BBS02 and BBSHD: Do I want a gear sensor?

This is a common question on BBSHD and BBS02 motors, so I thought I would write up a quick post and describe what can be done, and what I do.

Here’s The Problem

If you shift under power with a BBS02 or BBSHD, you will do so using a LOT more power than your ebike’s drivetrain (chainring, cogs and chain) was ever designed to handle. Shifting while under even a moderate amount of power is a great way to snap your chain and take the Walk Of Shame home. Worse: you can crack or even taco a cog.

Here’s The Solution

Use a gear sensor. Thats not so tough, right? First of all, what is a gear sensor? Its a little box, with a little wheel inside. You run your shift cable thru the little box, in one side and out the other (which means you need to cut and re-section your shift cable housing), with the cable running across the little wheel. When the wheel senses any motion, it sends a signal to your motor that cuts the power for a split second and takes the pain away from your drivetrain when a shift occurs.

Whats Wrong With That?

Nothing, so long as it works. The little wheel inside is mechanical and crud-sensitive. Lots of folks have issues with them not working after rain storms or mud baths. You can solve that by wrapping it somehow to keep the grit out.

I wrapped this sensor in silicone tape to make it crudproof

Its also not the ONLY way to do the job. Like I said, I had my first BBSHD without one. I learned to shift without needing a gear sensor. By the time I built my second bike, I had that method down pat. So yeah sure the sensor is nice but I have already learned another way, and I have found – even though I have bought sensors and have had them right in front of me during a new build – I don’t feel a need for them.

But I sure as hell have a need for the job they do. Everyone does. So don’t let anyone tell you the problem is not real. Its probably the #1 way to snap a chain on a mid drive bike.

Gear Sensor Alternatives

So there are a number of different ways to do this job. I’ll list the one I use last

Use the brake cutoff as a clutch

Its simple: Squeeze the brake handle just a little bit to engage the brake cutoff. That cuts power to the motor and gets you the same thing a gear sensor does. The trick is to not engage the brakes to any noticeable degree and lose any of that hard-won momentum. Interestingly, Magura MT5e ebike brake levers have a special little hinge in the middle of the lever. It lets you do this more easily without engaging the actual brakes.

See that little metal pin in the middle of the lever? That hinge makes this lever a shift cutoff. Touch it with a fingertip, the brake cutoff engages, the motor cuts out and the pads aren’t touched.

Thats nice, assuming everything works. If you are a little jumpy, or the bike is bouncing along a trail or something, then that delicate caress on the brake lever might be a little more than you figured and … well, you get it. We live in an imperfect world. But this method still works pretty good.

Use a cutoff button on the handlebars

This is definitely not a common solution, but it does work, and is what I used on BBSHD Bike #1 until I gave up on it and perfected the method I describe next.

See the green button at the center of the pic? Thats the cutoff switch

What is it? Its just a dead-man switch on the bars. Press it and for as long as you hold it, the motor is cut off. Release it and the motor re-engages. Its a brake cutoff that has no brake pads. The other end of the switch has a yellow Higo/Julet that connects directly to the BBSHD’s motor cutoff plug.

In practice, I found it took too much thinking to reach for the button just prior to a shift. It felt forced and I didn’t take to it. Maybe you will and if so its a dirt cheap and simple method to try that doesn’t involve screwing around with your shift cables.

Adapt your pedal cadence

This is the method I settled on, and even after buying and successfully using a gear sensor, I have never felt a need to install another one. This method is just a natural part of my riding style now and is trained into muscle memory… so I do it naturally and automatically on any bike no matter what. Here’s what I do, in order. These steps occur in very rapid succession so making a shift happen occurs in about one to 1 1/2 seconds.

  • Step 1: Stop pedaling.
  • Step 2: Click the shift (just one gear).
  • Step 3: Start pedaling. Muscle power completes the shift before the motor kicks in

Thats it. Do it fast and its just a quick stutter in your cadence. Changing your BBSxx settings so they are friendly to pedaling helps. The linked settings will cut the motor off fast and start it back up soft. Perfect for completing a shift.

When you get good at this, you will be able to click your shift a hair before the motor stops the rotation of the chainring. My more recent builds use SRAM 11 speed drivetrains that need only about 1/4 of a cog revolution to complete a shift. So if I do it right, I click while there is still a ghost of rotation left that makes the shift, so when I start pedaling again I’m already working with a shifted gearset.

But…

Don’t try and get fancy right out of the gate. Just keep it simple and get the shift done. The high speed fancy stuff will come naturally as you gain experience.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with a gear sensor. They do their job. I just learned how to do without one. Having done that, I don’t feel a need to make the effort to install the sensors anymore.

In an ideal world, you do both. Truth be told I screw up every now and then. With the cadence technique and the sensor backing it up, you are pretty much guaranteed to never snap a chain thanks to shifting like a fathead.

Dual Motor AWD Electric Bikes – Case Study: Twin Geared Hub Commuter

A big bruiser geared specifically to be pedaled hard at 32-34 mph, this is my commuter workout-workhorse. Don’t want to sweat? Just relax and pedal easy… at 28 mph.

AWD Ebikes Menu
AWD. OMG. WTF!
Case Study – Flatland Fat Bike Commuter. Hub+Hub (you are here)
Case Study – Alpine Road & Trail. Hub+Mid Drive
Case Study – Low-Power Cargo Beast. Hub+Mid Drive

The Great Pumpkin

  • 2 x 750w 80Nm geared Bafang G060 hubs
  • 1 x 52v, 30ah battery with Samsung 30Q cells, 90a continuous BMS
  • 2 x 35a KT brand controllers
  • 2 x KT brand displays
  • 160 Nm total power

The Great Pumpkin remains my fast commuter workhorse. This bike is meant for transportation to and from a destination, not sightseeing. As such it is designed to travel as close to the safe, legal speed limit as possible. Here in California the assist limit is 28 mph, I stay on the street (no shared-use bike paths allowed) and this bike’s gears are made to let me power it up past that 28 mph limit to about 34 mph – if I am strong enough to pull it off.


A note on speeds and our local roads here, and how they influence the design and capabilities of this ebike:  in California the law limits ebikes to 28 mph (45 km/h) of assist.  Thats an assist limit, not a speed limit.   The maximum lawful speed is the posted motor vehicle speed limit, adjusted downward if necessary to maintain safety.  So if you can pedal the bike faster than 28, thats fine so long as doing that is "safe for conditions".  

These speeds seem like a lot to readers in some parts of the world.  But remember here in the USA we've got open roads that are nothing like you see in many urban centers in, for example, the EU.  The two pictures above come from two different places along my 15-mile commute route.  The speed limit signs are in mph not km/h.  Bear in mind drivers regularly exceed these limits by a significant margin so in rush hour traffic a 30 mph bike is by far the slowest thing on the tarmac, with no pedestrian issues to speak of.  So, on streets like this, if I can pedal to 34 mph - and oftentimes I can - thats perfectly legal.  In fact I have been paced and radar'd by police cruisers and motorcycle traffic enforcement many times without incident.

So the secondary purpose of this bike is to enable me to work hard while still transporting me to Point B at a practical speed. You’ve heard how ebikes let you arrive at your destination without getting all sweaty? Well, this one lets you arrive all sweaty on purpose if you like.

The geared hub motors let it accelerate fast in traffic, and despite its necessary lack of suspension, the fat tires (and the suspension seatpost) let it ride well on lousy pavement. It has over 7000 miles on it at present (March 2021), and benefits from all of the learning I got the hard way building its predecessors. In fact, I am using the same set of wheels I had built for my very first AWD ebike: The Colonel. This is a testament to finding a good wheelbuilder at the Local Bike Shop of your choice and have them build you a quality wheel with quality components.

