How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Tools List

What tools are needed to build a complete ebike (or a normal bicycle, really)? Here’s your list.

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List (you are here)

Step By Step

This page may change a little until all parts of this series are complete. I have tried to make it all-inclusive in advance of the creation of all of the other installments in this series. But… be warned. Including a total list of all the tools you need to build a bicycle makes this post enormous. Almost 4,900 words total plus pictures. Go get a sandwich and a drink before you start reading.

The tools needed for each step are in their respective Step section.

Remember:  
This article is for the most part ONLY about listing the tools in a given step.  However in some cases, for the more esoteric tools, I give some extra description to help illustrate why a special tool has value versus doing things a harder (but also cheaper) way. 

With that said, I will generally try not to talk about using tools here, and save that for the individual Step where they are in direct play.

Step 1: Planning

There are no tools needed in Step 1 as its all a brain exercise. However, as part of your planning its probably a good time to assess whether or not you have the tools you need for this job overall. What will it cost to buy what you need? Factor those costs into your overall project cost and your Build Sheet and budget accordingly.


Step 2: Hunting

Tools in Step 2 are pretty much a computer, an internet connection and available funds to buy the bike frame and motor. Translation: No tools needed in this step.


Step 3: Tinkering

To do the basic fiddling with your frame that this step will entail, you are talking about some basics only:

A Tape Measure

This can be as simple as a literal soft tape measure like what a tailor would use, or a modern chrome steel or plastic-cased retractable measure with a lock. I use both.

Here’s an example of the soft tapes I use

I buy them in the 24-pak like in the link. It seems I can never find my tape when I am looking for it and secreting one in the glove box of my car, one or two in each tool box and so on is the way to go for me. And for $7.99 for all 24 of them… well, that price speaks for itself. No they are not high precision… but they are good enough.

These tape measures have an unusual thing in common that means they will not typically be found in a local store: They both provide metric measurements. So you are buying them online.

With a few weird exceptions, all bicycles have been on the metric system for many years. You need metric tape measures. Since there are numerous exceptions you want both scales on your device.

Calipers (optional)

If you are a tool geek, The Calipers are an essential weapon in your arsenal. They are especially useful on a bicycle build where you have so many annoying, oddball measurements. Is that seat tube 31.6mm or 34.9mm? Its 34.9. OK is the exterior seatpost diameter the expected 36.4mm, then or did the numbskulls who manufactured the frame use thick paint to screw up your life (you need to know this stuff to attach a seatpost collar that fits)?

You can live without calipers and make do with a tape measure… assuming that what looks like pretty much 35mm must be 34.9. And that tube measures a skootch over 36mm so it must be a 36.4.

<takei> oh myyyyy </takei>

Or you can eliminate the need to guess. My metric Mitutoyo good-for-200mm dial calipers are old-school analog, so I don’t have to deal with dead batteries ever again like I did for my cheaper but still damned expensive RCBS digital calipers. Still, the digital set lasted me from 2013 until 2022, so I got my money’s worth I suppose. And they aren’t broken. If I keep buying batteries I can use them for imperial measurements. I guess.

Hex Keys

For any bike build, hex keys are essential. I like the ones sold by Bondhus as they are solid, USA-made tool steel at a good price. I also have a pricey set of Wera (Germany) wrenches but you can find the Bondhus variants at local hardware stores and online.

If you can buy only one set, get the extra long type with the ball ends. If you can splurge a bit (these wrenches are cheap so you should) then also get the stubby-end high-torque version as well as the short wrench set. That way you have a wrench that can pretty much fit anywhere you need regardless of available space.

L to R: Long ball end. Stubby end. Short. These three pictures are not to scale relative to one another.

Note that these are all metric. The need for SAE hex wrenches is almost nonexistent for bicycle parts (SRAM brake lever handlebar mounts are the only one I can think of). ALSO: I typically include the short or long ball end set in my preferred onboard tool kit that goes with the bike.

Motor Mounting Tools (optional)

If you are mounting the motor for test fitment at the Tinkering step as recommended here, you will need any special tools required to mount that motor. In the case of the example bike we are building, that means a Bafang 4-point inner lock ring socket. They are available from a variety of sources. Mine come from Luna Cycle (no longer available for sale). Here is the ‘traditional’ Bafang-sourced 4-notch tool from Empowered Cycles. Here is a fancier version from Lekkie.

I use this 4-point inner lock ring socket made just for the job by Luna Cycle. Unfortunately its no longer available for sale.

Without question, this socket and a torque wrench is the right tool for the BBSHD job. Those little knuckle-smashing Bafang wrenches are Chairman Mao’s revenge from beyond the grave on imperialist running dogs the world over. They cleverly give only the impression of functionality as they cannot let the unfortunate capitalist lackey deliver enough torque with it (unless you make your hand bleed) to keep that motor from slipping sooner or later (usually sooner).

The one I linked above, I own myself as a temp-mount shortcut… but I never use it. It at least has the advantage of being a fairly strong steel (without the usual sharp finger-creasing edges).

Torque Wrench (optional … for now)

This depends on whether or not your chosen motor needs one. In this project we are using a Bafang BBSHD mid drive motor, and it does. We don’t necessarily need a torque wrench to do motor mockups at this step, but it can come in handy, in particular if you need to determine exact spacer size to align the motor just right.

I use an automotive 50-250 ft-lb micrometer torque wrench from Home Depot for that job. To deliver the serious torque a BBSHD needs for a done-by-a-grownup installation, there’s no substitute for the leverage this wrench gives you, and the Bafang socket tools are usually made for a 1/2″ socket head. Worth noting (we’ll get more into this below): The big HD wrench is calibrated to +/- 3% accuracy.

