Converting Your Pedal Bike into an E-Bike, by Mark F.

What are your long-term transportation plans for when SHTF? That’s right – long after the diesel and gasoline tanks run dry, how do you plan to get around in a sustained grid-down situation? Walking can only get you so far, and that saddle horse will burn through feed and water, putting an additional strain on your resources.
We’ve all been there, and I know the unsettling feeling of not having a solid answer to this need for a reliable, sustainable, low-resource means of TEOTWAWKI transportation. It’s tempting to just write the whole issue off and accept the limitations of staying within walking distance of your retreat. Except what happens if you need to make a run to a nearby town for critically needed supplies?

Get this: there’s a solution to this problem and it comes in the form of a fun DIY project to tweak a mode of recreational transportation that you already enjoy. That’s right – we’re talking about your bicycle. I’ll describe converting your pedal bike into a Long-Range solar re-chargeable e-bike. Many of us have at least one inexpensive pedal bike, and you sporty folks may even have a high-end mountain bike already sitting in your garage. Too bad that bike only goes as far as your stamina can power it, right? Hardly! Nope, if you haven’t heard, they make these nifty new battery-powered “e-bikes” now that can extend your range up to 25 miles. (And that’s assuming that you’re just sitting there like a bump on a log not pedaling a bit and letting the electric motor do all the work for you.)

Now you’re probably thinking, “Sounds pretty good, but a bike like that has to be pretty pricy and it sounds like exactly the kind of flashy thing that someone’s going to rip off,” right? Yeah, I thought so too and my research on commercially available e-bikes pretty much backed that up. At $2,000 to $6,000 a pop, the price was steep, and their distinctive appearance was a huge flag signaling would-be thieves of a high-value target. In fact, I read that New Yorkers who bought these high-end bikes were resorting to wrapping the frame in frame tape or electrical tape to hide the brand name and attempt to disguise their bike’s value.
That’s when it hit me: Why go through all the cost of buying an expensive e-bike only to have to try to disguise it and make it blend back in? What if there was a way to simply build your own e-bike using an existing pedal bike as the frame? Did such a thing exist?

Several hours and many digital rabbit holes later, I discovered that a do-it-yourself (DIY) conversion option did indeed exist. I could take the inexpensive and inobtrusive big box store bikes that my wife and I already owned, order the battery, motor, and some accessories online and have two fully equipped ready to go e-bikes for far less than the cost of a single commercially built e-bike. Not to mention avoiding the months long wait for the sold-out commercial version to ship.
Sounds impressive, right? And guess what? After successfully completing two of these bike conversions, I can tell you that it wasn’t even that hard and the results are everything we hoped for.

Advantages of an e-Bike

Extended Range: Powered by a lithium-ion battery, our bikes greatly extend our normal range. I’m a casual bike rider and in no way a Lance Armstrong type. I have two “bad” knees so my normal bike riding range is limited. The e-bikes help.

With a wife that weighs half as much as I do, it’s natural to assume her battery will last a lot longer than mine. That said, another thing we do if we need to extend our range even further is to swap our batteries. When my bike reads about 1/3, hers may still show approximately 7/8, so we trade batteries. Another way to look at this is to imagine taking a trip on the bikes. Normally you could see yourself going out until your bike shows about ½ charge then many of us would start to head back to the barn. In this case, if you are traveling together, that range may be extended by simply swapping out your batteries. But your mileage may vary. (YMMV).

Battery Life: Battery life varies greatly. Factors include weight, topography, and how much power you use. I usually average about 250 watts. With this much assistance, I feel as though I am almost freewheeling on a spin cycle which I could do for hours. You should have seen the grin on my face when I went out on my first bike ride. It felt great to be out there, riding around.

Charging: Charging the bikes takes about three hours from a normal 110 VAC wall outlet. What’s great about this setup is that our RV’s solar system (we travel part-time) is more than capable of charging the bikes through our inverter when needed. This means that for an off-grid or grid down situation and for folks already running solar systems, you don’t have to use your finite resources such as gasoline and diesel to generate power.