Fresh from the wheel builder in March of 2017. DT Champion 2.0 spokes, 16mm brass nipples, double-wall Weinmann 80mm rims. Still going strong today, three bike builds later.

Motor Choice

The Pumpkin is a flat-country bike. Dual geared hubs are powerful, but hub motors – since they power thru the axle and cannot use gears – are just single-speed. Despite their power and ability to handle lots of current, they can get the bike up steep hillside streets, but they struggle doing it. Riding this bike in the Carmel/Pacific Grove portion of the Monterey Bay Area, where nothing is flat, I found it could climb anything but it lugged its motors mightily doing so, to the point I feared for their long life. But if you live on flat land (and this bike’s permanent home is in the table-flat San Joaquin Valley), this is the design that will gobble up pavement for lunch. It will get you where you need to be safely and quickly as an ebike can legally travel.

Why didn’t I choose maintenance-free direct drive hubs? Because they lack torque, and that means slow acceleration unless I load the bike down with bigger, higher voltage batteries and motors with much more unsprung mass.

Battery

Having done it the wrong way before out of necessity (translation: too expensive) I put in a single big battery on this bike. It has the biggest battery I could fit into the triangle of this XL-sized frame (A Chumba Ursa Major made with chromoly tubing). A 14S9p (52v) pack that uses Samsung 30Q cells to give me about 30ah. That means it takes awhile to charge. But it also takes awhile to drain, and this single battery is placed down in the triangle where it does not reduce the carry capacity of the bike, or screw up its performance with schlocky placement of a battery on the rear rack.

But doing an AWD bike with a single battery means you have to address more than just size. The Battery Management System (BMS) has to be able to handle the amp draw of two motors simultaneously. Looking for batteries out in the wild that can do this… you’ll find almost none that are capable of it.

Initial battery fitment prior to connecting the power and charging cables. The bag hides a multitude of cable-routing sins.

How do you calculate the sort of battery you need? You take the peak output of both of your motors and add them together. Your BMS’ “continuous” power rating has to be more than that peak to ensure your motors never trip the BMS’ limits. If they do, to reset the battery you have to hook it up to a charger, which is unlikely to be handy on the side of any road you’re traveling on.

So, with a 35a rear controller and a 35a front controller, I need a battery with a 70a continuous (or more) BMS, and thats a special order item. In my case, the BMS can handle 80a continuous current.

Controllers and Wiring

The 35 amp KT brand rear motor controller is sitting under the saddle, zip-tied neatly with small clear, low-visibility ties to the seatpost mounting arms of the rear rack. This puts the controller in open air to keep its heat down. It will reach temperatures of 135 degrees fahrenheit if stored enclosed. A home-made fender comprising of an extended commercial mudguard and cut-to-size flexible cutting board provides complete coverage from water coming up off the rear tire.

The front motor controller is an identical 35 amp KT, housed in the handlebar bag. This bag has had reinforced brass grommet holes placed strategically inside and out so cables can pass thru its inside compartments to the outside of the bag, without creating issues of splashing water (here again extended fenders help). The top of the bag is left zipped open and this keeps heat from becoming a problem. The front motor cable travels directly up and into this bag, while cables for pedal assist, brake cutoffs, display and throttle exit out either a grommeted side entry or out the open top of the bag. The bag itself essentially hides all of the front motor cabling rats’ nest, both by housing excess wire inside itself and via natural camouflage, providing a black backdrop to black cables running along and woven into its MOLLE exterior. Cables exiting and entering are carefully bundled together for neatness.

Is that a controller mounted to the front rack? Nope its a 5 amp weatherproof charger, with the cables housed in the dump pouch, just behind it.

The center triangle bag is stuffed mostly full with the custom-sized triangle battery. Like any triangle bag on an ebike, it also serves to hide excess wiring, and given the dual custom splitters for brake cutoff signals and pedal assist (one sensor signal is split off to both motors for simultaneous PAS power) there is plenty of wiring that thankfully remains invisible thanks to this bag, which seldom needs to be opened. The bag has forward and rear-facing cable holes that don’t suffer from water ingestion, again thanks to the fender setup. A capped XT60 charger plug is coming out the front of the bag just behind (and shielded by) the head tube, and this cap is removed and a charger is plugged in here to recharge the battery.

Display/Controls

Ergonomically, the cockpit is very well designed and reflects this being my third or fourth try at doing the job. There is one throttle for each thumb in easy reach, and both throttles are clocked so when fully engaged, the paddle is pointing straight down. If you hit a pothole your thumb doesn’t push thru and break the throttle. It slips off instead. The PAS panel is also one-per-side, and also within thumb reach without losing your grip on the bars. SRAM 9-speed shifters are in use, because a SRAM shifter gives you enough real estate on a handgrip (vs. Shimano) to stack multiple hand controls and still be able to easily reach everything.

Cockpit view. Notice the max speed reading on the top display. I used the gears and got a workout on the ride into the office that day.

Despite the duplicated motors and controllers, the displays are mismatched simply because I am re-using parts from older bikes no longer on the front line (in this case parts came off The Purple Thing). For this build I needed a new display and the KT model LCD8H was available, so I grabbed one. It is the same display as the KT model LCD3 above it, used for the front motor. The LCD8H is just in color and easier to configure.

And in case you noticed… yes this is a bike with Class 3/Speed Pedelec performance that has throttles. Reality is, though, the bike is designed specifically as a pedelec. Pedaling acceleration via PAS is plenty fast and is in fact (thanks to controller settings) a little faster than using the throttles. They are only put into use typically for a split second on take-off from a standing start while I regain my balance on the bike and settle in to pedaling. If I am crossing a 4-lane street, I am off the throttles before I get past the first lane while crossing and won’t touch them again until the next stop at the next intersection.

Power (too hot)

These two 80Nm motors have controllers feeding 35a to each axle provide giggle-inducing acceleration. So much so I found performance needs to be turned down for multiple reasons:

#1 (Safety). Come to a stop at an intersection. Acceleration is so strong from a stop, you leap forward so fast you are always the first vehicle that gets to the other side, and you’d better be hanging on. Thats fine if you meant to do that. If on the other hand you accidentally engaged pedal assist, you could be throwing yourself – literally – into the path of a car.

#2 – (Safety). Come to a stop at an intersection. Put your feet down, release the bars and take a drink or something. If you engage again (pedal assist or throttle) and forget to put your handlebars straight, your front wheel will shoot off in the direction its pointed in. Typically a bad thing.

#3 – (Fork survival). With this much torque pulling on the front fork, things start to happen that a bicycle was never stressed or designed for. A front fork was never designed to be pulled on hard, for extended periods or in sudden jerks. Especially not day after day for days and weeks stretching into years.

#4 – (Frame survival). This one was unexpected: Even though I am using a highly durable hand-made-in-USA frame, I still found it was straining under the repeated daily stress of stoplight-to-stoplight acceleration from the rear motor. Specifically I started to hear creaks from the rear triangle and dropouts. eek.

#5 – (Safety again for crying out loud!). I use fat street-smoothie tires in summer. Doing that with the motors unrestrained makes for about a half rotation of front wheel spin on full throttle, and maybe a 1/4 spin on pedal assist… and a goodly chirp out of the back, at the least (lots more if the ground is not clean, dry pavement). Thats fun for an afternoon showing off but more than that and its just plain dangerous.

Power (just right)

To slow down the bike so it accelerates at a safe rate on city streets, and doesn’t wear itself out from all the extra stress of doing this day in and day out, I utilize a setting in each of the two KT brand controllers that sets the power curve to ‘slow start’: C5=00 is undocumented on all but the newest KT display manuals. Where it is documented, it is listed as the most restricted of the three ‘slow start’ modes.