1/2″ automotive torque wrench used to apply 90-100 ft lbs of torque to the motor lock nuts

Step 4: Buying

During the Buying phase, as parts are being ordered and arriving on your doorstep, you may be fitting parts onto the bike as test-fits to help you decide what other complementary parts should be purchased as follow-ons.

As such, while there are no tools specifically required to buy bicycle parts (other than a keyboard, internet connection and so on), during this phase you could end up needing any number of tools found in Steps 3 and 5.


Step 5: Assembling

Wheelbuilding Tools

Remember… in the Introduction I said we’re cheating on this one and we farmed out the wheel build. Wheelbuilding is not something someone who needs a tutorial on building a bike wants to be tackling along with learning all of the other ropes this series is focusing on. So we are not going to be worrying about truing stands, spoke prep, tuning forks and spoke keys.

Yes, I do have a Park TM-1 spoke tension gauge. Its lovely. No, you don’t need one for this project.

A Bike Stand! (optional)

This is one of those optional deals that you are going to hate yourself for cheaping out on, once you go to the expense of actually getting one and you see how much easier your life becomes. And if you buy a cheap one, its going to suck because a cheap stand with an ebike on it is seldom going to be strong enough to hold up all that extra weight (psssst… take the battery out).

um… yeah I think this one is strong enough to hold an ebike

If you are reasonably crafty, you can make yourself a bike repair stand out of PVC. Just don’t use furniture grade PVC and up the diameter of the pipe so it is crazy strong. This one uses 1 1/2″ pipe and reportedly cost around US$35 in materials. But notice also it doesn’t clamp anything to anything, so bumping into the bike while its on this thing is going to lead to exciting results.

Me, I use two different Park stands in my two shop locations (ok so full disclosure: my shops are a storage unit in one town and a patio in another). One is a Park PCS-10 stand that I bought in 2017. Its been my workhorse for almost six years. The one they sell now – the PCS 10.3 – is quite a bit more expensive than the US$192 I paid for mine, but it looks to have a couple of improvements.

My second repair stand was acquired recently and is a bit of an indulgence. But I’m not sorry I sprang the big bucks for it. I have a Park PRS-25 ‘team issue’ portable stand that folds up nice and easy and has a few added benefits I appreciate, like using hex tubing so the bike cannot shift side to side and topple over. But… four hundred bucks for a repair stand. You gotta use it a lot for that price to make any sense.

Maybe.

Torque Wrenches (plural!)

The fact you are considering buying a torque wrench at all is a big step up over your typical shade-tree bicycle mechanic. With that said, if you don’t own one now, you don’t need to spend a bundle on a precision instrument. A Park TW-6.2 3/8″ torque wrench relied upon by the bicycle industry and insisted upon by snooty internet forum experts is going to run you in the ballpark of US$130… and its one of at least two you need to work on a bicycle. This 3/8″ wrench is required for the bigger (and absolutely crucial) jobs like torqueing down crankarms. The smaller Park TW-6 1/4″ torque wrench that you’ll use for almost everything else on a bicycle is another US$115 or so.

Thats kind of a lot. Here’s the thing: You can spend a lot less and still get most of the benefit of a torque wrench. The Park wrenches are sturdy enough for repeated daily use. For the occasional bike mechanic, thats not necessary. Additionally, the Park wrenches are both calibrated to be accurate within +/- 4%. So lets consider that … an industry-wide standard of quality (wink).

What about lower cost options? How accurate are they?

My first bicycle-sized torque wrench was this one: the Venzo-branded 1/4″ wrench-and-socket package that retails at the moment for about US$50. It too is rated for a +/- 4% accuracy level. Even though it is rated for 2-24Nm, you wouldn’t want (or need) to push it past 10 Nm. For a larger 3/8″ wrench, I initially used a variation on this widely-rebranded Chinese import wrench. This Amazon-branded version runs just under US$30 and again its rated for +/- 4%.

Neither of these wrenches will hold this level of accuracy for as long as a more expensive tool, but if you only use them occasionally, you don’t need them to.

What does the author (thats me!) use?

Some time ago I stepped up my game on the torque wrench front. My little 1/4″ wrench lost its accuracy after a lot of use, and I could no longer trust it. The same went for my no-name 3/8″ wrench. While I trust the Park brand name, their torque wrenches are not particularly noteworthy as far as I can see in their construction, although they are premium priced. Certainly not a bad choice, but for the money, with some research, I could find better.

I went with a German brand: Wera, which are calibrated from the factory at +/- 3%. Importantly: they offer a USA address to perform re-calibration services should the wrench get a little wonky from extended use. No need to buy another wrench if it loses the spring in its step. Get it professionally re-calibrated by the manufacturer.

1/4″ wrench: Wera Reversible A5 (2.5-25 Nm)
This one wrench is perfect for nearly every job needed on a bike. It scales up to medium stuff without breaking a sweat. Handlebar stem bolts on our project bike need 5 Nm. the chainring attachment bolts need 8 Nm. Excepting the cranks, you shouldn’t need to go over 10 Nm (its max of 25Nm is 18 ft lbs).

3/8″ wrench: Wera Reversible B2 (20-100 Nm)
Thats 15-73 ft lbs in SAE units, which fits perfectly within a bicycle need, whose peak is about 35 ft lbs for an aggressive crankarm tightening (as a general rule of thumb don’t exceed 30 ft-lbs if you can help it).

And no… neither one of them are inexpensive. Like the Mitu’s above, I consider them crown jewels of the toolbox that I expect to last a lifetime of hard use.

