Sticky: Electric Bike Conversion Kits – Electrify Your Recumbent

Update 2014:  I know there are a lot of repeat visitors to the site (I see it in the visitors logs) and I'm sure some of you don't see the changes "behind the site"... I assure you they are there.

For some time I've been meaning to update the information here about converting your recumbent (Or any Bicycle for that matter) with an Electric Hub Motor.  There are also mid-drive options but I have not tried them yet as those in my budget area ($500) are not of the quality I would want to purchase and those that are - well lets just say they are the price of a mid miles low end used car!

It's been almost 2 years now since I converted my Recumbent and then converted another bicycle just last spring.  I chose MAC hub motors for both bicycles.  For the recumbent I used a 350 Watt Front Hub Motor, and for the upright a 500 Watt Rear Hub Motor.  Both bicycles using the same 48 volt NMC battery will do 32mph on the flats unassisted (And that's plenty fast for me!).  I chose the MAC motors because they are freewheeling and perform more like a bicycle and less like a scooter/moped.  They are also significantly lighter than most direct drive motors (Which cause a cogging effect if you ride without power).  And this effect while minimal, is still annoying to me.  I rode the original Chrysler Bicycle more than 10 years ago and didn't want a lead sled.

After the conversion my recumbent went from 32lbs to 45lbs plus another 11lbs for the batter and a lb or two for the controllers and cables.

The process was not simple, but not too difficult for anyone who likes to "tinker".  I could write an entire post just about doing each bicycle, but honestly that kind of stuff isn't very interesting to me.  I know most people want to just ride and have fun so I'll over the basics now and create a few links to "Trusted Suppliers" (Trusted in that I had no problem with them and they have a good reputation).

Here is basically what you'll need:

A Kit or pieces consisting of the Hub Motor, Rim, Spokes, a controller, Wiring with fuses, and a battery.

These links ARE NOT commissioned, while I wish I made a buck or two for promoting them... I don't, I do it because I shopped around as many places as I could and all points led back to Paul and Justin at eBikes.ca.  Paul is a battery expert and you definitely want his batteries!  I made a 45 electric assisted ride on my recumbent with my 350 Watt Mac motor and used 9.5 am hours out of 14 total . I still had battery to spare.  Prior to this battery (Which cost me $510 plus shipping) I was using 3 Power sonic 12 volt Lead Acid AGM Batteries each weighing about 9lbs each totaling 36 volts.  And while it worked my range was about 20 miles if I went real easy on them and they really altered the dynamics of the bicycle with all that weigh ton the rack!  Do yourself a favor and don't buy a kit until you have a budge for the battery.  If "babied" the NMC batteries Paul sells should go 1,000 cycles (That's 20,000 miles at 20 miles a ride) and last bout 5 years.  Think about that for a moment.  that would be roughly riding every day for 3 years or every other day for 6!  They may even go longer than that.  He also has LifePo4 batteries with a supposed DOUBLE life time of 2,000 potential cycles.  For me the extra amps on demand and lightweight made NMC the easy choice.  Paul will also match your battery to your motor with a pre-charge circuit and the appropriate fusing.

Now lets get back to eBikes.ca.  If you want to just purchase everything from one place and are not keen on waiting for China Post to get  your your packages (I waited about 6 weeks and China Post Tracking is HORRIBLE!!!) and the associated cost then you may want to consider eBikes.ca.  They have more options in parts and kits, and whether you purchase from Paul or Justin you definitely want Justin's Cycle Analyst!  Not having a Cycle Analyst is like driving your car without a gas gauge.  If you know you are only going to go on short rides then maybe you won't mind, but I find the information invaluable.

Batteries are a Challenge for eBikes.ca because of cost of shipping and access to raw materials (They do not build their own, while Paul is known for his batteries, which he builds because of good access to lithium technologies in China).  The shipping cost from either could be the same depending on where you life.  Lithium Batteries are hazardous so they require special shipping precautions and only a few carriers can do it.  If I recall I paid about $200 to have my battery shipped (Plus the cost of the battery) because the batteries can not ship ground.  Be sure you order a quality charger at the same time.  Paul recommends charging your NMC batteries to 90% to get the most life out of them.