What this does is create an acceleration curve slope that is shallow at tip-in but increasingly steep as it continues forward. Here’s the crazy-cool part: Even dialed way down on both motors this bike is still typically faster than anything else crossing the intersection from a standing start. So you aren’t missing out on much in the way of fun if you want to pour on the amps. Its just safe, sane and controllable when its put on a leash.

Torque Arms (!)

I’m not going to get too deep into the specifics of this topic, but I will say if you use hub motors you have to use torque arms. Gotta do it. Thats for any motor that has ‘flats’ on its axle to allow their use (which is almost all of them). It is true many motors do not need torque arms because they are of such low power. I will say having suffered the consequences of not using one, its WAY better to be safe than sorry and just go ahead and install them regardless of motor power.

What could happen? If you don’t use a torque arm, the force of the motor will overwhelm your bicycle’s dropouts and the motor will “spin out”. That means your steel dropouts will not be able to contain the motor’s axle, which will spin (instead of the motor casing spinning) and when that happens the dropouts spread. Your frame or fork is effectively destroyed and unsalvageable at that point. These 750w, 80Nm motors are right on the edge of demanding two torque arms. For sure they need one. I have used two on the front motor and one on the rear, where the stronger rear dropouts are much less likely to have an issue.

Gearing

Last but not least… take a look at the pictures on this page and you will see the biggest front chainring ever on a fat bike. Look to the back axle and you may be looking at the smallest cluster. And the derailleur is a mid-length cage, to boot. Fact is, this bike was geared to be pedaled fast on the street, not overland on trails as is the norm for fat bikes.

The front chainring is a 50T ring, while the rear cluster has an 11T small cog. Frankly I forget the size of the biggest cog because I never use it. Its 28T… Maybe 30. And since the hubs on this bike are the motors, powering the bike thru the axle, not the drivetrain, gearing is largely useless unless I want to pedal faster while going slow. This almost never happens because this bike should not be taken on pedestrian paths or similar where such slow travel is necessary.

Redundancy

For a daily driver bike that is transportation, not recreation, you need to address many areas to ensure reliable, day-in, day-out operation. There are many issues addressed on that topic with this bike, but I’ll only touch on the AWD-specific ones here. In a word: Redundancy. If you do a general overview of this bike’s propulsion systems, you will see almost everything but the battery is a separate, independent system. None of this is accidental or done because I was forced to do so (you can buy controller solutions that reach out to two motors at once, for instance). Its done this way because its better. Dual throttles are better. Setting PAS independently per wheel is better than combining the two. Even two different displays let you focus on different bits of each (although that one I could do without if push came to shove).

Redundancy on a dual motor bike can be a big benefit. I’ve had one unfortunate lesson in this: I went over the handlebars and slammed straight down on the pavement, cracking some ribs. I also bent my front fork (just a little) and smashed my rear throttle, among other things. That broken throttle disabled the rear motor despite all other components being in working order. I was able to limp the bike home without pedaling, which I really needed given the cracked ribs and various and sundry other minor injuries.

This is one more reason by the way, why I want throttles on the bike. If I am physically unable to pedal I want to be able to get me and the bike home, or to the emergency room as the case may be.

Gallery

And THAT is my rain or shine daily driver.

Dual Motor AWD Electric Bikes (the good and bad)

I like to build top-quality-component ebikes from the frame up. Quite a few of them are dual motor or AWD or 2WD or whatever you want to call them. Why would you build an AWD ebike?

AWD Ebikes Menu
AWD. OMG. WTF! (you are here)
Case Study – Flatland Fat Bike Commuter. Hub+Hub
Case Study – Alpine Road & Trail. Hub+Mid Drive
Case Study – Low-Power Cargo Beast. Hub+Mid Drive

In the Beginning…

Well, I could spell ‘ebike’ and that was about it. I had a solid background as a lifelong cyclist, but I went over to the Dark Side and started riding ebikes. I had been working on my own bikes for most of my life and I was pretty good at that part.

So, as an experienced cyclist but a newbie ebike owner I came across a bike built by my (now) friend Houshmand Moarefi, who is the head honcho over at Ebikes USA in Denver. He took the same model of rear-hub-motor ebike I had, upgraded the rear motor, then added a front motor, controller and surrounding bits to make a badass AWD e-fatbike. He posted his creation on the Interwebs.

Figure 1: Houshmand Moarefi’s 2wd Sondors Original. Want to know what dual-motor is good for on an ebike? Just look here. He still rides this bike and you can see it on display at Ebikes USA in Denver.

After seeing the bike online – and peppering Houshmand with questions – I did what everyone on the internet does: shamelessly copied his idea. It is pictured in Figure 2 below. This was taken the night I completed it, moments before I opened that garage door and took my first ride.

Figure 2: AWD by Matt… Version 1.0000. a.k.a. The Colonel (“Colonel Sondors”). How much did I have to learn about doing AWD right? I’ll have to make a list.

Its a good thing I took the picture, as 15 minutes later I broke it. I got it fixed and it gave me years of service, but thats another story entirely. Suffice it to say in that pictured moment, we see triumph and despair occurring almost simultaneously.

What are we in for, building one of these things?

First… “Whhyyy?”

Why put two motors on an ebike? Well… “because we can” works. But lets do better than that.

Is it even possible?

Not so long ago, internet experts in the DIY ebike crafting community would tell you all about how a powered awd ebike could not even function in the first place.

  1. The powered wheels would fight for supremacy between each other.
  2. It is essential to match the power to both wheels but impossible to do so.
  3. Even slight differences in wheel circumference between the two would make terrible things happen.
  4. blah blah blah

So, I was being told it could not be done after having put thousands of successful miles on a bike that could not exist. A lesson on the value of internet experts. Only value the advice of those who have done the work and actually know things.

I don’t want to get too deep into a litany of refutation on common mistakes, but I do want to clear up a couple that come up the most often. All three, really, are more or less re-statements of the same misconception:

Matching Power (current) to the Wheels

This is a common worry, but not a real one as you will discover moments into your first ride. The concern is dissimilar power levels cause problems. They don’t. Tailoring power front to back as conditions change is a major benefit to AWD. In simple clean/dry conditions, all that will happen is the wheel that gets less power doesn’t work as hard.

The easiest way to understand how this is: Geared hubs freewheel forward. So the same thing happens if you have no motor on the back and you are, say, going down a hill with a front motor. The watt output of the front motor decreases as gravity ‘powers’ the speed increase (or you pedal your little heart out on flat ground). Likewise, differences in circumference are a non issue. This is true in bikes with slightly different tire sizes, but is most visibly proven with the in-service bike pictured below.

Figure 3: Different types of motors with perpetually different outputs… and totally different wheel sizes. It still works great.
Contention

Here again, one ride will lay this concern to rest. Two motors will not fight for supremacy with each other despite differing power levels. Partly because of the geared hub’s ability to freewheel. You should take it for granted you will have different power levels on each axle. I commonly keep low power on my front wheel (I will expand on why further on) but for my hub+hub commuter I often just go full blast on each motor and pedal up over top of it. In that instance, with two big motors giving it their all I only very rarely feel a bit of a shift in pull vs. push and it is very minor. Another technique on that bike: 5 levels of PAS on the rear wheel plus 5 on the front means that – in good conditions where I do not vary the power for safety – I have PAS with 5+5=10 levels. As I want more I ratchet up the rear a notch, then the front, then the rear and so on never giving all PAS power to just one wheel.

One Throttle/Two Motors

You don’t want this. You can have it but you are selling yourself and the platform short if you go to the extra amount of trouble to make it happen. I will get into some real world specifics of why this is later on. The short version is if you unify the throttles or even work harder to unify PAS power levels to the two wheels you will be introducing problems with traction and control. You want to keep your control granular. It won’t be confusing or difficult!

