Saturday, September 9, 2017

Fossil Free Friday: $500 Simple DIY Electric Bike Formula (The bike)


[If you missed Part 1, you can find it here]

We'll start with a simple and inexpensive bike. It will need to have:
  • a steel frame - easier to adapt and less prone to break under the stress of added weight and torque (if a magnet will stick to it, it is steel)
  • 26" wheels/tires - the most common size for hub motors - other sizes tend to cost more 
  • multi-gear capability - preferably 7-speed (with a hub motor there is no need for 21 gears)
  • hand brakes - hub motors don't have coaster brakes
  • it needs to fit you comfortably
Cruisers, comfort bikes, and mountain bikes all make great candidates and can often be found at low prices. I'll focus on cruisers for this project, but you should pick the type you like most (or already have in your garage.)

$108 shipped brand new, hmmm

Don't expect a whole lot of bike in this price range, but a bike like this cruiser will still work fine. Let's look at it with our checklist in mind:


and here are some extras that might be nice:
  • front suspension (heavier but easier on the wrists)
  • a built-in cargo rack (to carrier your homemade panniers)
  • disc brakes (sometimes better stopping and more adaptability - see Post 4)
  • fenders (to help you avoid the dreaded butt-stripe)
  • a comfy seat and/or a suspension seatpost (for a happier bum and spine)
  • lights (the better to see you)
  • a horn/bell (e-bikes are often fast and silent - you can skip this if you like yelling, "Get the !@##$% out of my way!" But the bell is a little more polite.

Here's another cruiser to check out in case you want something a little nicer with a few more virtues:

Sure it's $50 more, but this Schwinn from Ebay has larger tires, better brakes, and a longer wheelbase. It has great potential for this project and reminds me of the $1300 Juiced Ocean Current of my dreams.

Two important things to add to any bike you choose:
  • thorn resistant tubes or tire liners (it's not much fun to have/fix a flat on your e-bike)
  • better brake shoes - with greater power comes a greater need to stop
If those don't appeal to you or just cost too much, definitely check out the used bikes. I find lots of great deals on Craigslist and at garage sales. Look for ads that say things like "barely ridden" or "just needs new tubes." Feel fee to offer a little less for used bikes, but don't be a jerk about it. Life is too short for that, no matter what reality TV tells us.

A few tips on buying a used bike:

  • Buy a nice bike, if it it's worn out, weathered, or broken, you will spend a lot of time and money in the wrong places.
  • Buy a bike that has all the stuff you need - parts are more expensive than bikes. For example, it's not hard to find a $50 bike with good tires and tubes but a new set of tires and tubes will easily cost $50 or more. It's also expensive to upgrade a single-speed bike into a multi-speed bike.
  • Look for higher quality brands while shopping used. It's not rare to find a $350 Giant or Trek being sold for $75 lightly used.
Not a bad start and it would leave a little more room in the budget
(especially if you could get it for a little less money.)


This Raleigh could be a great (and very old-school cool) e-bike!

One other great source of inexpensive bikes - ask your friends, neighbors, relatives or co-workers. Throw a request out on social media. You never know who has a really great bike gathering dust and taking up garage space. You know the old saying - One man's trash is another man's dream e-bike conversion! [Love ya, Matt! Thanks for the bike!]

Okay, so that's it for the bike portion of our search. So, let's budget $150 for our bike. That leaves us $350 for the electric running gear, battery, charger, assorted hardware, and a way to contain the controller and battery. Is it possible?

Tune in next time for our exciting third post!

May you find the right bike and enjoy the ride.