Life is like a wheel… and it will run your ass over if you don't watch out
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.
Got an ebike? Use the big battery you are already lugging around to power a small portable pump.
Me personally, I like to ride around on ebikes with fat tires, and I have several of them. The most recent addition to The Pacific Fleet is my Surly Big Fat Dummy. Its a monstrous cargo bike that, for me, doubles as a commuter. A few nights ago, on my way home from work – in the dark – I picked up a piece of twisted metal in my back tire. Part of the reinflation process (I use Flatout tire sealant so you need air in the tires as they spin around and seal the hole) requires air in the tires.
Because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, by the time I got the bike pulled over and the metal removed, my 26×4.3″ tire was flat as a pancake. Fortunately, I had a painless solution in my panniers and that solution is the subject of this post.
Now, when it comes to bicycle commuting this ain’t my first rodeo. I have always carried a Lezyne portable fat bike pump and it makes pumping fat bike tires tolerable. But its still far from ideal. Life sucks while you are putting in those 250+ pump strokes. And it ain’t quick by any stretch. If your tire is leaking air while you are pumping, the pump may not be a workable solution. As a backup I used to carry 25g co2 cartridges. Two of those monsters would blast a fat tire up far enough, fast enough, to be able to jump back on the bike and roll a half block or so to let the tire sealant do its job. Followed by another 250 pumps to get the now sealed but mostly-flat-again tire back up to rideable pressure.
But… you can only carry so many single-use co2 cartridges, and they are very pricey at that large size. Some time ago I came across a better way to deal with this issue.
The Portable Pump Solution
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just connect a hose to a small portable compressor, flick a switch and pump up your tire? And the compressor pumped fast enough to outpace even nail-sized holes in your tube or tire? Well, portable pumps like that have been around for quite a while. Small automotive ones connect to your cigarette lighter plug in your car (I have this one in mine). Unfortunately they run on 12v DC. Your ebike is running at least 36v DC and likely more. So you can’t use those. There are plenty of pumps available that have their own internal battery… but batteries are heavy and so are those pumps. Besides. You already have a great big battery on the bike. Why can’t you use it?
Yeah yeah. I know. China. If you can find a USA-made portable pump that runs directly on a 48v power source, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll add it in here. As it stands, there are only a very few such pumps readily visible on the market and they are all from the Far East. I have used them a half dozen times without incident. Will they last forever? Good question. I do still carry my hand pump just in case.
DIY a Battery Plug
As you may have noticed from the pictures, the pump has an odd plug on it. What you want to be able to do is plug straight into your battery, and to do that you are going to have to get your hands dirty. From here on, I’ll give a step-by-step on how to make this happen.
Step 1: Snip off the plug
This one is pretty simple. Take a pair of scissors and snip off the plug.
Step 2: spread and strip the wire ends
You can see the wire strippers I used in the picture above. I used the 18ga hole, and I left about twice as much bare wire as I ordinarily need for a crimp connector. These wires are so thin I want to fold it back so the butt-end connector I will use has more material to grab onto.
Step 3: Determine which wire is hot
Yeah thats right. The plug gives us no indication which is the hot wire, so we have to figure that out for ourselves. What I do is bring out a bike battery and connect a bare XT90 pigtail to its output cord. This in turn gives me a bare, hot lead that I had sure better be careful with, and so must you.
So the next move is to bring the bare, stripped pump wires up to the bare battery wires and – after turning on the pump, touch the wires together to see which combination fires up the pump. Getting it wrong will not hurt anything. Just try the other combination if your first try doesn’t work.
As soon as you have marked your hot wire, disconnect the pigtail so you don’t have bare hot wires waiting to say hi to the cat.
Step 4: Make the connection
My choice for this job is a combination of the following: 1. Marine adhesive butt-end connectors 2. Adhesive heatshrink over the individual wires on each side 3. Adhesive Heatshrink over the butt-end connectors
I’m looking to make a reinforced and solid connection since the wires on the Chinese side are pretty flimsy. Here’s what it looks like after I have crimped the wires together, but before I have done the final heatshrink of first the connectors, and then the sheathing over them.
Notice the different colored rings on each side of the connections?
I used ‘step down’ connectors because the pump side wire was so much thinner. 18 gauge if we are being generous and probably 20 gauge if we are being accurate. This is why I folded the pump wires over to double them up. Which will only give more material to the crimp itself. The true strength of the connection comes mostly from the connector ends, plus the adhesive sheathing over top of that.
Step 5: Activate the Heatshrink (last step)
Finally, heat shrink the connectors first, then the individual wire sheaths, and finally the connector sheaths that also go over top of the individual small wires. BE CAREFUL on the pump side as the pump wire is very intolerant of heat and will happily melt on you even with mild heat. I use a heat gun set to low. You could get away with a hair dryer. I wouldn’t want to use an open flame due to the fragility of the pump wires.
At this point we just toss our pump into a bag to protect it from everyday rummaging, and that bag into our panniers. We’ll all hope we never have to use it, but we will of course.
With few exceptions, everyone who can ride a bicycle already knows how to ride a hub drive ebike. Not so if it comes with a mid drive. Particularly a powerful one that can tear your chain apart. Here is how you flatten the slope of that learning curve.
“Mid Drives For Dummies”
This article is based on a portion of this post where I discuss the strength and weaknesses of different types of ebike motors. I link that article many times in help discussions, but usually only for the part about how to ride a mid drive without excess drivetrain wear, mechanical failures etc… so I am creating this standalone post on the subject… and stealing liberally from the original.
