Choosing the right bicycle for your electric bicycle conversion is important to making sure that your ebike is comfortable and fits you well. If you already have a bicycle that you enjoy and are ready to electrify it, then you’re all set! If not, you’ll need to begin the search for the right bike for you.
Start At A Bike Shop
A great place to start is your local bike shop. Talk to them about what you’re looking for in terms of size, style and features. They can help you find a bike that fits well, but it will be up to you to make sure it is appropriate for an electric bicycle conversion (we’ll talk about what that means below). Even though ebikes are becoming more popular, most bike shop employees, especially in the United States, are unfamiliar with electric bicycles and may even scoff at the idea of you taking a ‘perfectly good’ bicycle and making it electric. Just don’t be deterred!
There are certain items that you’ll want to look for in a bike to make sure it is appropriate for an electric bicycle conversion. First, make sure you’re looking for a strong frame with beefy dropouts, the place where the bike holds the wheels’ axles. The best bikes for electric conversion are steel bikes with steel dropouts. Aluminum bikes are ok, but will usually require an additional torque arm to strengthen the dropouts. Ironically, cheaper steel bikes often have stronger dropouts than some more expensive aluminum bikes, therefore this is one feature that you can’t necessarily judge purely by the price.
Think About Your Brakes
You’ll also want to pay special attention to the brakes. Brakes on an electric bike are much more important than a regular pedal bicycle because you’ll be traveling at higher speeds much more frequently. Think of it as the operational equivalent of riding a normal bike down a big hill 100% of the time.
There are two main types of brakes, rim brakes and disc brakes. Disc brakes generally require less frequent maintenance and can provide stronger braking force, but come with their own downsides as well. They can be harder to change when the pads are worn down and can also complicate the installation of a hubmotor.
Disc brakes aren’t a necessity though. Rim brakes have been used for years and have been proven to be strong and effective. The fastest race bicycles use rim brakes, proving that you don’t need to upgrade to disc brakes just to get good braking performance. More important than disc vs rim brakes is the quality of the brake parts and the brake pads.
Some bicycles have disc brakes in the front and rim brakes in the rear. This is a very good compromise for electric bikes because it puts the stronger brakes up front where more braking force is needed but leaves the rear wheel, which is more often converted to a hubmotor, uninhibited. Sometimes disc brakes can complicate the installation of a hubmotor, so going with rim brakes on the wheel that will be electrified is a good method.
When you buy your electric bicycle conversion kit, make sure you choose a front wheel or rear wheel ebike kit that is appropriate for your specific type of brakes. For example, if you have rear disc brakes and also want a rear motor, choose an electric bicycle conversion kit with a motor that specifically states “disc brake compatible” to ensure that it works with your bike.
If you are buying a new bike, your brakes should already be dialed in for maximum performance. If not, take it back to the store and ask them to adjust the brakes to your satisfaction. If you are using an older bike that you already own or are buying a used bike, you’ll want to either tune the brakes yourself or take the bike to a bike shop to have the brakes checked out. Learning to do your own brake adjustments will be an important skill to have though once you start riding your ebike frequently.
Suspension: Nice But Not A Requirement
If you choose a bicycle with suspension, make sure you understand how it works. Cheap suspension bicycles are often worse than a non-suspension bicycle, so keep that in mind. Rear suspension can also limit your options for installing the battery. Make sure you plan ahead if you are starting with a rear suspension bike.
Higher quality and better designed suspension forks will have a knob on the top of the fork to adjust the damping and/or travel of the suspension. Rear suspensions will also be adjustable, though the mechanism will differ from bicycle to bicycle. You’ll need to check the manual for your specific bicycle.
If this is your first ebike, you may be better off starting with a bicycle without suspension as it will greatly simplify the build process, not to mention be a lot cheaper as well! Just because this might be your first electric bicycle conversion doesn’t mean it will be your last – you’ll have plenty of time for upgrades to make your ebike perfect for you.
Don’t Judge A Bike By The Sticker Price
The most important thing to remember is that whatever bike you choose, make sure it has a strong frame and beefy dropouts. A $150 steel frame department store bicycle can actually be more appropriate for electric conversion than a $1,500 lightweight aluminum bike. Never use a carbon fiber bike for an ebike conversion. The frame usually isn’t over-engineered enough to take the extra stresses applied to ebikes, plus it’s kind of be a waste of a very expensive, purpose-built racing bike. If you can picture someone in spandex pedaling the bike in a race pack, then it’s probably not the best bike to electrify.
At the end of the day, the most important factor is simply whether or not you find the bike comfortable. You will be spending a lot more time on the saddle and a lot less time pedaling, as compared to a normal bicycle, so make sure everything feels good. Consider upgrading the saddle, as it’s the cheapest way to greatly increase the comfort of a bicycle.
Once you’ve chosen the right bicycle for your ebike conversion, get ready. You’re about to head down an amazing, life-changing road to electric commuting. Hold on to your hat!