My DIY eBike – 1000km Update (April 2018)

Ben's ebike, on the driveway in the snow, plastic protecting its important electronic components

This is actually a 1240km Update

So funny thing: I’ve been biking A LOT since building this electric bike. So when I started this a few days ago, I was still at around 950km travelled… but I was busy over the following few days and found myself at 1300km in no time (and will be at 2000km in a short time after writing this).

I swear I’ve tried to make it as ugly as possible so that it’s not tempting to steal or re-sell. I can barely bring MYSELF to ride it haha.

How I got interested in e-bikes

Around January 30th, 2018, I was watching YouTube when a Linus Tech Tips video popped up, named “A TRUE Replacement for a Car??? – Radwagon Review“… and it got me interested because back in 2015, I was at Spoke & Sprocket getting my regular road bike tuned up, when I saw Don (the owner) and his friend hooking up a fairly large series of batteries to the back of a bike; I asked what they were doing and got a quick glimpse into the -at the time- small world of electric bikes. Looking back, I guess they were dealing with some Lead Acid batteries and mounting them in a box above the back tire.

After watching that Linus Tech Tips video, I had a sudden urge to look into just how far eBikes had come in the last few years and began doing some research. I obviously contacted my automobile expert friend, Matt, for help on wrapping my head around this project because it was something completely new to me and he is a god of mechanics.

How much it cost me (in Canadian Dollars)

This is the Nishiki road bike that I road everywhere before building the eBike!

Quick answer

If you add up EVERYTHING for the initial bike build from below, you get around $1187.30 Canadian.

Yeeep, this was 10 years old and needed a few fixes because it had probably only ever travelled around 100km in those 10 years.
If only it knew what was in store for it haha.  
This is the near-final “version” of the ebike, just before I had those old, pretty broken, rusty, heavy front forks replaced!

Long answer

We started looking into complicated methods of building this eBike from pretty much scratch… which exactly what people in the past had to do for the longest time because it was less mainstream than it is now… Though after realizing the parts were more readily available than we thought they were, we quickly found an eBay listing of a motor for $270.

This is is the bike with JUST the back wheel’s hub motor mounted on it yet.

The battery was a slightly different story because battery technology is getting increasingly better every single year (especially with Electric Vehicles peaking the general public’s interest in 2017 and 2018), but in the end, we went with 48V Panasonic 13.5AH “Shark Pack” from Luna Cycle mostly because it seemed to be a reliable source of high-quality batteries made up of Panasonic cells.

Yeah, it was a mess when putting this all together.  

After having researched more since making this bike, Luna Cycle seems to be one of the main places in North America that you can get great batteries… though you pay a premium: the Shark Pack and a torque arm which I ordered from Luna Cycle came to $753.06… but there were other costs for me because of the border crossing issue with many Canadian taxes (as seen below). If you live in the United States, you won’t have to deal with those charges… but you’ll still need to pay taxes obviously!

I’ve hooked the LunaCycle 13.5Ah Shark Pack the bike using the quick connect. Plastic from the milk bags is protecting the electronics from the rain and snow.

Initial expenses

$20Gas for the route – trip in the car
$90.85CBSA / ASFC Blue Water Bridge TAX
$10.59Bay Brokerage
$7.86US/Canada Border Bridge Tolls
$60.85Initial “fixing of the bike” at The Cyclepath bike shop
$264.09Hub motor (from eBay.ca)
$753.06Battery + Charger + Torque Arm (from LunaCycle)

As mentioned above, if you add up EVERYTHING for the initial bike build from the numbers taken out of the spreadsheet I made up, you get a cost of around $1187.30 Canadian.

This is what the eBike looked like after $1187.30 Canadian Dollars was spent:

ALL EXPENSES (from the first moment to 1240KM)

Costs + Tax Cost Desc.
$54.00got a mirror and replaced my brake system
$70.00got a new front fork and got new brake pads and done properly
$1.41Three 2032 Batteries from Dollarama (for front bike light)
$2.00Two brand new tire tubes off of Kijiji
$6.532 tube patch kits from Canadian Tire
$14.00Brake pads from Canadian Tire
$7.00Spare Tube
$27.0026″ Bike Tire (hybrid’ish) for the front
$9.99WD-40 Bike, Wet Lube
$8.9926″ Tire Tube
$20Gas for the route – trip in the car
$90.85CBSA / ASFC Blue Water Bridge TAX
$10.59Bay Brokerage
$7.86US/Canada Border Bridge Tolls
$60.85Initial “fixing of the bike” at the Cyclepath
$264.09Hub motor (from eBay.ca)
$753.06Battery + Charger + Torque Arm (from LunaCycle)

My DIY eBike’s statistics (so far)

I’ll get into how I calculated and tracked all of this in the next section, but for now, here are some quite interesting stats that are as precise as I could make them, from the moment I set out on my first ride!