Headset Press

In the past, specifically when I built Frankenbike, I used a very basic, very cheap headset press that did the job just fine. BUT something like 5 years later I couldn’t find the damn thing. So I upgraded just a bit when I bought another one for this project.

The design of this tool is reminiscent of the Park HHP-2 tool, but its literally less than one-tenth of the price. It works on the same principles as the more expensive tool, and is just fine for the rare or occasional user (then again, so was the even cheaper one I bought in 2017).

Star Nut Setter

I didn’t have to use this tool for this build as the used fork I put on the bike already had a star nut inside of it. However if you are buying a new fork, it won’t. You’ll have to set a star nut in the steering tube of the fork.

Whats in the hole? A star nut, thats wut.

You could do this with an M6 bolt screwed into the star nut, and then hammer on the bolt to bash the nut into the steerer and hope it goes in straight. I’ve done that myself (when I couldn’t find my setter tool) and I have to say its a dumb idea. You’ll almost never get it in perfectly straight, and if you do it’ll take a LOT of pounding. If you use the proper tool, it automatically centers the star nut, seats it to the proper depth and works with one or two quick shots with a mallet.

Left: Star nut setting tool. Center: A (fork) crown race. Right: Star nuts (you’ll only need one)

It turns out Jenson USA sells this tool for about 1/3 of what Amazon sellers want for it. Just make sure you buy other things in the same order to get free shipping. They are an excellent parts and tool source.

Crown Race Setting Tool

You could spend a zillion dollars on a fancy crown race setting tool, or just get a piece of PVC pipe that is 1 1/4″ in diameter. Park Tool wants US$86 for their CRS-1 Crown Race Setting System. I think a length of PVC is … what? 86 cents? I got fancy with mine and chamfered the inside of it with a pipe reamer so it was a perfect fit. You don’t need to do that.

Left: 1 1/4″ PVC for setting a crown race onto a straight 1 1/8″ steering tube. Right: A US$2.98 length of PEX pipe used for the wire tunnel on the bike build.

Just grease the bottom of the steering tube, drop the crown race onto it (right side up!), slide the ‘tool’ over the steering tube, and bashbashbash it until the bearing race is seated. Two or three bashes and oh look we’re done already. And we saved eighty bucks. If you have a 1.5″ tapered steering tube, use a bigger size of PVC.

cable/hose cutter

These cable and housing cutters are the same ones I use for making electrical connections. They work for cutting the shifter cable, the shifter cable housing and hydraulic brake hose. In fact, that black hex nut visible in the pic actually doubles as a hose end reshaper thingie. Cutting hydraulic brake hose deforms it. Stuff the end onto the little cone inside the hex reforms it into a proper circle so you can fit a new hose needle / end back on.

Brake Hose Needle Driver (optional)

The ‘needle’ is the end fitting on hydraulic brake hose, which actually comes under some pretty high pressure during the braking process. For years, I jammed these little suckers in by hand. You do it by using manual dexterity and swear words to get the little thing fit into the hose just enough to stay in, then use a small hammer in one hand while holding the hose in the other, and bash on it, trying to hold the hose tight enough to make progress without smooshing your fingers with the hammer.

You can also bang the hose end on the garage floor to help finish the job after you decide you have hit yourself with the hammer enough times.

Remember the olive goes on the cable FIRST before you do anything else. Once you set the needle, its not coming out and the olive will not fit over it. Do the job in the right order and its ready to re-insert into the brake lever, easy-peasy.

OR you could wise up like I finally did and buy the right tool for the job. I was disgusted at how easy it was once I had the proper tool. Clamp the hose in the vise, add the olive (the little metal ring) to the hose, then set the needle into the hose end. Turn the screw to slowly, inexorably seat that little bastard into the hose nice and tight whether it wants to go or not (it won’t, but it no longer has any say in the matter).

Brake Bleed Kit (optional?)

This is optional if you are using cabled brakes (please don’t do that), which do not need bleeding. Its also optional if you cheat like I did on the initial build of the Apostate. We’ll get into what I didn’t do – at least initially – in the Assembly Step in this series.

If unlike me you are doing a proper job of brake installation, once you resize your hoses you need to bleed the system. It doesn’t take much. A couple of syringes, some rubber hose and some brake fluid (I hope yours use mineral oil and not corrosive-to-paint DOT fluid).

Rather than buying a Magura branded bleed kit, I picked up this syringe kit and this little 100 ml bottle of Royal Blood mineral oil brake fluid. If I was feeling adventurous, I could spend less and use generic mineral oil or baby oil, but one bottle of the real thing will last quite some time. Since brake spacer blocks come with each set of MT5’s, and I have I think seven sets, I also did not need to buy spacer blocks.

Magura wants US$9.99 for EACH one of these. You get 4 with each set of MT5’s… don’t freaking lose them.

For Magura brakes, you will also need a very small crescent wrench to tighten and remove the bleed hose onto the caliper.

Cassette Lock Ring Socket

I used a fancy Park FR-5.2H. I work on enough cassettes – and got it years ago – so the sting that comes from the price of this little beast has gone away. I appreciate the ability to pick it up and use it like any other wrench.

The Park FR-5.2H. A great tool but you need to have a lot of cassettes and a bunch of bikes to justify its cost.

An occasional bike mechanic will save a bundle and use something like this little Park FR-5.2 with a crescent wrench for less than US$9. I’d show you a picture of mine but I only see it every few months, whereupon I set it someplace safe and don’t see it again for another 3 months. It’ll turn up.

