Monthly Archives: October 2013

Built On Experience

The Black Box Bikes electric motorcycle kit is years in the making.
With over 30 years of experience with renewable energy, almost 20 years of experience building and riding electric bicycles, 15 years of experience repairing, rebuilding and riding motorcycles, and 7 years of owning and rebuilding two vintage electric cars I thought life couldn’t get any better.
Then I took a friend’s electric motorcycle for a short ride where I quickly realized that none of the motorcycles I had in my collection came close to the thrill that comes with the quite, clean, swift acceleration of electric power, so I started out to build my own.

Having spent time in a machine shop I knew that making a few new pieces from scratch would lead to a more reliable, safer and cleaner looking machine compared cobbling pieces together. So I designed the brackets and couplings from the ground up to be solid and reliable while making sure they would be simple to bolt on to the stock motorcycle frame.

Now, Black Box Bikes can make it easy for you to build an electric motorcycle of your own and enjoy the silent ride.

Ryland Erdman

Menomonie, Wisconsin

The Long Story

Most home built electric motorcycles tend to follow two different paths.
One way is to build it with all off the shelf parts, some electric vehicle conversion companies sell a “kit” of off the shelf parts such as the motor, speed controller, battery cables, although those tend to be sold without a particular motorcycle in mind so you end up making or having someone else make custom mounting brackets and sprockets to make those parts work.
That gave way to two issues, the off the shelf parts didn’t always fit on the motorcycle and the custom parts were expensive one of a kind pieces of hardware,  leading to a high cost electric motorcycle or poor performance followed unless you start out with a huge budget.

The other path was scrounging parts, then modifying them by hammering, filing, bending, structural steel fabrication and welding them until you get something that fits and works.
This route can work great other then the fact that replication is nearly impossible and the end result is as much a sculpture as it is a vehicle, while there have been some amazing motorcycles built in this fashion and they can be built on a limited budget they tend to take 100’s of hours to build that could have been spent riding.

A number of people I know have converted gasoline cars to electric on the cheap by using old forklift motors and I had to wonder if I could do the same thing with a motorcycle, after some searching locally and coming up short I started looking online, I figured I might start by just looking for a motor to see if I could base my search for a forklift off of a common motor that was the size that I could fit on a motorcycle.
My searches started turning up golf cart motors, the exact size of motor I was hoping to find and it turns out they are not only common, but they are cheap to buy used and they tend to be standardized with a lot of aftermarket options and even some  warehouse vehicles, factory service vehicles and Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) that are based off the golf cart platform but with much heavier components.
The more I researched the more I felt that a golf cart motor would be the perfect motor for a motorcycle because you could use a motor from a two person golf cart or a motor from an 8 passenger NEV depending  the performance you wanted.
Now, one complaint that seemed common with home built electric motorcycles was the motor was either too long and required modified foot pegs to give a wider stance or when a short compact motor was used that was not powerful enough.
I never liked the noise that chains made on electric motorcycles and I liked the clean, enclosed design that shaft drive motorcycles have, a shaft drive also meant that it wouldn’t matter how long the motor was, then I thought back to my time working in a motorcycle repair shop where I saw a handful of Honda CX500 motorcycles come in and I was always impressed by their styling and that they were always well cared for.
The CX500 has a water cooled V-twin engine that was designed for light touring, a fantastic bike for it’s day but with a fatal design flaw, the water pump is above the alternator, over time the rubber seals crack or wear out and coolant leaks, if this persists it drips in to the electronics where it causes additional problems, the first step in replacing this small, inexpensive seal is to remove the whole engine, it’s at this point where many motorcycles owners choose not to have it fixed.
The CX500 is an interesting design, the engine is a stressed part of the frame, so when you remove the engine there is no down tube (the frame tube next to the front tire) it’s also designed for a faring and saddle bags, so it has the brakes and frame to handle some extra weight.

When I started telling friends about my desire to build an electric motorcycle I would hear stories about some neighbor or uncle who was an electrical engineer who I should meet because they had dreams of building an electric motorcycle too.
I’ve been building and working on electric vehicles for years and I’m not an electrical engineer and I don’t need to be; all of the components are well engineered already with very nice, clearly labeled wiring diagrams that take the guess work out of connecting it all together.
All I have to do is buy off-the shelf components and connect them together as the manufacturer instructed.

So, now I found a common, cheap motor that has been industry proven, I found a high quality motorcycle  that doesn’t cost much to buy used, the electronics are all off the shelf, I just need to connect it all together pack them in to a motorcycle frame and ride it down the road, right?
At that point I realized I would be in the same place I would be if I paid thousands and ordered an electric motorcycle kit from an electric car conversion company.
So I developed and built the Black Box Bikes kit;  a kit that takes these common, low cost used parts and common off the shelf parts and connects them to a motorcycle frame without cutting or welding it, by bolting everything together you should be able to build your own electric motorcycle in a weekend.

Now, Black Box Bikes can make it easy for you to build an electric motorcycle of your own and enjoy the silent ride.

Ryland Erdman

Menomonie, Wisconsin


Aren’t electric motorcycles heavy?

With modern lithium batteries electric motorcycles don’t have to be any heavier then their gasoline counterpart while still getting a 50 to 100mile range or more.

When can I buy a kit?

The planed release date is Summer 2015,

What is in the basic conversion kit?