What About Two Direct Drive Hubs With Regen?

What I said above doesn’t apply. If you expect to use regen on a twin-DD-hub AWD bike then you are talking about a whole different animal in terms of two hub motors coexisting. I know its been done, but I have never done it personally. I will let some other pioneer on the trail take the arrows in the back on that one (I suspect: regen can be used on the rear but not on the front… or just don’t do regen at all with DD hubs).

A final point: Years into having AWD bikes in service, there are now numerous commercially-produced examples in plain sight. The arguments that it cannot be done have melted away now that so many have obviously done it.

Figure 4: The Purple Thing. Built after the death of The Colonel (cracked frame not related to AWD)

So YES you can do AWD. The question is are you doing it right? Well, thats a whole ‘nother thing.

Whats the Up Side?

Take a look at Figure 1 for the most obvious example: All Wheel Drive on a bicycle is every bit as good of an idea on a bike for the reasons it is a good idea on a car, truck or ATV. On other vehicles, putting more power to your back wheels is not as good of a solution as putting power down to all wheels. It is the same on a bicycle, but so few have done it, the result is not the obvious no-brainer it is on other platforms.

If conditions are sub-optimal, as in rain, snow, mud, riverbed rocks, hillsides and whatnot… AWD on a bike gets you through it easier, across the board. If conditions are ridiculously bad, AWD can get you thru things you thought were impossible to ride. Oftentimes so easily you stop, look back and wonder how the hell you just did that.

The range of things you can ride through just got a lot wider.

If on the other hand if conditions are just dandy – say, a smooth, flat, dry paved street – having both wheels deliver power to the ground is again an improvement for all the same reasons it is better on an exotic sports car. Powered traction is delivered to the ground across twice as much rubber. Everything just works better.

And since the improvement makes for a qualitative, but drama-free result, its really hard to describe other than to say ‘everything just works better” or “this feels wonderful, like how it was meant to be” … which do not help much when explaining AWD to skeptics. Nonetheless… the nebulous, big-brush-stroke description is accurate.

In terms of acceleration, doing it with AWD vs. RWD is a very different rider experience. You aren’t being pinned to your seat, nor is your body wanting to slide off the back while you hold onto the handlebars for dear life. Instead you get an amazing rate of acceleration, but it is smooth and – again – without drama. The feeling is its effortless for the bike to do what it is doing.

Mechanically there are benefits as well. If you are keeping tabs on the amount of heat your motor generates, you’ll find gunning one motor around will get so hot you may not be able to touch it for awhile. Not so good, especially with nylon gears inside. But: Run two geared hub motors as a team to achieve the same performance and by some miracle the two don’t even get a fraction as hot as did the one. All of a sudden a motor that was working itself to death isn’t even breaking a sweat, and you’re going at least as fast and as hard.

How is this possible? In May of 2020 Grin Technologies did a detailed technical analysis of multi-motor ebikes. They explain how this is possible, complete with the technical details on why it happens. Its well worth a watch if you are interested in taking a deep technical dive on your AWD ebike options. I have queue’d up the video in the link below to the exact spot where he explains the heat reduction.

Another issue not generally considered is redundancy. With two motors, if something bad happens on your ride and you lose a motor, you still have another and can limp home on it. I learned this the hard way once when I went over the handlebars on my twin-hub Great Pumpkin. I smashed one of the throttles and disabled the rear motor completely. I managed to roll home on the front motor without needing to pedal. With freshly cracked ribs that was exactly what I needed.

Whats the Down Side?

AWD is not all sunshine and roses. There are down sides. Most of them only affect the bike builder. But a few do affect the rider, so we’ll look at the negatives from both perspectives.

For The Builder…

Put simply, AWD on an ebike is one hell of a lot more work. There is so much more you have to keep track of. So many more wires that have to be hidden.

Fig. 5: Custom brake cutoff splitters and extensions for sending signals to 2 controllers

You have to address the issue of brake cutoffs going to two separate motors simultaneously. Pedal-assist to two motors at once is a beautiful thing. But only for the person riding the bike. For the builder it typically means customized controller settings and maybe even a little fabrication to get a sensor signal to two motors at once.

Fig. 6: PAS splitter cable (one sensor –> 2 controllers)

Battery power? You’re going to need a big battery, and it needs to deliver more power than pretty much any regular ebike battery available on the open market. So you either have a single custom pack made or kludge together off-the-shelf packs and suffer through the weight and space issues that go with them.

Fig. 7: Cutout sized, marked and photo sent to the battery builder. All thats left is to drain my bank account.

What does a front motor need in terms of structural support? You’d better think that one through. NEVER use a suspension fork in an AWD build. Your motor can literally pull the thing apart. Whoever designed a bicycle fork never expected a powerful motor would be pulling on it for extended periods, or in sudden jerks. Thats tough on a chromoly fork but they can handle it. Its typically too much for an alloy fork (aluminum is nice and light but doesn’t bend: it breaks) and it is definitely too much for a suspension fork that has 2-piece blades that can be literally pulled apart.

Not to mention fork dropouts. A hub motor must have torque arms attached that prevent the motor from ‘spinning out’ (That is how I broke the Colonel on its maiden voyage; destroying its fork dropouts). You generally cannot use quality torque arms on a suspension fork due to its physical construction. If so, the dropouts have to endure 100% of the punishment and… newsflash … they may survive today but they won’t have the kind of long life they would have had without a motor axle trying to tear thru them.. Internet discussion groups are chock full of pictures of DIY builds where someone used a front hub motor and their suspension fork’s dropouts snapped clean apart. Even with a torque arm.

We’re not done with the front fork yet. Regardless of construction, that pulling on it can loosen your headset at an alarmingly fast rate depending on your power and acceleration levels. If its a problem you have, you will want to think of ways to keep that headset in place (psssst… use two star nuts) and while you are at it, make sure you use a superduty headset with steel races. And a serious mtb stem that clamps the crap out of your steering tube.

You can google “broken ebike fork” or just follow this link (one of many) on Endless Sphere to see more electric motor + fork carnage.

So… How do you get away with using a front suspension fork, then? You see people do it with front-motor bikes. Assuming they thought the job through and are not just future emergency-room visitors, its simple: use a very low power motor. Or neuter a powerful motor and trust the buyer won’t know any better because hey… nobody has any actual experience with these things so you can give them just a little power and they will still be thrilled.

So… to build or sell an AWD bike its a whole lot of work for the same result (a single finished bike). Its no wonder AWD bikes are not common, and when they are up for sale, the seller wants a high price. Assuming they did their job right (never assume), a lot of work went into that bike.

Fig. 8: Wires everywhere. I have to figure out a way to hide all this…

For The Rider…

Fortunately, the downsides of AWD are minimal if all you have to do is ride the bike. But they do exist. All of the negatives can be eliminated if you just realize this bike is a new kind of animal and take it easy when starting out. So… learn how to handle the increased traction, power, and the subtly different behavior.

Dual Throttle

If your bike builder did the job right (I’ve said that two times so far and not by accident), you have two throttles – one for each thumb – to let you apply power granularly to each motor as the needs of the moment come up. Thats a new feature you will need a bit of time to learn how to take best advantage of. The basics of this will be learned by the time you have traveled about one city block. The finer points will take some experience – not a lot – to figure out.