My TOTAL cost of operating the bike is CAD $1334.22. That means that I’ve spent $146.92 on top of the initial $1187.30 investment to build the bike.

  • I’ve traveled 1240KM (770.5 Miles) so far.
  • It took me 64 days (around 2 months) to go that far.
  • That means I average 19.38 KM per day.
  • My average distance travelled per trip is 10.51 KM
  • I’ve been on my bike for 54 hours, 14 minutes.

My average speed is 24.67, even though I have a many “fun rides”, where my girlfriend and I go biking at a very leisurely pace that has us averaging way under 15kph. If the speedometer that I’ve installed on my bike is anything to go by, I’d say my average speed is around 30kph (because the limit on the speed of eBikes here in Canada is 32kph).

How I Calculated Everything

You don’t always have to use to the motor when you’re biking… but sometimes it’s great to have when you’re focusing on dog-walk-biking haha.

Spreadsheets, man. Here is the link to my overly detailed and totally up-to-date spreadsheet of every single piece of data, down to the smallest of units, since the bike got turned on for the first time. The three main stats (trip distance, duration, and average speed) have all been tracked using MapMyRide, which is super handy and accurate!

I never thought I’d be one to use spreadsheets every day of my life but now that I’ve started using spreadsheets to track everything to do with my eBike, I’ve found myself using them in many other parts of my life with has helped significantly. I’d still say this one is the most intense and advanced one that I’ve developed so far (using the help of Matt, Jon, Jamie, and Gordon)!

Battery care

The idea is, before and after every ride, I plug my battery into my charger, set the charge speed to 1 amp (so that I always have a fairly accurate and consistent reading of the voltage before my trips), and then input that number. The equations fill the percentages and “volts used” boxes automatically, based on 51.8 volts being “100%” for my everyday cycling and 44.0 volts being “0%” for my everyday cycling. This is important because those are VERY SPECIFIC, CUSTOM NUMBERS! For the 13.5Ah battery (or 48V x 13.5Ah = 648WH) that I’m using, 54.4V is actually the battery’s 100% or maximum voltage capacity and 36V is the absolute 0% or minimum voltage capacity of the battery (more on that here, a very helpful electricbike.com article).

QUICK TIP: if you can help it, never drain your battery past 20% capacity which can legitimately damage your battery. All this stuff applies to your cell phone(s) too!

My personal 48v Lithium-Ion battery charging parameters

The reason I’ve chosen these seemingly random numbers is that I personally find that 44.0V is where the battery is essentially useless to me and gives me barely any assistance whatsoever. To me, 44.0V is a “dead battery” and is no use to me. Now, 51.8V is what my Luna Charger 48V Advanced 300W eBike Charger says is an 80% charge. This is important to me because I rarely need more than that to get around and do my daily biking and because keeping your charge under 80% increases your battery’s life by a huge verifiable amount! This is the main reason that I started this highly detailed spreadsheet from the start: because I want to collect data on the battery’s health throughout its entire lifespan and see what I end up with.

For every line in the spreadsheet, there is a data entry at the beginning and end of the trip. If I have multiple “trips” between charges (plugging in the battery and juicing up with a few extra volts here or there counts), I simply add them all up later and combine them into one line. Sometimes, for example, I leave my charger at home and go 10km, stay at my girlfriends’ overnight, and then bike back home (my work “office”) on one charge and only then input the “voltage after ride” data into the one line and combine the MapMyRide logs into that same line. I apologize if this is somewhat confusing but if you check out the spreadsheet, I’m sure it’ll make sense!

My positive experience with this bike

Overwhelmingly, this project has been an amazing one that -in the long run- will save me a lot of money and keep me active and healthy. Biking has actually made me a happier and more effective start-up entrepreneur… unintentionally.