This is getting a bit long and I'm kind of tired so I'm going to close down this update on Electric Bicycle Conversions... with this.  You may also want to contact Utah Trikes.  I was in there showroom this fall (2013) and they told me they were working on some electric products which may be available at this time in January 2014.  You may also want to do a Google Search for Lectric Cycles and read about their Bafang (8 fun) mid drive conversion kits.  And of course you can always drop me a note.  Please know that I get in excess of 600 emails per week (For this and other sites) and I don't always see each and every one of them as this is NOT my job, and I have a limited amount of time to contribute to writing and testing recumbent bicycle stuff (But I wish I had more).  I do make a real effort to answer my emails though.

And below is the content I originally wrote for this page.  If you are going to buy from an American Company E-bike Kit and Ebikes SF (Illa) are about the best you'll find. Buy your Torque Arms from Justin at eBikes.ca or Paul (He sells Justin's Torque Arms) the Amped Torque arms are very "Fred Flinstonish" compared the high quality machining and fit of Justin's. Honestly although it seems like these parts are expensive (And they are for some) the guys running these shops are not getting filthy rich.  There are a lot of Headaches with support and shipping and quality that have a way of eating into margins.

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I've been looking at Electric Bike Conversion Kits from every source I could find over the past several months.  And there are several options and nearly all of them come from China.  But you can find USA manufacturers who will warranty these Chinese Products.

electric conversion kit for recumbent bicycle

Electric Bike Conversion Complete Kit Example - Wheel, Battery, Controller, Brakes

The above pictured kit is and example of what you would need to convert your Recumbent Bicycle to electric assist.

You can choose a hub motor that is direct drive or geared depending on how far you ride and how much power you expect to assist you.  Some people want to pedal along while others want the motor to do all the work.  The Direct drive electric bicycle wheels are a bit heavier, but they will go a bit faster given the same amount of electricity (Which is a function of the coil winds inside the motor actually).  The geared motors are lighter, but the gears will wear out over time.  Geared motors will "freewheel" allowing you to ride like a regular bicycle with no resistance while pedaling.  Direct Drive wheels will create some minor resistance.  According to research done by Grin Technologies in Canada the amount of resistance is just a little less than you would experience if you were running mountain bike knobby style tires.

Nearly all the hub motors are designed to operate on standard 135mm rear or 100mm front Hub spacing.  I have not come across any that are designed to operate on Rear Road Drop outs of 130mm.

There are sensors you can add to your bicycle that will regulate the amount of power assist automatically as you pedal (Bionx does this), but most people will be happier with a throttle control.

Here are some basics you'll need to know before you go electric.

Electric hub motors will torque the drop outs on your bicycle.  This can result in DAMAGE that can result in ruined frames.  So when you upgrade your bike for an electric hub motor you need to be sure that you purchase a quality TORQUE ARM.  The Torque arm if properly installed prevents this from happening. On super high power kits like those from Crystalyte you may want to run 2!  Also it should be noted that on direct drive systems where regeneration is enabled the amount of torque delivered the the drop outs is greater and torque arms are advised, even on back wheels.  The strength of your frame and fork drop outs is another consideration.

I believe most of us who ride recumbent bicycles do so for comfort and fun and are not looking to go 50mph!!!  At least I am not.  A 250-400 watt motor should provide plenty of ooomph on the flats up to the legal speed limit for electric bicycles in the United States (20mph). When properly installed this wattage should not cause problems with most drop outs.  If you are concerned about damaging your frame it is advisable to purchase a quality STEEL front fork and mount your electric assist motor on the front of your bicycle.

Battery Technology for Electric Bicycles

Lithium Manganese  LiMn2o4

The chemistry of lithium manganese oxide LiMn2O4 is not a good option for
EV applications, because of its poor cycle life, especially at elevated
temperature. In addition, the energy density of the battery with LiMn2O4
chemistry is the lowest one among all lithium-ion batteries, about 100 Wh/kg,
similar to that of Ni-MH battery. Therefore, there is no advantage to use this
chemistry in large format lithium-ion battery.