Chain Whip

If all you do is put your cassette onto your rear hub, you don’t need this tool. But if for some reason you want to take it back off, a chain whip is essential. Most workshops have several of these. I have a couple of cheapies like this one or this one. Both of these will give you cassette lock ring sockets, too. I was recently stuck needing one while away from my shop and sprang for the Park SR12-2. Its quite fancy and works great. It had better for the price they charge.

The fancy Park tool at top uses standard KMC bike chain bits and removable pins, so you can repair it down the road. That socket on the end handily fits a little Park FR-5.2 cassette tool.

Metric Hex Keys

This is the same set we used and discussed in Step 3 above.

Chain Breaker

I use the same one in the shop as I keep in my onboard toolkit. The basic, dependable Park CT-5 Mini Chain Brute.

You use the chain breaker above to do the initial sizing of the chain (length)

Chain Pliers

Again, using the tool I take right out of my onboard tool kit. Either Park MLP 1.2 master link pliers, or the cheaper Oumers master link pliers. Both serve double duty as openers and closers. When you buy your own set of master link pliers, don’t get snookered into buying pliers that only open or only close. Those exist solely to make you buy two tools.

After sizing the chain, you use the master link and these pliers whenever you want to remove the chain. Hopefully not often.

Needlenose pliers

Pretty basic stuff here. Needed simply to squish/crimp the cable end tip cover on the shifter cable after it terminates at the derailleur.

Air Pumps (tire and shock)

A tire pump is obvious, right? But we’re trying to do a complete tool list so there it is. Also necessary is the rear shock pump. You can’t use a tire pump on a shock for a bunch of reasons, regardless of whether you have a chuck that will fit the valve. I use the Air Tool shock pump from Specialized because it has a T handle, and a 2-stage valve chuck that will prevent air loss when disconnecting. I had a cheaper pump from Amazon that had these same things but it died on me after a few months and only a few uses. Buy once, cry once.

In addition to the rear shock, this pump is also necessary to add air to the front forks

T25 Torx Wrench

Needed for brake rotor bolts and many of the fasteners on Magura brakes. Additionally, the T25 is popping up here and there on other parts and is something of an alternate standard to a hex socket. The seatpost collar you will read about in the Perfecting section uses one. I have a whole set for my in-shop toolbox. Even if it wasn’t labeled, you can tell by the marks on it which one the T25 is.

You can buy a Bondhus T25 wrench as an individual item. You won’t need any other size on a bicycle. I put one in each of my on-bike tool kits

Electrical Connection/Crimping Tools (optional?)

This is something you probably should do, but you can do without if you really must. First of all, the tools necessary, and the procedures needed, are entirely covered in this 2-part series that begins here with this link.

Here’s the deal: The BBSHD motor’s power connection is a long dual-wire affair extending from the motor about 2 feet and terminating in a pair of 45-amp Anderson connectors. Now, you can buy an Anderson-to-XT90 (female) adapter, for instance, and use that to connect to your battery without shortening the wires (you will need to wrap them into a ball and stuff them somewhere) or needing to do any crimping. But thats going to be sloppy, at best.

When I built the Stormtrooper, the cable lengths worked out fine and I didn’t need to cut and shorten anything. I was able to insulate the archaic Anderson connectors and tack on an XT90-to-Anderson adapter and no one looking – even closely – at the connection would be any the wiser. That project was the exception, not the rule.

For our subject Apostate build, the distance from the battery to the motor was only a few inches, and with no battery bag to hide wiring sins its right out in the open. So there were issues with protecting the connection as well as a need to shorten the wires.

The red top charge cable(tucked into the velcro battery strap) is a 3-inch XT60 extension made from two XT60 pigtails. The bottom cable is an XT90 plug leading directly to the motor, where I shortened the 2-foot-long original cable, crimped on a male XT90 pigtail and encased the wire prior to the connection with marine adhesive heat shrink to protect it from the elements. Both wires are wrapped in color matched red silicone tape so they blend in better. See the water droplets? No such thing as overkill on insulating ebike electrical connections.

What you need, and whether you need anything besides an adapter is entirely dependent on the physical requirements of your bicycle frame, and whether you have a place to hide excess cabling. I personally have no qualms about stuffing a rubber-banded coil of cable inside of a battery bag only I will look inside of. You? Its your call. The link to all the tools you need and step by step instructions on what to do are above.

Silicone Tape (aka Extreme tape. aka Plumbers tape)

This is one of my secret weapons. On the Stormtrooper, with its white frame, I spiral-wrapped the main wiring harness and battery wires in white silicone tape. Matching the frame, they blended right in; hiding in plain sight. I use black silicone tape as handlebar grip tape on almost every bike I own. Similarly for this project we will see I use this tape in red extensively to blend in the wire tunnel, and a little bit of grey on the rear triangle. In older photos you will see white tape, which is not a match to grey alloy, but close enough to turn the volume down until I found my grey tape.

One advantage of silicone tape is it has no adhesive and sticks to itself naturally. You wrap it around things and it stays put because it stretches like a rubber band, and then sticks to itself. Permanently. Until you take a knife to it and then it splits apart and comes right off.

These days, when I start any bike project I acquire at least one roll of silicone tape that is as close of a color match as possible to my frame.

Zip Ties!

Zip ties are the hallmark of many DIY ebike builds, where they often seem to be used everywhere, with abandon. I try to use them as little as possible. When I do, just like the silicone tape, I use a color that matches whatever it is they are looping over to minimize their visibility. Exact paint matches are never possible, but I have found even a rough match is enough to make them less noticeable versus the typical, common black zip tie most DIY builders plaster all over anything and everything.

