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So you have decided to start your journey of converting your existing bike into an electric one, and that’s great: you will save on manufacturing costs and reduce emissions, and you will keep your beautiful bike as gleaming as ever, but with that added versatility that will allow you to ride faster and more efficiently. 

 

Maybe you have realised it’s time to augment your tenacious bicycle with some techy and modern extension, and you are looking around for new options.

 

If you are living in the UK, your motivation might be mixed with some more prevailing necessities, involving commuting from areas that sometimes involve reaching the top of high hills on your way home - or to work. Riding long distances can sometimes be tiring, especially if you have just finished work and all you want to do is enjoy a drink with friends - back home.  To experience the ecstasy that effortlessly cycling uphill can bring, you might want to start thinking about transforming your bike into a shiny almost-brand-new e-bike. 

 

What is e-conversion?

 

An e-conversion represents an alternative to buying an electric bike. An e-bike comes with a battery and motor installed as basic technicalities. Instead, when you convert your bike, all you need to do is purchase a kit that will add electronic help to the pedalling power of your regular bike. The obvious reason why people decide to opt for e-conversion is that if you already own a very good bike - or at least one which is able to perform at a good level - making your current bike perform even better may well be a more desirable option than having two bikes - one electric and one regular. 

 

The downside? When thinking about altering your bike you might fear the risk of rendering your previously optimal regular cycle suboptimal, installing equipment that could potentially run the risk of making it actually less efficient than a normal bike. You will make it heavier and possibly less manageable - and let’s not forget that there is a high number of cyclists that are simply passionate about their bikes ‘the way they are’, who don’t love the idea of changing their core features and beautiful outlines. 

 

So why might you prefer e-conversion to simply purchasing a new e-bike?  Pricing is an important part of the decision-making process: we all know that frankly, high-performance e-bikes can be pretty expensive.  And if you are an honourable cyclist with years of experience on your legs then you have probably invested quite a lot of money in your current model already. The idea of spending a demanding fare for a new e-bike sounds almost like a redundant choice - when you know that with a bit of research you can make everything possible with a better all-round all-in-one. 

 

What are the options available to convert your bike into electric?

There are different solutions that will allow you to augment your current bike with electric assistance, and they can be quite different to each other in the way they actually work. 

There are essentially four ways you can make your bike electric. Basically, you can attach a motor:

 

  • To the front wheel

  • To the back wheel 

  • To the cranks and bottom-bracket, transferring energy via the drivechain

  • To something that touches the tire that propels the bike in that way 

 

All of these options have their quick advantages and disadvantages. The simplest way when it’s about DIY is installing a kit that sticks to the back of the bike and touches the tire. That way you will only need to mount it to the seat post and it will automatically clamp underneath your seat. The machine comes up at the back, stays on top of the wheel, and then as you ride it propels the bike forward. It literally consists in purchasing one single unit and attaching it to your bike with a single tool - super easy. 

 

The front-wheel represents another good option: it doesn’t have a lot of the mechanical paraphernalia that you have at the back wheel, nor the chain that goes into the gearing. In order to have the motor at the back you will have to deal with all that equipment, while at the front wheel there is nothing else rather than the brakes (which you will need to replace anyway). 

 

The bottom bracket might represent a pretty invasive choice: a lot of equipment in this case is actually manufactured to be incorporated into the bike itself at the design stage. Here you will have to buy the components that usually come pre-installed in ready-made e-bikes. Classic e-bikes tend to often prefer the bottom-bracket (BB) choice, as they are neat and convenient - and arguably the most efficient - as the BB is literally where you are pressing and generating force. But for conversion kits, let’s agree that this preference might not represent the most attractive one, requiring a lot of hard work and technical knowledge - so unless you are very skilled with mechanics, it might not serve as a solution to your needs. 

 

Which brands can help me to e-convert my bike?

 

Let’s talk about the actual implementation, with three brands to watch out for in 2022 that provide versatile ideas of how e-conversion can work.

 

Swytch

 

Swytch is a company founded in 2017 by Oliver Montague, that aims at creating a sustainable future by turning drivers into cyclists while reducing the emission of vehicle manufacturing processes.  Initially a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, it raised over 500.000 dollars during the first year of implementation, turning a magic idea into a concrete reality.

 

The way Swytch delivers the system is very smart and well thought out. The company provides you with a new wheel - not just a hub - which is already a key determinant of its success. If you are trying to install a hub on the front wheel yourself, in fact, you might want to reconsider the idea, as you’d have to deal with the fact that you’d have to sort of, well, reconstruct the wheel. Swytch removed this hassle.

 

The way it works is that you provide them with the measurements - and according to the website, they will send it to you in six weeks’ time.  A wire that goes up to the front wheel attaches to a special class battery pack: you will only have to mount it to the front of handlebars, avoiding the nightmare of having to manage tons of wires going all over the place. A second wire has to be connected to the sensors at the cranks and will tell you how much the person is pedaling. 

 

The wire that connects the battery allows it to be removed whenever you reach your destination: if you are going to the office, de-installing it will take a minute. And if you get tired of going electric and you need some old-school cycling, you can always switch the traditional wheel back, simply unplugging the cable - a totally non-invasive procedure. 