Confidence: I mentioned my knees. With several knee issues brought on by teaching at a law enforcement academy. This included Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) among other things So I was reticent to hop back on a bike for any length of time. Converting my bike to an e-bike has increased my confidence. I am now able to ride and not worry if my knees start to ache. I could simply add more power to the bike and let it take me home. This has made a huge difference because I now have no qualms about jumping on my bike to explore areas and do bike rides that are a lot longer than what I would do without the conversion.

Stealth: As someone who has owned and ridden motorcycles, I can’t express enough how the quietness of the e-bikes can be very useful in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Speed: These bikes are fast – and yes, I removed the limiter (not recommended) so I have been clocked at 42 miles an hour. Even with the limiter in place, you’re still looking at a 24-mph capability. Now, when going this fast you have to think like it’s a jet fighter’s afterburner. Yes it’s fun and will get you there fast, but you can’t hold this speed forever. The battery life doesn’t last long at this speed. Instead, look at this as the fight or flight potential of the bike. If you need to “di di mau” and get yourself out of a situation quickly, then you can.

Cargo: In 2018 we took off in our RV and toured the US for more than a year. Time and time again our e-bikes proved their worth. In many towns where we were only a few miles from the town’s center, we would use our e-bikes to go shopping. This helps because it gives us the freedom to leave the F-350 1 ton at camp and let me tell you, trying to find parking for that beast in both small towns and large cities can be daunting. To hold our groceries and other supplies, I found panniers that fit perfectly on the bike rack which comes with the battery. The panniers fold flat and can hold just over two gallons each. That’s a pretty significant amount of room, considering you are on a bike.

Throttle and Pedal Assist: The electric motor has two mode options – throttle and pedal assist. Throttle mode is like motorcycles in that the more you rotate the throttle, the more power is applied. The throttle allows the bike to act like a motorcycle and you don’t have to pedal at all if you don’t want to. The pedal assist mode provides power only when you are pedaling. Pedal assist is more intuitive to folks who haven’t ridden motorcycles. The wattage can be adjusted and set to fit your style of riding and whether you want more or less help from the motor.

Want to learn how to build out an e-bike for yourself? Keep reading and I’ll walk you through the whole process including sharing the learning lessons from my After-Action Review (AAR) of the project.

What to order

Your DIY e-bike buildout consists of three core components, plus any accessories you want to add:

  • A standard pedal bicycle or mountain bike. See AAR notes for some recommendations on bike specs if you plan to purchase a new bike for this project
  • A 15AH electric bike lithium-ion battery with battery holder and charger. The battery holder is a sturdy metal frame which the battery slides into. The battery itself comes with a 3-stage key – on, off, and lock. When you leave the battery in the locked position, the battery is secured to the frame and is unable to be removed until you unlock it.Price: About $400 on Amazon
  • A rear wheel electric bicycle conversion kit. This kit comes with a 1000W motor, LCD display, the pedal assistance system (PAS) and all the related components. This motor is rated for up to 440 lbs. The manufacturer lists a top speed capability of 28 mph but notes that it is governed down to 24 mph to make it a road-legal pedal bike in most states in the U.S.
    Price: About $220 on Amazon
  • Grocery bag panniers (optional)
    We added two grocery bag panniers per bike and would highly recommend them. Each bag fits 2 gallons of milk. They hook onto the battery frame and are easily removable so you can take them into the store and use them as a shopping bag. The handles and shoulder strap make for easy carrying.
    Price: About $45 each on Amazon
  • Other accessories
    Tactical light mount, upgraded seat, night lights, phone pouches, etc.
The Build Process

There are plenty of YouTube channels dedicated to explaining the build process. Just do a search for “how to build an e-bike” or “DIY e-bike.” Some folks who work on bikes say it takes them about 1-2 hours although it personally took me around four hours per bike. I consider myself handy but not a bike “Gearhead.”
The only specialty tool I had to purchase was a bottom bracket tool in order to mount the pedal assist sensor.