I used tiny black ties on the black brake and shifter cables, grey ties for the speed sensor on the grey alloy chainstays and red ties on the red frame to help affix the wiring tunnel.

Step 6: Perfecting

No additional tools are needed for this step. You’ll use whatever you’ve already used in the previous steps to redo this bit or that to correct anything you don’t like about your new build.

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch

You want build an ebike, but the project seems overwhelming. Lets de-mystify the entire process, including planning, parts and perfecting the end result.

Introduction (you are here)
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

This is Going to be a Big One

As writing projects go, I’m expecting there’s going to be a LOT here. This is an ambitious topic. Organization will be a challenge, but I think I’ve laid it out in reasonably broad brush strokes that make sense. The Tools List will be organized one section for each Step/chapter. I intend to release these Steps individually across a couple of months. Since 11 steps are planned, thats going to be a pretty fast production schedule. For the initial stages at least we’ll be seeing two drop per week.

What Does ‘From Scratch’ Mean?

I’m going to go through a complete project build that starts with a bare frame, to which I add all the parts to that frame to make a fully functional electrically-assisted bicycle. We won’t be concentrating so much on electrical / motor specifications as we will picking out every single part that is needed to build a bicycle. Right down to the shifter ferrules and cable crimps. Building a bike is a lot less intimidating when you have a complete list of everything that is needed, along with the tools you have to use to install them.

This will be a ‘frame-up’ build: start with a bare frame and make it into an ebike.

I originally planned this article long ago. It was obvious to me there was a need for a sort of ground-up tutorial based on a lot of conversations with a lot of folks who wanted a fun project, but realized quickly they were in over their heads.

Thats kind of where I was myself the first time I did it – back before ebikes, in fact. I built my own analog bicycles back in the day, and so when it came time to join the Dark Side and switch to electrically-assisted bikes, I leveraged what I already knew and just added a few things to the parts list to account for the electrics.

You know what? You can just as easily use these articles to build a regular bicycle; never mind the ‘e’ part.

Throughout this series, I will be trying to balance the value of taking a deep dive on a specific task, to just referencing that something needs doing and trusting you to use the many better, existing resources out there in the world to get a step-by-step tutorial (I will also sometimes point you straight to one of them). I plan on referencing many of the detailed articles I’ve published on this site to cover a lot of ground in this regard.

Where am I cheating?

I didn’t build the wheels. Really… wheelbuilding is a fairly advanced topic. For a person who needs help from a ‘how to build a bike’ article, that person should probably not also be taking on learning how to build wheels. Let a pro do it for you (I do).

In my case, supply chain issues compounded by my regular wheelbuilder’s busy schedule meant I needed to find another way to get the wheels made for this bike within a specific time frame, with specific parts. I’ll get into the wheel parts saga in detail in the assembly sections.

Anything Else?

Yes, I’m describing how to build THIS ebike from scratch: A full suspension, BBSHD-assisted, mid drive e-MTB. I chose this bike because it is a pretty generic animal. Its not something weird like one of my gargantuan cargo bikes, or an all-wheel-drive beast. Those are great bikes, but they are not projects that would appeal to the first time builder, nor are they of mainstream interest.

So… you aren’t going to see me discuss building a hub-assisted ebike. I’ve stated publicly in other fora that I am done building hub bikes (and I have no plans to change this). However, I would like to, at some point in the near future, add a supplement to this build series to discuss what is done differently if building a hub-motor’d ebike from scratch.

Its not a major departure from this instruction set (if anything, its simpler) and only involves a few different specialty tools – chiefly a crank puller and a bottom bracket tool. And we’ll need to address torque arms. And…

.. Never mind. Lets save that talk for later.

Oh And There’s Also This

Lets call this a Mission Statement: DIY Does Not Have To Mean Half-Assed.

Look around on the internet for awhile and you will know exactly what I mean by this. This project is intended to build up a bike that is as close to factory-quality as possible. There will be things I deliberately do that will spoil that look, and its a standard we will know in advance we can’t reach. But when the Perfecting stage is posted with the final production pics (and that is not the bike shown below) you should be seeing a bike that is awfully close to that ideal.

Background on the Subject Bike

As mentioned above, I wanted to do this series some time ago. Unfortunately, after trying to get it off the ground, I realized I needed a reasonably generic build in-progress to reference as I went along and described the build. It took awhile before that opportunity presented itself.

Recently I decided to build a small, self-contained, full suspension bike for use around town on short errands and maybe for light trails. A bike I could easily toss into my car and haul back out again. Finally, this was a ‘normal’ bike I could use as the backbone of this writing project.

The Apostate is the result.

Our finished product will be a simple, full suspension ebike – using high quality components – with a mid drive and a mounted, in-frame battery.

Quickee General Layout:

Lets take a brief look at how this is going to go down:

Step 1: Planning

Decide what kind of bike you want to build: Cargo? Full suspension mountain bike? Hardtail fatty? Put together a preliminary parts list to give yourself a ballpark idea of cost (don’t worry there’s a sample list ready for you to customize). Your parts list will be the backbone of your project management too. What kind of motor are you going to use? Hub (geared or direct drive)? Mid drive (from what manufacturer?). Where is the battery going?

Your parts list is the key to project management

Step 2: Hunting

Step 1 told you what kind of frame you want, in at least general terms. Now you get serious about buying one. Looking around the marketplace at real products will teach you new things you didn’t realize you needed to know. Read specs closely. Buy the frame that meets your needs.

