From scratch, for the betterment of the planet!
An “E-Bike”, short for Electric Bike, is exactly what it sounds like: A standard bicycle with an electric motor and a battery to power it. There are four main parts that you are going to need to do this project, each of which I will outline for you in this article, along with price points:
1: The Bike
2: The Motor
3: The Controller
4: The Battery
Now, lets get into it!
Step 1: The Bike!
Price Range: $0 to $12,000
Why such a large price range?
Well, if you already have a bike sitting around in good condition, then, it’s free!
And… if you are a rich person with cash to burn, you can buy as expensive a bike as you want. I’m going to assume for the purpose of this article though, that my average reader only wants to spend a few hundred bucks on the whole ‘sha-bang’.
If you don’t want to spend much, and are looking for a new bike frame, I would recommend a bike with disc brakes, as they often equate to greater stopping power (which you will appreciate at high speeds in the rain!) You can get a new basic mountain bike for about $350–$600.
BUT… why spend that much when Craigslist is just an internet search away?
I have found plenty of adequate used bikes for anywhere between $75–$200. I’d personally recommend going this route, because buying second hand cuts down on carbon emissions additionally. But if you don’t know much about bikes and how to check if you’re getting a frame that’s about to snap, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry, and buy from somewhere that can give you a receipt.
Step 2: The Motor
The image shown below is a SONDORS brand E-Bike, that features a rear-mounted hub motor. What is a hub motor? Read on!
A hub motor is a motor that goes in the center of a wheel, and uses magnets and an electrical current to provide movement. Pretty fantastic, right?
Hub motors come in all shapes and sizes, as well as price ranges, and power ratings.
Power of a motor is measured in two factors: Watts (W), and Torque (nm). For the most part, they line up with one another: higher watts = more torque… most of the time.
One might ask, “How many watts do I need?”.
Consider the following when reading below: A typical adult human can put out anywhere between 50–150 watts of power, and a professional cyclist can top out around 400W. So, having a 500W motor is like having the winner to the Tour De France power you down the road, along with your own pedaling!
There are a few different “popular” nominal wattage’s. I’ll list them below, along with their appropriate usages.
250 watts is a great amount of power for someone looking for a bit of help with hills, shortening their commute, and keeping their bike relatively inconspicuous. A 250 watt hub motor is typically pretty small, and can easily blend in, especially when mounted as a rear wheel. 250 watts is also more appropriate for people who weigh under 220 pounds. People weighing over 220 pounds may feel that the added weight of the electric system is not worth the lower power of this level.
the 300–350 watt range of power is great for people who want a little more power, and might want to push their top speed to around 18.5–20 miles per hour, depending on your weight. For people weighing over 220 pounds, this category will feel zippier and more adequate than a 250W.
You see we made a jump there, did you? Indeed we did. 500W motors are getting into the territory where you can really fly on these things. With pedal assist, and switching your bike from a class 2 to a class 3 (check your local laws!), you can hit just shy of 30 miles per hour, and really keep up with traffic. This amount of power is also great for towing a reasonable bit of cargo such as a dog or a child, or maybe even groceries, but not anywhere near the top speed. This amount of power is perfect to help you get up any hill with minimal (if any) pedaling, again, depending on the weight of the rider and cargo.
750 Watts (1 Horsepower!)
This is borderline moped territory. Most will need a throttle to take advantage of the speed. This is the pretty fine edge of the blurry line of street legality when it comes to power. You can cross well over 30 miles per hour, hedging 35 for some riders. At that rate, you may have to contact your local DMV and register it as a different type of vehicle. As always, check your local laws and regulations before dropping a bunch of cash on a vehicle you can’t even ride off of your property.
These are beasts. You can probably get to the high 30s’, low 40s’ in speed, depending on weight. Be careful. The practical application of this power is that if you live in an incredibly hilly area, or are constantly towing hundreds of pounds, this is the motor for you.