  1. Holding down the front throttle in a turn has the end result of elongating your turn radius (this is about how you naturally ride, not how the bike handles… but it still happens). You cannot take a turn as sharply if applying front throttle, and could wind up smashing into the center median in a right turn in traffic, or the curb in a left turn thru an intersection. There is an easy solution: stop pedaling, release front throttle, turn in, re-engage front throttle just at turn-in so the slight delay will engage the motor right about at the moment of corner exit. Leave rear throttle engaged throughout the turn if you can safely get away with it). That turn procedure all takes place in the space of about two seconds. It will become second nature in short order. But it has to be learned. Now… thats how you hot rod your way thru a turn. You won’t want to do that all the time, and mostly you will go thru a turn no differently than you do on any ebike.
  2. On singletrack/trails, less power to the front wheel is more. Rip down a trail, hit a root and the front wheel bounces up. If it comes down pointed in a different direction than you are headed, your now-powered front wheel will shoot off in that new direction if its going full blast. Keep front motor pedal assist power low – much lower than what you have set for the rear. Then when the inevitable happens its easy to deal with. I’ve found pedal assist dialed down in the 200-250w range is best. If you decide you want more front wheel power at any point, a dab of throttle will do ya. You know you are overdoing it if you get any level of wheel spin in the front.
  3. You are no longer the slowest thing accelerating from a stop at an intersection. So if you are not the first vehicle in the left turn lane, Your instinctive use of full throttles to both motors will rocket you right into the rear bumper of the car in front of you. This is an easy fix. In a left-turn-lane situation, initially use only rear throttle, then add the front when the car in front of you starts to pick up speed. Dial it back again as that car completes their turn and lifts on their own throttle before straightening out. Or you can just hit the front throttle for a split second to get yourself rolling from a stop, then drop it and let PAS manage the rest.

Clearly from these examples, manual AWD acceleration (separate from pedal assist) is a learning process. A dual throttle is a big part of getting this down pat without needing to dumb down the bike’s performance.

You can run an AWD bike with a single shared throttle, but doing so means you will be lifting more frequently and when you do its all-on or all-off. You will lose the ability to decide for yourself what happens. The result is more jerky and less refined.

Battery

If your bike builder did the job right (there it is again), its got a single big battery with a high capacity Battery Management System (BMS) capable of handling the peak and continuous loads of both motors running together. For the rider who has such a setup, the only thing necessary is to set aside enough quality time on a charger to get this bike up to snuff to carry the day’s ride.

Fig. 9: The Purple Thing was … Gen 1.5. Rear motor battery in triangle, front motor battery in the rear rack pack. Front controller in the handlebar bag. Rear controller is in open air under the seat on the rack stays (best for cooling).

For the rider not lucky enough to get a proper battery, that means – at the least – putting up with dual batteries in positions that reduce carry capacity. The rear rack typically gets the duty for one battery in a dual-pack system, so whatever your rack’s capacity was, take off 10 lbs and only use the sides. You may also have to deal with charging the two batteries separately, which is a big drag on convenience and turnaround. You *will* have days where you forget to go and switch the charger to the other battery. Speaking personally: Been there, done that.

Fig. 10: One of my Gen 1.0 iterations with the front motor battery in the bag under the handlebars. Don’t ever do this (but the dual kickstand worked *great*).
Maintenance

Two motors = two sets of service intervals. In practice this should not be a big deal, but fair is fair – we have to count this as double the effort on motor maintenance. This is the part where the direct drive hub people all jump up and remind you for the 100th time their hubs need no maintenance. You will also get slightly increased wear on the front tire, now that its powered.

Commercial Feasibility

I’ve made it pretty clear what I think a proper feature set is for these sorts of bikes, based on the fact I started doing it a while ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to work thru a variety of designs and iterations to find out what works best.

  • Dual throttle
  • Single hi-current battery low and centered
  • Redundant, dual controllers and displays
  • NO front suspension
  • Shared signals from sensors

All you have to do is look at what is out there commercially to see none of them do this. When I look, I see the sort of features – and mistakes – from when I first started kludging AWD bikes together. The reality is, from a commercial perspective we are unlikely to make much headway forward in the near term. Why?

Money… thats why. What I describe is maximum-cost given its redundancy. Its also darned expensive to build an XL battery with a high capacity BMS, and in addition to that, there is the issue of minimum order quantities from component/battery manufacturers. I don’t see a proper AWD bike coming from a commercial vendor unless one goes on a mission to sell a great bike and not take such a high profit margin.

More likely to happen: Development of a suspension fork strong enough to withstand the pull of a front motor over the long haul. It remains to be seen if ANY of those in use now on commercial AWD bikes is going to last. We’ll have to see if product liability issues (and injuries) ensue from whats in use now, or whether the sellers have de-tuned the front motors sufficiently to let those forks survive. But down the road, this is definitely something that could successfully evolve.

Something that came on stage right about the time I published this article is the Eunorau Defender-S on Indiegogo. That is a full-suspension bike, so there’s the front-suspension concern. Given its late-2021 delivery date (plenty of time to figure stuff out), the fact this vendor is going nowhere near any obviously phony claims, and reliable people who know the company are giving it a serious look, this AWD bike may be something of a landmark for the species both in price and thoughtful use of components.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the AWD motorcycles, bikes and ebikes developed by Christini, where they have created a unique, robust, mature – and patented – system to share the power from one motor (rider or electric) to two wheels via mechanical linkage. Lets say that a different way so its clear what they have accomplished: They tap into the power of a single motor (either the rider or a BBSHD) and use that to successfully, reliably power two wheels. Its pretty neat stuff.

What does all this mean for the DIY ebiker? Well, the tools and components are out there for you to build your own, and do it considerably better or less expensively (or both) than anything available in the commercial marketplace.

Fat chance you’ll see a tree-climber like this in stores near you anytime soon.

Wrapping It All Up

The best way to see what good can come from an AWD bike is to look at some representative examples. I have chosen three that work very well for me, and do so in very different ways. Because we’ve gotten to a good place to pause with this post, I’ll do so and point you to the individual case studies that should be linked together in the menu up top.

Bafang Mid Motor: Multiple Speed Magnets

Some Bafang BBSHD and BBS02 programming tutorials say Speed Meter Signals must be set to 1 or bad things happen. They are right. They are also totally wrong.

This is going to be a quickee post to show off a little spiff you can do on a Bafang mid drive, and point out something wrong I see in some tutorials or forum posts about Bafang BBSHD / BBS02 settings. Specifically:

The Speed Meter Signal

Put simply: It does not have to be set to ‘1’. But I am getting ahead of myself. Lets start from the beginning:

At the root of the matter is the BBSxx Speed Sensor. If you buy one as part of a kit, or on its own, this is what you get for roughly US$20:

Figure 1: L to R: Sensor magnet, sensor base, sensor and underneath, the two screws used in the install

The speed sensor magnet attaches to one of your spokes. You attach the sensor to your chainstay (usually) and position it so the magnet passes close to it as the wheel rotates. The sensor detects the magnet’s passing and calculates your speed, via a rotation count and knowing your wheel diameter via a separate setting.

Figure 2: The speed meter installed on the chainstay.

So if you buy the typical sensor, you get one magnet, one sensor, and you need to set the Speed Meter Signal to ‘1’. Is that setting because you have one speed sensor?

No. Speed Meter Signals counts the number of magnets. Not the number of sensors. Each magnet is a signal. Got one magnet? Set it to 1. Got two? Three (for a 36-hole wheel)? Four? Change the setting accordingly and it works great.

Figure 3: The Speed Sensor settings from my Luna Black Box, with the setting in question circled.

Why do we need more than one?

The one magnet works pretty good as it is, so nobody really gets too deep into this. Plus nobody sells Bafang speed sensor magnets by themselves. So to do this you are talking about roughly $20 per magnet because you have to buy a whole speed sensor assembly.

But… what if you don’t? Cateye sells a sensor magnet all by itself. It is cheap, widely available and can be gotten cheaper in a 2-pak. Here’s one, close up:

I have found these can just be tightened onto a spoke by hand, and they do not need any thread locker to stay tight (adding some Vibra Tite would not be such a bad idea). Reportedly these magnets work over a much greater distance than their Bafang cousins, which is another benefit.

