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.

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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.

Author: m@Robertson

I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations at my place of business: Leland-West Insurance Brokers, Inc. We do classic and exotic car insurance all across these United States. I'm also an avid auto enthusiast, a born again cyclist (i.e. an ebiker) and participate in medium and long range CMP and NRA sanctioned rifle competitions.

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