After-Action Review (AAR)

Overall, the conversions went smoothly, and I’m pleased with the results. What do I recommend and what would I do differently the next time? Here are the take-aways from my personal AAR:

Start with a 26-inch rim bike: Get a 26-inch rim bike and the 26-inch motor kit. My wife has a 26-inch bike and mine just happened to be a 29-inch bike. The first thing I noticed is that 26-inch seems to be the standard. My 29-inch kit cost significantly more than hers did.

My second observation was that I found myself tightening up my spokes almost monthly until I recalled why Loctite was invented. I noticed that my wife’s bike didn’t have that problem. Two reasons for this came to mind. One is weight. I weigh more than her, so there is more wear and tear on my bike. The second was actually brought to my attention by an engineer, so I can’t take credit for it. He pointed out that the distance from the hub motor to the rim or radius is longer on the 29-inch bike. This means that the torque on a 29-inch is greater than that of the 26-inch. For both these reasons, going forward, I would purchase only 26-inch rim bikes.

Buy a bike with disc brakes (at least in the front): I bought $99 Big Box Stores bikes. I noticed I was going through rubber brake pads about every 3 months. Granted they only cost $3.50 each, but still, you will have a lot more braking power if you opt for a disc brake at least on the front. You can add after-market discs, but I’m told they are difficult to install and hard to align. Save the hassle and simply buy a bike that already has them already.

Accessories: Once the bikes were put together, I went on an Amazon shopping spree and bought a tactical light mount, 13-inch-wide (comfy) seat, night lights, panniers, and removable pouches. Another thing to note is that since the bikes are mountain bikes, I noticed my age was playing a factor after a long ride. My back would hurt and feel sore. Mountain bikes by nature are set so that some of your weight is over the front forks, causing you to lean over and put stress on your back. I remedied this for myself by purchasing a set of [tall] BMX handlebars. Now I ride in a straight up posture and my back no longer hurts at the end of the day.

Some Final Post-Apocalyptic Considerations

I’ll leave you with a recap of the top reasons that a DIY e-bike conversion fits the bill for a creative means of TEOTWAWKI transport:
• Quiet Operation
• Speed
• Solar charging capability
• Ability to cannibalize parts from other bikes
• Extended range

Now go do it!  Obtain a bike and your conversion kits, then invest a weekend building something that is fun and practical both for now and when SHTF. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.

Editor’s Note: The author did not provide any Amazon links. I added those, and like many of the others that you see in SurvivalBlog, they earn us commissions that help support the blog’s operating expenses.


  1. That couldn´t´ve been better timed!

    At the Moment i´m exactly in the market for this!

    A few Things i like to know which would help me further:

    How practicable is it to convert the bikes back?
    If you buy a new bike ´re there Things you should be looking for?
    How does this work for a Trecking bike and7or a Trailer?

    1. The conversion if you do it yourself are easy both ways. Removing conversion will leave scars.

      Doing conversion to fat Tire bikes is the best!

      Right now surly brand makes a long wheelbase fat Tire bike that is called “the big fat dummy” (it is based off of thier dummy line cargo bikes)

      The big fat dummy can ride around in on snow.

      I installed several kits for local establishments here in nyc. Almost to a man (woman to be PC) they all prefered the fat tire bikes to the narrow ones for deliveries.

      I have no experience with the big fat dummy but the quality on thier other products is very good.

      And yes depending on load and with much much more bitterly drain you can use it to pull a trailer. But it really severely reduced range and motor life span.

    2. @ThoDan from the Author.

      I can easily remove the battery and ride the bike like a normal bike again with only the wheel hub as added weight.

