Could you turn your old bike into an e-bike? Conversion kits have surged in popularity but are they safe and is it cheaper to just invest in a new bicycle?

a person riding on the back of a bicycle: MailOnline logo

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Electric bike sales soared during lockdown as people looked for alternative ways to stay fit and get around, whilst avoiding public transport.

The e-bikes have become increasingly popular in recent years, with around 100,000 sold in Britain last year – an increase of around 40 per cent annually, according to Mintel. 

John Worthington, senior analyst at the market research firm, said: ‘The e-bike market has been growing rapidly over the past two years and consumer interest is high. 

‘While accounting for a fraction of bike sales, the scale of potential growth for e-bikes is huge.’ 

a person riding on the back of a bicycle: Electric bikes have grown in popularity - and now conversion kits are available for cyclists

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Electric bikes have grown in popularity – and now conversion kits are available for cyclists

However, the price tag associated with the bikes has put some people off, with the bikes ranging well into the high thousands.

As a solution, a number of companies are now selling electric bike conversion kits which turn pedal bikes into electric ones.

This will may appeal to cyclists who may want a little juice in their bike to help them up hills, for example – and those who cannot stomach forking out a huge sum on an e-bike.

However, there are concerns that the kits might not be safe – and could also be illegal. 

This is Money takes a look at how the conversion kits work, how much they are and whether it is better to just simply buy an e-bike instead.  

What are bike conversion kits?

Electric bike conversion kits allow users to change their normal, pedal bikes to an electric bike by fitting equipment.   

There are different ways of doing this, for example, some can buy electric wheels which are powered by a battery and motor and swap them out for standard wheels. 

Others provide kits where batteries are fitted to bikes and then powered by pedal assist.

In most kits will come a motor, LCD display and a battery, alongside other chains and accessories.

Once fitted, it will allow the cyclist to reach speeds of 15.5mph, which is the legal speed limit allowed for e-bikes under UK regulation.

However, some that can be purchased from other countries will allow you to go faster, although, this is not recommended as using the faster speeds would be breaking the law.

Before purchasing, customers will have to check their wheel sizes, type of bike against the kit they are buying to ensure they are compatible.

graphical user interface, chart, line chart: Electric bike conversion kit searches saw a huge increase during lockdown on Google

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Electric bike conversion kit searches saw a huge increase during lockdown on Google

How much do they cost? 

The price of conversion kits vary depending on where they are bought from and what type of kit. 

For example, kits for your front wheel and rear wheel are less expensive than those fitted on the mid-drive – which are also the most popular. 

Other providers offer just one option of a motorised wheel that you will attach to your bike, after giving the measurements. 

Whilst some of the kits are a couple of hundred pounds, others reach nearer £1,000. 

Once the cost of installation is added, which is often around £100, unless you are willing to fit it yourself, you will be looking at a hefty bill.

As e-bikes grow in popularity, more affordable models are becoming available. For example, Halfords now has a £599 option – potentially cheaper than some of the conversion kits. 

It would be worth customers comparing prices of electric bikes and converter kits before settling on one to see which offers more value for money.  

Where can I get one? 

There are a number of online sites selling these kits but many appear to have sold out for the foreseeable future with most recommending customers pre-order for early 2021 delivery.

Swytch is one of the biggest e-bike convertor kit sellers and has currently sold out of all kits.

Customers looking to purchase one have to sign up and put their name on a pre-order list.

Are they environmentally friendly? 

Swytch says that convertor kits are much more environmentally friendly than electric bikes themselves.

The site claims a regular bicycle requires emissions of over 200kg of CO2 during the manufacturing process, and larger, heavier electric bicycles are almost double that. 

Meanwhile, a Swytch eBike kit takes 50kg of CO2 to manufacture, meaning that the environmental impact is eight times lower compared to most complete electric bicycles. 

It is likely sales increased during the lockdown period where one of the only things people could do was outdoor exercise, coupled with the fact some are more disposable income to play with.

Simon Cowell wearing a suit and tie: Simon Cowell recently made the news after breaking his back when falling from an e-bike

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Simon Cowell recently made the news after breaking his back when falling from an e-bike

Are they safe? 

There have been concerns that the conversion kits are not safe with worries that members of the public fitting an electric motor to a normal pedal bike may not do it properly.

Modified bikes also have the potential to go much faster than the law states. 

At present, the Government has said that an electric motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts and should not be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph.

Any electric bike that does not meet these rules is classed as a motorcycle or moped and will need to be registered and taxed. 

Two of the UK’s largest bike retailers, Evans Cycles and Halfords, do not sell conversion kits. 

Swytch offers a pack attached to a regular bike that will convert it to an electric one

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Swytch offers a pack attached to a regular bike that will convert it to an electric one

Halfords said this is because it is not sure of the safety of conversion kits and because of the ‘grey legal area’. 

A spokesperson for Halfords said: ‘We believe the best way for cyclists to access the benefits of an e-bike is to buy a purpose built bike, as they have been designed to cope with the extra performance and stress that the motor system adds. 

‘E-bikes include important features including stronger frame tubes, better weight distribution and appropriate braking systems. 

‘Fitting an e-bike conversion kit is likely to lead to many compromises like loose wires hanging over the frame and poor weight distribution.

‘Also, current e-bike legislation refers to complete e-bikes, so buying a conversion kit may put the rider in a grey area legally. 

‘Some conversion kits allow the rider to access illegal features such as speed over the legal 15.5mph limit, power over 250w and adding throttle control.

‘The only way to be sure of a legal, safe and reliable e-bike is to buy one in complete form, from a trusted and reputed retailer. 

‘In fact they are proving so popular that we have seen demand for e-bikes and e-scooters jump by 230 per cent year on year.’

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