Mid drive motors on ebikes are very common in the production-line, name-brand-manufacturer ebike world. Its safe to say they dominate the industry for eMTBs. Why is this?
Hub motors power the bike thru the axle, so they are single-speed: their motive power has nothing to do with the chain, chainrings or cogs. Try taking off your chain and then go pedal the bike around. Pedal assist will work just fine. the chain and chainrings are only there for you to slug it out with; the motor couldn’t care less.
Since hub motors are single-speed, that means they are not happy climbing hills… for the same reason your life sucks trying to do the same thing with no gears. The only fix for this is to run thousands of watts thru the hub (we are talking 3-6kw or more, which is well into e-motorcycle territory).
Unlike hub motors, mid-drives power the bike thru the drivetrain. So they use the gears just like you do. This is a good thing for the same reasons its good for you.
Only a fanatic or a penitent rides hills on a single speed bike. So how is it desirable to do that with an electric motor? Well of course it’s not. A single speed hub motor is often strong enough to help get you up that hill. But its not happy doing it, and its not good for the motor or (if it has them) the gears inside of it.
If you have only had a hub drive ebike you won’t realize just HOW unhappy until you take your first proper ride up a steep hill on a mid drive ebike. Get it in the right gear from the start and the bike simply doesn’t care that its going up a hill. It scoots right up without breaking a sweat.
The benefit is multiplied when you look at a mid drive’s motor specs. Usually they are more powerful than a hub drive by a wide margin. A typical hub puts out 40-60 Nm of torque, with a few going up to 80 Nm. Production mid drives usually start there as the bottom end. Aftermarket motors commonly put out 120-180Nm.
Well, if you aren’t familiar with what it means to have X Newton Meters of torque going thru your drivetrain, lets use the more common (but functionally useless) measure of watts:
That 180Nm motor pictured above has a peak output of 3000 watts.
A BBSHD or a Bafang Ultra peaks at 1750 watts (peak power on the BBSHD can also be maintained continuously so its REALLY a beast).
A 48v BBS02 is about a thousand watts.
your typical street-legal pissant EU motor is rated for 250 watts (pssst… the manufacturers are now cheating on this. Don’t tell anybody).
A normal cyclist on an analog bike is capable of putting out roughly 300 watts over the span of a few minutes.
Yeah ‘oh’ is right. Your mid drive is pumping a metric shipload of power thru your drivetrain. That power is likely more than standard bicycle parts were meant to handle. So how do you have a motor this powerful (its not as much of a boost as the math makes it sound like) and not bend, break or snap stuff?
It Ain’t Hard To Do Right…
…but you gotta do it. Here then are the rules of the game when riding a powerful mid drive motor.
The Short Version: Keep the motor spinning.
Now the Long Version:
Keep The Motor Spinning
Here’s a basic tenet that is true of all electric motors: Electrical power goes towards turning the motor and producing forward momentum. If there is resistance – which keeps the motor from free-spinning – then instead of forward rotation, the electrical energy is converted to heat. Mid drives have so much power that they can get really hot, really quick if not allowed to spin up. But they are so powerful, they might not just stop at generating heat.
Lug a powerful mid drive and the torque that is pouring out of it could tear your chain apart – if it can’t rotate it thanks to resistance. Or, you might discover what it means to ‘taco’ your front chainring or rear cog. If your sins are not quite that egregious, and you just lug it gently enough to not tear something apart, then within the span of a single ride it can ‘peanut butter’ the nylon gears inside your motor; bricking that motor and potentially requiring you to carry the bike anywhere you plan for it to go.
Thats very, very bad. So don’t let it happen. Here’s how we do that:
When Coming To A Stoplight, Downshift!
Always. Either that or stay in a gear that is in the middle of your cluster so when you start up again, the motor does not lug itself. You spin up quickly, without any brutality being visited on the drivetrain.
From a standing start, a mid drive will slowly tear into the cassette body, or damage the pawls inside. this will eventually tear the freehub apart and kill the hub. Which means you get to build a new wheel.
If you downshift so the motor doesn’t tear into your drivetrain when you start back up again, you’ll be fine. So remember: downshift before you come to a stop.
When You Want to Go Faster, Upshift
When working a mid drive, just like driving a classic sports car, you have to ‘row’ through the gears, both slowing down and speeding up. Wait until your motor is maxed out before you kick it up a gear. Chances are good its going to be smarter to stay one gear down from what you would have used without a motor as your bike will spin up to the same top speed on its next-highest gear as it will the highest one: But it will get there faster. Mid drives are like that especially when going fast on the street. Here again we are going back to not lugging the motor, and letting the mid drive spin faster than you ever would
Again thinking of your mid drive ebike as if its an exotic sports car with a manual transmission: In between each gear you need to let off the power (i.e. the clutch), shift and hit the accelerator (the throttle). If you have a gear sensor you will not have to worry (officially) about the ‘clutch’ part as that will be safely done for you.
Note that above, I am talking exclusively about when you are using the throttle. If you want to pedal the bike thats no problem… just use pedal assist and set your power level to a lower setting; taking care not to overdo the boost and keeping your gearing so you never lug the bike with slow pedaling up a steep hill (if pedaling slow on flat ground, or downhill, there’s no issue to worry about as you are not providing resistance to the motor).
Do Not Shift Under Power
Even if you have a gear sensor. Thats right I said it. Don’t trust the gear sensor unless you are forced to. Lift for just a sec and do your shift.
