5 Steps for Building Your DIY Electric Bike
Electric bikes have surged in popularity due to their eco-friendly and money-saving benefits compared to driving. But with pre-built e-bikes costing over $1,000, they remain out of most people's price range. The good news is you can transform a regular bike into a do-it-yourself electric bike or construct one from the ground up for under $500. All it takes is some mechanical aptitude and basic tools. This guide outlines the full process for building your own affordable DIY electric bike on a budget.
Step 1: Choosing the Right Bike
The first step is selecting a suitable non-electric bike to electrify. Consider the frame type, wheel size, brakes, and your intended use when deciding which bike to start with. Strong steel or aluminum frames work best for holding the motor and battery weight. Mountain bikes, cruisers, and hybrid bikes tend to be good candidates for DIY electric bike builds.
Mountain bikes already have sturdy frames and wheels along with suspension that can help absorb bumps from the added weight of the electric components. Their upright riding position also provides good visibility in traffic. Cruisers offer comfortable riding thanks to their large cushioned seats and wide handlebars. Their relaxed geometry puts less strain on your back even with the heavier DIY electric bike setup.
Standard road bikes are not the best choice for a DIY electric bike as their frames are lighter and less suitable for the additional weight. Make sure whatever bike you choose has quality brakes that are in good working order, as these will take on more load. Mechanical disc brakes generally work better than rim brakes. Also, inspect the wheels to ensure they are true with no wobbles.
Step 2: Electric Kits vs. Buying Parts
Once you have a suitable bike selected, it's time to source the electrical components to create your DIY electric bike. You have two main options - buying a complete electric bike conversion kit or sourcing the parts separately.
Complete kits like those offered by companies such as Bafang simplify the DIY electric bike build process. The kit includes everything you need in one package - motor, battery, throttle, controller and all connecting wires and hardware. Kits range from basic $200 rear hub motor kits to more powerful mid-drive kits closer to $800. Going with a kit means you don't have to worry about component compatibility. Just make sure to get a kit with the right power level and features for your needs and bike.
Sourcing the parts individually allows for more customization and flexibility in your DIY electric bike build. You can hand-pick each component - motor, battery, controller, throttle - to get the perfect setup. However, this route requires more research and diligence to ensure all the parts work together seamlessly. You also have to purchase and assemble all the small connectors and wiring bits yourself. If opting to source parts separately, give special consideration to the motor type and battery.
Rear hub motors are the simplest to install and the most affordable DIY electric bike option. However, they can affect handling and won't provide as much power going up hills. Mid-drive motors are mounted near the bike's crankset to leverage the gearing. This provides better traction and a more natural riding feel. But mid-drive motors are more complex to install and use.
Lithium-ion batteries provide the best combo of being lightweight and storing lots of riding range per charge. Make sure to get a high-quality battery with built-in BMS protection. Consider capacity in Ah and voltage when selecting a battery pack for your DIY electric bike. Higher capacity batteries will be heavier but allow longer range between charges.
Step 3: Installation
Once you have all the parts gathered, it's time for installation. Converting a regular bike into a DIY electric bike requires some basic mechanical skills and tools - primarily Allen wrenches, a wrench set, screwdrivers, wire cutters/strippers, and zip ties. Make sure to carefully follow the instructions included with any kits or individual components.
If using a rear hub motor kit, start by removing the rear wheel and attaching the motorized wheel in its place. Run the motor wires along the frame to where you'll mount the controller, battery, and throttle. Mid-drive motors involve installing a bracket near the bike's crankset to hold the motor and running a chain from the motor to the bike's gears. This allows the use of the gearing to optimize power and torque.
Find a central, stable location on the frame to mount the battery pack. Use zip ties anchored to the frame tubes to hold the controller in place. Mount the throttle where it will be in easy reach near the handlebars. One benefit of a DIY electric bike build is being able to customize exactly where components are placed based on your preferences.
Carefully connect all the wiring between the motor, battery, controller, and throttle per the diagrams. Use the included connector accessories or solder connections for a more rugged build. Double-check that all screws and connections are tight and secure. Make sure no wires can get caught in any bike parts as they move. Test the electrical systems before taking your DIY electric bike on the road.
Step 4: Safety Checks
Before riding your new DIY electric bike, do safety checks just like you would on a regular bike. Inspect the brakes, tires, lights, chains, handlebars, and all other components. Check that wires are secured and properly shielded from moving parts. Take the bike for a test spin in a low-traffic area to confirm everything is functioning properly.
It's also wise to register your DIY electric bike with your local DMV. E-bikes are treated similarly to mopeds under the law in most places. Be sure to obey all traffic laws and practice extra caution around cars when riding your DIY electric bike. Always wear a helmet, even for short trips. The electric assist can push DIY e-bikes to higher speeds than normal bikes, so safety gear is essential.
Step 5: Hitting The Road
Once your DIY electric bike checks out, it's time to hit the road! Make sure to use the lowest assist setting when first getting used to the speed. Pedal normally but let the electric motor help you along. Shift gears as needed just like a regular bike. Gradually work up to higher assist levels as you get accustomed to the power boost.
Watch your battery gauge and know how far your DIY electric bike can go per charge. Flats or steep hills will drain the battery faster. Have a plan for recharging if needed. Find safe designated bike lanes and trails to ride whenever possible. Be predictable, use hand signals, and be extra alert near traffic and intersections.
With a DIY electric bike, you can expand your possibilities for fun bike excursions or sustainable commuting. No need to stick to flat neighborhoods or short distances. The electric assist means you can adventure further with less sweat and effort. Just take it slow at first and prioritize safety. The journey is as exciting as the destination when riding your own DIY electric bike creation!
Building your own DIY electric bike allows you to customize features and performance to match your riding needs and style. You can electrify an existing bike or construct an e-bike from the ground up for less than a factory model. Installation does require some mechanical competence and electrical knowledge. Take your time and don't cut corners. Safety should be the top priority throughout the DIY electric bike process. Done right, you'll end up with a fun e-bike that provides eco-friendly transport for years to come. The ability to say you built it yourself just adds to the satisfaction when taking your DIY electric bike out for a spin.