In the up and coming micromobility sector, the choices available for consumers are growing by leaps and bounds, whether you’re looking at picking up an electric skateboard, an e-scooter, a purpose-built electric bike, or an e-bike conversion kit. That wide variety of options can be both a blessing and a curse, because although having more choices is great, it’s also hard to know just exactly what will work best for you without putting some serious thought and research into it, and most likely getting some real-world experiences with test drives of some sort or another.
With a world increasingly moving toward online sales that don’t offer an opportunity to actually get on your potential ride and put it thru its paces, it’s likely that cases of buyer’s remorse will also continue to climb, which can be a burden for not just the buyer and the seller — depending on the return/exchange policies — but also the planet itself, in terms of “wasted” resources that could have been avoided with some careful consideration before clicking the “Buy Now” button.
Between shipping costs and their carbon emissions, materials costs and carbon emissions, and the possibility that because their first ride might be on a wonky and weak small electric vehicle/bike/scooter, people can get turned off of them altogether and continue to rely on gas-guzzling ICE vehicles for local commuting while their new “bargain” e-bike gathers dust in the back of the garage, it’s not a pretty picture.
However, those are not sufficient reasons to completely avoid the option of electric micromobility for a grocery-getter, a daily commuter, or even just to get outside more and get some exercise, because with the maturing of e-bike technology, there are plenty of resources for vetting potential purchases now.
Some 5 years ago or more, the relative newness of electric bikes and e-bike conversion kits made choosing the right option very challenging due to a lack of many real-world reviews (and the fact that e-bike companies could seemingly go from zero sales to blowing up a Kickstarter campaign to bankruptcy in a matter of months). But now we’re seeing successful electric micromobility companies learn from their own successes and failures (and most likely from the failures of other companies as well), so it seems like there’s a fair bit more consumer confidence in established e-bike and e-scooter brands now.
All of that is a very long way of saying that regardless of your transportation needs, there’s more than likely a company with a good track record selling the ride you need, as long as you put the time and effort into determining your own wants and needs before pulling out your wallet.
In any case, the choice between buying a fully purpose-built e-bike, meaning one which has been engineered from the get-go to handle the higher speeds, higher torque, and greater braking needs of an electrically-driven vehicle, and buying an e-bike conversion kit, is going to continue to be more about personal preference for how a bike rides and feels, as well as your comfort level when it comes to compromise on your 2-wheeler. Because, let’s face it, if you love your bikes and enjoy wrenching on them yourself, you’re in a separate class of buyer than those who just want something that works “right out of the box” with no need to think about whether or not you’re likely to taco your wheel or bend your frame or out-ride your braking capacity when leaving the house. And to be honest, I think that most, if not all, e-bike conversion kits are meant more for bike-heads who are comfortable tweaking their rides than they are for casual riders. Your mileage may vary…
One e-bike conversion kit that has gotten some good press over the last year comes from Unlimited Engineering, which first made its mark on the micromobility market with an electric skateboard kit that successfully launched on Indiegogo back in 2016. This past summer, the company ran another crowdfunding campaign, but this time for an e-bike conversion kit that promised to be a simple drop-in option for converting any bike into an electric one “in minutes.” Successfully funded in June of 2020, the e-bike conversion kits are now said to be shipping to backers in early spring of 2021, after which I assume the product will be available for sale thru Unlimited’s website.
“Lightest, most efficient system in the world! Our high voltage (52V) system made from fully proprietary components allow us to pack the most mileage and power in to the lightest package.
“Create the perfect eBike. Use the bike you already know and love to make your perfect commuting vehicle. In fact, our system is so light, so smooth, and so intuitive, it’s years ahead of any other powertrain!”
The conversion kit has just a few components — a wheel with a built-in hub motor, a battery pack, and a wireless pedal-assist sensor — but is available in a few different versions. For the US market, a 750-watt motor with a top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) is available, while the EU market gets a 250-watt motor with a top speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph), and those can be paired with either a 52V 3Ah 150Wh battery (up to 22 mile (35 km) range) or a 52V 7Ah 35oWh battery (up to 50 mile (85 km) range).
The motorized wheel is intended to be installed on the front of the bike, naturally, as that’s the easiest to build a drop-in conversion for, but the company was also offering a rear-wheel motor as an Indiegogo campaign add-on. With the wide variety of gearing available on bikes, building up a good rear-wheel motor that fits and performs is more of a challenge than a simple front-wheel swap, but after riding a few front-wheel “drop-in” motor options, I’d much rather have the drive components on the rear than on the front (your mileage may vary).
Elecktrek seemed to like this e-bike conversion kit, but to me, it seems a bit too much money for what is essentially an add-on to an existing bike, whereas there are already plenty of purpose-built e-bikes on the market that seem to offer more bang for your buck (even if the up-front cost is a bit higher on an e-bike). That being said, I can see how this kit might be appealing to someone whose favorite bike(s) are already fully dialed in for them but who might want the option to add an electric drive for certain situations, while still being able to pull it off again for a fully analog riding session. And if the options are to either buy another bike that is built as an e-bike from the get-go (which might meet with some resistance with the “house ways and means committee” or be just one bike too many for the amount of storage space you have, or to buy a drop-in e-bike kit like this one, then it seems like a decent choice. I mean, as someone who has more bikes than he can possibly ride regularly, it’s certainly tempting to electrify one (but I’d really like the option for a bigger battery).
Find out more at the Unlimited website, or sign up there to find out when this kit will be available.
All images via Unlimited.