Shifting while pouring huge watts into your chain is an ugly thing. You will recognize your mistake the instant the result hits your ears. It won’t kill the chain outright, but as you hear that chain smash from one cog to another you will know your bike hates you very, very much.
If you treat the gear sensor as a fail-safe rather than taking it for granted, you will be much more likely to avoid disaster. Now, as you become familiar with riding your mid drive and how it behaves, you will naturally figure out how to push it to its limits and minimize that power blip when you shift. You may even get smart enough to do without the blip entirely and just shift full throttle. But for your first few weeks of riding this thing… treat the gear sensor as a backup, not the default.
Here’s a technique you want to learn as part of your education on operating a mid drive: Using your brake lever motor cutoffs as your clutch: Just slightly actuate the levers so the cutoff kicks in, but the pads don’t engage. Lift when the shift is finished. You can stay on the throttle or keep pedaling while doing this so the process is near-seamless.
Many ebike levers have this ability built into them. Magura MT5e levers have a mid-lever hinge that lets you touch the brakes and engage the cutoff without any pressure making it to the caliper.
Keep Chain Alignment As Straight As You Can
Mid drive motors tend to work in a lot wider range than humans do. So you can leave the motor in a gear that would be too low for your cadence and let it spin away like crazy… it actually likes it that way. So, this piece of advice is partly about how you ride the bike (i.e. what gears you let it sit in) but also about how you build it if its a DIY effort.
You really only need three or four gears in the middle of your cluster on a mid-drive-powered ebike. You want them to be the ones that let the motor spin fast. You also want the cogs the bike is happiest in rpm-wise to not be cockeyed, front to back (i.e. bad chain alignment). So regardless of whether you built this bike or you just bought it, when hammering on the power don’t do it when the chain is yawed to an extreme.
On an analog bike you can get away with a lot, since you are only feeding back 150 watts to it. Feed it 1500 and that sideways-skewed chain will become a saw and chew right through your front chainring and rear cog teeth. Be smart when you shift your gears (or when you build the bike in the first place).
If this is a DIY build, learn in your first outing or two whether there are any problem gears you should stay away from. There are all sorts of offset chainrings (and 1mm and 2mm shims) available on the market. They cost money, but spending that money now means not spending it later after you have walked home.
If you bought your bike manufactured with a mid drive installed from the factory, this part has already been taken care of. If you are building an aftermarket conversion, you will have to buy components that are strong enough to handle the punishment your 1500w+ motor will mete out. Almost 100% of internet whining about mid drive reliability is from builders who fail at this stage.
If you build with appropriate components, and ride it smart, even a high powered mid drive will essentially last forever. Yeah sure you will wear out the chain and rear cluster in say three thousand miles, the smallest cog in half that, and the chainrings in 10. But thats peanuts considering how many miles you put on the bike.
Parking your ebike outdoors all alone? When shopping, my cargo bikes are locked but out on the street… but the battery goes in with me. Here’s how I do it without people thinking I am carrying a bomb.
Yes You Can Take ‘it’ With You
An ebike used for utility purposes is, by its nature, going to be left out a lot. You go to the store, load up a shopping cart, come back and fill up your saddlebags. You really want all the parts on the bike when you left to still be there. Especially after loading on 50 lbs of cat food, Oreos and diapers.
The most obvious way you keep the bike itself is to use a good locking strategy. I’ll save that for a different discussion. This time I will focus on how I protect the single most-expensive component on any ebike – the battery. Not by locking it up, but by making it so I can do a quick grab and carry it in with me.
By removing that battery, we are making that big heavy ebike into a boat anchor, which we can hope makes it at least a little less attractive to thieves.
Size (and Shape) Matters
What I am describing can be made to work with any shape battery, kept anywhere on your bike. What you see here works best with a squarish, oblong battery. In the pics below I am using a 17.5ah Luna Storm battery, which is pretty big and heavy (in part thanks to its powerful but not-so-energy-dense 25R cells). More likely, if you have a similar heat-shrink battery pack like this one, its quite a bit smaller and lighter.
I also keep a Luna Wolf Pack battery like this and do not use its magnetic mount. The battery is easy to quickly get off that mount, but leaving it inside of a bag like I describe here is, overall, easier than stuffing it in every time, taking it back out and so on. For packs like this (Wolf, Shark, Dolphin etc.) you could certainly bring a small pack and put it in/take it out as a part of your routine.
There’s more than one way to skin this cat, so what you see here is just a jumping off point.
Lets Get to It
This is the battery in its bag, just like it would be if I rolled up to the local Costco.
If we zip open the bag, we don’t see a battery. We see an inner bag, along with that charger cable extending thru to the rear. The controller cable is in there too just out of sight (look closely and you can see it)
If we look inside the bag, we see the battery charge cable is in fact an extension running from the rear of the interior bag up and out the front. The motor cable – an XT90S connector – also has a short extension between the battery cable and the motor cable. The idea is this: when routinely, frequently detaching and reattaching the cable, if there is any wear its on a cheap, replaceable extension and not a critical, live/hot cable coming directly off the battery.
Disconnect the cables and give a tug to the inner bag. Here its shown halfway out but you will just pull the thing out in one motion.
Annnd here we are. the cables are shown sticking out of the inner bag. You will want to cap those for safety’s sake. I use cheap plugs I got a bagful of on Fleabay for a couple bucks.
And yes… as-is I have had someone ask me “what is that a bomb?” … only half joking and ready to clock me if I make a sudden move. So stuff the wires in the bag so they don’t stick out.
