Level Up Your E-Bike: Which Parts to Upgrade?

You have probably already become vividly aware of how many hours you are in the saddle of your beloved e-bike. Whether this realization struck you in the day suddenly turning to night and you’re still out on the trails or through an angry phone call assertively requesting that you return home. Immediately.

Either way, spending a lot of time in the saddle can be a fantastic or terrible experience, depending on how much care you have taken to adjust your bike to suit you. For some riders, upgrading and dialing that bike may be extensive and costly. Others may be contented with less, so the question is, what are the most worthwhile upgrades for your e-bike?

Evaluating Your eBike And Riding Needs

Unfortunately, e-bikes aren’t exactly cheap, and many upgrades can put equally impressive dents in your life savings. This is particularly true if you start slapping upgrades on your bike without first evaluating your particular needs. And so, taking a good hard look in the mirror must be your first step.

Identify Your Riding Style

In the context of your particular needs, your riding style is the most crucial consideration. Unfortunately, once you start setting up a bike to favor a specific style, you inevitably gear it away from another style.

For example, suppose you use your e-bike downhill rocket, and the battery is only there to help get you to the top of the descent. In that case, you are likely to forfeit a bunch of gears and equip your bike with a shock and fork that your stole from your neighbor’s Husqvarna scrambler.

And in doing so, your bike just isn’t going to perform as great at climbing as it used to.

On the other hand, you could just want to build your bike up to be a great middle-ground, touring, and trail bike. Whatever your style is, that’s great, do you? It’s essential to understand your style before spending money on upgrades.

Annalizing Your Ebike’s Current Performance

Once you have firmly identified your style, the next step is to annalize your bike to determine how well it stacks up to your style needs.

For example, it could be that you use your bike to tour and often find yourself running out of power or wishing for a little more storage space. Or you feel a bit uneasy hitting tight corners on loamy trails. Maybe you hoped for a more comfortable saddle and one extra gear to get up those long climbs.

This step is about being honest about the areas where your precious e-bike has actually let you down. In doing so, you can focus on the upgrades that will benefit you the most.

Setting Upgrade Goals And Priorities

The next step is to take that potentially long list of shortcomings and identify which ones matter the most to you. For example, will a better saddle or better gear ratio make the most significant impact on your ride? Or, will an additional battery or more storage make your tours better?

In other words, start prioritizing your needed upgrades, and then set yourself a goal post to work toward. In this way, you don’t have to be scared off by the high cost of doing it all at once, and you keep yourself encouraged with incremental and impactful changes.

Core Component Upgrades

Your bike’s core components, such as the battery and motor, are some of the more expensive upgrade options. Whether upgrading the core components is necessary depends entirely on your riding style.

Battery: Capacity, Power, Compatibility, and Charger Options

Battery upgrades are becoming more commonplace in the e-bike world. Upgrading your battery has several benefits, like increasing your speed and power and potentially significantly increasing your range.

However, upgrading your battery can also be risky. Your motor and controller both have limits on the number of volts and amps they can handle, which means that you can destroy them if you overload them. That said, there is typically some wiggle room in their capacity, meaning that you can potentially upgrade your battery safely.

Consider upgrading the battery on your e-bike? What You Need to Know

An upgrade that is especially popular among the touring crowd is to add a second battery to your bike using a dual battery adapter. This won’t necessarily increase your speed and power, but it does double your bike’s range.

Another standard upgrade option is to get hold of a better-charging unit that can charge your battery quicker. Or you can even look into solar chargers that can get your charged up out in the wilderness.

Motor: Power, Efficiency, and Controller Compatibility

If you use your bike for long hauls or long and very steep climbs and often need more power, then you should consider upgrading your motor.

While most motors have a power output of 250W (with some exceptions), there is substantial variation in torque output. And more torque means more rotational force, which is what you need to help you scale climbs like a goat.

Knowing the type of motor used in your e-bike can guide your upgrade choices.

Better motors are also typically more power efficient, which will help you pedal further on a single charge.

Unfortunately, there is a big caveat to motor upgrades: compatibility. Firstly, you must be sure that your new motor and controller will be compatible and play nicely together; otherwise, you will need to buy a controller as well.

Secondly, you need to ensure that the motor you are buying is compatible with your bike’s frame, or else it won’t fit.

Understand the difference between torque and watts when considering e-bike upgrades.

Braking System: Performance Enhancement and Brake Component Replacement

When you see a Ferrari parked next to a Prius, it’s easy to be entirely absorbed by the significant differences in power and luxury. But have you ever noticed the differences in the size of the brakes? You see, all the more horses you add to a car, the harder it is to stop.