Get To The Point!

Fine here it is. Look for the speed sensor magnet in the picture.

Figure 4: How many lights do you see, Picard?

There are four lights magnets on this wheel. One every 8 spokes. I have the Speed Meter Signals reading set to 4. The improvement is not earthshaking but I do get the following:

  1. My speed reading on my display updates faster and more smoothly. Quadrupling the signal input is a good thing which is not a surprise.
  2. The Cateye magnets are smaller and lighter by a fair bit than the Bafang magnet assembly. This results in the wheel getting thrown less off-balance than when using that big heavy Bafang doodad (even if you place it opposite the valve stem to even out the weight distribution).
  3. Four magnets placed equidistantly around a wheel make for a more balanced wheel spin. Its minor. But when spinning the wheel with the motor when the bike is up on the stand the lesser amount of shaking is noticeable.

Using just two sensors (the 2-pak of Cateye sensors is only $9.95) gives a noticeable improvement as well. Enough that 4 sensors is not noticeably better or worth even the minimal the cost/effort. I can’t help but think that two magnets means two points of potential failure rather than four. This weekend I’m going to go back to two magnets.

So…

You can take this tidbit as useful in a couple of ways: A cheap, lightweight, stronger magnet replacement or a way to get a better speed signal to your display.

Its not a big improvement, but it is a nice little one.

Big Fat Dummy: Leftovers

We hit the high points of the Surly Big Fat Dummy build. Lets wrap it up with a discussion of some odds and ends

The Surly BFD Project Menu
Prologue
Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?!
Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders
Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos
Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar.
Episode 5: Leftovers (you are here)
Episode 6: Electrification

Basket-Case Handlebars

One of the most notable features of this Big Fat Dummy are its handlebars with the integrated basket made of thick, hollow alloy tubing. At first glance, these are nothing more than EVO Brooklyn integrated-basket handlebars. Here’s a factory-stock picture of them.

Now lets take a look at the ones on my Surly Big Fat Dummy. Notice a difference?

Figure 1. Hint: Look at the grips

The grips give it away: I extended the handlebars so now they have a width of about 810mm. I am using ESI Extra Chunky 8.25″ grips to cover the extensions and give me an extra-long gripping area, suitable for multiple hand/seating positions (choke up and hammer it, sit up and cruise). Just like on a pair of Jones bars, the brakes can be reached from any position on the handgrip.

The grips give something else away: the bar extensions have a smaller diameter than the stock handlebars. At first I planned to use the extension you see in the pics below as an internal sleeve coupler between another bit of tubing, the same outside diameter as the handlebars. After seeing it in place and thinking this ‘coupler’ had potential on its own, I covered one side in a grip to see what it felt like. The two diameters worked for me and I decided to stop there.

I like the lesser diameter as a sort of change to the handhold. Good for longer rides where I want to vary my grip to reduce fatigue. The wide outer hold is better suited to comfy cruising anyway, so between that and the added thickness provided by the fat ESI grips: The lesser diameter section feels normal. The point of transition between the two diameters is also another form of handhold variation. It is just one more way to grip the bars differently on a long ride to change up what part of my hand is getting pressure.

What about the bar extensions themselves?

They are a bit of aluminum bar stock whose outside diameter is very near that of the inside diameter of the handlebars. Some fairly pricey stuff can be found at specialty hardware sites. I stumbled upon pre-cut bar stock with the right OD; already cut in the perfect length, so I didn’t even need to put a saw to it. (I did chamfer and bevel the inner and outer edges with the same tool I list in the Big Fat Wideloaders post). I bought two of these and that part of the job was done.

Specifically, the material is 6061-T6 aluminum bar with a 0.625″ (5/8″) outside diameter, a 0.375″ inside diameter (0.125″ wall thickness). Each bit of tubing is 10″ long. On the off chance its a link that will live on (its live as of today, several months after my purchase), here is what I purchased.

How did I affix it inside the handlebars? A combination of things hold these extensions firmly in place:

  1. The inside diameter is a close fit but not a tight fit. I wrapped a single layer of silicone tape around the inner bar in two places with a gap of a few inches in between. Just enough to make it a seriously tight fit.
  2. I spread/glopped some JB Weld around the outside diameter of the inner bar, in between those silicone tape wraps, before insertion. That makes for a bit of a seal for the application of the JB Weld and ensures during insertion it builds up into enough to fill the gap between both bars.
  3. I inserted the bar fully and then used a 2-lb sledge to make sure it was for-sure seated inside the handlebar.
  4. Stretching/installing the ESI grips over the assembled, extended bars provides, in and of itself, a strong hold that prevents movement.

One last note: Even at an 810mm width and extended grip length, the ESI grips are just a skootch too long for this bar, considering the controls I have to mount on whats left of its straight portion. I turned that bug into a feature. The ESI grips are so substantial they are good as bumper pads. To supplement that, I tightly rolled up some white silicone tape (the same stuff I used in giving the bars a tight fit) and used that as a bar end plug. The roughly 3/4″ of overhang is now a substantial padded bumper, useful when I am leaning the bike up against something. You can see the bumper in Figure 2 below.

The Double Stem

Figure 2. Going up. The stems are angled up in this pic for an elevated bar orientation.

Wait… what? A double stem? What the hell is the thinking behind that?

So, here I am building out this Big Fat Dummy with these basket-case handlebars. I have used them before, on Frankenbike. On that bike, the bars could shift down if you were standing up, honking on the pedals and putting strong downward pressure on the bars. Knowing this can happen, how can I get around it? Would using a higher quality MTB stem do it? Then I realized a)I had an uncut steerer on my Bluto fork and b)the handlebars have two mounting points in their design.

The idea was to use one or the other. But that long uncut steerer might just let me use both (spoiler alert: it does).

So, as usual I tripped and fell into a functional and eye-catching solution. Use varying spacers in between the two stems so they space apart exactly to fit the two mounting points. The lower 25.4 stem mount point needs a 31.8 spacer around the bar. Also, the easiest way to limit the variables in play is to use identical-model and -angle stems and simply vary their length. I used Funn Stryge stems in 60mm and 80mm.

In Figure 2 above I have angled both stems up, giving the most upright position possible. Later on, I flipped the stems to a down position to give more lean-over (clearly these bars have a significant rise built into them so seating position is still fairly upright).

Figure 3. Going Down. Both stems are mounted upside-down for a lower handhold. Just reverse the front plate so that part is right-side up.

In my final tinker with the stems, I changed their orientation once again: The lower stem is still pointing down, but the upper one is pointing up. This still keeps the bars oriented in the ‘down’ lean-over position, but the position of the upper stem moves further down the steering tube to achieve the same bar angle it had when it was matching the lower stem as seen in Figure 3.

Whats the point of doing that? It uses less steering tube. As you can see in the pics above, I am using 100% of the Bluto’s uncut tube. Making this flip and exposing more available steering tube enables a change to a Wren Inverted fat fork, which reportedly had a shorter uncut steerer…. with this change I would use 100% of the Wren tube, should I ever find another home for the Bluto.

UPDATE:
The Bluto did find a new home and the Wren is on the bike now... I compared them while I still had both in hand and both forks have identical steering tube lengths.

Reinvented Wheels

The Surly My Other Brother Darryl wheelset that comes with the Bliolet Big Fat Dummy is very good. It can take quite the beating. I certainly have never been able to throw either of them out of whack. However, I wanted summer and winter wheels, the ability to go tubeless, and have wheels as strong as possible. Additionally, the MYOBD wheels hold on to tire beads so tight it is effectively impossible to get at a tube to repair it on the side of the road. That had to change.

