear-wheel hub drive conversion kit is probably our favorite because they give you more traction on the trails. They’re also a little less noticeable than other kits, but there will be more wear and tear on the rear brake.
A friction drive kit has a roller that is attached to the motor. When the motor is in use, it powers the roller, which then uses friction to move the rear wheel.
These kits are ok, but they aren’t as efficient or as weight-balanced as the other types of kits. They may be less noticeable than other kits, though.
The QR-E Pro +H70 is a higher-end friction drive kit. While it isn’t the least expensive, it is more powerful than other friction drive kits.
Friction drive e-bike kits are easy to install and less expensive. However, they just don’t have the power that other types of kits can offer.
What Do You Need to Know About E-bike Conversion Kits?
The traction of your bike is affected by the placement of the motor. Since the motor is heavy, it will add extra weight to the part of the bike you attach it to. So, if you use a front hub drive, more weight will be put on the front wheel. This gives you enough traction for things like a daily commute or occasional light trail ride. However, rear hub drives give you the most traction because it puts extra weight on the rear wheel. So if you’re into trail riding, this is what you want the most.
The mid-hub drive gives you more even distribution, so it affects traction less but gives the bike a more natural feel.
If you get a flat tire, you’re going to have more trouble changing it with a front and rear hub. However, rear wheels tend to flat more often, so if this is something you’re concerned about, you might want to consider a front wheel hub.
The weight distribution of your e-bike kit will affect the traction of the wheels, as we previously mentioned. It will also affect how the bike handles.
If the extra weight is on the front of the bike, such as in a front-hub drive, you might find that the bike turns a little slower and is a little less responsive.
On the other hand, the handling won’t be affected as much if the weight is on the rear of the bike, such as in a rear-hub drive. And on a mid-hub drive, the handling will be affected the least. Since the weight distribution is evenly balanced, your bike should feel natural when you ride it.
Direct Drive motors are sometimes called speed motors or brushless motors. They’re heavier – they can be 20 to 25 pounds – and just bigger than geared motors. They’re also more powerful and will give you a higher top speed. They don’t have gears that lock into each other, so they make very little noise.
On the other hand, they aren’t efficient if you have to start and stop a lot. And they’re harder to pedal when you aren’t using the pedal assist. Since they aren’t as efficient, they have a reduced battery life – you just won’t get as many miles as with a geared motor.
A geared motor refers to how the motor powers the bike, not the gears on a bike. They’re much lighter than a direct drive – they may only weigh about 7 pounds. And they’re much less noticeable than a direct drive.
Geared motors are much more efficient and better at climbing hills and going off-road. However, they have a lower top speed and aren’t as quiet.
E-bike conversion kits range in power from 250 to 750 watts. Of course, the lower the wattage, the less power the bike will have. So at 250 watts, your e-bike kit may struggle up hills, especially if you are a larger rider. On the other hand, on the flats, it will still only be able to get to about 15 to 20 mph, and its ability to accelerate will be a little bit slower.
Higher watts mean higher power and speed. So 350 to 500 watts of power will give you a little more speed and a little more oomph to get up the hills, especially if you are a smaller rider.
Over 500 watts will give you the best hill climbing ability and the fastest speeds. Just keep in mind that the higher the wattage, the more battery power you’ll use and the heavier the bike will be.
Your e-bike kit will need a battery to power the motor. Some batteries are included in the kit, but with some kits, you may need to purchase the battery separately.
The larger the battery, the more power or distance you can get from it. However, larger batteries are naturally heavier than smaller ones.
On the other hand, the more watts you use, the less time and distance you’ll be able to use the motor.
For example, steep hill climbs will wear down your battery faster than flat roads because the motor has to work harder to get you uphill.
Your e-bike kit will come with sensors that react to the input you give them. For example, if your kit uses a cadence sensor, it will measure how fast you are pedaling. The faster you pedal, the more assistance the motor gives you. On the other hand, if your e-bike kit has a torque sensor, it will measure how hard you are pedaling. Again, the harder you pedal, the more assistance the motor will give you.
For example, if you are pedaling up a hill, the more effort you make to get up the hill, the more help the motor will give you. However, once you reach the top and start going down the other side, you’ll probably be coasting or pedaling very easily, in which case, the motor will give you little to no assistance because you don’t need it.
Pedal assist means that the motor only kicks in when you are actually doing some amount of pedaling. On the other hand, throttle e-bikes use some kind of a switch on the handlebars to turn the motor on even without pedaling.
