When it comes to electrifying a cargo bike, there are a lot of things to consider. In this article, we discuss the ins and outs of taking a non-electric bike and converting it into an electric bike using an e-bike conversion kit. We touch on the types of systems, pros and cons of each, how to choose what is best for you and what systems to avoid.

If you are looking for help on choosing between a purpose built e-bike, like a Bosch powered Xtracycle, and a converted e-bike, we highly recommend checking out this article first: All you need to know about purpose built e-bikes and converted e-bikes.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When shopping for an e-bike conversion kit, Xtracycle only recommends kits with a max 20 MPH assist. We recommend against kits with an assist higher than 20 MPH or any kit (regardless of max assist level) with throttles.

Let’s get started, shall we?

What types of conversion systems are available?

When it comes to options for electric-bike conversion kits, there are three types to consider:

  1. Mid-Drive conversion kits: With mid-drive kits, the motor installs on the crank of your frame, where the pedals install on your bike. The battery is installed on the frame or in a bag carried somewhere on the frame.
  2. Rear hub conversion kits: These kits have a motor in the rear wheel. The battery is installed on the frame or in a bag carried somewhere on the frame.
  3. Front hub conversion kits: These kits have a motor in the front wheel. The battery is installed on the frame or in a bag carried somewhere on the frame.

Knowing the pros & cons of mid-drive systems vs. hub systems will help you decide what system is best for your needs.

Mid-drive system: pros & cons



Hub drive systems: pros & cons



What system is best for you?

When it comes to deciding on mid-drive vs. hub drive, one of the most important factors to consider is “Do you need the added torque of a mid-drive system to power up hills?” A hub drive system can handle heavy loads on flat or relatively flat surfaces as well as a mid-drive system, but moderate and steep hills might present more of a challenge for a hub drive, especially if they are frequent. If your commute contains multiple steep hills, a hub system might overheat and not be up to the task. In that case, a mid-drive motor might work best for you.

Torque aside, the pros and cons of each system should be considered. What is your budget? Do you want a system that requires more maintenance for the benefit of added torque? One of the easiest ways to navigate all of these questions is to contact the company who manufacturers the system you are interested in buying. This is a great way to get assistance in figure out what system will work best for you, and it is also a fantastic way to figure out if it is a company that stands behind their products. (More on that below in “What systems you should NOT buy.”)

A few quick notes about hub drive systems that might be factors to consider: regen braking and throttles.

Regenerative breaking is a feature available on some hub motors. In short, “regen braking” is when the motor is used to help your bike slow down or brake. The main benefit of regen braking is that it puts less wear on your brake pads. Another benefit, though less substantial, is that the power in the braking is put back into your battery which can slightly increase your range. This slight increase in range, however, is not enough to significantly impact your range capabilities. The main benefit of regen braking is the minimized wear and tear on your brake pads which means you don’t have to replace your pads as often.

Throttles are controls on e-bikes that work like the throttle on a motorcycle. You push a button or twist the handlebar and the bike moves forward, whether you are pedaling or not. Some e-bikes offer this as an option combined with the normal pedal assist (that is when the motor boosts your efforts only when you pedal). Like all choices, there are pros and cons to throttles. Bikes with throttles can move independent of the drivetrain. For example, if your chain breaks, you can use only the throttle to get to the bike shop or home for a repair. With a pedal assist only bike, if your chain breaks, you won’t be able to propel your bike forward. Throttles can also be used to overcome the initial starting lag at stop signs and lights. The downsides of throttles are they can be dangerous for some riders – for example, you are at a stop light and accidentally hit the acceleration button prematurely. They also are a huge drain on the battery and your range so most manufacturers recommend against exclusively using the throttle.

What about choosing the right battery size? We have a fantastic in-depth article about how to choose an e-bike battery here.

What does it take to install the system?

Most e-bike conversion systems are sold as a DIY solution for consumers to electrify their bikes. Because of this, most kits are relatively easy to install. If you can change out your bike’s tire, you can certainly install a hub-drive motor. A mid-drive conversion involves working on the bottom bracket which requires additional tools – like bottom bracket lock ring wrench (which looks like this) and bottom bracket tool (which looks like this). Despite additional tools being required to install a mid-drive system, these are also made to be very user friendly and don’t require any special skills.

Another benefit to doing a DIY installation of your conversion kit is if something goes wrong with your system, you will know your bike and system very well and will likely be knowledgeable enough to trouble shoot any issues that might arise. One of the most common malfunctions for an e-bike is a wire becoming unplugged. If you installed the system yourself, you will know every connection point along your system and will be armed with the skills you need to check them.

If you do not feel comfortable installing your own system, the next best thing is a good friend, bike savvy neighbor or your local bike shop. Keep in mind that most of these folks will be using the same installation manual you have at your disposal, they might just be more skilled with bike maintenance or they might already have all the tools needed.

What systems you should NOT buy.

In short: Do not buy a kit from a company that does not have good customer support. If they don’t respond to calls or emails, if they don’t have good info on their website – etc., don’t buy that kit. With the boom in the demand for e-bikes there comes along those companies wanting to hop on the bandwagon and just make a quick buck. Sure this might make for a lower cost kit but that lower cost comes with a high price, typically in users being stranded without support while building their kit or in trying to repair/service their kit. It can also result in a kit that is dangerous.

As tempting as a low cost kit on an auction site might be, stick with brands that have a good reputation and stellar customer support. Before buying a kit, send the manufacturer an email, call them up, ask them questions. Their eagerness to respond and ability to help answer questions will be a great indicator of whether you should trust them with your investment.

Reading reviews on-line in various forums – social media, blogs, etc. – is another great way to get to know the system you want to invest in.

Need more help in finding the right cargo e-bike for you?

Deciding on the right bike for you is a BIG decision that requires asking lots of questions and seeking out tons of info, and deciding on the right e-bike is no different. We hope this article has armed you with the tools you need to build up your dream bike or at least start researching your options.

Ready to start building your Xtracycle cargo that you can convert now or later? Start building your bike now!

Answer a few questions in our Ride Guide to get a bike recommendation catered to your individual needs.

Many thanks to Justin at Grin Technologies in his help with answering detailed questions for this article!

Looking for Part 1 and Part 3 of this three part series?