Naeem is a hero for electric bike builders everywhere who want to create an electric bike on a budget. He wins the award for creating a mid drive ebike from the ground up with very limited resources. Not only did he have a budget of less than $200 in a 12 year project that he put much of his extra time in; where he lives electric bike parts are non existent, and electric bike part vendors do not ship to Pakistan. Nonetheless through hard work and perseverance Naeem was able to achieve an efficient, fast, and reliable electric bike.
Naeem created an electric bike where the main component, the motor, was a scrapped Toyota fan motor, rewound by Naeems own hands several times until achieving the desired voltage and efficiency. This is just one example of many on how this ebike was created.
The controller was custom created using solenoids pulled from car starters, and used in sequence to have a 3-step throttle. The 3 solenoids change the bike from an 18 volt, a 24 volt, and then finally to a 30 volt.
The gear reduction is a myriad of cogs and sprockets all lovingly pulled from a junk yard wasteland. (see photos below)
Although the ebike’s appearance is not pretty, it does perform, and it performs well! Because it is essentially a mid drive running through the pedal gears, this bike is able achieve speeds of 40-MPH on level ground, and does so surprisingly reliably and safely given that it is constructed from available resources which are junkyard parts.
Naeem always dreamed of building his own electric bike, before he had internet and even knew that electric bikes existed. It started with wanting an electric car, but cars in Pakistan and are hard to come by for working class people. Bicycles however are plentiful and cheap, so it made sense that an electric bicycle be built.
The day he finally completed his build, after acquiring the most expensive component (a lead acid battery) he had a bad crash on the bike when his throttle froze wide open and he had to lay the bike down to avoiding hitting some lady pedestrians. Not only was he moderately injured in the crash, but he also destroyed his precious battery, which set him back a few more months until he could save to buy another one.
Here is the completed ebike without fairings:
To give you an idea the challenges Naeem faced when building this bike, here is an experiment where he is making an alternator built into the front wheel, using magnets from salvaged hard drives, which are glued to the plywood disc and bolted onto the front wheel spokes. When using the drag of a generator to recharge the battery a small amount while you are slowing down, it is called regeneration, or “regen”. Even if the amount of charge going into the battery from this is small, regen is also a brake that never gets hot or fades with hard use.
Here is the rear suspension assembly in a later recumbent carnation of the bike:
Here is a detail of the gear reduction which is needed to run the motor he scrapped (a Toyota Corolla radiator fan motor) at a RPM suitable to run through the pedal gears of the bike.
Here is the double freewheel sytem on the other side of the bike. The power from the motor is applied along with the riders input on the pedal chain.
Here is a explanatory video of the bicycle gear reduction system, where you can clearly see how it all works together:
All photos in this story were taken by Naeem. What follows is an interview I had with Naeem which describes his trials and tribulations when creating his electric bike.
What is your age, name, and city you live in?
I am 40. Last name Zahid (Muhammad Naeem Zahid). City I live in is Peshawar.
Do you have a wife or kids?
I have been married 6 years, no kids yet because my wife is a heart patient.
What is your profession?
I am working as a student’s guide and counselor in the office of the Vice Chancellor, University of Peshawar.
How would you describe life in Pakistan in a few sentences?
Life is very tough. Poor are getting poorer and rich are getting richer. Corrupt politicians are making it worst. External powers, so many miles away want to change the map of this region for their dirty political intentions.
Do you own a car? Will you ever own a car?
I really need a car and sometimes I think of making an electric one but do not have that much experience. I intend to buy a car some day. By the way I believe in buying pieces of old cars and building and modifying it as per my desire.
Do you have an engineering degree?
Not at all. I have no technical or professional degree. I was so fond of electronics that I often took the books of my elder brother (he is the first son and I am the last son of my family) who had an electronics engineering degree. I started making small electronics projects from transistors back in the 10th grade. I became so good at it. I was fond of music since my childhood which took me to making amplifiers and then those amplifiers got huge and huge music systems and mixers with so many mikes and music equipment. I started working as radio tap recorder mechanic for a short time. This is how I got into electronics. An engineer was inside me since the beginning of time, all I needed was a guideline and path to go on towards perfection.
What about your education background? Did it help you at all to build this bike?
Yes indeed. I was a student of science. Before 8th grade General Science was taught as subject but after which I had the option to chose science or Arts and for my type of mind Science is what I chose to study. I went till graduation in my studies in which I studied Zoology, Botany, and Chemistry as subjects then I switched to Humanities group studying English as an additional subject.