In some countries, you can’t use throttles on an e-bike. This makes the bike fall into a different category of vehicles, such as a moped or motorcycle. In the United States, there are three different classes of e-bikes:
- Class 1: Pedal-assist e-bike with a top motor-assisted speed of 20mph.
- Class 2: Throttle e-bike with a top motor-assisted speed of 20mph
- Class 3: Pedal-assist e-bike with the top motor-assisted speed of 28 mph
If aesthetics are important to you, you might want to consider this when you choose your e-bike conversion kit. Not only will you have a motor and a battery on your bike, but you’ll also have cabling that will need to be attached, as well. This can make it obvious that you converted the bike, and it won’t have that sleek look that a ready-made e-bike will have.
Not all conversion kits will fit every bike. You need to ensure that the conversion kit you buy fits your bike. For example, hub-drive motors need to fit the wheel size and spokes that you have on your bike, as well as the gearing. You also need to have a place on your bike to mount the battery.
Front-wheel hub drives are typically the easiest to install because you don’t have to worry about installing the kit around the cassette.
If you don’t know how to fit your kit or install it on your bike, your local bike shop can help!
I-bike kits can be challenging to install, especially if you have never done it before.
You need to take a few things into consideration:
- Can your bike frame handle the added stress of the motor?
- Is there a place to put the battery and the controls so that the weight distribution doesn’t interfere with the bike’s handling?
- Will the kit you chose fit on your specific bike?
- Do you have the time and experience to fit the kit to your bike safely?
Every e-bike conversion kit will be different, depending on the type of kit and the bike you are putting it on. If you are looking for an easy-to-install kit, you might want to consider the Swytch Kit. These kits are unobtrusive and retail for about $1200.
Here’s how you install a Swytch Kit:
- Remove the old bike wheel
- Install the custom-built Swytch motor wheel
- Fit the pedal sensor down by the pedals
- Fit the connector to the handlebars with an Allen key
- Plug it in
- Put the battery on the front
It’s really that simple! While the Swytch kit is very easy to install, other types of conversion kits, such as a mid-drive conversion kit, are much more difficult to install and may require professional help.
If you love your bike but want to give it a little bit more oomph, then you might want to consider an electric bicycle conversion kit. It will provide you with the extra power you need, and you still get to ride the bike you love.
You might want to choose your kit based on:
- Speed and watts it can provide
- Ease of installation
- Bike handling
- The type of bike you ride
There are plenty of e-bike kits to choose from, no matter what your needs are. For the mountain biker or trail rider, you’ll want to choose a mid-drive or a rear-drive conversion kit for better traction and handling. On the other hand, if you’re a daily commuter and you just need a little boost to get you there, you’ll probably be happier with an easy-to-install front-drive conversion kit. Lastly, if your budget is tight, a friction drive kit is the easiest and least expensive way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, it is legal to convert your existing bike to an e-bike. However, in some places, it must be a pedal-assist motor and not a throttle.
Swytch kits are expensive because they are made to fit your bike. When you place your order, you’ll tell them a little bit about your bike, and they will ship you a kit that fits and is easy to install.
In most cases, you don’t need any special license to ride a pedal-assisted e-bike. However, in some places, the laws are different regarding throttle e-bikes or bikes that you don’t need to pedal. You’ll need to check your state and local laws to make sure.
That’s up to you! If you don’t have room for a separate bike, a conversion kit may be better for you. However, if you prefer the look and feel of a purpose-built e-bike, you might want to get one of those instead.
There are some friction kits that are very simple to install and inexpensive. They attach to your seatpost and power the bike by using friction on the rear wheel. But they can put stress on your bike. They can also cause wear on carbon fiber frames. For that reason, you may want to save these kits for bikes with steel frames or go for a more expensive mid-drive kit.
Amanda Whittington is an expert writer, impassioned cyclist, and musician. Coming from a diverse educational background, Amanda discovered a deep-rooted passion for encouraging others through her love of all things cycling, writing, and inspiring hope.
You’ll likely find Amanda pouring over bike specs, comparing the hottest cycling tech, and sporting the latest jerseys while juggling the demands of her editorial calendar, training schedule, tiny homestead, and 6 busy kids.
She spends her free time absorbed in her own gardening and fitness, cycling, and reading, all while encouraging adoption and foster care, championing the underdog, and of course, working with her chickens and goats.