Bikes are good exercise, emissions-free, and riding them is much cheaper than driving a car.
But you may find, as many people do, that two factors prevent you from riding your bike more: it’s too slow, and it can be very tiring – especially if there are hills involved.
The good news is that you can fix both these issues with the addition of an electric bike motor. To achieve this, you simply need to order a DIY e-bike conversion kit, which will provide you with all the equipment you need to electrify your existing bicycle.
Once converted, your bike will be both faster and easier to ride. And, if you haven’t ridden one already, you’ll probably find that e-bike riding is way more fun.
If you want to learn about converting your bike using an e-bike kit, then this guide is for you. We’ll start by showing you the best kits to buy in 2023. We’ll also look at the top reasons to buy a kit and explain the key differences between different kit types.
- E-bike conversion kits are an excellent purchase if you own a regular bike but want to upgrade your riding experience.
- With hub motor kits you attach a motor directly to the hub of one of the bicycle's wheels.
- Hub motor kits are cheaper and easier to install and operate, but their performance is inferior, especially on hills.
- Mid-drive conversion kits are installed onto the bike's drivetrain and take advantage of your bike’s gears.
- Mid-drive kits offer better range and performance, but their purchase and maintenance costs tend to be higher.
The 5 best electric bike conversion kits
Are you looking to upgrade your existing bike? Here are the best e-bike conversion kits in 2023.
||Why get it
||This best-selling mid-drive kit offers an excellent combo of performance and value. Bafang has a U.S. office for after-sales support.
From $442; check on Amazon, Bafang USA, and eBay
|CYCMotor X1 Pro Gen 2
||The massive 5000-watt mid-drive motor on this kit provides serious power and speed. Not recommended for amateurs.
From $1,039; check on CYCMotor
|Swytch Universal eBike Conversion Kit
||Best for commuters
||Simple front hub kit featuring a sleek detachable power pack on the handlebars. It’s compatible with most bikes.
||From $999; check on eBay and Swytch
||Best budget kit
||Affordable kit from a Chicago, IL-based company. Available in both front and rear hub motor options.
||From $339; check on Amazon and eBikeling
||All-in-one kit with a friction motor. It can be installed in minutes, and the whole kit can be removed and reattached almost instantly.
||From $637; check on Two Wheels Empire and Rubbee
While these kits are our favorites, there are several other reputable kit manufacturers worth considering as well, such as Golden Motors and Tongsheng.
Here are a few things to be aware of before you buy a kit:
- Compatibility: This can vary by brand and model. Make sure that the bike you're looking to convert (the "donor bike") is compatible with the kit you're ordering.
- The equipment included: Many conversion kits don't offer a battery pack as a standard inclusion. Other features like thumb throttles and LCD displays may be optional or need to be purchased separately.
Types of e-bike conversion kits
E-bike conversion kits largely fall into two main categories: hub-motor kits and mid-drive kits.
Each kit type comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. The right one for you will depend on your needs, your aptitude, patience for performing installation and maintenance, and of course your budget.
1. Hub motor kit
With hub motor kits, you attach a motor directly to the hub of one of the bicycle’s wheels.
Conversion kits with motors on the front wheel hub are more common. They are the easiest kit type to install thanks to the simpler setup of the front wheel.
On the other hand, rear-wheel conversion kits are harder to set up but offer better traction and handling.
Hub motors in conversion kits are usually gearless, or “direct drive.” The alternative, a geared hub motor, is less common and typically offers less power.
Hub motor kits usually come with a pedal assist system (PAS, or pedelec) based on a cadence sensor. Most hub motor systems also include a throttle system, which lets you operate the bike on electric power alone.
Hub motors are an older technology but remain the most popular option for both e-bikes and e-bike conversion kits.
Pros of hub-motor kits
- Easy to install: The installation process for hub kits tends to be relatively straightforward. The hub motor typically comes pre-installed in a replacement wheel that you swap in place of your existing wheel.
- Easy on your bike: As hub motors aren't connected to your bike's drivetrain, there's no additional strain on your chain or shifters.
- Easy to repair and upgrade: Hub motor kits comprise separate components – the wheel motor, controller, battery, etc – that are wired together. It's easy to pull out and replace a specific part that needs replacing or upgrading.
- Reliable: Hub motors are quite robust, especially the gearless version. Kits with hub motors also use a relatively simple setup, so there are fewer points of failure.
- Quiet: Hub bikes tend to operate quietly at all speeds.
