Considering Going Electric?

Group of people riding

Electric bikes are welcome and encouraged to join in on all of our rides.  This article is for those thinking of moving to electric.

My first thought is probably the most important.  Are you ready for an electric bike?  

I raise this because in my experience once a cyclist goes electric there is no going back though it may take sometime to use electric for everything.  Anne and I are good examples.  She first went electric about nine years ago and for the last couple of years only rides manual on her shopping bike. 

At about the same time I got involved with a very fit group of local road cyclists.  It forced my fitness levels to improve to keep up with them and I did some events and got quite into cycle sport.  About two years ago I "retired" from cycle sport.  Since then I have slowed down but I still think I can keep up with most of the electric bikes in the club.  So long as I can do this without busting a gut I will stay manual.  And having said that my road bikes are very high tech which makes life a lot easier.

As you may know I do all Anne's and my bike mechanicing, including electrics for nine years, and I have a good deal of experience fitting at least 15 different "kits".  And I have also watched the rise and fall of the various WDC members' electric bikes over those years.

Electric bikes come in two main types, those with bottom bracket motors and those with front or rear hub motors.  Because of gearing bottom bracket motors are more efficient but hub motors can be lighter and less obvious on a bike.  

Most WDC riders who do longer distances opt for bottom bracket motors.  They give a better range, more assistance and more reliability.  

Hub motors tend to be used at the top or bottom end of the market, or on conversions on the rare occasions where it is impossible to fit a bottom bracket motor.  At the top end there are high priced electric hub carbon road bikes where the riders think they just want a little assistance to keep up with their mates.  At the bottom end of the market they are often cheap and often nasty bikes used for a few months to go to the pub or shops before ending up in the tip.

The next choice is whether to convert or to buy a purpose made bike.  This mainly depends on one's technical ability and know-how.  And also whether what you want is actually available in the shops.  The main problem with modern electric bikes is the wiring.  Good quality purpose built bikes do this well and I have to work hard on my conversions to make them just as good.

The difference in price between buying a purpose built bike or a new bike and converting it is very little.  Converting can be worth doing if you have a suitable donor bike or if what you want is not available purpose built.  Converted bikes are modular and parts and the battery can be cheaply and easily replaced.  Purpose built bikes are much more expensive to repair.  You should check the price of replacement batteries.  Standard batteries can be half the price for the same capacity as purpose built Ebike replacement battery.  Standard batteries can also be made easily interchangeable between bikes.  

The next choice is the type of bike.  Purpose built bikes are mainly very heavy and over engineered.  In my view a purpose built bike for touring should have a Bosch or Shimano bottom bracket motor and have an absolute maximum all up weight of 18kg.  Whatever the salesman says, the only place you want weight is in a steam roller.   It is very hard work to ride an 18kg bike without electricity, let alone lifting it onto a car rack.  Purpose built electric road bikes, mountain bikes and folders are very specialised so I am not going into these here.

With a conversion you can create what you want.  Anne's bike is just one example.  I bought a new Islabike Janis designed for older riders which cost £1000 and weighs 9kg.  I converted it new out of the box using a Bafang bottom bracket kit and a 550wh battery.  Her bike on the road weighs about 13kg and cost about £2000 with a carrier and battery bag.  It has a very low step through and good gears.  Nothing like this is available on the purpose built market.  We don't use a car but she can easily get it on and off trains and it packs nicely into a bike box for holidays.

The final consideration is battery and range, including range anxiety. Most salesmen seriously exaggerate the range,  it's best to cut any estimate they give by half.  I would suggest you start with a 500wh battery though some of our members use much smaller batteries and others even bigger ones.  If you have the average 500wh battery and don't pedal at all you would probably get between 15 and 20 miles, perhaps more if it is absolutely flat.  If you pedal hard and the motor never cuts in then the range is infinity.  Most of our club members get between 40 and 60 miles with Bafang motors and a 500wh battery.

In terms of our member experience we have quite a few members riding bikes with Bafang conversions with very few problems.  We have three members I know of with cheapish purpose built hub motor bikes which exhibit most of the range, reliability, weight and cost problems outlined above so these are not recommended.  We have several members riding purpose built bikes with Bosch or Shimano motors which compare well with the Bafangs.  In addition to the above there are probably about 10 electric Bromptons all with hub motors which mainly work well.  There is at least one electric full on mountain bike, which is not good on road, and four tandems, two of them forced to have hub motors.  I don't know of anyone in the club with an electric carbon road bike yet, perhaps I will be the first in due course. 

A good site to look at for more information and to buy conversion kits is .  There is a lot more nerdish information out there, try . I may also be able to help with detailed stuff which I have purposely not put in this guide.