Step 3: Tinkering

Now that your frame has been delivered, you can start confirming measurements so you know for-reals what the dropout widths are, seatpost diameter and so on. With the frame in your hands, you buy parts with confidence knowing they will fit (and this includes your chosen motor, battery and controller). Having the frame in front of you rather than just in pictures is likely going to give you new insight on what kind of bike this is going to be. You may change some of your parts decisions mid-stream.

Step 4: Buying

Now that you have looked long and hard at your frame, and made your final (?) parts decisions, its time to cast your net wide and start buying all the parts. This is where the parts list you roughed out in Step 1 and finalized in Step 3 becomes crucial. It will manage the entire process of buying, waiting and tracking parts shipped from myriad locations.

Step 5: Assembling

This is the big one. You’ve been receiving little boxes from all over for weeks. Now that you have everything in hand, here’s where the rubber meets the road: Put that pile of parts together into an electric bicycle. Because of all the ground we have to cover, this step couldn’t fit into a single article. Since I did the actual build in about 3 days, I split up the assembly discussion into three parts, each covering what was done on Days 1, 2 and 3.

Step 6: Perfecting

Once you finish the core assembly step, the chances are near zero that you picked all the right parts the first time around. Expect to learn new things when you actually ride the bicycle. Maybe the handlebars would be more comfortable if they were a little wider, or the stem was a little shorter. Or longer. There’s almost always something that needs a tweak.

The Apostate was no exception. Right after the first test rides were complete I knew I wanted to make a couple of sizing changes. From there it went straight into the back of a car where it went riding daily for a week in The Grand Canyon. After that fairly extended initial period of use, I had a few additional things I wanted to change.


Are we ready to get started? Lets go!

Step 1: Planning

Apostate! A Classic MTB is Re-Animated … as an Ebike.

Cast aside and forgotten. Sold cheap at online auction. This 1999 Intense Tracer frame rides again, as something entirely different and, well… maybe a bit unholy.

a·pos·tate
/əˈpäˌstāt,əˈpästət/
noun
Sort of like a heretic.  But worse.

The Apostate is the subject build for my how-to series How To Build an Ebike From Scratch

I Need Another Parking Spot

Its been awhile since I have added another ship to The Pacific Fleet. Its not that I don’t like building bikes. That is a sickness I hope is never cured… but I ran out of room to park the things, and more importantly I had bikes to do every job I needed doing.

I’m not generally a recreational rider, so my bikes all have jobs like commuter, general runabout, Costco hauler etc. Since I built the Lizzard King, it has become the bike I like for everything, and so has cut way down on my use of other bikes. Presently I’m only regularly riding that bike when I am working and living in Fresno CA. When I am at home in Pacific Grove, CA I ride the Mongoose Envoy as my general shopper and around-town runabout. For recreation at that beautiful coastal area, I have been riding 2Fat on remote beaches devoid of tourists and humans (which are not quite the same thing).

Recently it became clear I have a need for a bike I don’t have. My cargo monstrosities are too big to fit into a car, and my current 4-wheeled ICE transport does not have and cannot be refitted for a trailer hitch. So my motorcycle carrier or even a small trailer are out.

Time to Downsize (i.e. make a normal bike)

I need something relatively small and self-contained, that I can toss into the back of a station wagon and easily haul back out. From there, go ride and come back. Another big time need is for when I drop the car off at the shop for service. I can ride myself home; then back again to pick up the car when its ready.

You’ll notice I said “self-contained”, which sounds kind of odd. I have been using my Guerrilla Gravity Smash recently for these tasks and, while it works, that bike is a 29er with a size L frame. Those wagon wheels on a big frame make it a chore to stuff into the car. Also, it has a backpack battery (thats where “self contained” comes in) which affects convenience and ease of use. It also makes it tough to loan the bike to anyone else to ride, given the realities of getting used to a backpack battery.

So… small and self-contained. Check. ‘Small’ means 26″ to me – I’m not interested in a scaled up 20″ BMX frame. Self-contained simply means the bike has to have space on it somewhere for a mounted battery. And since I am going to put in a mid drive motor, I need a down tube that doesn’t curve down into the bottom bracket… so that frame design and wheel size means I’m more likely to find what I want in an old-school frame.

And since I am looking for something on a smaller scale, I need a frame thats just a touch the smaller side of what I usually ride (a Size L or XL; I ride a 59cm road bike frame). I can size up for my body with the right seatpost and stem, within reason.

Frame = Heart + Soul

After a fairly long online search, I sort of hit the jackpot when I came across this Intense Tracer frame (which has an effective 18.5″ seat tube, measured Center of bottom bracket to Top of seatpost hole). Some after-purchase research reveals it to be from 1999 – the first year of the Tracer’s long production run. It had the full suspension I wanted for comfort (yeah, yeah… I know: suspension is about traction. blah blah I want full suspension for comfort. Remember: Apostate).

The original top decals were trashed. This is the good side. We’ll have to come up with something else to put here.

Down tube: Nice sharp angle into the bottom bracket. Perfect for an external mid-drive.

This is a v1.0 Wolf Pack with the external XT60/XT90 plugs. hmmm. With no battery bag what am I going to do about hiding the motor harness, shift sensor and battery cabling?

Battery space: Holy cow. It almost looks like it was made with a Wolf Pack from Luna Cycle in mind. And sure enough it was. Early fitment was with a Wolf v1.0000 borrowed from the Stormtrooper. Final fitment was a 2022-manufacture wireless Wolf v2.0.

Room to spare above the battery was ZERO and, with the early-release-from-Luna ‘improved’ magnet mount strip in place instead of the even-stronger 2022 version, I still have a concern about tearing out the (factory rivnut!) bottle bosses or the mount itself with one too many removals. So the battery is intended to stay put, with one two-inch and two three-inch velcro cinch straps holding that sucker down in place as firmly as possible.

