When you look for an electric bike kit online, you’re bombarded by hundreds — if not thousands — of options in seconds: front wheel, rear wheel, geared drive, direct drive, a whole host of wattages to choose from. It all becomes overwhelming — so overwhelming that you may give up your e-bike kit dreams altogether.
That’s why we wrote this guide on how to find the right electric bike kit just for you.
We know how intimidating it can be deciding what sort of e-bike kit is best for you and your bike, but it doesn’t have to be. In this guide we will explain the ins and outs of e-bike kits to help you decide on the kit that's tailored to your needs.
Electric Bike Kits 101
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of an electric bike kit, we think it’s important to take a step back and answer a few key questions to figure out if electric bike kits are right for you.
First off, what’s an electric bike kit?
By definition, an electric bike kit is a kit of components that allow you to change the propulsion system of a bicycle from pedaling to a motor-assisted propulsion system. Sound a little too wordy?
Well, all it means is that an e-bike kit has parts — like a wheel, battery, and throttle — that you can put on your bike to take it from a bike you need to pedal to a bike that moves without you pedaling — or at least not pedaling as much.
Why would you want to use an electric bike kit instead of just pedaling?
There are four key reasons why e-bike kits are worth the time, effort, and cost to install on your favorite bike.
Pedal Assistance — Whether your knees don’t work like they used to, you’re on a ride that’s a little more than you could normally handle, or you just want to take it easy when you ride your bike, electric bike kits are meant to make riding your bike much easier, which they do in two ways:
Transportation — An electric bike conversion kit will turn your beach cruiser, mountain bike, roadie, BMX, or any other kind of bike into an electric vehicle. That means you can rely on a bicycle fitted with an e-bike kit to be your daily ride for getting to work, school, or the grocery store instead of using expensive cabs, buses, or bumming rides off people.
Exercise — Contrary to what some say, there are plenty of health benefits to riding e-bikes. Riding your bike — even when assisted by an electric motor — gets your heart rate up, opens up your lungs, and helps your cardiovascular system. You also don’t have to be intimidated going up hills or traveling long distances, which can give you more pleasure than riding a regular bike.
Riding Terrain You Couldn’t Before — Regular bikes are way too hard — if not impossible — to ride when terrain isn’t ideal for pedaling. Electric bike kits are perfect for off-roading, hill-climbing, and hitting intense trails with lots of rocks, mud, loose dirt/sand, and even snow. You won’t tire yourself out pedaling through tough terrain on your rides, making them much more ideal to use than a regular bike or even a dirt bike.
- Some kits offer a throttle system that will move your bike on its own by twisting a throttle grip or pressing a throttle button.
- Some kits also offer a pedal assist system like a pedelec that will read the rhythm and pressure of your pedaling and match your power to make pedaling much easier — more on pedelecs in a minute.
How do you install an electric bike kit onto your bike?
Installing an electric bike kit onto your favorite bike is pretty simple. It’s a six-step process that doesn’t involve more tools that two adjustable wrenches, a crank puller, zip ties, and a screwdriver.
- Remove your front or rear wheel and replace it with the wheel that comes in the kit.
- Mount the electric wheel into your stock wheel’s place and fasten it down.
- Mount the throttle assembly to your handle bars.
- Mount the controller and battery safely onto your bike.
- Optional: Remove your bike’s cranks and install the pedelec if your kit came with one.
- Wire all the color-coded wires into each other and zip tie the loose wires to your frame.
See? That’s not so hard, right? If you’ve got a few tools, a bike, and a little time, you’re already 50 percent of the way to your dream bike. All you have to do now is look for the right e-bike kit. To find the right one for you, though, you’ll need to know what to look for. That all starts with understanding what comes in a kit and how it works.
Getting to Know Your E-Bike Kit
There’s a lot of technical jargon out there when you’re looking at e-bike kits: watts, volts, ohms, wheels sizes, tire sizes — the list goes on. The bad news is that you’ll need to pay attention to a lot of that technical jargon when you’re shopping for a kit. The good news is we’ve broken down every aspect of an e-bike kit that you need to know so you can find exactly what you need.
Let’s get started by breaking down the physical components of these kits.
E-Bike Kit Construction
The first things you’re going to notice when you’re looking for an e-bike kit are its parts. Once you understand what all of those parts are, choosing an electric bike kit will be a breeze.
Let’s start by looking into the motor, the controller, the throttle and pedal assist, and the battery.
Motor — The motor is the main component that moves your bike, and it’s mounted directly inside of a kit’s wheel. This component is powered by a battery via the throttle and will propel the bike when the throttle is engaged. Without a motor, you’ve just got a regular bike wheel.