This is the Battery Technology used by Bionx:

"The BionX Lithium Manganese rechargeable battery is safe, stable, light, and extremely compact."

I must be missing something here?  But it doesn't make sense to me when LiFeP04 is available?  I believe it might simply because there are other factors like how much power can be delivered in a sustainable manner without creating voltage sag and the quality of the cells themselves.   If you can actually get 500 cycles from Lithium Manganese at an average distance of 20 miles per trip that's 10,000 miles of riding enjoyment per battery.

Lithium Iron Phosphate  LiFeP04

Recently lithium iron phosphate LiFePO4 has been becoming "best-choice"
materials in commercial Li-ion Batteries for large capacity and high power
applications, such as lap-top, power tools, e-wheel chair, E-bicycles, e-car
and e-bus. A LiFePO4 battery has hybrid characters: as safe as lead-acid
battery and as powerful as lithium ion cells, with lower cost.

LiFeP04 is the technology that most kits are recommending due to it's long cycle life and safety (Withstanding temperature changes as well).

Read More Here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_ion_battery
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphate_battery

PDF File: Lithium Battery Technology (Source: GE Batteries China)

Mounting on the front has the added advantage of being able to distribute the load of the wheel vs the battery. A geared hub wheel is as little as 7lbs.  Keep in mind when you remove your existing wheel you are taking that weight off the bike and adding back 7 to 8lbs.  So in effect you may only be increasing your bike weight by 4 or 5 pounds (Not counting battery or controller).  A lightweight lithium based battery (There are many technologies which I plan to write about in a separate article later) providing 10 amp hours can weigh as little as 10lbs.  The controller a pound or two.  So you can upgrade your bike to electric for as little as 15-20lbs added weight.  And that's not much when you ride on the flats, and because you'll now have the oomph you need to get up the hills it won't matter on climbs.

A brief note about Power Usage: Amps x Voltage = Watts.  So a 400 Watt Motor that is drawing 36 Volts would use 11.1 Amps per hour... assuming a steady draw.  At least that is my understanding.  So a 10 Amp Hour Battery would give you about an hour of unassisted (No pedaling at all) riding on the flats if you drew it down to empty which you don't actually want to do.  It's my understanding you want to always leave at least 20% remaining with lithium technologies.  Again this is my understanding. And that same motor will give you a speed of 17-20mph on average for an average size rider.  Add your own pedal power and you can double or triple the range.  So if you are the kind of person that like to ride for an hour or two then this is the perfect option for you!

One major advantage of the geared hub motors over the direct drive (DD Motors) besides weight is that they freewheel when not engaged. So your bike rides more like a bike... on the flats you'll probably not notice a difference.  A DD motor will add some drag when pedaling without power due to the coil windings.   Is this a bad thing?  Not really... depends on the motor kit you buy.

There is an excellent Forum called Endless Sphere for those who want to learn more.  Be advised most of the people on the forms are do-it-yourselfers who like to tinker.  I don't... I just want a good easy to install kit that works and is warrantied.

Important:  Most rear wheel kits will NOT work with 9 speed cassettes... only a very few will, and I haven't researched this enough to be able to name all the brands.  Most will work with a 7 speed cassette.

This is why I've chosen to go with E Bike Kit... inexpensive, complete, well designed Electric Kits that are warrantied by a United States Company for 2 years!  I have found ZERO complaints from their kits and they are well received in all the electric bicycle forums that I've read.  So this is why they get my endorsement.  And it's not to be taken lightly as I've been researching this for the better part of a year.  There is no perfect kit, but these are really good and one of the least expensive quality options.

What about Bionx Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits?

Well this was what I thought I wanted to buy.  And they do make a fine kit.  The upside is it's as refined as you'll find.  The Bionx is a "Turnkey" solution.  One kit that goes on smoothly and looks nice.  The downside to this upside is the kit is proprietary - you can't mix and match parts. If you need a new battery you need a Bionx.  And the same for the wheel. The warranty is okay (Standard 2 year... don't do this or that to make sure you are covered), but not great in my view because if your wheel fails after 2 years you get to buy a new one... and it MUST be a Bionx.  With the other brands you can mix and match and find good hubs for as little as $160 and build up your own wheel with the rim of your choice (But it should be double walled and very strong).