Done! Wires are capped and stuffed into the bag in 5 seconds. The sling strap goes over your shoulder for easy carry. I just lug it to the nearest shopping cart and put it in the bottom rack with my helmet and off I go.
Its a really short list with one item on it.
You see above the Blackhawk S.T.R.I.K.E. carrier in use. Purchase link is here. Yes, the name is a tad ridiculous. But this pack is minimalist and is just durable cloth with no insulation or padding. Its easier to stuff into a confined space. Mine came with a super sturdy velcro sling strap.
Another that is well made (and a tad smaller for a tighter fit is sold by Voodoo Tactical. It comes with thin backpack-style shoulder straps that don’t take up *too* much space in your triangle bag and are not enormously fiddly when stuffing back in there.
Another one I use (with my Luna Wolf pack) is this government-issue USMC carrier. The link is to a brand new unit. I got mine surplus and cheaper on Fleabay. This pouch has no straps (you can clip on your own from a duffel bag if you like) and it is the opposite of the Blackhawk carrier: Its thick and padded. I can still stuff it into any triangle bag I have despite this. Its great as a protective layer over a battery.
Wrapping It Up
There are lots of ways to do this. How I do it is no big deal. Key takeaway here is to find a method that works for you so you can swiftly grab the battery, go off to your next adventure and then come back and plug right back in again.
“Wideloaders” are a load-supporting framework that sit level to the rear axle on a cargo bike. They are not made for the Surly Big Fat Dummy, but the frame has fittings to attach them. Here is how I made mine with no special tools or fabrication skills.
The Surly BFD Project Menu Prologue Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?! Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders (you are here) Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar Episode 5: Odds and Ends
Do It Yourself (its not like you have a choice)
Wideloaders go hand in hand with the use of XL panniers like Great Big Bags 2.0. If you have Wideloaders that your bags sit on, it lets the frame support part of the load directly and increases carry capacity. So, for my Surly Big Fat Dummy, I definitely wanted these.
Big Fat Problem
The Big Fat Dummy is a unique frame design. It is similar to the Surly Big Dummy. There’s a family resemblance to XtraCycle-compatible frames. There are many factory-original and aftermarket options for those bikes, but similar is not ‘identical’ or even ‘compatible’. BFD owners figure this out pretty quick.
The image below shows a bright green Surly Big Dummy frame overlaid onto a Big Fat Dummy frame. The front wideloader mounting points are lined up (look for the frame hole/white circle on the bottom tube extension, aft of the bottom bracket). This overlay makes it clear the rear mount holes don’t match. You need Wideloaders designed specifically for the Big Fat Dummy frame.
Unfortunately that product doesn’t exist. If you want them, you make them. So I did.
Lets Get Started
Your wideloaders are going to mount in the front and rear hollow tubes that already exist in the frame. These cross-tubes are both 7/8″ Inside Diameter (ID), so you will need to buy 7/8″ Outside Diameter (OD) tubing. Luckily, this is widely available. However you will find a variety of thicknesses, heat treatments and alloys. I’ll pass along what I think is the best to use, and, well, what I used. I’ll let you decide whether or not to follow my lead or make some changes, as what I did turned out to be really REALLY heavy duty, but also heavy for what it is.
What about copper tubes? You can go a different way and use copper tubing and soldered joints for a very, very cool look. But its no lighter than the alloy and screw-together approach I used, requires semi-permanent solder connections and a whole lot more effort (and money) to put together. It will look incredible when its done though. If you go this route yourself, note that copper tubing is designed to have a specific liquid flow rate, so it is measured via its Inside Diameter rather than Outside. So while I am using 7/8″ tubing, your typical copper tubing that fits is going to be known as 3/4″ tubing. The deciding factor to proper fit will be wall thickness so pay attention when doing your buying.
Total project cost (not counting shipping): About $230.00. $304 with the optional tools added in.
Notes on the Parts List
Your life will be a lot easier with the tube cutter and ratcheting attachment. It makes doing the job of making repeated cuts easy and gives a perfect cut every time.
Once you are done cutting a tube, even if done with the tube cutter it will still have sharp and somewhat bulged edges. Use the reamer to give a finished bevel to the outer and inner edges. You could use a straight file, or a tiny long round file, and eyeball it until done. But this specialized tool does a quick, clean job in just a couple seconds.
You need a few passes with a flat file on the flat of your cut pipe to smooth out the surface after the cut. Well actually you don’t need it, but between this Flat Bastard and the reamer you will never cut yourself on a sharp edge. And yes I picked this file to link in because they called it a Flat Bastard (any bastard cut will do, or even a fine cut).
If you choose the 6063-T5 tubing you likely also will need a hacksaw. I am not linking one or giving a price. If you don’t already have a hacksaw in your toolbox you may as well pull your toga up over your head and accept your fate.
This is an extreme-duty choice. With a wall thickness of just under 1/4″, it is heavy stuff. But use two of these as thru-frame cross-pieces and your wideloaders will not bend even with well over 100 lbs of cargo loaded on them. My record is about 160 lbs (72.5 kg) and I was glad I over-did it, especially when hitting road bumps… an overloaded bike that weighs over 500 lbs with the rider onboard is a runaway freight train: you have to just hang on and bulldoze thru things you would otherwise avoid on the ride home.
This tubing is too thick for the tube cutter. You can use the cutter to get it started, then switch to a standard-issue hacksaw, or find some other method of cutting this very thick tubing. Me, I went cutter+hacksaw. It worked fine, but was something of a pain in the ass.
