Twenty Questions with the author of “The Ultimate DIY E-bike Guide”.
Before I post my question and answer session with Micah Toll, I want to give you a little background on the book he has written and his new goal. First his book was an E-download, and now it is in print. It outlines and explains most all you need to know to convert your bike to a fun, dependable and convenient E-bike. I posted a review on the first edition of his book here on my site recently. He has since up-dated it with new information and the such. I have a copy of the book on the way and can’t wait to give it a full read.
His new project is a video series to make all the great information come to light in a better and different format. Plus he has started a Kickstarter funding plan to let you become involved. That also gives you an opportunity to get the book at a reduced price. With all the interest in E-bikes these days it seems like a great way to help people do what it takes to side-step the ready-to-ride bikes, save a few bucks and make the E-bike of their dreams.
I was honored to be able to write the forward to Micah’s book and am sure if building an E-bike appeals to you, then this book, and the video series should be a very good starting point. Now, on to my one-on-one with Micah concerning his interests, talents and information concerning E-bike construction. Let’s hear in his own words what is on his mind. Is this actually twenty questions? Count if you must.
Q: So first of all, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
A: I’m trained as a mechanical engineer but I consider myself the flavor of engineer that is much more comfortable with a wrench in my hand than a calculator. I’ve been working with electric bicycles for many years now, starting when I was a college student looking for a faster way to get around the city that would save me money and be more environmentally friendly. Since then, I’ve built hundreds of E-bikes around the world, founded an E-bike startup and run free classes teaching people to build their own electric bicycles. My book, The Ultimate DIY E-bike Guide, has just been released and now I’m working on a companion video course, similar to my E-bike classes, that the user can watch and follow along at their own pace to learn to build their own E-bike.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about your book and the video course?
A: I started writing the book a year ago after hearing all too often the number one frustration from new E-bike builders “Sure there’s a lot of info out there, but it’s all disjointed and spread out in a million places.” I decided that in order to make it as easy as possible for new E-bike builders, someone had to put all their E-bike knowledge in one clear, easy to follow package. That’s why I decided to write my book. Early reviews of the book were great, but a few readers told me they would like to be able to see in videos some of the things I explained in the book. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video has to be worth even more, right? I agreed with them and started planning out a video course to accompany the book and make learning to build an E-bike even easier. Now I’m trying to get the video course funded on Kickstarter at
I’m really trying hard to get the video course funded so I can produce it, and so I’m offering copies of my E-book and paperback book as rewards for backing my project, starting at just $10.
Q: How does the video course work? Is it set up in classes? Do you pause along the way?
A: I’ve designed the video course to be 18 “lessons”, each covering a different topic ranging from early planning stage decisions, choosing parts, choosing the right vendors, installing parts and accessories, safety information, riding tips and routine maintenance. Each lesson will be between 10-30 minutes, meaning the entire package should probably come in somewhere around 5-7 hours of video. More than enough to really show you the nitty gritty of planning and building your own E-bike. The user can then follow along at their own pace, one lesson at a time, learning the key information as they follow the same steps to build their own E-bike.
Q: Why do you think this is a more beneficial way to learn how to build an E-bike?
A: Humans learn by seeing and doing. I filled my book with helpful pictures and diagrams, but sometimes seeing a video of something can take the understanding that much further. When I teach people how to build an E-bike in person, I love seeing that moment where things click and they realize how easy it is to build their own electric bicycle. That’s the fun part of teaching, is interacting with whoever you are working with to help them understand what you’re showing them. I’ve found that to be an incredibly successful way of teach people to build their own E-bikes and so I want to try to capture that and put it into my video course.
Q: What kind of skills does one need to build an E-bike? Not everyone is an engineer.