The same applies to bikes. The faster you make the bike go, the better brakes you need to stop. In fact, upgrading your e-bike’s stopping power is one of the easiest ways to inspire confidence and improve your riding. Knowing that the brakes have your back, you will be able to handle higher speeds and steeper descents.

One of the cheapest upgrades to your e-bike is getting bigger brake rotors. Bigger rotors can take much more punishment and don’t heat up as quickly as small rotors, leading to your brakes failing you.

Alternatively, you can upgrade your entire brake kit with better calipers with more pistons, increasing their power, and better levers that can be finely tuned to suit your riding style, grip, and position.

Upgrading to disc brakes could improve your e-bike's stopping power.

Ride Comfort and Ergonomics

If you have ever spent hours in the saddle of a bike that feels like it hates your body, then you understand how important comfort and ergonomics are. In fact, one of the most life-changing ‘upgrades’ you can make to your bike is to have it professionally fit.

You will be surprised at how many comfort issues vanish after a good bike fit, so make sure to get that done before you start replacing components.

Suspension: Fork and Shock Absorber Options

Your bike’s suspension falls in an area between core components and comfort. Sure, having a long travel suspension will improve your comfort drastically over rocky bits. Still, it will also reduce the pedaling performance. So, your suspension also needs to match your riding style.

For riders who favor living on the edge and enjoy bombing down dangerous descents, you want to get as much travel on your suspension as possible, putting you in the 200mm market. But riders who do a lot of touring may not want to sacrifice pedaling efficiency as much, so they would make do with 100 – 140mm travel.

Whatever your needs are, make sure you opt for a fork and shock that offers a lot of customization in terms of compression and rebound. This will make your bike handle better in all terrains and significantly improve your comfort.

E-Bike Suspension – Is It a Must-Have? Find Out Now

Saddle: Finding the Perfect Fit

Of all the points of contact between your body and your bike, your bottom is the one you’ll feel first and feel the longest, even after the ride has ended. For this reason, if you’re still uncomfortable after a bike fit, you should consider upgrading your saddle.

Saddle choice tends to be hugely based on personal preference, but the general rule is that if you ride long and far, you want a harder saddle. This may seem counterintuitive as stiffer saddles are difficult and painful to break in. But in the long run, they become more comfortable and don’t chafe as much as heavy gel-padded couches.

However, if you use your bike just for short commutes or the odd short recreational ride, you don’t need to punish your behind for breaking in a slimline saddle.

Handlebar and Grip Selection

The next contact point with your bike is your hands, and upgrading your handlebar and grips to suit your ride style will make an incredible difference. For example, most road bikers prefer narrower drop bars that keep the rider’s form close to the bike and dramatically reduce drag. This makes riding long distances a lot easier due to the increased efficiency.

On the other hand, mountain bikers need close-quartering control more than they need to be streamlined. So, their bars are typically quite broad and have shorter stems, bringing the handlebars closer to the bike’s frame.

Mountain bikes also have a much wider selection of grips, from silicon to rubber. Grips are typically relatively cheap, making them excellent value-for-money upgrades. Some grips perform better in wet conditions, while others offer better comfort over long distances.

Tourers tend to favor bars and grips that balance between efficiency and control to accommodate the stretches of road and bits of technical mountain biking.

Drivetrain and Gearing Improvements

Drivetrain and gearing upgrades are usually cheaper and easier than motor or battery upgrades while still potentially offering outstanding power and efficiency benefits.

Gearing: Chainset, Cassette, and Gear Range Options

There are a few options you have to upgrade your gearing. Firstly, you upgrade just your cassette, or rear gears, to better suit your needs. For example, if you do a lot of climbing, you can swap your cassette for one that has a bigger low gear. Or you can keep your current gear ratio and just buy a lighter cassette, saving a few grams.

Alternatively, you can upgrade your entire drive train. “One by” drive trains have become enormously popular in the mountain bike industry. As their name suggests, they only have one gear, or chainring, in the front, combined with up to 12 gears at the back. The befit here is that there are fewer moving parts and less maintenance.

However, many tourers still prefer having more than one chainring for the great gear variety. On the other hand, Downhillers only ever use about seven gears, so they’re perfectly happy throwing off a few rings and gears and having only a few heavy and strong gears to work with.