Studying science gave me the basic ideas about the laws that govern different things happening in science like laws of thermodynamics, Newton’s laws of motion and laws of conservation of energy and E=MC2 and what-not. Overall I was ready to think about the possibility of making an electric bike. I believed that I am the only person in the world thinking to make this machine, but when the internet era came I saw a whole lot of world already riding such machines. My English was good as I loved this language and English songs since my childhood (I still have huge collection of English cassettes of 80s songs). Having command of English language I kept on studying on the internet. It was only the internet which enabled me to make my childhood dream come true.
How did you learn the skills to build the bike?
It was a very long journey. It took me almost all my life to reach this point. Drop by drop I learned every aspect for making this bike into reality from a dream. I can say roughly about 15 years ago when I stopped thinking about and started making and doing small scale experiments with different brushed type motors found in the junkyards and with second hand automotive batteries.
It was a long way for sure. It all began when I was just a little kid breaking my electric toy cars and stuff and finding battery cells and electric motors and gears. I used to think that there were small people inside them which run this toy. I asked my elder brother who was an electrical engineer about the parts. He told me that it is an electric motor and battery cells. I being a kid out of innocence said that “when I grow up, I will get a big motor and big battery cells and make a big car to accommodate me and I will drive it”. So it would be more appropriate to say that it was my childhood dream.
I, being a science student, started my journey towards converting my dream into reality. I was a student and had part time jobs like distributing newspaper and stuff which paid very little. It was just to support the pocket money of a college kid. There was no way that I could buy something for my experiments, just small electronic components transistors and other stuff to make small projects.
Once I made a big toy car measuring about 2 feet long and about 10 inch wide. I found a big enough motor in the junkyard to fit in. I found out that it could run on 18 volts. I made the main chassis of plywood while the body was made out of a cardboard box. It was a wire controlled remote control. It was so fast that I had to run with it. It was so much fun when I ran it in the park. People would come to watch me run this car. To mention this event I wanted to explain that how step by step I got familiar with the electric power used to run an electric motor.
Soon I started thinking about fitting an electric motor in my bicycle. I went to a place called “Shoba Bazaar” a place famous for the repair of cars and junkyards, rich with used car spare parts and stuff. I bought a car wiper control motor big enough to fulfill my need. I collected the money in so many months and it was my only treasure that I was giving away as its price. But it failed ridiculously as the motor was not enough to power the bike.
One of my cousins who works there as metal worker he is an expert of removing dents from the cars bodies. He gave me a big electric motor used in the 1986 Toyota Corolla car as its radiator’s fan motor. This motor had tremendous power when run on 12 volt battery and its fan was so violent, noisy and powerful enough. In the car when the engine was running the fan is more noisy than the engine itself. It was a big step towards my success because this is the motor that is still inside my electric bike. I have rewound it for higher voltage for efficiency.
I had a mountain bike which was the only candidate for the project. After going through a number of options I thought of using the triangular space of the frame for gear reduction and used the sprockets and chains of bicycles to accomplish the necessary reduction. It worked fine and the bike ran for 20 km/hr but there was no speed controller but just on and off. With just one car battery which was pretty expensive for me to buy and I had to wait for a very long time to collect that amount. I remember the price and in no way I could every forget it. It was Rs. 700 ($7.50) which was like a big mountain for me to climb. I often came back from my office and look at my bike setup and its gear reduction setup. Sometimes I would invert the power from my office power outlet with a step down transformer to run the bike. I was so helpless but I had no choice but to wait.
At last the time came when I bought this battery and fit it on my bike. As I mentioned earlier that there was only on and off system in the bike and the amps the bike drew were enormous. There was no (power) break switch at all. On my initial test ride after riding just a few km, I could not stop the bike when a group of ladies walked out in front of me and to keep from hitting them I turned off the button but it did not work, so in a split second decision I threw myself on the ground to keep from hitting them. I was injured. But worst yet my precious battery was damaged beyond repair and I was in tears for so many days. I could not sleep, eat or drink, but time is a big healer. I got a little disheartened so I left the project for I had no more money to buy another battery.
So far I have talked only about learning the electrical components. I still had to learn to weld and understand the metal. So firstly I started with the drawings and discussed the drawings with different engineers, especially my cousin who was a God gifted natural mechanic just like me. I respect him because he is the one who gave me this motor, which would be expensive for me at that time, for free. Having no welding equipment and experience my cousin helped me make the frame from pipes which I collected from the junkyards. Let me tell you that by this time I got a decent job which paid me enough to save some money for my experiments. I got so many useful things from junkyards which helped me assemble the whole thing together. It took me almost 10 to 12 years to make this think work and to be used as a utility bike to go to the office.