 

Throughout the year Swytch announces on their website a pre-order option available, allowing customers to access a half-price discount (around 500 pounds). This makes the ‘switch’ a pretty cheap and valuable bargain, considering the real estimated price for a real e-bike. And as it’s your daily commute we are talking about, and that hassling hill you are constantly fighting against, it’s always better to avoid false economy and put a little bit of money towards a good product, which makes Swytch a fair negotiation. 

 

What will you get as a result? A neat and stylish, convenient option: you can lock up your bike after your ride, remove the kit (which is pretty light) and take it with you - as we know there are around 77 thousand bikes reported to be stolen every year in the UK, it’s better to come prepared.

 

For some cyclists, Swytch might translate into a bit of an uncomfortable option, as it slightly modifies the handlebar's manoeuvrability. It’s also not the most powerful but it follows the law - 250w standard power, and a torque at 30 - some customers reported still feeling some fatigue when climbing a hill, and experiencing a better ride on flat terrains - but if you are looking for moving around the city with electrical assistance, it will do a fantastic job. 


 

To sum up:

  • Time to install the kit: about an hour

Pros

  • Convenient when purchased half-price

  • Light and well designed

  • Very easy to install

  • Removable battery

Cons

  • Potentially a long wait for delivery

  • Standard power and torque

  • Slightly inconvenient for handlebar maneuverability

  • Pretty expensive when not purchased within the pre-order option 


 

Bafang

 

Bafang is one of the market leaders that manufactures e-mobility components all over the world. Their website presents a large range of different kits, providing any sort of equipment you might be interested in. From motors to batteries, to displays, Bafang excels in producing high-quality accessories for the best experience on the road. 

 

Bafang offers a vast array of solutions, it’s true - on the other hand, it’s not for newbies. You will have to know your way around your bikes, own or have access to a set of tools, and be able to perform some technical activities, like taking the cranks off your bike. With Bafang e-converting becomes a real project, where you will have to be fully aware of components' quality and costs, be skilled enough to understand the catalog and what’s the best option for your bike. You will also have to be aware of regulations, as Bafang provides solutions in components, with a plethora of different options - you will have to buy the hub and the battery - and you will want to be able to choose. The price in this case could escalate pretty quickly and you will have to be ready to make a decision. 

 

The plus side? You can turn your bike into whatever you want, change the weight, and the power, add a specific torque, a throttle if you prefer…and easily apply components that enhance performance (but may potentially break the law, so be careful). Differently from a brand like Swytch, the responsibility lies in the hands of the user at the end of the day the moment they take it to the road. It is a very attractive option if you want to create your own perfect vehicle, but it’s not a one-day job. 

 

The bad side? The company is not about finesse, and if you are not capable of adding an aesthetic value to your bike, you could see its beauty vanish completely. All the components are not optimized for your bike: mounting a battery that sits on your rear wheel and weights 3.5 kg could be a huge inefficiency for your cycle and make it easy prey for potential thieves.  The installation decisions will be all in your hands, but let’s not forget that some components come with very long wires (presumably because they have to fit all sorts of bikes) and to make the end result look tidy and neat you might even end up in some big modifications. We are talking about some serious electronics at this stage if you are considering shortening cables and re-soldering.  Given the price of the unit, this is strictly for the modding enthusiast - with the hub and battery prices will start touching the 700 pounds mark.


Moreover, considering components are not cheap, the idea of ending up with visible cabling and permanent installations doesn’t look very appealing - particularly if you are locking it up in Camden overnight. 

 

To sum up:

  • Time to install the components: a lot, maybe 8 hours for an experienced enthusiast

Pros:

  • High profile components

  • Freedom to install your favorite components and create a new bespoke bike

Cons:

  • Risk of not having a particularly attractive bike

  • Not a cheap option

 

Rubee X  

 

Rubee X is a company that provides e-bike conversion with a kit comprising a battery and a wireless cadence sensor for an easy and compact solution. The unit supplied sits on top of the tyre on the back wheel, making it a very easy device to install as it literally clamps it on the seat-post. 

 

The option is very convenient and probably the cheapest amongst the three brands: pricing touches the 500 pounds mark, and if you are a newbie it could be a good starting point. 

 

However, the device pressing on the tyre gives an inefficient visual impression: added contact to the tyre and extra tension on the frame is sort of an uncomfortable prospect, particularly if you love your bike.  It is also noisy on wet terrains as soon as the tyre becomes slippery. Being installed on a seatpost gives the idea that it could provide a lot of force, but making really good contact with the tyre doesn’t look like a particularly attractive solution but could almost look like somewhat of a ‘hack’. The device is overall pretty big, so again maybe not be the best solution if you are a passionate rider who enjoys long journeys. 

 

To sum up:

  • Time to install the kit: about an hour

Pros:

  • Very easy to install

Cons:

  • Noisy

  • Ugly

 

Conclusion
 

There are different solutions if you want to e-convert your electric bike. Our only advice? Do it with care, patience, and knowledge, particularly if you care about aesthetics, regulations, and comfort. Swytch probably offers the best solution on the market at the moment, if you are looking for a safe and easy installation that provides a basic and efficient solution. If you feel comfortable investing days and nights towards your dreamlike model, then Bafang is the brand you will be looking for. But remember: a bike that does its job and allows you to ride miles is forever!
 

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Silvia Iacovcich 19/04/22