Yes, they do exist. Great for heavier riders looking at the appeal of a 1000W motor. They eat hills for breakfast.
At this point, just call it what it is: an electric motorcycle. These are probably illegal where you live. I’m sure there is a way to register it just as a straight-up motorcycle though, especially because they can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour, and have more torque and acceleration than most gas powered vehicles. Ride at your own risk, and, especially at this power, get insurance.
Step 3: The Controller
AKA, the brain, is an essential part of your bike. To the controller, you connect your battery, motor, throttle, display, and everything else.
Most of the time you can buy a motor (wheel) and it comes bundled with a controller, brake cables (special ones that cut power to the motor when you stop), and a display for about a 20% markup. For example, if you were to purchase a 350W motor for $200, a bundle that came with all the extras and the controller would typically bump it up to $240. Don’t worry though, you can definitely find decent “kits” for cheaper from Ali Express.
If you don’t decide to go with a “kit” though, make sure you buy all the other things I mentioned above separately. They aren’t optional.
Step 4: The Battery
If you are a crazy DIY freak like me, you will totally love this step. If not, it is just as easy to buy a battery pre-fab.
Steps for DIY: just watch this video. It explains it better than I ever could. And don’t be dissuaded by the welding, you can buy a tool for like $25 online that can do the spot welds!
Make sure though that you match up the voltage of your motor to the battery you plan to build, or buy.
A DIY battery can cost anywhere from $120–$1000, whereas a factory-made battery can cost from $180-$1000.
That pretty much wraps it up! All things considered, if you were to use your own bike or get a $75 bike from Craigslist, get a $185 E-bike motor “kit”, and build your own battery, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t build one for under $375. Below are the price “tiers”, to help you budget adequately if this seems like a project you want to undergo.
$200-$400: SUPER BUDGET!
You will likely have a range of about 18–25 miles, and have a top speed at most of 20mph. If you need a fun way to get around town, just bite the bullet and do it!
$400-$600: Bells and Whistles Budget
You will have a range of around 18–30 miles, and have a top speed of around 22–25mph. Nicer quality. Most people would say THIS is the bottom price bracket for a decent ride, but in favor of making E-Mobility more accessible, I put $200 as the floor. It is DOABLE but if you want more range and a standard experience, I would recommend budgeting for this category.
$600–$800: Good range, and getting into Class 3
Now that we are getting up into the typical price range, you may find some ways to make a class 3 setup work. Class three means it can go above 20mph, up to 28mph with pedaling, and the optional use of a throttle. If you want to ride with traffic, without worrying about puttering out due to range, go for at least this price point.
$800-$1000: Confident Riding.
This is where you can push your machine to 28mph without worry, and have a range from 25–100 miles. This is the recommended category for people living in a city looking to fully replace a car.
$1000-$2000: You bought a new bike too!
Same as the $800-$1000, but you bought a nice bike to stand as a strong and reliable foundation for a smooth ride.
$2000–$5000: Riding in style, and, above 28mph…
You can go above 28mph. Is it legal? Absolutely not. Figure out a way to register as a motorcycle perhaps. Check with your DMV before making any rash decisions about speed and ALWAYS wear a helmet. This category also features huge battery capacity, and beautiful bikes. You could even opt to get a pre-made E-Bike altogether and ignore the rest of this guide.
You are swimming in so much cash that you might as well buy a boat instead of an E-Bike. Or, practically, you decide to buy a beautiful bike pre-made from Riese & Müller.
No matter what your budget, E-Bikes are a fantastic transportation option that can be affordable to everyone. The benefits for your health, and the environment are massive, and outweigh the upfront cost. There is also a huge value in knowing that you made every part of your vehicle work, and if it doesn’t, you already know how to dismantle and fix it. So, what do you say? Build an E-Bike, and ride towards a greener future!
Have you recently built an E-Bike and want to share some valuable parts or experiences? Comment below!