Larry vs. Harry Bullitt – the Battery (Box)

A big bike with two motors needs a big battery. Lets take advantage of the frontloader design to both hide and secure it.

The Bullitt Build
1. Battery and Battery Box (you are here)
2. Cargo Box
3. Brakes
4. Front Motor & Wheel
5. Rear Motor & Drivetrain
6. Bits & Pieces

A big issue with an ebike – particularly one that is left outside on its own all the time – is battery security. The battery is maybe the most expensive component on an ebike and its a big theft target. So typically you have to carry the thing inside with you, and hey… thats a real pain in the neck. Not only is it a really heavy black brick, but you have to dismount it and re-mount it to the bike, and disconnect and reconnect it to the motor (forget about your display keeping the correct time and date), every single time. I have come up with my own way to make the best of this bad situation for my other cargo bikes, but with the Bullitt, we can make the problem go away.

The Kinda-Secret Compartment

Take a look at the picture above. See the big black box under the cargo area, near the ground? Thats it: the battery box. You’d be surprised by how many people don’t notice it. Even if they do, what are they going to do about it?

I had seen a few other Bullitt builds with battery boxes and they seemed like great ideas: The battery goes out of sight, out of mind under the floor of the bike. It lets you get creative on battery size (as in you can go bigger if you like since there’s lots of room down there). It may even be made secure enough that you can just leave it on the bike – eliminating maybe the biggest inconvenience of using an ebike for daily errands and shopping.

Also, just as with electric auto designs, a ‘skateboard’ config for the battery puts it centered and below the floor – down as low as it can go. That is as good as it can get for performance.

But I was thinking of none of these things when I was putting together my build sheet. I was still thinking I would do another quick-carry sling pack with the battery inside, and toss that pack into the cargo bay for easy removal and replacement. It wouldn’t be secured to anything but I would see about figuring that out later on.

My sling pack with a 20ah battery inside, used on my Surly Big Fat Dummy

But while the parts were still trickling in, I was participating in a discussion on the Bullitt Universal Owners Group on Facebook. Another Bullitt owner showed off his own build and mentioned his battery box – and that he had gotten it from Splendid Cycles – the same shop where I got my Bullitt frame and parts. I gave them a call and in short order one of the last examples they had on hand was on its way to me. I was told up front the box was a blank canvas, and I would need my own elbow grease to add mounting holes and any other refinements, such as waterproofing, cable exits etc.

As-delivered, the battery box looked as you see it below. A simple slot holds it up on the back. Its front at first seems unnecessarily complicated, but is quite clever. Its seamless, unbroken face prevents any direct channel for water ingress from the front, just behind the tire. The cutouts necessary to let the box slide into place doubled as my exit points for the power, charging and temperature sensor cables, so no need to cut any holes. It fits absolutely flush to the near side of the frame so no insulation is needed or wanted. Its shape is angled on one side to clear the steering tube.

The box as-delivered, almost. I used black flexible silicone sealant to all the internal seams, and dabbed over all of the rivets as well.

Box Installation

The first step was to drill the box so it could be fixed in place. As-designed, it would stay put. But I am sure there would be some shifting and rattling… and I can’t abide rattles. Also, the existence of the box complicated the installation of the honeycomb floorboard. The floorboard expects to be able to drop a bolt straight down and use a nut underneath to lock it down. Well, now that bolt hole is completely inside the box on the front left corner. Its outside on the right front, but not by much. I needed to change those two mounts to fixed studs going from the bottom up.

I also wanted to add an entirely separate bolt on the front dedicated to strongly fixing the box in place. I decided to use an oversized hole, and used a hand file to enlarge it to a rectangle. Following that, a combination of an oversized, hardened washer and a flush-fit M8 bolt gives a flat fit that works under the honeycomb board fitting directly down on top of it.

The new ‘studs’ are common, long M6 socket caps with – get this – a Presta valve nut to hold them in place. I needed a low profile nut and there’s nothing lower-profile than the common presta nut, which even fits snugly inside the bolt hole manufactured into the LvH honeycomb board.

Forward box mounting complete. Two studs are ready for the honeycomb board, and the center bolt holds the box tight to the frame.

For the rear of the box, to match up with the honeycomb board’s rear mounting hole, I had to use another M6 rather than go with another big M8. I drilled a thin hole thru the box’s top flap and the honeycomb board’s rear mounting bolt goes thru there. However to be consistent – because I wanted to use security nuts to make getting into the box that much more difficult – I made it go in from the bottom-up like the others (we’ll show those security nuts etc. in more detail when we talk about the cargo box installation).