Modern upgrade options include electronic gears that shift using a small motor in the derailleur and a wireless Bluetooth signal from the shifters. These drivetrains can be expensive but highly accurate, so there is much less faffing around trying to get your gears dialed in.

Drivetrain Maintenance and Component Compatibility

Unfortunately, much like batteries and motors, it’s easy to run into compatibility issues between various drivetrain pieces. Typically, you can’t interchange shifter brands with derailleurs because the gear spacing differs. Or you will have the most frustrating ride of your life, with your gears jumping up and down like a toddler on a sugar high.

In the same way, the more gears you have at the back, the thinner your chain needs to be, which is why chains are specific to the gear ratio.

Once the compatibility issues are resolved, the next focus point is maintenance. So while not technically a physical upgrade to your bike, a good cleaning kit is still a great investment in the long run.

A clean drivetrain is a happy drivetrain, so get yourself a good chain cleaner and some specific brushes and keep your drivetrain well-maintained and clean.

Tires, Wheels, and Ride Quality

Unless you have made a grave error, your tires should be the only part of your e-bike that have any contact with the ground. This means upgrading your tires is one of the easiest ways to transform your ride quality entirely.

In fact, the cheapest and by far most effective wheel upgrade you can do, is to convert your wheels to a tubeless system (if they aren’t already). This nearly eliminates small, pesky punctures and allows you to run at lower pressures.

Tire Selection: Type, Size, and Tread Patterns

Choosing the right tire can be a bit overwhelming. There are seemingly hundreds of options with different rubber compounds, tread patterns, and widths. But tires are simple to understand once you get the hang of grouping them.

Softer rubbers, for example, are grippier and better suited to loose terrains like mud and loam. But, on the other hand, they tend to wear out a lot quicker on hard surfaces like rock or asphalt, where a harder tire compound will work better.

The same goes for tread patterns. More aggressive treads are built to try and bite into aggressive and loose trails, while road bikers prefer to have as little resistance as possible and opt for the bare minimum tread.

The width of your tire will depend mainly on preference and use. Modern, general-purpose trail bikes have moved away from 2.2-inch tires toward 2.6 and even 2.8-inch widths. These “fatter” tires can be run with less air, vastly improving grip and confidence. In fact, even road bikes have incrementally been increasing their tire widths.

Related: Why Fat Tires on Electric Bikes?

Wheel Upgrades: Rims, Hubs, and Spokes

If upgrading just the tire won’t have the impact you desire, you can always upgrade the wheel as well.

There are three primary reasons to consider upgrading your rim. Firstly, you may want to shave some weight, and upgrading to a lighter carbon rim removes quite a bit of it. Secondly, you may need to upgrade to stronger rims that can take more of a beating, in which case you may add some weight but gain strength.

Finally, you may want to change to a tire size that doesn’t quite fit your current rim, so you will need to upgrade. Make sure your tire of choice fits in the bike’s frame or fork when you’re done.

Hubs are another great upgrade option. Higher-quality hubs aren’t just flashier. They typically have more durable bearings and components, are possibly lighter, and run more efficiently. So, there are several reasons why you may want to consider upgrading yours to better suit your riding style.

The same applies to spokes. Sure, you may just want to upgrade them for aesthetic reasons, and that’s ok; we understand and don’t judge. Or you may want stronger or lighter spokes. Or perhaps you love testing the cutting-edge tech out there, in which case you can even try out string spokes.

Visibility and Safety Features

Suppose you commute or tour with your bike or even just spend a lot of time training on public roads. In that case, you should be all too familiar with the sinking feeling that an incoming car can’t see you. As you desperately try and get out of the way, you thank the powers that be that you have a second chance and then vow to upgrade the visibility on your bike. Good idea.

Lighting: Headlight and Taillight Enhancements

Headlights and taillights’ brightness is measured in lumens, so the more lumens you have, the brighter your light and the better you can see the road, and the road users can see you. So how many lumens do you need? All of them.

While 200 lumens should be sufficient if you are riding on lit roads, you should ideally still aim for a light that is 400 lumens or higher. This is the minimum brightness to ride on unlit roads, but it also increases the odds of a car spotting you on lit roads.

The quality of your light is also going to impact your ride. If you ordered your light from a suspect online shop, then don’t expect the best quality when it arrives. Those 1000 lumens may actually be 10.00 lumens.

Ideally, you want a light with high efficiency and sturdy build quality that can not only light your way but also handle rain, mud, and snow.

Several products incorporate turning and brake signals into the tail light for taillights. Many of these are also quite affordable, making them excellent value-for-money safety upgrades.