This stuff is sold in metric measurements since it is coming from a bicycle frame tube supplier, but the measurements translate to 7/8″ OD tubing with walls about 0.071″ thick, in individual lengths of 39″. That is roughly the thickness of bicycle handlebars. As aluminum tubing goes, its thicker than most reasonably-priced alternatives, which is good. Its also much lighter than the 6063 I used for the crossbars. You can sub in two tubes of this 7005 for crossbars less insanely thick than the 6063. They will still be strong.
Stainless Boat Rail Fittings
Being thick stainless steel, these marine boat fittings are all about durability and strength. Also they are heavy as hell for bicycle components. Once again, this is a job where weight weenies need not apply. You put these suckers on and screw down their grub screws into the softer alloy tubing and they will hold fast, regardless of whether or not you forget how wide the bike is and walk it into the corner of a wall … in that contest, the wall loses.
Worth Noting: In many of the pics here, you will see I am using tee and quad-fittings that allow more connections than are necessary for the project in this post. Thats because I was building with an additional integrated center-mount kickstand in mind. We’ll save that for a separate article. Stick to the parts in the parts list to just build the wideloaders.
Garbage Disposal Hose
What in the hell is that doing on this list? Fact is, I didn’t build my wideloaders originally with this in mind. You will see many pics here with the older bushings, washers and heatshrink tubing for coating. I got the idea a few months afterwards. Covering the outer tubes in thick tubing permanently dingproofs them and helps protect whatever I lean the bike up against.
Once I found cheap PVC garbage disposal hose, I realized I could further use it to replace almost all of the washers and spacers in the build.
Since I had already built mine, I personally only used the disposal hose on the outer facing tubes, leaving the two inner lengthwise tubes covered in heatshrink. However, you could buy two units of the disposal hose and sheathe all of your tubing with it. Simpler, looks kinda neat and about the same cost.
25 feet of Heat Shrink
The need for this stuff was largely eliminated with the use of the garbage disposal hose. However, you still need about 2 feet of it (20″, actually) to line the crossbars inside the frame. In a cruel lesson in Chinese capitalism, 10 feet of 2:1 heat shrink is one cent more expensive than 25 feet. So what the hell lets get some extra. Also, the 3:1 that is widely available in shorter lengths is the marine grade with adhesive glue inside and thats too thick for our crossbar liners. So… maybe its not a bad idea to check your local hardware store before buying this stuff. Its not going to be any cheaper but if you don’t want an extra 23 feet of 1″ heat shrink tubing sitting in a drawer for the next decade, a local buy might fix that.
The Sleeve Bearings and Washers
I used these in my original build and you can see them in all the pics. They were optional then and, later on when I discovered the garbage disposal tubing, were replaceable in the project. The one remnant I would still use regardless are the “mil spec” steel washers. Why mil spec? They are cut to closer tolerances than ordinary washers. If you want a really snug fit to your tubing, with a not-gigantic OD to go along with it, these washers are pretty much the best option.
If you use the disposal hose to replace the cushioning washers and bushings for spacing, I would still use the mil spec washers up against the frame to ensure the most solid contact possible.
Construction / Assembly
NOTE: While I often go into painful levels of detail, I won’t be specifying measurements on cut dimensions. I don’t want you taking my word for what works on your bike and your fittings. I’ll make one exception to this: The width of the crossbars, since that requires some thought and is worth discussion. We’ll get into that below.
Step 1: Cut the Crossbars to Desired Width
This is maybe your most important project decision. How wide do you go? Your answer will help determine what you bump into while trying to move the bike around, or smash into as you try and negotiate a narrow passageway (like a shared use path entrance). At a glance, a good rule of thumb for maximum width would seem to be ‘no wider than your handlebars’. That will mean whatever you are riding thru, if your handlebars fit then most likely the wideloaders will not snag, either.
While you are figuring this width out, know the center section of the Surly Big Fat Dummy is exactly 10″ wide.
The BFD 26″ bike in Bliolet uses Answer ProTaper bars; 810mm wide. That works out to almost 32″ of width, give or take. So knock 10″ off of 32″ (the width of the center section) and divide by two. Following the no-wider-than-handlebars thinking, you would have wideloaders 11″ wide on each side. The 1-piece crossbar would be a total of 32″ in width.
Thats way too wide. Forget about the handlebar rule. It sounds like a good thing to have that nice big shelf, but it will be VERY ungainly to have that much hanging off the side. Don’t even think about it. Another issue is trying to get the bike thru a door. Think how much fun it will be to get a bike 32″ wide (and almost 8 feet long) thru a doorway that is commonly no more than 36″ wide. And some doors are 32″ wide.
I settled on a bar that is 26″ in length. Subtracting the 10″ center section and dividing the remainder means I have an 8″ crossbar extension. The elbow will extend my width a bit more. So figure in the end, I have about a 28″ wide rear platform. Here again the dictating factor is getting thru a doorway (I park in a garage every day and bring the bike in thru a door at a sharp angle).
If you are unsure, its better to guess on the too-wide side. It is a whole lot easier to file or cut metal off than it is to put it back on again (fun fact: this is also the First Rule of Gunsmithing).
Step 2: Drill And Fit the Crossbars
This part is easy. I took the 26″ cut crossbar and measured it to 13″. Then I used a red Sharpie to mark the center. In the pic below, a test-fit, you can see the red mark coming thru the centered frame hole. Once you have confirmed the spot is in the right place (measure!), pull the tube out and drill a centered hole straight thru at the spot of that marker dot. Drill large enough for an M6 bolt.
