Electric bike conversion kits have been around for years, and have been a popular alternative to buying a brand new e-bike. The reason why? Conversion kits allow you to continue to use your beloved bicycle while giving it an electric boost.
However, if you’re in the market for a modern bike, and you’re deciding between converting a regular bike, and buying a new e-bike, the choice is clear. Purpose-built e-bikes are the safest and most reliable option when compared to electric bike conversion kits.
Electric bike conversion kits are not cheap. Neither are good quality road, mountain or city bikes. If you’re buying a $700 bike, you then have to add in the cost of the conversion kit, which can range from $1000 – $1800. Plus the cost of labour for a mechanic to fit the kit to your bike, which will cost you around $200. That can all add up pretty quickly to a $1500-$2000 investment in a bike that isn’t even meant to be an e-bike. Often, many ebike conversion kits won’t come with a battery as well, meaning you’ll have to buy a suitable battery to fit your bike later on.
E-bikes build for purpose on the other hand, while they can be pricier, can be bought for roughly the same price*. Australia’s most popular commuter and food delivery bikes, Smartmotion**, VelectriX*** and Zooomo Bikes, all offer high end e-bikes for that come with an equally high price-tag. When buying an e-bike, your money is being invested in a product that is designed to incorporate a battery, wiring and the hub from the get-go. It’s not retro-fitted and the bikes are purpose built to maximise the ‘e’ side of the e-bike.
Back in January 2019****, an elderly man was cycling uphill in Adelaide with his road bike, which he had converted into an e-bike. Suddenly, the bike’s battery exploded, sending flames ‘up to 10 feet high’, burning through his clothes and starting a bushfire nearby. The bike’s lithium batteries and CO2 cartridges from its conversion kit had ignited, causing the explosion and starting the fire. The 79-year-old was taken to hospital, and his $5000 Pinarello bike frame was damaged irreversibly.
Forbes spoke to Richard Hemington, managing director of Pinarello’s dealer-direct UK firm about the dangers of e-bike conversion kits such as these.
“This highlights the risk of poor quality aftermarket kits that may be available to fit to any bicycle,” said Hemington.
“Performance will be poor and clearly from this, the safety is terrible”.
Significant risks like this can arise from using electric bike conversion kits. If the bike is not designed specifically to house and protect a battery, that battery is immediately at risk and can cause incidents like this. In the United States in 2018, a man burnt his entire house down** while assembling a conversion kit on his e-bike. In London in 2017, a man’s converted e-bike spontaneously caught fire and exploded on the street, sending shrapnel flying through the air for half an hour while it burned.
Weight distribution and a sudden increase in average speed are other issues that can arise with conversion kits. Regular bikes that are later converted to e-bikes are not designed to evenly distribute and handle the weight they add. Nor are they built for the speed that they will now be going on a regular basis. This makes riding the bike harder and more dangerous, while also putting more pressure and weight on fragile parts of the bike, such as the fork, wheels and brakes.
Long term battery performance can also be an issue. If the battery isn’t well integrated into the frame, as is common with conversions, the battery can be exposed to too much direct sunlight and heat. This can cause the bike to become unsafe, particularly while in use.
We spoke to a Zoomo rider, who had been using a converted e-bike before joining Zoomo bikes. He told us that he would be spending hundreds of dollars on maintenance bills just to keep the bike operational. Eventually, growing tired of the constant trips to the mechanics, he sold the bike at a significant loss, and began renting a Zoomo e-bike. Getting an e-bike repaired comes at a much higher cost than a regular bike, so keep that in mind before deciding to convert your push bike.
Conversion kits are fantastic for cyclists who have a sentimental or financial investment in their bike. They allow the bike to feel fresh and new, but also retaining some of it’s familiarity. They’re also great for people who are beginning to find riding their bike difficult, or have a new route to take that might include hills.
However, if you’re in the market for a modern bike like an e-bike, you’re better off starting with a ready-made e-bike. They’re designed to be able to safely handle the extra weight, speed and complex electronics that are integral to an electric bike. Investing in a real e-bike, or renting one, might be the solution to your transport woes.