Now Install The Battery

At this point, the next step in the installation process – which, maddeningly, has to be done in this order whether you like it or not – was to install the battery.

You can see how I accomplished that below. All of the padding is closed-cell, and I left as much of the battery untouched by foam as I could. The battery lays on the bare alloy of the box with no padding (a solid metal wall is plenty of protection). It is surrounded on four sides such that it cannot move, even after months of pothole pounding commutes and store visits. I disassembled the bike after 500 miles and looked inside to be sure of this. No water had gotten in either despite riding in rainstorms.

There is a brake cable braze-on above the pack underneath the center bar. It is perfectly positioned to smash into the cells underneath if the pack bounces up to meet it. I prevented this possibility via some left over Minicel T600 EVA foam (you’ll see what I used it for in the Cargo Box episode) to fix the battery in position (i.e. keep it from bouncing). Two pieces are used, one on each side of the braze-on. Underneath this area the visible green rectangle is a piece of thin metal fence strapping which provides a last but certain line of defense against that braze-on ever contacting the bare pack.

The battery is literally incapable of movement on any axis. It is held solidly – but not enough to smoosh anything. Rapping on the box with your knuckles yields a satisfying thunk as if you are rapping on a solid block of metal.

Notice the short extensions in the pics above? There are two lengths of them in use (strictly speaking there are three as we need two when we split the power to run to both motors). I don’t like to make direct connections to wiring that is a hassle to repair – like wires that run hot directly from the battery. I want to be using a short extension on each side of a connection for two reasons. 1: So the wear and tear occurs on something that is easy and painless to replace if it wears out. 2. If something terrible happens like a short, the melted connector is on an extension and can be easily unplugged, thrown away and replaced. No need to be working on live wires to salvage the battery (assuming a short doesn’t cause other problems with the pack itself).

I have had one occasion where this saved my bacon when an XT60 extension shorted on a water bottle bolt head. There was no damage other than to the destroyed cheapie extension. In this case, there is no issue of frequent connects and disconnects, but the habit of using extensions for the safety angle is hard to break.

Lets Talk About The Battery

An AWD bike needs a lot of power. Even one where I have toned down the power to civilized levels. You must have a pack whose Battery Management System is strong enough to run two motors at once, and if you get into the subject and learn the specifics, you will find out real fast that commercially-manufactured battery packs can’t cut the mustard (this is why commercial AWD bikes have two separate batteries). If you want to build the bike right as opposed to building it cheap and sucky, you have to get yourself a custom pack built that is tailored to the job.

Pack Details

The battery itself was built custom to my specs after some discussion with Matt Bzura at Bicycle Motorworks. This is one of several packs I have purchased from his firm, after hearing nothing but good things about his work from other builders over the span of a few years. I’ve had nothing but good experience working with him as well.

I knew that an AWD bike needs more power, so the battery pack needs to be bigger than usual. And the Splendid Cycles battery box is a big sucker. If I put in a battery that filled that box it would be TOO big. Looking at the box dimensions and knowing what I wanted to do for crash padding gave me one half of the picture. Matt @ BicycleMotorworks filled in the blanks with the dimensional details of the cells and battery management system chosen for the job.

Cells Samsung 40T (21700’s)
Pack Config 14S8P (52v)
BMS Capacity 70a Continuous output
Amp Hours32
Output CableXT90S / 8ga
Charge CableXT60 / 12 ga

The 40T cells in the larger 21700 size, and overall pack design allows it to operate under load without voltage sag, and without heating up, despite the enclosed space and the dense, closed cell padding that holds the pack fast. A temperature sensor is attached to the pack top and runs outside of the box for easy visibility from the saddle.

What About Heat? 
In use in a normal climate - bearing in mind its sealed in a big metal box - the pack does not get noticeably warm over and above ambient air temperature - nothing over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient.  However, 5 degrees over ambient is a lot when its 105 in the shade, where in the sun, the pavement is radiating heat at 130.   In severe heat (as I write this, the end of next week is scheduled to reach 114°F, which is more than 45°C) I need to plan ahead for where the bike is going to be parked, and plan my route to provide the shortest, shadiest path to my destination.  Our local area has already experienced several days where the temperature has exceeded 110°F / 43°C. Even though the battery cells are not thermally coupled to the case, I ringed the box with heat sinks to help keep the pack a bit closer to ambient temperature.  They have reduced pack surface temperature by up to 5 degrees. 