      Would I convert it back again, probably not. It wouldn’t leave scars because everything bolts up to existing holes already on the frame. A note here, ensure the bikes you purchase have the holes already drilled out for adding a rear bike rack. There are little holes already tapped just above the rear axle. The battery/cargo rack bolts on to these.

  2. JWR – Since you added the product links, that’s helpful BUT I’d like to know exactly what brand, model and part numbers the author used for his conversion and the additional accessories he added. If you can contact him that would be useful information. (So would a follow-on article comparing whatever conversion kits are available and from whom; I’ve been looking at e-bikes as a very useful SHTF tool, and doing the conversion myself is the only way it will fit into my budget).


  3. What a great, and helpful article! I had never thought about doing this to the bikes I’ve rescued but I might have to rethink their future a bit. Thanks for the info and tips.

  4. This is a good article.

    A point to consider for those looking for more motorcycle needs is zero motorcycles they have many comparative lower cost options some only slightly more that total cost for ebikes.

    There are a couple of models with removable batteries.

    And there hasn’t really been a bad review of them.

  5. Btw I just checked and surly make a bike already with motor for cargo called “big easy” I can’t speak to it’s electonic side but the base frame is top notch.

    The general rule has been it’s better to buy bike and add a motor but for expedience or picking up to up grade…. Might not be bad

  6. I bought an electric bike several years back, and it has become a sore spot for my wife, But I keep it, know that now TSHTF, and we may soon need it more than ever, at about the same time I bought a bike trailer, a metal frame, with a canvas container, it’s pretty light, I haven’t bought spare tires and tubes for it, I guess that should be a priority in the near future. I’m guessing the writer and I are of the same vintage and background judging some of the lingo, I think for longer range I would consider extra batteries, or maybe a solar charging system attached to the trailer like a trunk cover. along with a charge controller to insure the batteries don’t over charge. This is a great article, with a lot of food for thought, I sometimes go to the dump, and find a really good bike, and have about three good ones I should consider converting one, or using one to make a tandem with my E bike, we used to make tandems when I was a kid with two bikes just for fun, I think now it would be quite handy, Blessings,
    Dave of Oregon

    1. @Dave Martin.

      Bike Trailer is on my list. Solar is also on my list. Imagine riding out to a farmer’s market with your bike and super light bike trailer, Shop, snack on some BBQ all while your bike is soaking up the rays on the flexible PV cells. Then, RTB on a full or nearly full tank of juice again.

  7. Clever and creative! Loved it. Thank you, Mark F!

    Nosmo asked a great question about part identifiers… Looking forward to news on those also!

  8. If nothing else but an e-bike will do, this is great, but folks may also want to check out add-on bike engines. In my opinion, the best system is from Golden Eagle Bike Engines – Google it.

  9. Excellent article.

    When I was a teenager, we knew motors existed for bicycles but I have only seen two installed over the years (small gas engines). A big battery solves the fuel, smoke and noise problem. Back then they were also riding “mopeds” which were squat mini-motorcycles that went under a certain speed (30 mph?).

    Do you know if a small e-bike motor can be converted to run a medium-large classic cruiser bicycle (gearing problem)? Do the conversion kits need the bicycle to be one-speed or multi-speed?

    1. There are several options to slap a motor on a bike.

      Some require cutting and rewarding a bit.

      Some just bolt on.

      There are even some that replace the hub of the wheel and “lace” the spokes into the rim.

      Some can be used on the front wheel even.

      It’s truly a modular pick your application area kinda like a Remington or Mossberg shotgun.

    2. @Red Baron from the Author, Mark F.

      The conversion kits come with a cassette, meaning it is set up for gears. That is one of the reasons I chose a Mtn. Bike, it has so many gears to play with for both different speeds and for cargo hauling.

      Rear Wheel vs. Front Wheel Kits:
      Pros and Cons on the front wheel kits. I’ve read and talked to front wheelers. They are “easier” to do conversion kits, BUT, remember, where most of your weight is, on the rear tire. This means you are more likely to lose traction or burn out on the front tire and go down. My recommendation is to stick to a rear wheel kit.