You’ll notice that e-bike kits are rated by their wattage and voltage, which refers to the size of the motor. However, motor size isn’t the only aspect you’ll be taking into consideration. There’s also the matter of choosing a front or rear wheel, and choosing between a geared or direct drive motor. More on that later.
Controller — The controller acts like the brains of the e-bike kit. It takes the power provided by the battery and pushes it through to the motor. Without a controller, there’s no way for your battery to get its energy to your motor when the throttle is engaged. Then you’re stuck pedalling.
The controller is also vital for add-on components. For example, most kits include an LCD speedometer that’s powered by your battery, which receives its power via the controller. Secondary pedelec systems also get their energy through the controller. So without a controller, nothing — from the motor to speedometers and everything in between — will function.
Throttle/Pedal Assist — Just like a motorcycle throttle sends fuel to an engine, a throttle or pedal assist sends your energy to your motor when it’s engaged. This can be done in one of two ways.
Twist/Thumb Throttles — These are made to eliminate pedaling altogether by twisting a throttle grip or pressing a throttle button. These let the motor do all the work of moving your bike.
Pedelec Systems — These are made to assist pedaling. As you pedal, the pedelec reads your pedaling cadence and tells the battery to release a small amount of energy to your motor. This lets you pedal your bike with much less resistance than you normally would.
Battery — The battery provides the power that’s sent to the wheel by the controller and throttle. Electronics of any kind need a source of energy, and for e-bike kits that energy comes from its battery. E-bike kit batteries are mostly lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are made of lots of small, rechargeable lithium batteries sort of like the ones in toys and portable electronics. They’re strung together and work in connection to each other to give your motor the energy it needs to move.
Let’s Get Technical
Now that you have an idea of the parts in a kit, it’s time to start getting into the technical specs of electric bike kits. Choosing the right one depends on a kit’s power, the wheel size and placement, and the composition of the motor.
It can be a bit tricky to understand, so we’re here to clear up that confusion. Let’s start by looking at how power is expressed in an e-bike kit.
Power (Wattage, Voltage, and Amperage)
When trying to choose an e-bike kit that's right for you, start by looking into the power the kit offers. Power is expressed in three ways: wattage, voltage, and amperage. These elements work together to give an e-bike kit its power and utility, so let’s unpack these terms and see what they mean for your kit’s performance:
Voltage — This is the measurement of the overall strength (or force) that’s used to push your e-bike kit’s wheel. This will affect the speed and acceleration of your e-bike kit.
Amperage — This refers to a battery’s capacity for stored energy. Amperage will affect the range of an electric bike kit on a full charge.
- An electric bike kit’s range in relation to a single charge is measured in amp hours (Ah). It’s not the only factor in terms of range, though. We’ll talk about what else affects range in a second.
Wattage — Wattage is a measurement of the power an electric bike kit is capable of producing. This is found by from combining voltage (force) and amperage (capacity).
- A kit’s capacity in relation to the usable amount of power and energy is measured in watt hours (Wh).
- Peak wattage is the wattage that’s reached when an e-bike kit is going full throttle, climbing steep hills, carrying a lot of weight, or any combination of the three.
All of these elements come together to give you an idea of how fast an electric bike kit can go and how far it can travel on a single charge. Here’s a quick example using the ModWheel 48v 1000w Geared 7-Spd Rear Wheel Electric Bike Kit:
- The first thing we see is “48v” which means it will be able to produce 48 volts worth of force to move your wheel, which is a lot. That much voltage is going to be capable of some pretty good speed.
- The second thing you see is “1000w” which means it will be able to give you 1000 watts of overall power. With a high capacity for force, 1000 watts of power are going to give you good torque and speed. This motor will be capable of both high speeds and heavy loads.
- The amperage refers to the battery, and though it’s not available in the title, most retailers will pair a kit with an appropriate battery. If you have to find your own battery, though, the key here is to find a battery with the same voltage as your wheel.
- In this case, you’ll want to look for a 48v battery.
- With your voltage in mind, you can choose from the amperages available. Remember: The higher the amperage, the more range you’re capable of. For example, a 48v 14ah battery will have more range than a 48v 11.6ah battery.
We should note that there are four main sizes of motors out there you can choose from: 250w, 500w, 750w, and 1000w. Picking the right motor size all depends on how much power you need, the ideal speed you want to ride at, and the terrain you’re riding on.
- Lower wattages (250w and 500w) aren’t very powerful, but they’ve got great range.