The battery charge cable is routed outside of the box along with the power cables, and comes up as shown in the photo below (the green plug). This plug is semi-rigid thanks to the manner in which I insulated the end connector, as well as how its braced against other secured wiring. It is easy to access, protected from the elements via the plug cap and not going anywhere. In winter months a rubber band and some plastic will ensure nothing can get through and cause any fireworks.

And last but not least… this is a 52v battery that has a capacity of 32 amp hours. I like having batteries big enough that range anxiety doesn’t exist. You simply go ride the bike and do what you need to do. Considering the bike – thanks to its motor configs – eats only 400-500w at cruise… my ass will wear out in the seat before the battery charge does…

So long as I remember to charge it. But even then – and this has happened to me already – the battery is big enough to maybe rescue me from that faux pas.

The battery temp sensor sits here, without any need for actual mounting. The Bullitt’s ride is so stable nothing more is required. The charger plug is covered in a green cap at center.

Thats about all I have on the battery and battery box. We’ll stick to the same area of the bike in the next article in the series, as the two are linked together:

The Cargo Box

The Bullitt, by Larry vs. Harry – Cargo Bike Build

And now for something completely different. The Bullitt from Larry vs. Harry is a bucket list bike that (now that its finally done) I love to ride. This series will cover the details of a frame-up build that includes AWD electrification.

The Bullitt Build (you are here)
1. Battery and Battery Box
2. Cargo Box
3. Brakes
4. Front Motor & Wheel
5. Rear Motor & Drivetrain
6. Bits & Pieces

Originally, this was going to be a single article that covered everything. However, as time progressed and I got more and more of the details written down, I found I was at almost 6800 words, and could easily hit 8-10,000 before completion. Thats too damn big, so it had to be broken up. This opening post will cover some of the introductory bits. Then we’ll split off into followups that hit the high points of the various things worth bringing up.

There’s a lot to get to so lets jump in.

Background

Having built up the Mongoose Envoy as my first cargo bike, then supersizing to the Surly Big Fat Dummy, you would think the Larry vs. Harry Bullitt was my third choice for a cargo bike. It was the opposite: The Bullitt was my first choice. But first,

What the hell is a Bullitt?

A Bullitt is a bakfiets. How does me saying that help you? It doesn’t, until I add that bakfiets is a Dutch term that means “box bike”. You’ll be helped along a bit more by the fact that a bakfiets is often referred to in English as a ‘frontloader’. So, the box is in front of the rider. Here is a Google image search that will let you see a slew of them, of all different types.

Looking at all those different pictures, they all look sort of like 2- or 3-wheeled dump trucks. Not exactly a fun ride. But thats to be expected of freight haulers, right?

So, What the hell is a Bullitt?

A Bullitt is a frontloader-style cargo bike made by Larry vs. Harry in Copenhagen, Denmark. It does its cargo carrying job, but its also specifically designed to be nimble, on a frame that is relatively rigid. Its also meant to be those things in a lightweight package, where that frame is lightweight alloy (whose inherent rigidity is mitigated by the sheer length of the frame. A Bullitt is also a very comfortable bike to ride).

In short, the Bullitt is a cargo bike for people who still want to have fun riding their bike. You aren’t schlepping around in the bicycle equivalent of a minivan.

This gets the idea across in 1 minute.

When I originally decided to build up a Bullitt, I set up my build sheet and began listing out components. But before I finished, the cost crossed my pain threshold and I chickened out. This was going to be my first cargo bike. I had no experience with the platform, and wasn’t even sure I would like the idea, never mind throwing in the funkiness of a frontloader. I wasn’t ready to make such a big financial commitment.

So I went the budget route with the Mongoose Envoy. I used that frame and fork as a donor platform to develop a really nice lower-cost cargo solution. After some use I decided 1)this whole cargo bike thing was really cool and 2)the Envoy wasn’t big enough for the XXL jobs I wanted to give it.

When I was doing my research prior to buying the Envoy, I had almost bought the much larger Surly Big Fat Dummy, but bailed on that one too due to the same kinds of newbie uncertainties that led me to bail on the Bullitt project.

So, wanting to upsize, I went there next. That bike has been a thing of beauty. I loved it and still do for a variety of reasons beyond its utility as a cargo bike (and a bikepacking bike. And a take-the-trails-route-instead commuter. And an unstoppable freight train that terrifies all who cross its path). The Big Fat Dummy truly is a BFD.