How much money did you spend on this bike build?
Well since the time I started making an electric bike is quite hard to estimate, but my current bike which won me a second prize in a Science competition was some where around USD $200. Now I have converted the same bike to a recumbent design.
What kind of range do you get with it?
I have tried a number of voltage setups, and kept updating the motor for more voltage. On 12 volts the bike only got for 5 km with a top speed of only 20 to 22 km per hour. After rewinding the motor for 24 volt I got a range of 10 km with a speed of 25 km/h. (please note that my setup was still a simple on and off push button throttle). Then I thought of using a relay to on and off the motor so that I do not have to use a huge amp switch. In the past accident in which I lost my battery my bike did not stop when I turned off the switch because the switch got melted down and stuck in the “on” position. Using a relay also gave me the chance to use a break switch which was a must in this situation because having 24 volt bike was pretty fast.
Then I decided to wind the motor for 30 volt and got even more power with a maximum speed of 30 to 35 km with a range of around 15 km. The power was so much that I had to think of a way to slowly increase the voltage to softly start the motor from stand still. So I developed a mechanism of a set of three relays to connect the three batteries in series and in parallel to give me 18, 24 and 30 respectively. The bike performance really improved and started giving me a range of 18 km. To release a little pressure from the motor I used pulleys with the motor but the remaining setup of reduction was using the same chains and gears. Finally I got the motor wound for 48 volt and got 4 sealed lead acid batteries which gave me a range of 22 to 25 km with a top speed of 40 to 45 km.
What is your maximum speed?
It could go as fast as 60 km/h (37-MPH) with slight downhill with pedaling while on straight road it got around 45 to 50 km.
How far was is your range when the lead acid batteries age?
The range I explained in the aforementioned answer is for new batteries. With the batteries getting old the range was really decreased. Let me add that there was noting to stop the batteries from deep discharge but the batteries were somehow tough enough to go as far as a year but then the range was reduce to half of maximum and I could only use it for going to the grocery store and not to my office because it could not last for more than 12 km.
How many miles did you put on the bike? How reliable was it?
I used it continuously for 4 months to go to my office which is a total of around 34 km for the round trip. Multiply that with 4 months excluding Sundays equals = 104 days. Total km is = 104 x 34 = 3536 km which are the kilometers I am sure of but the bike has gone more than double that. So say about 10,000 km. About reliability; I would say that the rear chain which kept snapping time and time again was the biggest issue. Then I started taking a spare with me on my office ride. I really hated this part of my bike.
Did the bike get lots of attention when riding on streets of Pakistan?
Oh God! It was so difficult to handle the attention of the people because here the people get so close that I had to make a narrow escape. I at times felt reluctant to take the bike to congested bazaars. Once police had to escort me out of the crowd which gathered around me to interview me on the spot and ask questions. This completely jammed the traffic therefore police people advised me not to bring this thing in here again. On my office ride people used to take out there cell phones and make videos of me and take pictures.
Did you have to worry about anyone stealing the bike?
Yes that is one thing I had to worry about all the time. There is so much poverty in Pakistan and unavailability of job opportunities. This has increased crime rate dramatically. Drug addiction is at its peak. Mostly I was worried about drug addicts because they would take any thing to sell it to junkyards.
How dangerous riding an electric bike in Pakistan?
I don’t think it is dangerous to ride electric bike in Pakistan at all. There are so many people going to work on their bicycles.
What was the biggest motivation to build your e-bike?
It is quite strange but I love to go against the wind. The more people that opposed me the more it got on to my nerves to prove them wrong. My parents said that I am wasting my time, my friends said that you are nuts, some religious people said that it is the work of evil and I have to pray to Allah for forgiveness. Moreover, I know through my education that planet earth is dying due to more cars, vehicles and factories which consumed the O2 and release Co2. In order to reduce the pollution I consider my electric bike a good option for commuting to office for more than half of Pakistan’s population. I am sure someone will start a small scale factory in the future and will make these low cost electric bikes to increase our peoples mobility and freedom while not adding to the pollution of the environment.
How many hours do you estimate it took you to build your bike?
It took me more than 12 years and still working on it I am not sure about hours but it is what I have earned through out my entire life.
What was the most difficult part about the project?
Every thing because I had to do every thing from the beginning.
What was the hardest part to find?
The motor and still is a hard part to find a replacement because there is nothing like this that could be found here for an electric bike.
Did you learn a lot while building the project?
It was great piece of education for me.