SIDEBAR: If the MYOBD rims are tubeless-compatible as claimed by Surly, mine certainly are not. The rims are pinned and not welded. And both of mine leaked at the pinned seam on the edge just under the bead – a place you can’t tape. I personally don’t see how they can be used tubeless unless you get lucky and those pinned rims are perfectly manufactured. Mine were, and are, great tubed wheels but they can’t be used tubeless even when its been done by professional LBS techs who know what they are doing. I failed. They failed. The rims don’t work tubeless.

With that said, lets focus on the wheel build. I settled on the following components:

DT Swiss 350 Big Ride hubs

The DT Swiss 350 Classic is just that. A reliable classic. In particular, the rear hub is acknowledged by DIY builders as extremely durable when paired with a high powered mid drive. Couple the ratchet engagement mechanism to the steel cassette body option that DT offers and you have the core components of a bulletproof drivetrain. DT even makes the 350 Hybrid hub that is reinforced still further for tandem and ebike applications. Sadly, its not available on the fat bike Big Ride variant. But a plain 350 with a steel body is still unstoppable. I know because I have used one on my 2Fat build for some time. The 2020 parts shortage made finding a front and rear hub an adventure – I got the rear in Poland and the front from the U.K. … But I got them.

Alloy on the left after 1500 miles. Zero miles and steel on the right… After 2 years it still looks that good.

Nextie Wild Dragon II Rims

This was a tough one. These are expensive hoops at over $300 each. However, they are also a known quantity as I own another set on the Stormtrooper (those wheels with their matte 3k finish are the header image for this blog). The standard version (not the Elite light weight) have a load capacity of 250 kg.

As far as I can tell, nothing else on the market can touch that load capability. Also, they have a center channel I know from experience makes ALL the difference between getting the tire off the rim on the side of the road, and not being able to do so (that would be the case with the MYOBD’s). Lastly, they are a nice compromise of 90mm, which I hoped would allow me to lose only the highest rear cog on my 11 spd cluster. Turns out that was a correct guess. Others who go 100mm lose the top two.

The Nexties check all the boxes. It boiled down to whether I was willing to spend the money. After some time hemming and hawwing, I surrendered and spent the big bucks.

<takei>”Ohhhhh Myyyy” </takei>

I did 3k matte finish last time. This time I upped the bling factor – just a bit – and went 12k matte. And holy cow are they ever gorgeous. They fit the bike perfectly with that deep dish construction making the fat tires the fattest fatties in Fatland. As it is, this beast of a bike already makes a serious visual statement. The wheels dial the message volume to 11.

With the above said, you might be under the impression that the look of these wheels contributed to my buying decision. I am outraged anyone could consider such a thing.

In addition to looking marvelous, they’re waterproof too!

Sunrace CSMX8 Wider Range Cluster

The original Surly-spec’d cluster is a Sunrace CSMS7 11-40T. Even though the Surly BFD is not sold as an ebike, that is the perfect 11 speed cluster for one. It is all-steel, bolted together into a single 1-piece unit and has steel spiders inside. As usual the heavier, cheaper steel component is the good one if you have an ‘e’ in front of ‘bike’. Finding an 11-42T version of that cluster would have been perfect… but alas thanks to the 2020 parts shortage, I couldn’t get my hands on one. I settled for the CSMX8, which is 11-42T and also uses steel cogs. Its in 3 pieces and uses alloy spiders. Not ideal on a mid drive, but its still a respectable bit of kit. Why did I want a wider range cassette? because I knew other Big Fat Dummy riders who went to wider rims and tires lose their two biggest cogs. Expecting this, I wanted the biggest cog I could still get to. So: wider range cluster.

As it turned out, the 90mm rims and 4.8″ Vee Snowshoe XLs only cost me one cog. So while I cannot use the 42T cog without rubbing, the 36T just under it is no problem. That means I only lost four teeth off of my former 40T inner cog, and I have a 10-speed instead of an 11. I’m fine with that.

Sapim Strong Spokes

Here is the one place I compromised. I wanted DT Champion 2.34 spokes. In the age of lockdown-induced bicycle parts shortages, that was just not happening. Nobody had enough spokes in the three lengths I needed … worldwide. Actually I did find stock in a bicycle shop in Germany but they refused to ship to me because of the then-severely-extended ship times of 10 weeks-plus. DT Swiss themselves said forget about it until at least 2021. Casting about, I talked to other strong players including Phil Wood. Every time, I struck out. Eventually I did find a small local bike shop in another US state who had Sapim Strong spokes and could cut them to the sizes I needed in-house. The 2.34 Champs would have been stronger, but the Sapim’s are plenty strong themselves. I don’t expect any issues.

Orange Seal Valves and Whisky Tape

Last but not least: The valves and the tape. Whisky tape is good stuff – a bit wider than most alternatives – and I was able to find a big roll, so I had plenty of extra socked away for my attempt at converting the MYOBD rims to tubeless (which as noted above… failed). I chose the Orange Seal 60mm valves because they have something a lot of valves do not: A metal bottom. Why? the metal bottom provides a hard surface that the valve gasket can firmly smoosh up against. There’s no way for the valve to pull thru. Its also less likely to spring a leak down the road when you manhandle the valve putting air into the tires. This last issue plagued my Stans valves on a different bike, until I replaced them with these.

You get everything but the kitchen sink in the bag with the Orange Seal valves, including a nice core-remover that screws onto the valve itself so it can’t get lost.

Phat Tubeless Tires

So… on this bike… tubeless is where its at! The Nextie rims coupled to Whisky tape seal right up. The Vee Snowshoe XL’s I put on (I have had them in the garage for a couple years and it was time to use them up) sealed to the rims so well I didn’t really need any sealant to finish the job. They held air for days as-is.

But of course I used sealant. And as I have mentioned in earlier posts, after discussion with the manufacturer and some great experience with it as a tube sealant, I used the recommended 16 oz(!) of FlatOut Sportsman Formula as my tubeless sealant. Application is easy via adding a presta adapter to the end of the integrated hose in the bottle lid. Once in the tire, they hold air for about… 5 (five!) weeks before its time to air up again.

And since I set these tires up, after a few months, I had the worst-case experience with respect to finding out whether FlatOut actually works to seal up tires.

Want to see a cyclist poop his pants? Punch a line of a half dozen of these in his back tire. Then tell him to hop off the saddle and go look…

Yeah thats right. So I go to Home Depot and load up on all sorts of crap. My Great Big Bags as well as my upper deck are pretty much full and I am chugging home. Suddenly I hear a tickticktick behind me and I know thats not good. I jump off, look down and OH.MY.GOD I see a row of about six roofing nails stuck deep in my back tire. As if thats not bad enough they are off to the side in the vicinity of the sidewall (the ticking was a nail head hitting the frame as the wheel revolved). Not thinking to save the nails for a future photo shoot, I pulled them out and cast them away. When doing that I saw the tire knobs pull away from the tire thanks to the damage from the nails and of course the hissing got worse. Having lots of sealant in the tire, I did what I could to lean the bike over on the side with the holes and roll it down so the goop could glop into the holes and save my bacon.

The hissing lessened but didn’t go away.

26×4.8 tires inflated to a street-legal pressure of 18 psi have a lot of air to give, so I jumped on the bike and got rolling fast; again with the idea of letting the sealant spread and seal. I got maybe a block before the lessened but continuing air loss meant it was time to stop and refill. Here’s where having the lightweight, emergency electric bike pump made all the difference. In short order I had the pump connected to my tire and battery and it began noisily refilling the now almost fully flat tire. Once the tire got reasonably firm I disconnected, stuffed the pump into the kangaroo pouch and got rolling, all the while hearing hissing, still. I repeated this process two more times on the way home. After the third refill, the hissing stopped. FlatOut sealed a massive series of holes and today, weeks afterwards, the tire is still holding that same amount of air.