- These motors have top speeds in the 10-20 MPH range, with 250w motors topping out around 15 MPH and 500w motors topping out around 20 MPH.
- They offer an average range of 15-22 miles per charge*.
- These e-bike kits are perfect for people who want a slight boost of power when they’re exercising, as well as those living in flat areas who don’t need lots of power to get around.
- Higher wattages (750w and 1000w) are very powerful, but they tend to have a limited range.
- These motors have top speeds of up to 25-30 MPH, with 750w motors topping out around 23-25 MPH and 1000w motors topping out around 28-30 MPH.
- They offer a range of around 15-22 miles per charge*.
- These are great e-bike kits for hilly areas, rough terrain, and riders who want a kit that eliminates pedaling altogether.
*Note: The advertized range of an electric bike kit is based on mathematical calculations which are mostly correct. However, that range doesn’t take into account factors like pedal assist levels, how much weight you carry on your rides, and the terrain you’re riding through. We’ll be going over variables in determining range shortly.
Wheel Size and Placement
Once you know the power you want out of your bike, the next important consideration is knowing the size of your wheel and whether your electric wheel will be mounted in the front or in the back of your bike.
The size of your wheel will let you know if it is compatible with your bicycle and its components. Wheel placement will tell you the potential speed, torque, and overall ability to ride how you’d like. Both are vital to understanding what sort of wheel you need to go with, and both offer various sets of strengths and considerations.
Wheel Size — Wheel size is about compatibility with your bike. Before thinking about the power you’ll need, you’ll want to make sure there’s a wheel made for your bike.
- The most common sizes of e-bike kit wheels are going to be 24" & 26" — the size of most adult beach cruisers and mountain bikes.
- There are also uncommon sizes like 20” wheels for BMX bikes, 29” wheels for tall bikes, 700c wheels for road bikes, and fat tire electric bike kit wheels designed for fat tire bikes.
Wheel Placement — Front and rear wheel placement is important when you’re building your own electric bike. From acceleration to torque to overall control, most — if not all — e-bike kits come in front and rear wheels that offer their own benefits.
Front Wheels — A front wheel e-bike kit gives you great acceleration, which is perfect for riders on dry, flat surfaces. Especially useful in the lower wattage range (250w-500w), front wheels are great for long rides that need just a little assistance to get you where you want to go.
- There’s lack of weight on your bike’s front end, so wet surfaces and loose terrain can cause slipping while engaging a front electric wheel’s motor.
- High-powered front wheel motors (750w-1000w) can be hard to control because of their high acceleration and torque.
Rear Wheels — A rear wheel electric bike kit works great for riders who want more torque out of an e-bike kit. They’re great for hills and rough or loose terrain, and they offer more control over your bike than front wheels. These are especially useful in the 750w-1000w range to eliminate pedaling and for turning your bike into an electric vehicle.
- Lower wattage rear wheels (250w-500w) may not be strong enough to move your bike on its own. Lower powered rear wheels are made for those who want to assisted pedaling instead of eliminating pedaling altogether.
- Rear wheels require a little bit of bike knowledge to install — like how to install a chain, and how to install a cassette onto a derailleur.
One important feature that’s overlooked when searching for the right electric bike kit for your needs is how the motor is built. While it may be a little intimidating to think about, this is an important aspect of a motor that will let you know a kit’s power capability and how long it will last.
To begin, there are two main types of motors: direct drive and geared. Each is made in a different way and offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages. While we go more in-depth in our Electric Bike Motor Guide, here are some important facts about direct drive and geared motors that make all the difference in an electric bike kit.
Direct Drive Motors — These motors are made up of a stator and a rotor. When these motors get energy from your battery, the stator will create an electromagnetic field. This energy reacts with magnets around the rim to rotate the wheel.
Advantages: Direct drive motors are capable of high speeds because of their ability to continually build speed. They’re also very quiet during operation, giving them a stealthier and more ear-friendly option than other motors.
Disadvantages: Because of magnets and copper, these tend to be heavy motors which will limit their range. Each start requires a surge of energy from the motor, which make these motors drain lots of energy in stop-and-go traffic.
Geared Motors — These motors are made of a series of rotating gears. When you throttle, energy makes those gears in the motor rotate the wheel and move you forward. These motors are a lot smaller than direct drive motors and produce a little more torque, too.
Advantages: Geared motors rotate faster than direct drive motors, which maximizes their energy consumption. This helps the motor work less while still giving you great torque.
Disadvantages: While these can accelerate and pull quickly, they can’t continuously build speed like direct drive motors, so they’re a little slower. Moreover, because of their small construction, geared motors don’t last as long as their direct drive counterparts.
