A bicycle that has a little electronic extra -- that is, a motor that gives you a bit of extra boost -- can be a handy thing for the everyday cyclist. If, that is, you have the money to spend on one. If you're trying to save money by cycling rather than driving or taking public transport, the thousands of dollars an e-bike can cost might be a little counter-intuitive.
But what if you could build your own for a fraction of the cost?
"Converting a bicycle to electric drive is actually really easy, and anyone that can assemble an Ikea coffee table can do it," Micah Toll told CNET. "Also, you can get the same performance as a $2,500 e-bike for as little as $600-800 going the DIY method, since you aren't paying for all of that design, marketing, sales and overhead that come with buying retail e-bikes."Toll has built hundreds of e-bikes, founded an e-bike start-up and has even been volunteering his time to teach people how to build their own e-bikes. What he has discovered is that it's very simple -- all people need is some basic instructions. To that end, he has written a guide to provide beginners with all they need to know to build their own.
"Very little technical know-how is needed," he said. "An electric bicycle requires four parts to work as an e-bike: battery, controller, motor and throttle. Every e-bike, retail or DIY, has those four parts. When it comes to a DIY e-bike, you usually buy a kit, especially if you are a beginner, because all four parts (plus potentially some added accessories) will come ready to install, plug and play, with nice waterproof connectors. For someone like me, I often buy the parts individually so I can customise things more, but it's really all the same in the end -- four parts have to get added to any conventional pedal bike."
It's pretty self explanatory. The battery powers the rig, and can placed in a bag at the rear of the bike. The controller, which controls the bike, can be attached with cable ties. The motor comes installed in the hub of a bicycle wheel; you have to swap the existing wheel with the motor wheel, which is the same as changing a tyre. And the throttle simply slides over one handle, giving the user a way to control the speed.
"It's a very simple process that can be done in under an hour, no soldering required. Everything just plugs into the controller and you are ready to go," Toll explained. "The major benefit is that you can really customise your e-bike and save some huge money versus commercial offerings. You can choose from many different kits or mix and match to get the perfect battery, motor and controller for your speed, range and power needs."
But it is the savings, he said, that is the most impressive part. Take, for example, the folding Gi Bike. It costs $3,390, has a top speed of 15 mph and can travel for 40 miles.
"My daily driver e-bike I built goes 30 mph, gets the same range, but cost me only $700 to build, not including the bike," Toll said. "Granted it doesn't fold like that bike, but I still saved $2,700! And I got to use my own bicycle that I already know and love."
Which is another part of the beauty: you can use pretty much any bike, so long as it has a pretty sturdy frame, meaning you don't necessarily have to give up your beloved ride in order to gain a little extra muscle.
Toll's book is available as a PDF for $10, but he's now seeking Kickstarter funding for a print edition which comes with a minimum pledge of US$25. Head on over to the Kickstarter campaign page for more information and to pledge your support.