Building Natalia’s eBike (my 2nd eBike build)

Natalia standing on a bike path with her newly built ebike

Introduction

First thing’s first: this build needed to NOT look horrible like my own ebike. No duct tape, haphazard wire organization, or plastic milk bags to purposely make it look unappealing to thieves. This one HAD TO BE SEXY!

Natalia’s (left) and Ben’s (right)… obviously.

Why do this build?

Fun

zoom!

First, for those of you who have an ebike and have biked with a friend, significant other, or partner… they simply can’t keep up! It’s way more fun if you BOTH can zip along at whichever pace you choose. No matter how hilly the terrain might be. Once both of you have pedelec (or normal ebikes), suddenly bike rides are more about exploring and enjoying time together… and less about each other’s endurance.

That doesn’t mean we don’t pedal! It just means that we bike further and more often. No matter the temperature or how you’re feeling on that particular day, you’re more likely to ride instead of drive!

Commuting

Second, Natalia’s commute is 30 km per day to work (roundtrip) which she currently uses a car for. For some hardcore cyclists, this is feasible. For most people, this isn’t really realistic to do every day. Being a puddle of sweat when you get to work is less than stellar. And it’s a pretty big inconvenience for some. Enter the ebike.

The current eBike market

There are plenty of non-DIY ebikes coming out on the market at this point. Especially when compared to 10 years ago. Just the amount of variations of ebikes on the market in 2019 is INSANE. There are SO MANY GOOD OPTIONS! It gets me excited to see so many options for micro mobility.

Although this is great news, I’d say micro mobility is still in the Early Adopter era where prices are still quite high (typically anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 CAD). If you’re replacing a car entirely or just replacing 95% of your drives with bike rides instead, these costs aren’t unreasonable once you run the numbers. Here’s a helpful blog post from howtoebike.com that goes over Electric Bikes vs Cars, including some numbers and maths.

I’ve already put over 8000 KM on it in 1.5 years, so once (and if) my own bike dies in another two or three years, I think I’m sold on the awesometacular bikes from RAD Power Bikes. I’ll be going with either the RADWAGON Electric Cargo Bike or their lighter but somewhat less full-car-replacement RADCITY Electric Commuter Bike. I’ll get into my reasons in another blog post. And no, I’m not sponsored by them – I just really like their bikes and service (from what I’ve heard).

Cost

After all that’s said and done: currently in 2019 if you go the DIY eBike route instead of purchasing a pre-made eBike, you still save around $1000. The final cost of Natalia’s eBike was $950 CAD after taxes, fees, and extra parts. That’s still a lot cheaper than even the reasonably priced RAD Power Bikes… BUT, the amount of time and hassle is about 800x less. Just for that alone, I don’t think I’ll be building another eBike before I go out and actually buy one. Plus, you have to be handy. It takes time to understand all this stuff and bike shops WILL NOT HELP SERVICE YOUR BIKE. They don’t know what you’ve done and it’s more trouble than it’s worth for them to help you.

We had the parts laying around

We already had:

  • a spare wheel and hub motor kit
  • an old controller
  • a 13Ah battery from China’s 11/11 day in 2018

The only thing we needed was the right bike frame

We’d already committed to building this bike since about a year ago. It took us all this time to find a bike that both fit the battery in its frame and fit Natalia’s taste though. Finally, one day in June, Natalia said she’d found one:

Yes, it’s a department store mountain bike. Yes, there can be a lot of things said about department store bikes. But for what we needed, this was a perfect start! Plus, we have the skill to tune and fix the mechanical bits. Even once we jam all the ebike components on to it and swap out the tires. Definitely adding fenders too. And lights. And maybe a better seat too. Shhhhh… This is how we’re choosing to live our lives.

The Build

Will the battery fit in the frame?

Entertainingly enough, the build actually started in Canadian Tire itself. We used their hex keys to unscrew and re-screw the water bottle holder bolts in and out of the frame.

It fits! Success!

Installing the hub motor wheel

The wheel itself is the easiest part of everything to install. It’s just like swapping out a normal bicycle wheel. The only thing I’d note is: make sure the wire and – or the hole in which the wire comes out of – faces downward. Just so that any water or rain drips downward and not directly into the motor’s inner workings. Think of it as a drainage system.

Our work space

Installing the battery

The mounting plate on both my bike and Natalia’s had to be installed upside down so that they’d fit properly. On my bike, it looks a bit weird. On Natalia’s bike it actually looks like it was meant to be because of its geometry.

Natalia installing the battery for a second time, this time not inside Canadian Tire.

Installing the rack

This is what I was most worried about. I didn’t actually know where we’d be able to put the controller until we started looking around. We took Natalia’s back rack off of my road bike and jammed it onto her new mountain bike frame. Immediate problem? There aren’t any rack mounting spots on this frame because it’s SO CHEAP. Sooooo, we improvised – hardcore. We found a smaller quick release bolt that would fit through the frame and rack holes.

Installing the controller

Bam! Now we had a surface on which we could mount the controller. And so the test wiring began…

This is when we did our first test to make sure the motor actually worked. We hadn’t known until this instance. We obviously jumped up and down with excitement!!

Its guts were still hanging out for the first test ride

This rack (which we got last winter for $20 on Kijiji) actually has a spring-loaded rat trap. So, the controller gets held in place by that without anything else holding it on (such as zip ties)!

Organizing the wiring

Honestly, this is one of the main reasons why this build looks so much more sexy than mine: WIRE ORGANIZATION!

Just look at those nicely wrapped up wires!
Natalia did a great job with making sure all the wires flowed nicely and were taped and zip tied properly.

Conclusion

And there ya have it! Natalia and I made a fresh looking electric bike out of a regular department store bicycle!

She’s super happy with it. I’m super impressed by it. It only took us three days to put together! And the extra time was mostly because of all the small little pieces we needed to go out and find. This timeframe is A LOT better than my first build which took an entire month!

This eBike also has some style! Now it just needs some finishing touches, starting with fenders.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this read! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below. I’ll get back to you with an answer or two.

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ben in red shorts on a yellow ebike in a snow storm with a bright yellow jacket on, laughing

Ben Durham

ebike enthusiast &
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Just a regular bicycle warrior who’s super into ebikes, infrastructure, personal finance, and efficiency!

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