A Note on Range
The fact is that range is relative. E-bike kits and batteries are advertised with an estimated range based on the wattage of the motor and the amperage of the battery. However, this range doesn’t take into account real-world factors like pedal assistance, or what sort of commute you encounter.
Unfortunately there’s no definitive way to say “with (x-wattage) electric bike kit you’re going to get (y-mile) range”. However, if you consider how much work you want your motor to do, you’ll be able to get an idea of how far your can ride. For us this comes down to a few different factors.
Throttle vs. No Throttle
The range of an e-bike kit depends largely on whether you’re going to be solely using your throttle, or if you want to pedal with the bike. The advertised range of most electric bike kits is usually an idea of the range when you only use the throttle. However, if you don’t use the throttle as much, you’ll actually get more range.
Limiting your throttle usage and extending your range can be done in two simple ways:
- Pedal your bike as often as possible. It may sound like a no-brainer, but if you use your throttle sparingly, you’ll be able to ride farther without draining your battery of lots of energy. It’s not just a great form of exercise, you’ll be able to start, continue, or finish your rides with plenty of battery life just in case you need it.
- Use your throttle sparingly and make sure you’re moving when you do. Engaging your throttle in lots of short bursts will drain the battery faster than giving your motor fewer, longer engagements that help you reach the same speed. Also, when you’re giving your bike throttle make sure you’re already moving. It takes more energy to move a rider at a dead stop than while they’re in motion.
The slower the speed you operate an electric bike kit’s throttle, the more miles you get. Unlike cars that use more gas driving slower than when they drive quickly (i.e., city MPG vs. highway MPG), electric bike kits aren’t as heavy to move or as intensive to run. In this case, operating e-bike kits at low speeds actually helps extend range.
To illustrate the point, here’s how you can calculate the estimated range of an e-bike kit with a simple formula:
Voltage x Amp Hours ÷ MPH = Estimated Range.
Let’s use the ModWheel 48V 11.6AH Li-ion E-Bike Battery as an example. First you’ll want to pick the speed you want to go with — let’s use 10 MPH and 20 MPH. Then plug the numbers into the equation:
48v x 11.6aH ÷ 10 MPH = 55.68 miles
48v x 11.6aH ÷ 20 MPH = 27.84 miles
In this case, you can see that throttling a bike at 10 MPH instead of 20 MPH actually increases range by 50 percent. While this is an estimate, you’ll find on average these estimates give you a good snapshot of the range you can expect out of a motor.
From you to your cargo to your bike frame and physical size of the motor, the total weight your electric bike kit is asked to move will play a big factor in its range. The size of your motor will let you know how much weight it can move without too much hindrance.
Along with an estimated range, you’ll usually see an average load limit, which is typically around 300 lbs. This range is partially dependent on the load limit, and any change in that weight will either help or hinder the speed limit.
Now, that 300 lbs isn’t just the rider — it’s the total weight you’re carrying. You also need to factor in everything you’re carrying or pulling on your bike, any accessories you have on it, and the frame and motor themselves.
- If all of those factors together weigh less than 300 lbs, you’ll likely see a boost in range outside of the estimated range because your motor won’t have to work so hard to move you at peak speed.
- If those factors together weigh more than 300 lbs, you’ll see a decrease in range from the estimated range due to your motor having to work harder to reach peak speed (if possible).
When your motor has to work harder, it’s going to drain faster. This is obvious by now, but most people tend to overlook how the conditions they put their bike through can make their motor work harder.
Less obstacles mean more range, and more obstacles mean less range. Two major rider obstacles are inclines and riding surfaces. You’re going to get more range riding on a flat street than you will going up inclines and hills. You also get more mileage riding on hard, solid concrete or cement than soft, loose gravel and dirt trails. Keep in mind that pedaling and/or using less throttle will help increase range when you face these obstacles.
The type of motor you’re running will also factor into your overall range.
It’s worth reminding you that a direct drive motor needs to create a magnetic field inside of itself to run. Moreover, every time you hit the throttle, it needs to create that magnetic field all over again. All of that takes a lot of energy to do, especially if you ride to top speed.
Compare that to geared motors that only require energy to move a rotor, which then runs the attached gears. Though they may not be able to get the top speed that direct drives do, they take significantly less energy to operate, which gives them better range.
Now You're Ready to Ride
Whew! That was a lot of information, wasn’t it? Thankfully, the hard part’s over, because now you have all the tools you need to find the best electric bike kit for your needs!