This old shock was an explosion waiting to happen

The original Fox Float RC 6.5×1.5 shock was done for. I tried having it rebuilt but the shop Fox recommended to do the work must be too cool to respond to customer inquiries. So I ended up replacing it with a current-manufacture Fox Float DPS Performance.

The only sign this fork came out of the box was a pipe-fitter cut to shorten the steerer to 230mm, and the star nut inside. Maybe it was cut but never installed? No blemishes where there’d have been a crown race. Manufacturer stamp is from 1999. Model year on exterior is 2000.

I scored big time with a period-correct 2000 Marzocchi Bomber X-Fly Z1 fork (about the only other thing on this bike that is period correct). It is holding air like a champ and is pretty plush, with only a bit more than the manufacturer’s initial 36 psi (2.5 bar) in each of its twin air chambers (Apparently its max is 45 psi and I am at about 40 now).

That fork was a real find – stored for two decades; you have to look closely to confirm it was ever mounted and wasn’t stored in an airtight bag for 22 years. I managed to get hold of replacement seals, as well as the original service manual. So even though the original seals are holding up just fine, we’re going to do an oil and seal replacement… as soon as I bring the bike back from its real maiden voyage… to the Grand Canyon in late April of 2022.

Intense Tracers of the day used Specialized rear suspension design, used under license. They were arguably a bit of an upgrade over the various flavors of Stumpjumper FSR.
Motor test fit. Qapla’! Also the red silicone tape on the top tube is a pretty close color match. Seatpost is an old, sturdy Kalloy Uno 31.8 x 350mm

Much More to Come on This Bike

The Apostate is the backbone of my upcoming series: How to Build An Ebike From Scratch. A couple of installments have already been posted; More are completed and on a set publication schedule.

Assembly, End of Day 1: Wheels/rotors, headset, fork, stem, handlebars, derailleur and saddle on. The crankarm and chainring are just sitting there for the photo.
Assembly, End of Day 2: Cranks and chainring are on for real this time
Assembly, Day 3: Test rides. Everything is done but the grips, bar ends and cable management.
First real ride: April 11 2022. In the rain of course. Quick take a picture before the water dries and you can see all the dirt. It’ll never look this clean again.

So I’m not going to say a whole lot more about the bike here other than to toss out some pics and note today’s first real ride, not counting its various tests at my workshop, went great. I rode into the office in the rain no less. Its butter-smooth, which is by design. Its Schwalbe Pickup tires are tough as nails but articulated enough to let me navigate the soaked streets with confidence.

Not the sort of shoes it was ever meant to wear. But remember: Apostate.

oh… and then this happened (and yes, one step too far just behind the bike and its a lonnnnnng way down).

Stay tuned.

Range Anxiety? Be Prepared (and Stop Worrying)

Want to take a long trip with an ebike? Just want to proof yourself against running out of juice on your commute? Here are a variety of solutions.

I’ve put rather a lot of effort into proofing myself against running out of battery juice. In all the years I have been using an ebike as a daily driver – almost always for utility rather than for recreation – I have never run out of battery power. Even when I’ve forgotten to charge before a ride (more on that below).

There Are Solutions

Lets explore some range-extension options. Hopefully you’ll come across something here you hadn’t thought of and can take advantage of.

Use a Big Battery

This is the most obvious one. If you don’t want to run out of gas, put in a big gas tank. This is not a new idea. Nowadays when a gearhead hears about a Corvette Z06, a super fast, light and powerful version of that car comes to mind… but back in 1963, if your option code was RPO Z06, that meant you had the “big tank” Corvette… with a freaking 36 gallon gas tank to minimize refueling stops during races. Or Cannonball runs.

So not a new idea.

If you are doing a DIY ebike conversion, unless you have specific weight goals, you typically want to fit the biggest battery you can afford. Same goes for a manufactured ebike. If it has a larger battery option… you want that. Whether you can take advantage of an option will boil down to the size of your wallet. An XL-sized battery will also let you preserve your battery by charging it to 80% or 90%, but thanks to it being oversized you still have enough in the tank to go wherever you please.

I am all about big batteries on the bikes I build. The Great Pumpkin has a 31 amp-hour, 52 volt custom triangle pack. The Lizzard King has a 32ah/52v brick hiding under its floor. The biggest in the fleet is 2Fat – now a recreational bike, it needs big power to run through remote stretches of beach without inland access. That bike has two parallel’d 16ah/52v packs joined together to make a single 36ah battery.

Bigger is better only up to a point. Big batteries equal big weight. So there’s a limit to what you can and should get away with. You can’t go this big on normal neighborhood ebikes, nor should you.

With all that said, going big on a battery can also save your bacon when you do something like forget to charge your battery… there’s enough extra capacity to eke out a ride home rather than having to figure out a way to sleep over at the office.

Bring Along a Spare Battery

This is my least favorite solution, but it may work for you. If you have a battery, buy another one just like it and toss it into a backpack or pannier. Swap it in when needed. This is probably most likely going to appeal to folks with a manufactured ebike and thus no other options. Unfortunately with a solution like this, you can’t get anywhere near as much out of two batteries as you would be able to for a big single one, or for two joined together in parallel (you can to only partially drain each of your packs, hence the loss in capacity). But you suffer the same weight penalty.

Sidebar:
Don't parallel batteries together unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing.  Running packs in parallel increases the potential for danger dramatically, and should only be messed with by folks with the experience to know how to mitigate those increased risks.