Finalize Crossbar Fitment
Once you have drilled that hole you can fit the tubing right inside the 7/8″ ID frame tubing and attach the crossbar, centered exactly to the frame and fixed in place with a stainless M6 socket cap bolt, nylock nut and a washer on each side. However, there will be a small amount of play between the crossbar and the frame, which means these things will rattle. We can’t have that.
Add a length of heatshrink – cut to a 10″ length to the center section of the crossbar. Using your heat gun, shrink the tubing so it sits tight on the very center of the crossbar. The hole you drilled will be a clearly visible depression on the bar.
Get a bit of dishwashing liquid or similar non-permanent lubricant and smear it over the now-snug heatshrink.
Push the crossbar into the frame. It will now be very snug thanks to the added diameter of the heatshrink. The dishwashing liquid will let you push the bar into the hole while leaving the heatshrink attached and placed on the center. You may have to experiment with lesser lengths of heatshrink as it might want to be pushed back by the frame as you get further into the frame and closer to centering it (I had to spiral wrap sandpaper on a wooden dowel and run it thru a few times to debur the interior of the frame. If you already own a cylinder hone of the right size this is a place you might carefully use it).
As you push thru, when you see the depression in the center frame hole where heatshrink sags in under your drilled bolt hole, stop. Now just shove the washer’d bolt into that hole. It will break the heatshrink on its own. Clamp in with the nut on the other side.
Repeat the process with the other bar.
Your crossbars are now tightly, permanently fit. Bolted into the frame and lined with a thin rubbery material, they will not rattle.
Step 3: Fit the Tee’s and Inner Lengthwise Bars
Now that the crossbars are bolted in, its time to attach the inner bars. What you see in the pic below is a test fit where I hadn’t yet finished Step 1 above. The crossbars aren’t yet bolted in. But the procedure is well-illustrated. Loosen the grub screw on your front tee. Stuff the bar into it until it stops. Measure how far it went in. Position the bar atop the rear tee. Its going to go in the same distance, so measure accordingly. Thats your tube length. Cut to size and if it fits, do one more like it for the other tube on the other side.
To do the actual fitting once the tube is cut, loosen the grub screws in the tees so they are still in place, but do not intrude at all into their opening (or remove them completely and stash in a safe place). Place the cut tube into each of the tees. Make sure the grub screw holes are facing up for both tees. Now slide this assembly over the attached crossbars and slide them inward to their final position. If they do not slide smoothly to the interior – if they hang up halfway down the crossbar for instance – you may have cut your tube a bit too long and need to make a second cut, or do some filing if its a near thing.
This is a good time to mention that for placement on the drive side, you want the inner bar to clear the derailleur when it is on the smallest cog, with some extra room to spare that allows for frame flex (although these wideloaders can’t help but stiffen the frame). Keep this in mind when you are deciding final placement on the drive side inner bar.
When the tees and tube are sitting, unbolted, in place, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Fit the Elbows and Outer Lengthwise Bars.
Repeat the process from Step 3 for the outer bars. This time measure fitment with the 90-degree elbows. In the pic below note I had a tee in place in the rear – I was considering doing an extension out behind. In the end I thought an 8-foot-long bicycle was plenty and squared it up with an elbow.
After cutting the tubes, do the same procedure as in the previous step with regard to placing the bar and elbows onto the frame without permanently attaching anything.
When the tubes are all cut, everything is lined up and you know it all fits, its time for Step 5.
Step 5: Add The Bumpers / Final Assembly
Since you didn’t actually tighten anything down in Steps 3 and 4 above, its easy to take it all back apart. Do so now, leaving only the crossbars, which should already be firmly assembled. Your next moves, in order:
Straighten out Your lengthwise (long) pieces of Disposal Hose
OK this is out of order because you should do this a day or two in advance of your actual build party. You want to give the hose some time to uncurl itself.
Off the shelf the hose is kind of a pain in the ass to deal with, considering between two and four lengths of it need to be cut fairly precisely to a bit under a 3-foot length. I found two ways to deal with this (and used both of them). First, the easiest way:
If you have some long lengths of 1 1/2″ hard PVC pipe laying around, stuff this curved tubing inside of it. Let it sit like this. You can do it with 1 1/4″ PVC but its a tight fit and really tough to get it thru in lengths any longer than about 3 feet.
If you don’t have PVC, use your actual wideloader tubing. If you are following the parts list above you have four individual tubes that are longer than you will need. Work with those. This is going to be a snug fit and require some elbow grease to stuff it on there. I stuffed on a couple of feet, then dripped on some WD40 and let it penetrate (there’s a bit of slack to let it dribble in) and just worked it. Once I had used enough of it (used… not over-used), and let it spread, they slid on and off easily. But it takes a little time and patience. Afterwards, wipe off the tubes. I didn’t worry about the residual WD40 inside the hose itself. Just enough remained to make final assembly straightforward.
Cut spacers for frame-to-inner-tee fitting
You will cut spacers to desired lengths from the disposal hose. On each corner, use one of the milspec washers up against the frame for a total of 4 washers needed. The milspec sizing will give the washer a nice even fit.