But…

Using the BFD for all things, every day, I could see room for improvement. Stuff that bugged me and worse – slowed me down.

At the shops, you have to bring the battery in with you or risk getting it stolen. I had a solution for this but it still takes effort to deal with and is a pain. Additionally it limits the size of the battery as the bigger it is, the more trouble it is to carry around.

The BFD has two panniers that hold more than 275L (not 27.5… Two Hundred and Seventy Five). Who can ask for more? Except bags that big aren’t kept opened up and ready for use. They’re folded up and strapped to the frame. Expanding them requires some fussing and fiddling with the straps. Not the end of the world but it has to be done. And then you need to cinch those four to six straps down to secure the load. And balance your load between the bags or bad things can happen. When you are doing this every day at multiple stops, you start wanting things to be easier… but how?

Enter The Dragon

A Bullitt from Larry vs. Harry. Thats how. A bike purpose-built for a narrow type of use-case: urban utility. The Bullitt is the most nimble and rigidly-framed of the genre: the sports car of the frontloader world. The battery on this bike will be locked in a quasi-concealed, sealed box under the cargo floor of the bike; out of sight from prying eyes and prybars. No more lugging it into the store with me. Most importantly, the bike has a floor in the first place. Cargo is held in a great big open box. I can just walk up, dump my shit in and and take off. No more pre-flight prep.

Also I kind of liked that it looked weird… and I had no idea whether I could ride such a contraption. I don’t get that kind of uncertainty with bikes much these days and I looked forward to the challenge.

Oh, and since LvH decided to call the green paint on the bike Lizzard King, well that makes for an obvious name for the bike.

Bullitts are – wonderfully – built up from frames and customized by a great many of their owners. So even though I am doing a lot of writing-up here, there’s not much point in doing full how-to’s, since thats how most everyone does it already, anyway. So my focus will for the most part be more of a high-level one rather than getting down and into the finer details of Tab A inserting into Slot B etc.

What a mess! A month or so after initial build completion my custom battery arrived… time to take it back apart!

So Lets Build It Already!

So much going on… Where do we start?

The Frame Kit

Your local Larry vs. Harry dealer will happily sell you a complete bike, or even one whose frame has been purpose-built to integrate an electric motor. You can choose an internally geared hub, and the frame has a split in it to allow a belt drive. Lots of options for a complete bike, or buy their frame kit and build your own.

I chose the frame kit route. The kit comes with the frame, fork, steering arm, headsets (plural) installed and a number of other components that are unique to a Bullitt’s construction, so you don’t have to go searching all over creation for weird parts. I also purchased the “honeycomb floor board” (the cargo deck) and the “side panels” (hard sides to the cargo area that turn it into a big bucket). It all arrived in one giant box, too big for UPS so it was a LTL freight carrier in a full sized semi-hauler that brought it in. The truck was so big it had to meet me on the street.

I purchased the frame kit from Splendid Cycles up in Portland, Oregon. I handled the transaction entirely over the phone and the folks at Splendid were both helpful and generous with their time, answering my technical and build questions and making sure I was taken care of. Delivery was prompt and I was frankly amazed at how well the frame was packaged once I got the box opened up. Oddly enough I met the tech who packed my frame online, in the Bullitt Facebook group, who was happy to see I got the frame and confirmed what was visually obvious: he had spent time making sure it was packed well so it would get to me in the same shape it left their shop.

All Wheel Drive

Even though the bike only took me about a month to build so it was at least roadworthy, there was a lot going on with this bike. Most of the reason it was such a pain revolved around this one feature. In the end, it was worth it, but the added complexity of an AWD ebike is not for the faint of heart.

Two-motor AWD means wires everywhere. Hiding them is something of an art form.

I have built several all wheel drive ebikes, but not recently. I decided the Bullitt was going to be the proof-of-concept behind a different, more civilized/everyman form of ebike AWD that I had been mulling over for years but never did anything about. That subject, the merits of an AWD ebike and the specifics surrounding it are all dealt with in a separate case study in my dual-motor AWD ebike series. I’ll let that post and its companions stand on their own and just say that the sort of cooperative, drama-free AWD that was put into the Bullitt is, in my estimation, a tremendous success with regard to making it a viable all-day, everyday auto replacement.


Which leads us straight into the next episode:

The Battery (and Battery Box)