Cons of hub-motor kits
- Inferior performance: Hub motors are slower, and provide less power than mid-drive motors of equivalent wattage.
- Power doesn't adjust with gears: Hub motors aren't connected to your bike's gear system, so you won't benefit from motor assistance that adapts both torque and speed to your riding situation.
- Less useful on hills: The lack of gears on direct drive systems means there's no lower gear you can switch to for low speeds but greater torque; this makes them less effective for climbing steep hills.
- Shorter range: The lack of gears also means that hub motors don't operate as efficiently as possible. This increases their battery consumption, which in turn reduces their range.
- Less natural ride: When riding a bike with a front hub motor, you may feel like the bike is pulling you forward. With a rear-motor setup, you may like you are being pushed.
- Heavier: Hub motor kits tend to be heavier than mid-drive kits. This can make your bike harder to pick up, and can also hurt your bike's suspension.
- Low traction control on front hub kits: Because there is less weight on the front wheel, there is a chance of it spinning out during acceleration, especially if you have a small wheel size or a powerful motor.
- Uneven weight with rear hub kits: Rear hub motors add weight to the back of the bike, and this is exacerbated if the e-bike battery is placed there as well (e.g. on the rear rack). Back-heavy weight distribution can result in unintentional wheelies when you're taking off.
Hub motor kits are convenient: they’re cheap, easy to install, and require minimal upkeep. They’re usually the best conversion kit if you have a road bike, are a commuter, or don’t plan on doing much off-roading.
Hub motor kits are relatively easy to install.
2. Mid-drive kits
Mid-drive conversion kits are installed onto the bike’s drivetrain. The drivetrain is a system of pedals, cranks, and a chain that converts your pedaling into power for the rear wheel.
Mid-drive kits offer a big advantage over e-bikes bought off the shelf: the inclusion of throttle. Most mid-driver kits – even cheaper ones – will include throttles as standard, and if they don’t there will be an option to add it. Store-bought bicycles under $2,000, on the other hand, rarely come with throttles.
Mid-drive kits are a newer technology, and still less common than hub motor kits.
Pros of mid-drive kits
- Greater power: Mid-drive motors deliver a greater amount of max torque compared to hub motors of similar wattage.
- Integrates with bike's gear system: Mid-drive motors allow you to take advantage of your bike's original transmission system. The motor will adjust its RPMs to deliver the right combination of speed and torque based on the gear you're in.
- Better for hills and off-roading: The combination of mid-drive's power and its use of the gear system means that you will receive more low-end torque when tackling hills and other challenging terrains.
- Even weight distribution: Mid-drive systems are installed in the center of the bike over the bottom bracket, so they don't add extra weight to the front or back as hub motors do. This helps to preserve the bike's balance and handling.
- Natural-feeling ride: In a mid-drive system, energy from the motor is transferred through the bike's existing chain system. This makes the pedal assist on mid-drive feel very natural – almost as if your legs have become more powerful – instead of feeling like you're receiving external assistance.
- Excellent range: The greater efficiency of mid-drive motors means that they offer a superior range – typically 30-50% more than similar hub motor setups.
Cons of mid-drive kits
- Harder to operate: Mid-drive bike operation can be tricky. It's only safe to change gears when the bike is moving, so if you're slowing down you'll need to downshift before you stop. If you don't manage that, you'll be starting your bike at too high a gear, which will deliver sub-optimal performance while putting extra strain on your pedal system.
- Wear and tear: As mid-drive motors apply power to the bicycle's entire drivetrain, they'll wear out the system a lot quicker – especially if you're not careful about riding on the proper gears. Expect to spend more time and money on routine bike maintenance.
- Prone to chain problems: Perhaps the biggest plaguing mid-drive setups is the issue of chain damage. If your chain breaks on a mid-drive system it becomes useless – in both pedal assist and throttle modes.
- Noisier: Mid-drive systems tend to make a loud whirring sound, especially when you switch from Eco mode to a setting with higher power output.
The mid-drive kits offer a greater range and superior all-around performance, but they are harder to install, harder to maintain, and more expensive. They are best for more serious cyclists who already have nice mountain bikes and want the best off-road experience.
Charge your e-bike, EV, and home with clean energy
The emergence of efficient lithium-ion batteries has created many new product categories. They’re used in e-bike kits, electric vehicles, and whole-home battery systems, among other products and appliances.
In addition to being emissions-free, battery-powered products are great because they can be charged with solar panels, a clean source of energy that is typically much cheaper than utility power. You can learn about using solar panels for your home by using the calculator below for a solar estimate.