On the build you see pictured, I used 1.5″ corrosion resistant bushings in the rear for a nice look and exactly the spacing from the frame I wanted. In the front, I stacked three of the rubber cushioning washers, sandwiched by two milspec washers. This front scheme was a leftover from earlier plans that did not include bolting in the front crossbar. Thats what you get when you plan a build and buy parts before you get the bike in hand to work with directly. You will want to just cut a short length of hose and back it with a washer.
Line the inner lengthwise bars
You are going to do one of three things here:
Line the inner bar with 2 or 3 layers of heatshrink. Do multiple layers in case you scuff or ding the bar. Just one layer is easily torn. This was my initial build because its all I had figured out how to do at the time.
Line the inner bar with a length of garbage disposal hose. to match all the other bars. Using the disposal hose is cosmetic on the inner bar, but it is more durable and will give you a consistent, beefy look. Doing this is almost the same cost as using the comparatively fragile heatshrink. If starting over from scratch, I would go this route.
Do nothing and leave the bar bare. If you like the bare look then great you are done.
Install the inner lengthwise bars
At this point you are ready to do the final install of the inner lengthwise bars. Having attached any desired covering to the bar, loosely reattach the tees to the bar and slide it on just as in Step 3, again making sure the grub screws for the tee fitting are facing up. When in place up against the spacers you cut and installed above, its time to tighten the screws.
This is one of the few times a thread locker is properly in order vs. being a misused crutch. I personally prefer Vibra Tite. The blue gel is easy to apply, never hardens and holds tight regardless of vibration and impacts over time. Goop up the threads of each grub screw and tighten them into the softer alloy tubing until they are roughly flush-fit to the fitting. Nothing is going anywhere once that is done.
Line the remainder of the crossbar
Now you need to line the next section of crossbar if you care to do so. At this point I will say that heatshrink should not be an option – go with the flexible PVC (or do nothing if thats your bag). Cut each length to size and slide onto the tube.
Line the outer bars (or don’t)
Almost the same procedure as the inners: Affix your elbows to the tube and attach the tube assembly to the crossbars. Now you know how much exposed crossbar there is. measure this and cut your outer bar liner/bumper. Tighten ONE of the elbows onto the outer bar and remove the elbow from the crossbars. Now you are holding the outer bar with one elbow attached. Take your cut liner and slide it down until it is snug against the installed elbow. If you cut the liner to the proper length, it is now installed perfectly centered.
Install the outer bars
Loosely attach the second elbow to the outer bar. Slide the assembly over the crossbars. Tighten all the grub screws down so there are no gaps, using thread locker and again tightening so the grub screws are roughly flush with the outer wall of the fitting.
We’re almost done .
Step 6: Add the Floor (Straps)
Up to this point we’ve created an empty framework. It needs a floor to help hold up the Great Big Bags that will be sitting on top of it. I opted to use 2″ x 30″ hook-and-loop cinch straps, 4 on each side, which are movable, super lightweight, have some give to them but at the same time are very strong.
I had to buy two 6-packs of straps to get what I want, so I could add more straps, but 4 is enough and more importantly I can space the straps in such a way they work in complement to the four pannier straps I use to provide additional support on heavy loads.
Since the bag straps also have to wrap around the inner bars of the wideloaders, the floor straps have to be out of the way, and what you see is spaced out to let me interleave the bag straps between the floor straps.
A Final Note on the Floor
At around $30, the floor straps added a noticeable bump up in job cost. Is there a cheaper way to do this? Probably. I considered a bunch of ideas including diagonally weaving super thick bungee cord into a floor. I have a spool of the stuff in my garage.
What about more tees and crossbars with the leftover tubing bits? Without question that would look great and be supremely sturdy… but is it necessary? I don’t think so, and I didn’t feel like taking the time, adding the weight or going to the expense. But for sure, it would look great. In the end I felt the straps got me to the finish line immediately and were easiest to manage over time.
What about skateboards?
Well, that would work great. If you are a parent and your wideloaders need to serve as platforms for little feet, and maybe you want your kids to be able to stand on them, then a skateboard is a great option. If you use the really thick 6063-T5 tubing it will for sure be well-suited to a couple of M5 holes drilled thru each bar to attach that board, front and rear. From there, find a blank deck to your liking and bolt that sucker on.
Job Done. They Work Great!
These pics are from the initial build, and reflect the parts I used for spacers at that time, along with some showing a different strap setup. Your results may vary so the bags you buy or build may dictate a still different approach.
Since I got back into bikes (thanks to ebikes being a viable platform to let this cardiac-issues ex-cyclist start riding again), I have gotten right back into building bikes up, oftentimes from scratch. At this point I really have to stop simply because I have no more room to park the things.
Up to this point I have only written about my Mongoose Envoy, a very recent arrival, and have just begun getting into my Surly Big Fat Dummy, which is more recent still.
What else is in the stable? I’ll do some very quick mentions here and then over time branch out and describe each more fully in separate posts.
The Great Pumpkin
So named because of its very nice bright candy orange color (done at a local powder coat shop for next to nothing) you can call this one my third generation of 2wd bikes. Twin 35a controllers. A single custom-built 30ah 52v (14S9P) battery with a BMS able to handle 90a continuous current. Twin 750w-rated geared hub motors that commonly peak (each) at over 1700w. This bike accelerates like a bullet if I let it do so. But to keep the frame in one piece and me from being launched into traffic I have toned down both motors. Now I am merely the first vehicle to the other side of the intersection after a stoplight turns green.