It remains to be seen if the tire can be considered reliable for long term, long range use. I have been riding other bikes in The Pacific Fleet recently until I can take the time to do a full post mortem. But bottom line: FlatOut got me home and averted certain disaster. It gets my enthusiastic seal of approval.

The Bag Bumpers

Problem: the Great Big Bags are so big, they exceed the length of the frame structure. The padding keeps them from flopping around, but they can still curve inward and, on the drive side, touch the chain which is very close by. That chain is a chain saw on the fabric and you’d better not let it contact the bag for long. Also in the rear the bags can be worryingly close to the tires – still 2-3 inches away but it would be nice for them to keep their distance period.

Solution: Re-purpose the existing M5 bosses that Surly used for the stock Dummy Bag mounts. Attach a 36″ metal strip, whose function is pretty obvious just looking at it:

Figure 1: Initial test fit. This fit uses smaller washers and the strip is upside-down as noted below.

Pretty straightforward stuff. Whats not so straightforward? I think Surly did a pretty solid job of engineering this frame so its sturdy where it needs to be and flexible when it needs to be. They don’t need me re-engineering the give and take this frame was designed to deliver under load. So the challenge is to create a rigid structure that keeps the bags from intruding into the wheel well, but at the same time does not provide unexpected structural rigidity.

A stiffer frame sounds great, until you realize you are adding rigidity selectively. If flex is a part of the frame design, then its going to happen one way or another. I would rather it be distributed as the manufacturer intended rather than restricting all of the forces to exert themselves in a new spot, in a way the designers didn’t anticipate.

So here’s how we do that: first and foremost, I drilled an oversized (M10) hole at the front anchor point. Additionally, I sandwiched the connection in front and behind with rubber washers that themselves are captured on both sides by stainless oversized washers.

That big hole is off center on purpose. You hang the strip so it lies roughly centered. Then it can still flex without hanging near its edge (Figure 1 is a test fit and its actually upside down in that pic).

Also note the steel washers above were swapped out for wider ones to fully capture that rubber washer in between.

Just an oversized hole doesn’t fully allow the frame to flex as designed. You need a long slot in the back to further allow unrestricted frame movement. I created this by hand using a time-tested – and ugly – method:

  1. Mark your material with a Sharpie.
  2. Drill a line of pilot holes with a small bit. Yes it looks sloppy.
  3. Drill out the pilot holes with a larger (M6) bit.
  4. Hand file to a squared-off rectangle slot. Not quite finished in the last pic at right.
  5. File the face of the strip on both sides to debur it after all that filing.

When done, bolt it on. If I had this to do over again I would add another half inch of play fore and aft just to be sure I achieved my goal here.

Yes, of course I replaced that rusty old bolt after this test fit.

The Inexpensive, Custom Frame Bag

Custom frame bags cost a small fortune. Mine cost me $40 delivered to my doorstep. I use a vendor on EBay named Uraltour. Four bags purchased from that vendor so far and all are sturdy, heavy cordura with perfect fit around existing frame bosses and whatnot. You can specify width and since I am buying bags that will hold 18650 battery packs, I insist on a 10cm width. Maybe you can get away with 9cm. Don’t use the default of 6cm unless you have different needs. He will also work with you for shapes other than triangles.

See the little red whatsit up front? Thats my charge cable with a waterproof cover. Ask for flaps top front and rear for cables.

The downside? Well, his business name provides a clue: He’s deep in the middle of Russia. So mailing stuff from Russia to the USA can take at least a month and possibly two. My first bag took three. But thats life. A USA supplier would have provided me with excellent bags, at a much higher price point. Oftentimes they are booked up and you’ll wait months assuming they will take the order at all. Not being able to get a US vendor able to take my order was what made me go looking for another source and finding this vendor.

The Shelf

The space just behind the top tube on the Surly Big Fat Dummy – just ahead of the rear rack supports – is wasted space. A few owners have had custom bags made for this area. I more or less built my own cargo shelf out of odds and ends.

  1. A small bit of aluminum flat bar stock roughly 4″x16″ (I forget the exact size… I had it in my garage from a previous project where I was making a rack floor for another bike).
  2. Another small bit of flat bar stock, about 4″ wide and 10″ long
  3. Leftover 3/4″ ID Silicone hose
  4. Some leftover Great Big Bag closed cell padding
  5. An M6 bolt, washers, a nut, an unthreaded spacer, four zip ties and some Gorilla tape.

Showing pictures of the thing make it pretty easy to figure out how I used the above parts.

The silicone tubing is used to pad the frame. Just slit it down the middle and fit it over the frame tubes. It’ll hold and stay on its own.

Look under the bolt on the crossbar. There’s a spacer with washers underneath so the bolt doesn’t just bend the floor plate up towards the frame.

The padding covers the big floor plate, and the gorilla tape covers that to make a big padded shelf base.

The smaller flat bar plate and zip ties make for a backstop for the shelf. Its sitting at an angle and the last thing you need is for your stuff to slide into the wheel well. I painted mine black but gorilla tape could be used on it as well. Drill 4 holes for the zip ties.

If you look over at the post on A Proper(e)Bike ToolKit – which spells out the BFD’s tool kit – the cheapie MOLLE bag I use there is sold in a pack of two. This is where I use the other one.

This is how I carry along my super duper Pragmasis hardened steel noose chain and U lock.

I keep the keys in the bag with the lock so I never forget them.

The Quick-Detach, Carry-On Battery

I wrote this up as its own separate thing. Check it out here.

Big(ger) Brakes

The SRAM brakes that come stock on the Surly Big Fat Dummy are good, but on a bike that can take on extreme loads and terrain, they need to be great. I literally use the same brakes on all my bikes.

  1. Magura MT5e 4-piston brakes. The ‘e’ means they have a built in cutoff cable that I can plug into my BBSHD or hub motor.
  2. 203mm Tektro Type 16 rotors front AND rear. These are downhill rotors that are 2.2mm thick. Magura brakes are meant to work with 2.0mm thick rotors (typical quality rotors are 1.8mm thick). The Magura calipers will work with the Tektros albeit only barely with fresh pads. Often when I set up a new bike, I swap in partially worn pads from one of my other bikes and give that other bike new pads. By the time the new bike wears thru these swapped-in partially worn pads, the rotors have enough wear that they can take new Magura pads no problem.
  3. Magura MT7 4-piece pads. I still use the 2-piece MT5 pads that come with the brakeset, but as soon as they wear out, I switch to the MT7 pads, which fit perfectly. They have the performance advantage of delivering significantly more measured torque according to reviews. They also can be taken out with your fingertips without removing the caliper from its mount. MT5 pads on the other hand come out from the bottom and to do that you have to dismount the caliper. So better performance and easier maintenance.

The Big Battery

Fopr most of the life of this bike I have been using a 52v, 17.5ah battery pack I bought in 2017 from Luna Cycle. This pack has a 50a continuous BMS and uses 25R cells. The pack has been in use on three successive bikes over the years and has seen almost daily use, with two charge cycles per day since I charge at the office and at home. However, thanks to my ridiculously rigid adherence to best practices when it comes to battery charging, that pack has almost miraculously lost no measurable amount of its original capacity.

However, a bike this size eats power. Especially the way I ride. Recently I purchased a 21ah pack from this vendor and have been very pleased with it. It only barely fits in the Size Medium frame triangle, but it does fit.


The End?

For the Surly? Hell no its the One Bike To Rule Them All. Really, its a great bike and I intend to ride the wheels off of it.

Is it the end of the mods to this bike? Pretty much I think, with the exception of the summer wheels I’m making up using the MYOBDs and a pair of Apache Fattyslick fat tires, for that Kojak street commuter look. Since its a true slick, we’re talking summer wheels for sure. But maybe not as I live in California and like the old song says, it never rains here.