Onboard Charging (Permanent Mount)

I have written up my experiences with using Mean Well power supplies as CC+CV ‘smart chargers’, and mentioned they are fanless and weatherproof. This and the fact they have mounting tabs means they can be mounted permanently. Assuming the bike is large enough to have a brick bolted on without anyone really noticing. That can mean cargo bikes and any bike with a front rack – the charger works great as a rack deck. And on the front, you don’t really miss the fact you can’t put a rack trunk on.

Pictured above on the left: The Big Fat Dummy and its 185w/3a charger gassing up at the park. The charger is bolted onto the lower deck, up front on the rack. On the right: The Great Pumpkin‘s 320w charger on the front rack is good for 5 amps.

The 480w monster now on the front rack of 2Fat is good for a whopping 8 amps. Its supersized, as when I need a recharge on that bike I am in the middle of nowhere and facing darkness, fog … and may need to negotiate with an unpleasantly high tide if I dawdle.

Onboard Charging (Carried in a Bag)

You don’t always want to be lugging a charger around; nor do you always have a place to bolt one on. I have both 185w and 320w portables that I bring along occasionally on bikes that don’t have a permanent charger mount. For instance, I didn’t want to add a heat-generating charger to the largely enclosed basement battery box on The Lizzard King. So I carry the 320w unit you see below when circumstances warrant (not the shoe. Thats just there for size comparison). Being able to pump in 5a into any battery is going to add a whole lot of range if you plug in while having lunch.

Speaking of open outlets, where are they best found? Here in the USA I have really good luck with public parks. Oftentimes a picnic canopy will have a working power outlet. You can also stop at a roadside cafe, shop or gas station and ask the owner if you can plug in while you are there visiting. This works best if you are stopping somewhere for lunch and will be there for awhile. I’ve also found plugs attached to the outside of restroom buildings at state parks.

Obviously, this approach works best on regular routes where you can determine in advance what is available. Keep your eyes open, scope out your options and file that information away for the time when you need to use it.

I include a ‘Y’ plug in my kit so if I am asking someone to plug into their AC power, I am proposing to share it, not take it over.

Don’t Be Such a Pig

This next one is obvious… or is it? Its a technique I have used and it gets the job done so here goes:

Use less power, as in dial back the assist. My Bullitt with its Great Big Battery was about 3 miles into a 16 mile Saturday morning Costco run when I realized I had forgotten to charge it after work on Friday. Its 52v/14S battery reads 58v when its full, and was already down to 52v when I realized my mistake. Not only would I be blowing my morning turning around and going back home, it would be hours before that battery was charged. I decided to just go for it. So I reduced my assist to the minimum and continued. When I returned home with a cartful of groceries stuffed into my cargo box and panniers, I was down into the mid 40’s, voltage-wise – and more than a little worn out.

But I made it. I wouldn’t have if I had not gone overboard with the size of the battery.

After this I made sure I carried a charger with me on these trips. There is a park midway on the journey with a publicly available power plug. I can plug in, sack out and catch a nap next to a water fountain and be on my way. Late… but I’ll have beaten the system.

Charge at Public (J1772) EV Charging Stations

Yes really. It may be difficult to find an open plain vanilla AC power outlet that you can use… but nowadays electric vehicle (as in automobile) charging stations are popping up all over the place.

If you do not live in the USA, you will want to find a different adapter than what I am describing below (from what I hear non-USA charging stations in the EU are much more likely to have an ordinary, separate outlet available for public use).

But in the Land of the Free, this may be the only obviously available power plug you can get hold of. I’m seeing them increasingly in parks and ordinary store parking lots. Likely they are also springing up at the more refined campsites and national parks.

This is my J1772–> Nema 5-20 adapter for plugging into an EV charger

This is an option that hasn’t been available until recently, and is still not widely known or even understood. Above is a picture of the adapter I have. It plugs into a USA-standard J1772 EV charger plug and terminates in a female NEMA 5-20 plug on the other side. NEMA 5-20 plugs are also compatible with NEMA 5-15 plugs. Folks in the USA know of the 5-15 as your garden variety 3-prong grounded electrical plug. Using this adapter, you now have a bridge directly from a 240v EV car charger to a plug that you can connect your charger into.

Fzzzzzzzz… BOOM!

Thats what could happen if you just plug in without making sure your charger can handle 240 volts of current versus the usual 120.

Here’s the thing: Many ebike chargers are manufactured to run on global power grid voltage. In the USA, we use 120v. Much of the rest of the world uses a lot more volts. 240v in particular. So if you are manufacturing chargers and want to sell them everywhere, you make one that can handle the various voltages right out of the box, so you only have to make one model. However, you can’t count on this feature being there. So check first.

How can you tell? Look at the fine print on the label. The really tiny print that you never read. In the case of the Mean Wells I use, its written clearly in big letters, since they are meant for commercial use and nobody cares if they look pretty.

Yup it’ll handle 240 volts, alright. Since I have also made chargers for relatives who use them on their ebikes in the EU, I know they work just fine on the higher EU voltages.

But thats me. YOU have to figure this out for yourself on your own charger. You won’t know until you go look.

So Much For The Good News…

Here comes the bad news: These adapters are expensive. I have seen them selling for as much as $200. Oddly enough, after some googling I found a seller only an hour or so down the road from me who seems to have the lowest sale price on the web. I paid $85 for mine. Thats still a lot. Lets hope the price is only going down as these types of units become more common.

Or better yet, lets hope that EV charging stations in the USA start commonly having normal AC plugs available.

Whether that happens or not, you should be able to do one or more of the things above, and turn range anxiety into something you used to have … but don’t anymore.