  10. Great article on alternate forms of transportation.
    Where I’m at, most places I need to get to in town are ~ 6 miles or less.
    I can be up in the woods in about the same time.
    When I saw a commercial for the QuietKat E-Bike, I looked it up and saw the prices.

    Then I found similar bikes thru Wally World.
    5-7 hundred gets a pretty nice one. Even a fat tire model is only 775.
    Free shipping too.
    Just my $.02.

  11. our family has 2 e-bikes and a 3/4 size folding e-trike. the trike is a conversion with a front hub motor. bought the motor, wheel, batteries, controller, etc. as a kit. easy for first timers. the trike has a big basket between the rear wheels and a smaller basket mounted in front of the handle bars. we created a padded bag for the basket that protects what we are hauling. as it is taller than the basket, it increases what it can carry without spillage at every bump in the road. goes 14mph on paved roads without any fiddling with the governor. the’s fast enough to take corners on 2 wheels–which you should not do (ask my how i know!).

  12. We splurged for factory Ebikes last year. The Rad Wagon is what we ended up with, at $1400 each. Really like ours, which are currently painted orange for safety. Rather than a big box bike for conversion, our Rad Wagons have stretched out frames, with running boards alongside the rear wheel with a seating frame for a passenger behind the seat.

    Thanks for writing this great article. E-bikes are a preppers friend. Some say they are able to stretch out a battery charge with lots of supplemental pedaling to a 100 miles per battery charge. Buy a spare battery and you are talking about some serious range capability.

    Bikes easily bypass traffic jams during mass evacuations. A life saver. And if you can be 20 miles away in an hour, that is pretty darn good IMO. In 2.5 hours being 50 miles away is even better. I’ve sat in one or two traffic nightmares that long a time.

    There are some nice folding model bikes that fit in pretty tiny places like small car trunks. They work just fine. Something to think about if you work in the big city.

    Thanks again.

  13. I have a Pedego cargo bike. Purchased as a pre-loved gem, and worth every penny. Pedego makes many fine electric bikes, including a 3 wheeler for those who need more security and balance. Bikes-all bikes- are stealthy, fast, and fun. You can literally sneak up on cats sleeping in the sun. They offer good, healthy exercise, and an option that beats walking. If I were still commuting to a downtown office job, I would definitely keep a folding electric bike at the ready. Especially if a subway or commuter bus was required to get me back and forth.

  14. Great article. Would have liked to learn more about adjusting the limiter. Although the legal aspect was mentioned guessing it was omitted for liability issues ? Sadly people fly around my town and the speed limit is rarely enforced.

    There are long stretches of road with no sidewalk. Trying to pedal down them only invites morons in pickup trucks to take dive bomb runs at you. A burst of speed to make it to the next sidewalk would be extremely beneficial.

    Was looking at electric motorcycles for a while . Harley-Davidson just came out with their version. . . . $30,000 !!! Think I’ll take a crack at building my own ebike first 🙂

    1. @sirlancelot hereto forth known as “Evel Knievel” from Author, Mark F.

      The display the kits came with is called the SW-900. It has about 15 to 17 functions you can adjust or turn on-off. This is where you can bypass speed limiters and PAS systems. I got officially “clocked” at 42 miles per hour (complete with my head tucked down) on Sigsbee Island Naval Base, MWR, Key West, in 2018, I got an a** chewin’ but it was worth it. They were more surprised and thought it was cool.