Speediness

“How do you have time to bike everywhere?!” is probably the most common initial question that every cyclist gets. I’d have to say the most popular question I get is “how do you have time to bike everywhere, especially if you’re so busy?!

The answer is that it’s not actually that much slower to bike. Sometimes, it’s even faster than driving because you don’t need to deal with traffic and have your very own empty VIP lanes to zip through.

Safety

Honestly, I’ve been pretty aware since the beginning of my cycling career that it can be dangerous because of cars. Nothing else except maybe having your road bike’s entire front wheel fall out while you’re zipping down a road at high speed has worse repercussions (yes, that’s a personal story and yes I have a scar from that). That’s the number one danger of biking so you have to be extremely careful and insanely aware of your surroundings, watching out for vehicles that seem to love to hit cyclists as a past time.

I strongly believe that every cyclist should first get a driver’s license and do a bit of driving to see how annoying cyclists can be and appreciate the different aspects of their inconvenience to vehicle-based city traffic.

Anyway, having an eBike has given me a GREAT ADVANTAGE over normal bicycles because of the instant torque and fast acceleration. I bike on the roads (especially here in London, Canada where there are so few bike lanes) and when I’m heading through an intersection after being stopped for a moment at a stop sign or stop light, my goal is to get out of those intersections AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. A quick search on Google or a quick recap of the first day of Driver’s Ed class will remind you that intersections are the most dangerous place while you’re driving, walking, biking, or just existing in general.

eBikes give you that extra acceleration that helps you get up to speed faster, helps you get out of harm’s way faster, and makes drivers hate you less.

My negative experience with this bike

Popped Tires

The biggest annoyance? The tire tubes. My bike’s front tire tubes seem to LOVE springing air leaks and going flat on me. I still think it’s something to do with my front rim or front tire itself because the back wheel I purchased and installed from eBay.ca two months ago hasn’t blown out once! On the other hand, the front tire has blown around seven times since the first ride. I’ve even changed out the front 26 inch Mountain Bike tire to match the sleeker “commuting” hybrid tire on the back but to no avail. I still always seem to get a flat front tire tube every week or two.

Aside from the occasional flat tires (which I’m convinced is something to do with something I’ve done or am not doing correctly), there haven’t been many glaring issues.

Melting power cords

Okay, okay, I did have an issue that was ongoing with Luna Cycle’s power connector connecting to my eBay controller. I had to first figure out which type of connector the Luna Cycle battery quick-release used. I figured out it is the PowerPole connector and proceeded to go out and buy those and then solder them onto the wires that came with the eBay controller. I failed pretty remarkably but it worked for the most part for about a month until I lost power 5km away from home on a return journey. After some multimeter investigating, I narrowed the problem down to the PowerPole connectors. I unwrapped my electrical tape “waterproofing” mess to find everything pretty much melted… oops.

After that, I decided that I should probably do it right. I got some butt connectors from Canadian Tire which were about the right gauge and connected the positive and negative wires securely and appropriately. I haven’t had a problem since!

Pre-made VS Do-It-Yourself

You see, eBike companies generally run similarly to Apple Inc., where they offer a few cherry-picked products that they have tested thoroughly and they know these components work well together. Because of this, they have a higher margin of profit and you end up paying for what you get:

  • a product that works really well,
  • usually comes with a fairly good warranty,
  • looks relatively sexy,
  • is either pre-built or extremely simple to assemble (with easy-to-read and helpful instructions), and
  • sometimes even comes with a support phone line

I did not take the easy route because I wanted to be financially cheap. What you save on financially, you generally lose with time. The good news is if you expect this going in and have a bit of help from tech-savvy friends or have a bit of time to do all the research you need online looking through forums and articles to find everything you need, then you’ll learn things along the way that will make your brain approximately 0.57% larger (*totally rubbish percentage).

Anyway, just like anything you buy, there are positives and negatives to cheap out on things.

Conclusion

It’s been 1240km in just over 2 months after building my eBike out of a 10-year-old mountain bike, hub motor from eBay.ca, and a 13.5Ah battery from LunaCycle.com. It’s been fun. It’s replaced 95% of the time I would be otherwise driving.

Yes, this was a long blog post and yes it could’ve been shorter but hey, now you know almost everything that I know.

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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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