EZ-Go Motor on Honda CX500 Frame using Black Box Bike Electric Motorcycle Conversion Kit

The basic conversion kit is pretty simple, it’s a high quality CNC (computer numerical control) machined aluminum adapter plate that bolts on to a motor from a golf cart, GEM Car neighborhood electric vehicle or many of the after-market high performance motors.
Pressed in to that adapter is a sealed bearing with a CNC machined steel coupling inside of it that fits the internal splines of the motor. The other side of that coupling connects to the motorcycle’s drive shaft in the swing arm in the exact same way the gas engine connected, two more CNC aluminum brackets  allow the whole assembly to bolt on to the rear engine mounting points on the motorcycle frame without any modifications to the motorcycle frame, like cutting or welding, bolting it all together takes a matter of minutes and connects the electric motor to the frame and rear wheel of the motorcycle in the same way the gas engine had been connected.

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Don’t I need to be an electrical engineer to build an electric vehicle?

Nope, all of the electronics that you need are off the shelf components.
You’ll have to cut wires to length, crimp terminals on them and connect them together, but that is about it, all of the component manufacturers have online wiring diagrams so it’s easy to figure out how to connect everything together no matter what components you end up using.

How much does it cost?

The cost of the kit hasn’t been finalized yet.
The goal is to keep the total cost around $500 for the brackets and couplings that allow you to bolt on off the shelf parts and you should be able to build a full electric motorcycle for $1,500 for very basic electric Detroit Red Wings jersey mens conversion using lead acid batteries and around $3,500 for a clean, basic bike using lithium batteries, of course there are a lot of off the shelf parts that  are compatible so performance can match your budget and taste.

Why doesn’t the Black Box Bikes Kit include the batteries or electric motor?0501131557a (1024x768)

We want to build kits to let you use off the shelf parts, instead of convincing you that our off the shelf parts are worth buying so it comes down to getting the best price without compromising quality.
Lithium batteries are constantly getting better and dropping in price so if you shop around a little you will most likely be able to find a better price then we could give you by being the middle man.
Same with electric motors, we’d rather you support your local golf cart shop and buy a motor from them, use something you might already have or find a deal on online.

What motorcycles will the Black Box Bikes conversion kit fit?

It will fit any  late 1970’s to early 1980’s Honda CX500 or GL650 motorcycle without any modifications to the frame.
You just unbolt the engine and bolt the conversion kit to the mounting points that the gasoline engine used, reconnect the drive shaft, bolt the motor to the conversion kit, wire everything together and you are done!

In the future we’d like to offer kits for a wider range of motorcycles, but to do it right and maintain quality this will take time.

What if I want to go faster?  (Who doesn’t want to go faster?!)

The conversion kit works with  dozens of different electric motors from many popular golf carts, a common 3.5hp EZ-Go golf cart motor with a 48v battery gives performance a little slower then the stock gasoline CX500, but you can either bump the voltage up for more speed (double the voltage, double the speed!) or use a motor from a larger/heavier NEV like a GEM Car if you want more torque on a budget.
Then if you still want more power there are motors like’s  AC-50, a motor designed for 3,500 pound cars traveling at freeway speeds.
So when you want more power it’s just a matter of removing 2-4 wires and 4 bolts, then that larger motor will bolt right in, giving you dozens of options only limited by your budget, it’s no longer a guessing game of wondering if a larger motor will bolt on the motorcycle you want to use.


Is it legal?

Yes, converting a gasoline motorcycle to electric puts it in the same category hot rods, street rods and other modified vehicles. Most states have options for special license plates but those are not always required. However,  you should always check with your state’s Department Of Motor Vehicles before making any modifications to a vehicle.

 What about insurance?

Most insurance companies want to know if the frame has been modified (cut and welded) or if it has a larger displacement engine then stock. Neither of these are the case with the Black Box Bikes conversion kit. But, again, it’s advised to check before making any modifications.

Coming Soon!

Imagine the thrill of riding a motorcycle on a country road with just the sound of your surroundings, on a motorcycle you built!

Electric CX500 Motorcycle with Black Box Bikes Kit at the Maker Faire


The hard part of converting a gas motorcycle to electric can be connecting the motor to the cycle frame then connecting the motor to the drive wheel, many times this can feel like fitting a square peg in a round hole, what we have boils down to a square peg to round hole adapter, a set of high quality American made CNC machined brackets and couplings that in a matter of minutes bolts to an unmodified motorcycle frame using the same mounting points as the gasoline engine used as well as connecting directly to the drive shaft in the same way the gas engine connected.
The other side of the adapter kit bolts to a common, low cost golf cart motor.

Don’t settle for just a single motor of our choosing, instead you have a wide range of brands and sizes of electric golf cart motors to pick from, it doesn’t matter if you buy a new or used motor, choose one that fits your budget and gives the performance you want.

Keep control over what batteries, speed controller and all the other electronics, we’ll give you specifications of what will work so you can shop around for the best deal.
You can start out building a budget bike for commuting and if in a few years you want more performance it’s easy to upgrade because many components are standardized in how they connect giving you the option to build a much faster electric motorcycle.

For now the Black Box Bikes kit is designed to work only with the shaft drive of the Honda CX500 and  GL500  motorcycles.
It works with a drive shaft instead of a chain so it ends up being a very quiet, almost silent motorcycle and, when the entire drive-line is enclosed it ends up being very clean and safe, like an electric vehicle should be.

In the future we plan to expand what motorcycles our kits fit, we have the Honda Silverwing, Honda Goldwing and Honda VT Shadow in our sights.