Reflective Gear and Safety Accessories

Another cost-effective upgrade to consider is to get yourself some proper high-visibility reflective gear. It may not be the coolest e-biker look you were going for, but it could save your life in a bind.

If you enjoy cool tech, there are reflective gear options that incorporate brake lights and turn signals in the gear you wear. Or there are paint options that present as clear coats during the day but light up like a scene in Avatar at night.

Alternatively, even just wearing a light, reflective safety vest on your commute will already make you far more visible.

Furthermore, upgrading the safety gear you wear should also be a priority consideration. For example, if you do a lot of extreme mountain biking, then you really should be wearing a full-face helmet.

Safety gear technology is also constantly improving, making upgrading worthwhile every few years or so.

Versatility and Convenience

Versatility and convenience aren’t upgrades that will make your steed faster or more powerful, but they go a long way to making your ride much more enjoyable, arguably more important than power.

Storage Solutions: Panniers, Racks, and Bags

One of the biggest benefits of an e-bike, especially for commuters and tourers, is that the power assistance from the motor allows the rider to pack a lot more weight without feeling the effect as much as traditional bikes.

Obviously, panniers and bags don’t make a whole lot of sense if your riding style is going out for day trips on a flowy trail park. But they make ample sense for riders crossing the USA on their bike alone or even riders who commute and need an extra place to put the eggs and milk in on the way home.

There are several options out there, from hard shell panniers to frame bags that sit neatly between the top and down tubes.

Electronic Integration: Smart Features and Smartphone Connectivity

Your smartphone is a powerful tool, and apps like the FIT E-Bike Control enable you to turn that powerful tool into a fully integrated e-bike display. Think Apple Car Play, but on your e-bike. Your navigation, speed, remaining endurance, and ample other data and stats can be displayed right in front of you.

Many e-bikes even come with apps that allow you to fine-tune your motor and performance, and often playing around with these settings may prove to be an upgrade in itself. Likely, you will find a sweet spot of power delivery and endurance range that best suits your needs.

For example, the Bosch “eBike Connect” app gives you loads of ride data and various settings that will help you optimize your ride for your style. Or, if you are looking for an effective, free tracking app, Strava is a fantastic option.

Add a pair of open or bone-conduction headphones that don’t obstruct your hearing to your smartphone setup, and your journey becomes suddenly much more pleasant.

Budgeting and Cost-Effectiveness

It’s easy to have a near emotional meltdown when you consider the upgrades you want to do to your bike, especially if you step back and look at the total cost on the bottom line. Unfortunately, many riders get demotivated and end up not making any upgrades because the end goal feels so far out of reach.

Prioritizing Upgrades for Maximum Impact

The first step is finding the high-impact, low-cost upgrades in your list. Or the low-hanging fruit. Focusing on these upgrades straight off the bat will keep you motivated and encouraged to see all the upgrades through to the end so that you can have your dream ride.

Tires are one of those maximum-impact upgrades. We cannot overstate enough how much a good set of tires will improve your entire ride. After tires, consider tweaking your drive train if you need to or getting a saddle that suits you better. From there, start looking at the most impactful upgrades to your riding style.

If you do a lot of trail and downhill riding, that upgrade may be the suspension. On the other hand, if you tour, you may need to save up for an additional or better battery. The point is, don’t tackle the whole list at once. Instead, focus on those upgrades that will make an immediate difference.

Balancing Cost and Quality

Unfortunately, the entire biking community is a little brand obsessed. And while there are higher quality expensive brands that do make better products, a lot of the time, you are paying for the status and nothing else.

Take drivetrains, for example; not many riders actually need pro-level, light-as-a-feather drive trains that cost more than your entire bike. Most riders just need a reliable set of gears that don’t slip and last a long time.

The same applies to most upgrade options. Refrain from getting cutting-edge pro-level gear at a massive cost. But at the same time, steer well clear of too-good-to-be-true knock-off gear that will almost definitely break the first time you use it.

Conclusion

Upgrading your e-bike should be an exciting process, but it can be daunting trying to decide what you should upgrade first or what upgrades you actually need. The most crucial step is to start by identifying your riding style and need and then focus on all your upgrades to improve your bike’s performance relative to your style.

Author

  • Miles Baxter

    Miles Baxter is an engineer with a longstanding love for bicycles, sparked by winning a mountain bike in a childhood lottery. Balancing a keen interest in mechanics with the thrill of biking, his career is a testament to the art of turning wheels and gears into adventures.

    Baxter Miles