If you’re looking to upgrade to an e-bike then at some point you’re going to ask yourself “Should I get a dedicated e-bike or a conversion kit?” So we decided to put together a handy guide on the differences between the two.
One of the most obvious differences between getting a factory built e-bike and converting your regular bicycle yourself is the cost difference. You can get a conversion kit for much cheaper than you can get a full e-bike. There is some overlap between high end conversion kits and cheaper models of factory built bikes. So if you really need to keep the cost down then you should consider checking out conversion kits. But be careful! Not all conversion kits will come with a battery included so make sure you check beforehand or you might have to include the extra cost of a battery into the total price. Always remember, it’s not always true but generally you get what you pay for with e-bikes and conversion kits so don’t always make the price your main concern or it might cost you more in the long run no matter which path you choose.
So let’s say you’re looking for something specific. You’ve done some research and you know the battery you want, you know the motor you want, etc, but you can’t find a factory built bike that matches everything you want. Maybe all the components are right but you don’t like the frame, maybe it’s the other way around and you can’t find the components you want on the frame that suits you. Well then maybe it’s time to look at conversion kits. You can pick up your kit with everything you want and then add it on to your ideal frame. Now you’ve got a bike just how you like it. Of course doing this has some problems too, particularly in the pricing. If you’re looking for the perfect frame and the perfect conversion kit chances are you’re going to be spending close to or maybe even more than on a factory built e-bike. You also need to do a bit more research. If you were looking for a 500W motor on an urban e-bike in the UK, well it wasn’t just that you couldn’t find one, the power of the motor on UK roads is capped by law. Be sure to do all of the research you can before you buy a conversion kit to build the bike of your dreams.
This one isn’t exactly a pro or con depending on what you like to do. IF you’re interested in DIY conversions or just like to tinker around with things then actually having to assemble everything yourself is a lot of fun. But if that’s not your thing then be prepared to spend hours- or if you’re doing a particularly complex conversion, days- getting your bike put together. Even if you do like doing things like this you’ll need a couple of specialty tools so you might need to drive up the cost again.
A knock on effect of assembling your bike from a conversion kit is that you’re more likely to have something go wrong. This might not be true of everyone, but if you’re an amateur that’s just deciding to save some money you need to be very careful with assembling your bike and really follow the instructions to the letter. This is true of people with experience too if we’re honest. Factory assembled bikes go through quality assurance before they reach you, this makes sure everything is tight and safe so your motor doesn’t come loose mid cycle. When you build it at home you’re the only measure of quality assurance there is. Sure there’s always a chance with a factory built e-bike that there are flaws in the bike but you have a lot more recourse if something does go wrong. Many e-bikes come with a much longer warranty on factory defects than conversion kits do, which gives you extra security if something does go wrong.
This is related to DIY but it’s something that I think is really important to understand so I’ve put it on its own. Depending on the conversion kit you get there may be extra work that needs to be done to make it functional. If you use a mid drive motor for example then there is a good chance you will need to get a stronger chain because of the amount of stress the motor will put on it. Again you need to put in the time and research the kit, the installation and how well it will work with your planned frame BEFORE you try to purchase and install a kit. Remember I said you’re the only quality assurance? Well if you put on a mid drive kit and it breaks your chain, chances are it’s not covered in your warranty. If you buy an off the shelf bike then you know for a fact that the chain is strong enough to handle the motor and if it isn’t then you bring it back. This problem isn’t limited to your chain either, you might need new tyres, new brakes. A hub motor may need to be specially laced into your wheel. If you’re not careful with your purchase then you may end up with a very time consuming and complicated project, and all of the minor costs start to add up.
The Bottom Line
So what should you go for, a conversion kit or factory assembled e-bike? Well honestly it’s never going to be as simple as one or the other. On the whole I think it’s better to go for an off the shelf bike. This is particularly true if cost isn’t a big factor and you’re not completely sure what you want. Even if you have something specific you want from your bike chances are with a little bit of digging you’ll find it no problem. But, if you want something REALLY specific and you have to know how then maybe a conversion kit is the right answer. Just make sure to do all your homework beforehand so you don’t get any surprises. Make sure you can’t get it in an off the shelf build first though. If you’ve to put in a lot of work on your bike and get new parts, maybe even a new frame, the cost advantage of a conversion kit disappears pretty quickly, and you’re not going to have as good a warranty to back you up if you have any problems either. On the other side of the spectrum, if cost is your deciding factor and you just need a bike to go from A to B, you might be able to get a decent conversion kit for the same price as a low quality off the shelf bike.