DIY Electric Motorcycle Kicks Butt, Gets 300 eMPG

by Benjamin Jones on June 24, 2008

DIY electric motorcycle

A year ago, EcoModder forum member Ben Nelson got an old, non-running motorcycle and converted it to electric drive. He’d never had a motorcycle before and wasn’t an expert with electric vehicles, but in true DIY nature, he learned as he went along.

DIY electric motorcycle The bike was never designed to be a fast, flashy race bike, but rather a cheap and effective way to get around town in style. Ben is currently building an electric car, but by all accounts a motorcycle is a great (and slightly less expensive) step down the road to electric vehicles. In the end Ben had built himself a motorcycle with speed up to 40 mph and a range of around 15 miles, all for less than $2000. The best thing about the conversion is that, unlike many, it is completely street legal, with full registration and insurance.

Here’s what Ben has to say about the costs of this project:

$100 for original cycle
$500ish for motor (used on Ebay)
$300ish for New Alltrax AXE 48v 300 amp programmable controller
$160 EACH for 4 Optima yellow top 55AH batteries.

I am also including in this total cost, a motorcycle safety class, new helmet, a year of insurance, lots of little trips to the hardware store, etc.

So, the total cost for the bike was really only about$1500, with a few new parts (like the controller) that could’ve been found used if you’re running on a tighter budget. Currently, the bike is only using three of those four batteries, as Ben is trying to find out how to mount the 4th battery and up the bike to 48 volts.

Comparing the energy content of gasoline to that used by the motorcycle, Ben’s determined that on average, his bike gets the equivalent of 300 mpg:

This shows that not only is the electric version more efficient, but if you crunch the numbers comparing the current price of gas to the price of grid energy, you’ll see that this motorcycle is not only cool and environmentally friendly, but has the potential to save a bit of money. For more info on eMPG, check out this thread.

electric motorcycle blows upHowever, Ben’s story isn’t all gumdrops and happy endings. One day, while out riding the motorcycle he managed to blow up the controller. He and the bike are fine and he’s got it going again, but when attempting a DIY project like this, especially because it involves a vehicle responsible for your safety, it’s always good to go in with open eyes and be ready for the unexpected. That said, it wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds.

Besides being a great ecomodder, Ben is also pretty good with video. Check out these two that he put together, the first one is his neighbor’s reaction to the electric bike and the second is Ben talking about the project:



For more depth about the building and the tech specs behind this bike, check out Ben’s site and his build thread. More inspiration for EV motorcycles can be found at the motorcycle section of the Austin EV album. You can even find Ben’s bike on there.

UPDATE: I talked to Ben and he told me that he had in fact added the forth battery, and that with that and the system running 48v his top speed has been increased to 45 mph and the range to 20 miles. Sorry for the error!

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1 Lance June 26, 2008 at 2:05 am

Cool project – although I’d love to see how the performance would improve using a frame and wheels from a lightweight modern sports-bike. That old thing in the photos looks very heavy.

2 Greg June 26, 2008 at 2:34 am

Pretty cool. If there was about twice the speed and 10 times the distance I’d convert my Honda ST1100 right now….. 🙂 Fair play. Such a good project and let’s hope its the beginning. Do you have to make motorbike sounds with your mouth?

3 Richy June 26, 2008 at 2:39 am

Good on ya Ben !

4 Jeff June 26, 2008 at 5:02 am

Get that to 80mph and 100 miles and you’ll have something seriously useful.

I have the same bike, and I think I’ll keep my engine for now.

5 Joshua C June 26, 2008 at 7:16 am

I like the imaginary fuel economy numbers. eMPG, that might catch on. My car gets 300 fortnights to the zipzorp.

He might as well just discuss the cost of the energy in terms of kwh and the cost of the power instead of making up economy numbers.

6 DAvid June 26, 2008 at 7:54 am

Why does it have a gas tank? Why wouldn’t he put the battery’s where the gas tank used to be?

7 Chris June 26, 2008 at 8:46 am

I never ever ever comment, but this project is so good. I am in the same boat, never rode a motorcycle (although I’ve always wanted too), and I’m environmentally…inclined I suppose.

this could be something I actually try myself….thanks!

8 Steve June 26, 2008 at 8:49 am

That’s pretty nice but very limited for the cost. I just purchased a Honda Metro scooter for $1000 and I get 120 miles from 1.5 gallons. I can travel 22500 miles for the extra $1000 that Ben spent converting the old motorcycle. Until we get a better battery, it’s not worth it.

9 Ben June 26, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Motorcycles look really bad without a gas tank.

Also, there is a large support bar that goes right through the middle of the tank, so there really isn’t as much room in there as you thing.

As it is, the gas tank is hollow and has the bottom cut out. The battery charger is in there.

10 dan July 9, 2008 at 5:58 am

if its 5 miles per battery, hang another one off the back between the tail light and seat. can he use the engine to brake and recharge the batteries? that would improve the range a bit…great project!

11 Miley-Cyrus-Fan August 1, 2008 at 9:13 am

hmm.. thank you very much. usefull information

12 Janet25 August 3, 2008 at 11:15 am

Super. It took almost a day to find this info. Thanks, great job. 🙂

13 James May 5, 2009 at 10:56 pm

I have a donor bike that has a shaft drive. Can I hook the motor right the the shaft or will that draw to many amps when starting the bike?

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