Reader And Their Rides: Building Electric Bicycles For a Hobby

Reader And Their Rides

By Robert Hodge

Robert astride his prototype 1911 Henderson tandem bike


Editor’s note: Robert Hodge truly has a love for the beautiful designs of days gone by, and he best displays that love by using some of the most modern technology on the market, including batteries from Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs, to make some truly unique bikes.

I  have been restoring vintage tractors, trailers and cars for 20 years and now transitioned to building electric bicycles for a hobby. I build a half-dozen bikes a year during the winter months and ride them during the summer months. No build is the same, otherwise, the hobby would get too boring. On occasion, I sell a few bikes due to lack of storage space. I do miss each one sold because of the soul put into each build.

I reside in eastern Washington state and have minimal tools for fabrication. Recycling a part for any build can be inspired by the boneyard of metal here on the farm and around our community.

The Pierce Arrow, going back a century for its styling, yet with a drivetrain from this decade.



The reimagined 1909 Pierce Arrow motorbike is an electric bicycle starting with building a frame out of 3-inch automotive exhaust pipe. The original Pierce Arrow had a 3 1/2-inch tubular frame that was the fuel tank. I incorporated two 24-volt Chevy Volt batteries into the frame, attempting to simulate the original, four-cylinder, gas-engine Pierce Arrow overall look. The batteries are wired in serial for a 48-volt power pack. I use vintage Honda suspension, brake and wheels due to aftermarket availability often on my builds. The engine is from QS Motor with 2000 watts. 

The Kelly controller is programmable to 4500 watts. I programmed the controller to 2200 watts, which gives the bike a range from 30–35 miles with a 15-mile reserve. I prefer not to drain the batteries or charge them beyond 80 percent. The bike can go 30 mph, but I typically pedal up to 16 mph for a relaxed outing.

“He draws from turn-of-the-20th-century vehicles with a rich past.” 


Over the past 10 years I have experienced charger, controller, battery and BMS failures. I prefer to use Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf automotive batteries in my bike builds, because those batteries are designed to last 100,000 miles. I have eliminated the BMS and use a smart charger to dictate the level of charge. For discharge I use the cell monitor with audible alarm for any issues. The Kelly controller is programmed to shut down the engine when the discharge is low. We all experience range anxiety with electric bicycles. I install the voltage gauge on the bike, so I cannot look at it while riding. I instead use a trip odometer, knowing my mileage limitation.

This level of hand-fabrication of the Henderson is stunning to say the least.



The 1911 Henderson prototype motorcycle was another build from last winter. The electric engine, batteries, controller and suspension are the same as the Pierce Arrow. The electric Henderson frame started with pieces and parts of two bicycles and one motorcycle for the angles needed to duplicate the Henderson motorcycle look. My shop is not outfitted with tube-bending equipment beyond a gas torch. I stitched together a frame with no rear suspension for this build. 

Detail of the two batteries from a Chevy Volt that power the Henderson.


I incorporated the Henderson foot brake to experience what it would have felt like while braking. No hand brakes, folks! It takes a while to become comfortable when stopping. The controller is housed inside what would have been the fuel tank. The fuel tank was built from two 1940s Chevy fog lights and one 5-inch-diameter stove pipe. The stove pipe is hinged on both sides for access to electronics. This bike is a tandem with removable footpegs on the forks. The passenger rides up front and experiences 1911 all over again. I have yet to have an adult up front, but have given kids rides.

Riding season is over in my climate, and now it’s back to my next build. I have harvested four quarter panels/fenders from a ’53 Chevy passenger car, and mostly done with my ’53 Bel-Air electric bicycle. This is my favorite build
so far!


In print, from the Apple newsstand, or on your Android device, from Google.
Available from the Apple Newsstand for reading on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Subscribe Here

For more subscription information contact (800) 767-0345