A: That’s the beauty of E-bikes, they are deceptively simple. A regular bicycle can be converted to E-bike by adding just four parts: A motor, battery, throttle and controller. All of these parts come in kits as bolt on components specifically designed for people that don’t have a technical background. Other than regular bicycle tools like a bicycle pump, and allen wrenches, the only other tools you will likely need are a set of wrenches or adjustable wrench, screwdrivers and snips to cut off the ends of plastic zip ties. It’s really that simple. There are so many good electric bicycle conversion kits out there that have been designed for user simplicity that converting an electric bicycle is a surprisingly simple and quick process. I have a lot of experience and so I can do them pretty quickly, usually in 30-60 minutes, but for a first timer, the whole process can usually take less than 3 hours. If you can turn a wrench and plug in a cell phone charger, you can convert an electric bicycle.
Q: Would you consider yourself an electric bicycle advocate?
A: I think you could say that. I got interested in electric bicycles in the beginning just because I was looking for a more convenient way to get around the city, but I stayed because of how fun they are and how much good they can do for our communities and our planet. While E-bikes are popular in Asia and are experiencing growing popularity in Europe, they are still almost nonexistent on US streets and that is something I’m trying to change. It just takes a bit of education to show people how the switch to an E-bike can literally change their lives.
Q: How much does it cost to convert an electric bicycle?
A: It all depends on what you want in terms of quality and performance. For example, my wife’s bike has a quality motor and lithium battery, but only goes about 15 mph and so it cost me about $350 to convert. My daily driver bike also has similar good quality parts but which are meant for more performance, doing about 27 mph and cost me closer to $600 to build. I’ve also built some bikes for well over $1,000 that had both good speed and electric range. These prices don’t include the donor bicycle either – a lot of people already have a bike in their garage that is just waiting to be made electric!
Q: What is your pitch when you talk to people about converting to an E-bike?
A: There are a million reasons to switch to an electric bike, and obviously each person has their own personal reasons, but there are some main benefits that are pretty universal. The first big one is money: people save hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in gasoline each year by switching to E-bikes, not to mention saving money on parking and car maintenance.
Next, convenience is usually a big factor for most people. My commute is about a third of the time it would be in a car because I can skip traffic during rush hour. Instead of sitting in a car for an hour each day, my commute by E-bike is only 20 minutes round trip, not to mention that I’m actually enjoying the commute instead of wishing it was over.
The third thing that interests a lot of people is the green factor. Few people switch to E-bikes solely for the environmental impact, but more and more people are letting environmental issues play a part in their daily consumption decisions, and an E-bike is a no brainer for anyone that cares about protecting their environment. After switching to E-bikes, I don’t even own a car anymore, and I’m proud of that.
Q: So you don’t have a car at all? What if you need to carry things with you?
A: A large backpack is usually more than enough for most things, or if I’m going grocery shopping for more than will fit in my backpack, I’ll use standard bicycle storage like a rear rack, saddle bags or a basket. My friends and I joke about some of the weird things I’ve carried on an E-bike including ladders, a bookshelf, lumber, and a mattress, to name a few. I’m not saying everyone should replace their car, and it certainly depends on your lifestyle, but if you want to make it work, you most certainly can. I know a guy who moved apartments with just his E-bike and an attachable trailer.
Q: Do you ever worry about running out of charge?
A: Not really. It has happened a few times and you know what I did? I pedaled. Remember, this is still a bicycle, it just has the added benefit of an electric motor. You can still pedal any time you want to you.
Q: What do people think when they see your E-bike on the road?
A: It depends on the audience. Passersby love them, and always want to stop me and take pictures or try it out. Cyclists sometimes call it “cheating” until I remind them that my E-bike is one less car trying to run them off the road. That usually calms all but the most spandexed of the cyclists down. Car drivers are usually pretty indifferent, but you have to be careful because drivers are used to seeing a bike riding slowly, and when they see you from a distance, they probably don’t expect you to be coming up on them at 25 or 30 mph, so defensive and smart driving principles are important to riding an E-bike.
Q: Last question: If you had 60 seconds to convince me to switch to an E-bike, what would you say?
A: I wouldn’t say anything. I’d give you the keys to my E-bike and have you take a quick spin. I challenge you to try to wipe that smile off your face for the rest of the day!