  15. 3 years ago I bought 2 GT Mariner foldable bicycles (1 is none…). They worked so good I bought 2 panniers, 2 locks, 2 lite systems. Then I bought 1 Velar Foldable bike trailer:
    This fit perfectly on 1 of the bikes and works great. Now I am in the process of installing a rigid solar panel as a shade cover to the trailer ( I will attach that to my Suaoki 400w lithium “generator” ( which has an embedded solar charge controller, lithium battery “generator” (lithgen), and AC inverter. What I like about the Suaoki is that I can solar charge the lithgen at the same time that I AC discharge it to my ebike batt. I have a left over foam-cell mattress topper that I am cutting to fit the bottom and sides of the trailer for safe travel of the Suaoki lithgen. Now if I travel alone I can put the extra batt in the trailer, plug it into the lithgen and charge it at the same time the solar panel is charging the lithgen. When my main ebike batt is discharged (around 20 miles), I will now be able to swap to the newly charged spare and begin charging the main batt for another 20 miles. With one 100w solar panel I have already tested I can charge the 400w lithgen in about 4-6hrs. After 2hrs of riding I will probably be ready for a 2hr rest anyway…

  16. Any experience with putting a generator on the other wheel? You could recharge the battery on long downhill stretches. I’m not sure how feasible it would be for pedaling to recharge the battery as the generator will have resistance when charging requiring more exertion.

    1. Some e-bikes already do this, without the need for a separate generator. It is a design feature called “regenerative braking”.

    1. Bryan,

      Good question, I looked into your fancy Montague folding bikes. From what I can tell, if you have another way of attaching the battery or get a different battery altogether, it can work. There are batteries you can purchase that mount inside the triangle of the frame. If you go with the standard rear bike rack/battery like we did, no, it will not work.

      That said, look at batteries that do attach to the frame. They may work just fine for your applications. The reason I didn’t go this route is three fold:

      1. The panniers: When attached, hide/obscure the battery located just under (inside) the rear rack making it harder to tell I’m on an e-bike especially when pedaling.

      2. The batteries. At the time, the batteries that mount on the frame inside the triangle only went up to 750w not 1k.

      3. Takes up too much space. Batteries that mount inside the frame takes away space for my water bottle and tire pump.

  17. A trailer like for a kid might also contain a big Lead Acid battery (physics lesson elided) that could get you hundreds of miles.

    The point here is if it is the mothership or shuttlecraft.

  18. Author’s Comments:

    Folks, thanks for all the wonderful comments. These are the parts I used on the e-bike conversions:

    Rear Wheel Kit:

    Battery and Rack:

    Panniers (Love these for shopping, etc):

    Bike Crank Extractor (Only need it if you add the PAS device. I would not add that again as I control the amount of energy better by using the throttle like a motorcycle, but it’s your call):

    Tool Bag:

    Extra Wide Saddle Seat (For us casual and non-competitive riders. This worked so well for my 49.5 year old rear end. I can stay in the saddle for a few hours with no issues. There are cheaper ones out there. Bell makes one that is about half the price, but I can’t find it on Amazon. Here is a link to another brand. Most important is the width – 13 inch):

    BMX Handle Bars (I know for you purists out there it is sacrilege to put BMX handle bars on your Mtn Bike. I’m not a hard core hill climber though, so this works way better. I did this mod because of my back. I don’t have a bad back, just a worn out one from being in the military and LE. That said, I can handle about 30 minutes on a standard Mtn Bike. Being bent over puts pressure on my lower back and wreaks havoc on my carpal tunnel. Yeah, I am that broke up. I found by installing a 30 dollar BMX bike handle bar that it set me back up riding straight. Ahhh, that comfort. That made a world of difference for me. Think tactical Mtn bike with “cruiser” bike comforts):

    The larger bars are also great for adding a basket. I know – a basket? Did I mention it comes in tactical black?:

    If you are like me, you may have some broken and worn parts on you. We need to think in terms of “over-the-hill-tactical.” We may not be able to TAB, ruck, run and tumble like we used to, but with some “ADA”-style comforts, we can still hold our ground and that is what I wish to relay to all of you out there. Doing these mods on our bikes was an absolute game changer.

    Wish you all the best, and I am open to questions, follow ups, and even some complaints.

    Mark F.

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