Choosing the proper bicycle to convert to electric is important. You want to ensure you are creating the optimal eBike that is comfortable and fits your needs well. If you do not already have a bicycle that you love, you will want to visit the local bike shop, thrift shop, or local ads to find a good bike to convert. We will discuss some important considerations for converting a bicycle to an eBike.
What and Where Will You Be Riding?
One of the first things to consider is where you will be riding your eBike. Is this going to be a commuter bike? Are you going to go offroad with it? Will you be riding in sandy, unpaved, or hilly areas, or on paved roads? The type of bike you choose to convert should directly correlate to what you will be using the eBike for.
Consider the weight of your current bicycle. Adding a motor and battery to it will impact the weight and the difficulty of pedaling that bike. If your bike is relatively lightweight, adding these additional components will not impact it much. If it is quite a heavy bike, the additional weight might be too much when pedaling without motorized assistance.
If you are using the bike to commute or run to the grocery store, you may want to consider a road bike. If you will be using the bike to return to your vehicle after rafting or canoeing, you may want to consider a mountain bike. Even a fat bike can be converted to electric.
If you have a bike you already love, even if it is an older model, you can easily convert it to electric with a conversion kit.
Frame and Frame Size
The frame material of your bike is a good starting point. You want a bike with a steel or aluminum frame. Carbon fiber bikes, although lightweight, do not hold up to the amount of fastening necessary to attach the motor and battery. The drive motor loads in the chain stays can break the carbon fiber frame too, so it is best to stick with steel or aluminum.
Steel frames and aluminum frames are designed with more strength and durability; therefore, these are your best options for eBike conversion.
You also want to check the so called “triangle” of your frame. This is the area below the seat, to the down tube, and up to the top tube. The most common sizes range from 13 inches to 26 inches. You need to ensure you have enough room within the triangle to mount the battery. If your triangle is too small to fit the battery properly, you may consider a larger size bicycle for conversion.
The bottom bracket width is the next consideration. Most bottom brackets fall into the range of 68 millimeters to 72 millimeters. You can use calipers to get an exact measurement. Learn how to measure the BB in this article 👉 Bottom Bracket Measurements for eBike Conversion
Down Tube Angle
The angle of the down tube is another important consideration. The motor will mount through the bottom bracket and attach behind the down tube. If the down tube angle is too shallow, the motor will not mount properly.
Some bikes have cables routed along the top tube. Others have them routed along the underside of the bottom tube. If your cables run along the underside of the downtube, the motor may pinch them after it is installed. The best option is to ensure your cables run along the top tube.
Most electric bikes have 16-, 20-, or 26-inch diameter wheels. The size of the bike tires will influence the performance of the eBike. The size of the wheel determines how easily the bike gets moving and how smooth the ride will be. Learn more about bicycle tire size and how it affects performance here: https://www.ebikeschool.com/wheel-size-affects-ebike/
RIDE e MTB Pro Tip: With eBikes growing in popularity learning all the terms and definitions can be a bit overwhelming. Let me help with this comprehensive glossary. 👉 eBike Glossary
Brake type is an important consideration for eBikes. You will be traveling at a higher rate of speed so you must ensure you have good brakes. There are two main types of bicycle brakes: disc and rim. Disc brakes provide stronger braking force and require less maintenance. Yet rim brakes are used on some of the fastest racing bicycles in the world. It really boils down to the quality of the brake parts and brake pads.
As mentioned above, it is important to ensure your battery will properly fit on your bike. Measure the triangle area and find a cutout to use.
Some manufacturers will have cutouts you can download and print. You can also look at the dimensions of the battery you are considering and make your own. I have attached the cutout I use to this article so you can ensure your battery will fit properly along the down tube.
RIDE e MTB Tip: Are you thinking about building an eBike? It isn’t very hard – Heck I’ve got step by step instructions with videos along with all the tools. Check it out 👉 How to Build a Mid-Drive Electric Bike
Performance and Comfort
This consideration ties into what you will be using the eBike for. You want to make sure the bike is comfortable and performs well. You want a bike with a comfortable seat. An uncomfortable seat leads to an uncomfortable ride. Some bikes have upgraded suspension which also gives a more comfortable ride.
The upright position will also allow comfort when correct. If the handlebars are somewhat high and narrow, you can sit tall and more comfortably.
Hub vs. Mid-Drive Motors
Motors for eBikes come in one of two styles: hub or mid-drive. Hub motors are generally less expensive. Hub motors are also less noticeable and easier to retrofit to an existing frame. A hub drive motor will work without a chain if the bike has a throttle, so if your chain snaps, you can still use the motor to get home.
Hub motors make it more difficult to remove the wheel in case of a flat. Wires may also have to be disconnected. They also balance differently, depending on where the hub motor is mounted.
Mid-drive motors have more torque than hubs, with the same power output. They handle best when the weight of the motor is centered on the bike, especially when using the eBike off road. You can also utilize gears with a mid-drive motor because the motor is driving the front chain ring.
One downside to a mid-drive motor is the motor can put more stress on the chain, especially if you are using improper gears.
Derailleurs are external gear controls typically connected to a cable. Tension, via the connected cable on the handlebars guides the chain up and over sprockets onto different gears.
Most derailleur bicycles use a cassette design. On a cassette, the cogs slot onto the cassette body individually. They are held in place via a locking nut. These range from 7 to 12 speeds and allow more flexibility over terrain and more speed options.
RIDE eMTB Tip: The number of cogs (gears) in the cassette will govern the width of the bike chain. I would recommend a 9 speed chain or lower. These chains will be much stronger that an 11 and 12 speed chain.
The other type is a freewheel. Freewheel is a block of cogs screwed directly onto threads on the rear wheel. This comes with between 1 and 7 cogs. This type is rare on more modern bikes.
When converting a bicycle to electric, you want to ensure you have space on your handlebars for the necessary components. These components may include a screen, a throttle and/or a pedal assist button. You want to make sure you have the room to comfortably mount all the items in your conversion kit to your handlebars.
Type of Axle
There are 2 main types of axles on bicycles: quick release and thru axle. A quick release axle uses compression to hold the wheel in place with a quick release skewer. The skewer passes through the center of the axle.
The thru axle design uses a larger diameter rod threaded into the frame to hold the wheel in place.
Axle length and spacing is another important consideration for eBike conversions. Some motors have different wattages, and the different wattages require different axle spacing and length. Measure the axle length and spacing properly when retrofitting a motor and battery to your existing bike frame.
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Kickstand and Options
Kickstands are helpful when you want to leave your bike and keep it upright. There are 2 types used on most eBikes: a rear kickstand and one that pops out in the center of the bike by the crank.
You want to ensure you have room on your bicycle to add additional options like eyelets for racks, bags, lights and fenders. These extras come in handy when you are using your eBike to run to the grocery store or for fishing or hunting!