Controls. The motor controller is the little electronic box, usually about the size of a box of wooden matches, that controls your speed. Usually, the controller is mated to the motor, because it has to match with the motor type and voltage. It’s the one component that is a little touchy, and where you’re likely to get failures if you get them at all. Buy your controller and motor together, and make sure they’re right for each other. When you’re assembling your bike, mount the controller in as dry, cool and vibration-free a place as you can, such as on the center tube or luggage rack, and away from the wheels and fenders. One company, Golden Motor, goes so far as to mount their controller inside their hub motors—a great way to protect them from moisture and a good way to ensure a match between the motor and controller.
Rider controls are pretty simple—a throttle, usually a twist-grip or a thumb lever and, sometimes, cutoff switches in the brake levers to ensure you’re not braking against the pull of the motor. A good kit will have rider controls that will blend nicely with the stock controls of the bike.
Each manufacturer has a range of price and power options, as demonstrated in the “Kits” table. One of the best online sources of information is from www.electric-bikes.com, but I leaned heavily on a local dealer, Paul Morlock of Electric Bikes of New England. Not only did he have some great products in stock, but he also had the experience to offer some great advice.
Almost every package is based on products that originate from China, and some suppliers ship directly from China, which can take weeks, if not months, to arrive. You may get great support, or not…there’s no way of knowing. Returning defective parts can become a nightmare. There are several knowledgeable dealers around the United States, that have invested their time and resources to make sure they’re selling you a good product and will back them up.
In ordering my E-BikeKit, which was shipped to me from Electric Bikes of New England, the dealer made a simple mistake—he specified the wrong wheel size, which we didn’t realize until I started the project. A quick call to him and, before I knew it, an order was placed for the correct wheel, to be shipped directly to me. It came the next day, along with a prepaid UPS label to return the first wheel. I also had one technical question and received the answer within 15 minutes of sending my e-mail. Product support is crucial.
You’ll need to approach this project with a good understanding of bicycle mechanics, for your own peace of mind, and also for your own safety. You’re mounting some substantial hardware to your bike that can affect its balance and structure. Your gear shifting and braking may be affected, and, especially with the 200 to 1,000 W of additional power, you need to be confident that everything can take the added forces.
If you’re a competent bike mechanic, you should be able to do this. If not, at the very least, take your conversion to a good bike shop for a safety check and tune-up before you hit the road.
No special tools beyond those for basic bike maintenance are usually needed—wrenches for tightening axle nuts, Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers. It doesn’t hurt to have a multimeter handy. I used mine to check the battery output and connections before connecting the controller, and, if things aren’t working right, you can check continuity. Some wire loom, vinyl electrical tape and insulated heat-shrink tubing (along with a heat gun) will make it a professional-appearing job.