This is a Big One
This is an ambitious topic and there’s a LOT here. The entire series ended up being over 41,000 words across 11 installments. Organization was a challenge, but I think it is laid it out in reasonably broad brush strokes that make sense. The Tools List is organized one section for each Step/chapter.
What Does ‘From Scratch’ Mean?
I’m going to go through a complete project build that starts with a bare frame, to which I then 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.
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.
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 point you straight to one of them). I reference many of the detailed articles I’ve already 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.
Yes. We will be buying a battery. Not building one. If you need instruction on building a bike, learning how to also safely build a battery pack – something that can burn down your house and kill people if done wrong – is not something you should be taking on just yet.
Also, 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.
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?
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!