I've read some good and bad stories in the Forms, but overall the company does seem to do a pretty good job of taking care of customers.  Bionx is the choice of TREK Bicycles - it's what they use in their electric bikes.  I like TREK products, so I believe the Bionx may be a good choice for some.  But keep in mind that these are DD motors so they will have some drag when pedaling unassisted.  I believe a person who purchases a Bionx kit will want to ride with some level of assistance all the time... personally I don't.

And don't buy into the Regenerative Braking too much.  I've read this has the capability of creating maybe a 3% re-charge on a typical ride.  Sure it's a neat idea... but not that practical.  Another neat idea would be to ride around with solar panels on our bikes so they would constantly charge... but again not real practical.

Again the Bionx seems to be the most refined product for Bicycles in that they are integrated for various levels of power assist and have the option to recharge their system while braking or riding in a "Training" Mode.  There is some question as to how useful the "Training Mode" really is... it takes a lot of power to regenerate the batteries on your own.  Perhaps some benefit on long downhills. But why pay so much extra for that feature when you probably won't ever ride in training mode.  It's just an electrical motor and a battery no matter how "techie" you make it.

Again If you decide to upfit your bicycle for an electric wheel be sure you know that the dropouts on your fork/frame will support the additional torque of the kit you buy. Some front forks, especially suspension forks do not have strong enough drop outs. Make sure your kit is for the correct wheel front or back

BMC, Crystalyte, EZee, BaFang, MAC and the Rest of the Pack

It's my understanding some of the Crystallyte motors may actually be too powerful... my goal is not to turn my recumbent bike into a motorcycle I just want to go up hills! But they may be the perfect choice for creating a commuter bike where you have to carry cargo or a recumbent tricycle which tends to be heavier.  Keep in mind the Cyrstalyte Hub/Motor Combo can weigh as much as 23lbs before you get to the batteries. So you could easily add 40lbs to your existing bicycle!

BMC makes some nice motors, but I haven't seen a nicely polished complete kit from BMC.  There are some dealers that are making bundles, so for you folks who like to tinker this may be for you.  For me I want the convenience of an all in one solution where parts have been tested and known to work together.  Plus I want a warranty... after all most of these kits are coming out of China and I don't speak Chinese so I can't pick up the telephone and get help... can you?  Maybe?

I am intentionally not covering Mid Drive Motors (Which attach via different methods to the drive train) because they are heavy and should probably be installed by a bike shop not an individual (Unless you are very mechanical).  Most will not fit on recumbent bicycles without special brackets and modifications. The upside to these kits is they work with your bicycles gearing and will allow you to climb some very steep hills.

Some of the kits like the $299 Currie Electric Bike Kit would not mount easily on many recumbent bikes by design... they are built for upright mountain bikes. The Currie product is inexpensive and it resides on the outside of the wheel.  I don't think this would work very well for most recumbents.  The real downside however is the low cost kits use Sealed Lead Acid batteries which weigh a ton for the amount of energy you get out of them.

Miscellaneous Electric Bikes and Parts at Amazon

Amazon.com's Electric Bike, Conversion Kits, Scooters, etc. - I'm including this link to this page so that those of you who are interested can see just how many variations of electric bicycle products are coming to market.  I read, but can not quote the source that Amazon's Sales of Electric Bike related items is up a full 60x higher this year than last!  That speaks to the ever rising cost of fuel as people look for cheaper transportation alternatives.

Please comment if you have experience with converting a recumbent bicycle or trike to full electric or to hybrid part time electric. Tell us what you think?  What have you experienced? Again feel free to use the comments area to voice your opinions.  You'll need to register to post a comment (I don't save your email addresses, and I don't send out any newsletters or product spam) because every time I have tried to leave the comment section open to the public without registration I get hammered with spam.

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