It has synchronized dual pedal assist as well as brake cutoffs that individually shut off both motors on application. It has thousands of miles on it; all street commuting. Gearing is set up for 34 mph at about 70 rpm cadence. That is just a bit faster than the motors can power the bike, so if I want to cruise down the street at 30+ mph I have to work at it a bit more than you would think for a fairly high powered ebike. I get a strong workout due to this gearing.
The frame is a chromoly Chumba Ursa Major, with a Surly Ice Cream Truck front fork where the brake adapter on that fork was specially modified to get around the ICT’s rear-wheel brake spacing.
While the build of this bike pre-dates The Great Pumpkin, it was actually designed as a next-gen design to follow another 2wd bike (see the Purple Thing below) that pre-dated both bikes. So if the Pumpkin is 2wd 3.0, this one is 2wd 2.0. This one does not have the single unified battery, and its handlebar config is not as well done (two clocked-position throttles are on the left grip instead of one on each thumb… I hadn’t discovered shifters that would allow me to do the latter yet). However, it also sports a 30a, 1750w mid drive powering the back, and has the same fat hub motor as the Pumpkin powering the front. It too has dual pedal assist, but done in a completely different way given the dissimilar motors and controllers. 2Fat was created because of the learned weaknesses of even a powerful dual geared hub design in hill country. 2Fat was designed to climb walls effortlessly, and it will, without issues of overheating or strain.
100mm custom wheels with a DT 350 Big Ride ratchet rear hub and steel cassette body, Lynskey titanium frame is a prototype made along the lines of Chumba’s Ursa Major ti version of that frame. Possibly it was made as part of a pitch by Lynskey to make the frames for Chumba. Its hard to say for sure so essentially, the frame is unique, or close to it. I do know it is visually almost identical to the Chumba production models except the dimensions do not match any of their production frames.
A big departure from my usual bikes. The Smash is a 29er … and a bike with no job. With a 3kw Cyc X1 Pro motor, a 50a ASI BAC800 controller and a 20ah 52v backpack battery, this bike is strictly a hot rod. And no, despite those big power numbers its not as powerful as you might think. Certainly it doesn’t tear up trails. This is one of the last alloy frames Guerrilla Gravity made before switching to carbon fiber later in the same month I placed my order. The MRP Ribbon fork on the front is a jewel. Also has a RockShox coil spring, a complete SRAM EX drivetrain and my usual Magura MT5e brakeset.
I’m glad I took these pics right after the build was completed because it will never be this clean again. Ever. Also the pump location and top tube bags only lasted as long as this photoshoot as they violated my ‘festooning’ rule.
An even bigger departure is my Luna Fixed, which despite having custom DT wheels, is largely a factory bike and was bought primarily as a test platform. I fell in love with the design concept (stealth ebike), but it also had an internally geared hub, a Gates belt drive and torque sensing. These were three technologies I had yet to experience and I decided this bike was going to be how I learned about all three on one bike.
Its the only ebike I have ever ridden that feels like a road bike from the 1970’s. I re-did the handlebars to a more urban narrow config, added bar ends, changed the stem, saddle and pedals… not a lot else. Its for sale on eBay now as I’m largely done with it, its still effectively new and I never ride the thing. I’ve always been a commuter and a utility rider and this bike is purely a leisure exercise, or for someone who needs to make a quick store trip and doesn’t already have a stable of bike better suited to the job.
I will miss one big thing when it sells: Its the only bike I can just toss into the back of my SUV and not make a major production out of loading onto a super heavy duty bike rack. Like recreational riding, I don’t do that either but someday I bet I wish I still could.
So named because of its black/white color scheme. The Stormtrooper is just a really nice, simple fat tired ebike – with deep dish 90mm carbon fiber rims. Noteworthy on this bike is that it has plenty of motor and battery cabling running all over the place, but I sheathed the wires (even the brake and shifter lines) in white heat shrink. The matching color effectively hides all the wiring in plain sight for a very clean look. the bike is light and fun, with good range from its mid-sized 12ah potted ‘indestructo’ battery.
This frame was a rescued Motobecane Lurch that was stripped, sand blasted and powder coated.
One of the few bikes I have written up here, The Mongoose Envoy has its own extensive writeup already. The Pacific Fleet’s first aircraft carrier thanks to the 44″ skateboard deck.
The Big Fat Dummy
The most recent addition to the Pacific Fleet, The Surly Big Fat Dummy is its second aircraft carrier, with a 40″ skateboard deck (and below-deck hangar) putting the length of this behemoth at just over 8 feet. This bike is in the beginnings of its build writeup here on the site.
In no particular order, the ships that are no longer in the fleet
Now in the hands of a friend who needed a ride. Frankenbike was cobbled together from leftover parts from an upgraded electric bike, plus other goodies. It was my first 2-rack cargo-oriented bike. I painted the frame myself using Main Force Pursuit (MFP) Yellow. Google that if you don’t get it. The frame is identical to the Purple Thing, below.
Murdered by a careless auto driver who t-boned it and me while I was thoughtlessly riding slow in the bike lane with headlights and after making eye contact. The Stump was a little hotrod that never made it past the initial shakedown cruises before its demise. Paid for by the other driver’s insurance company but left in my possession, I donated the damaged but still fully functional motor to another cyclist who could make good use of it
The Purple … Thing
Essentially this was 2wd 1.5. I transferred my parts from the 2wd 1.0 bike when I cracked the frame, and made a few improvements. Since it was an emergency build to get my daily commuter back on the road, I didn’t do a lot of measuring and took what I could get framewise. It didn’t quite fit me and a year later one of these motors and some of these parts moved to The Great Pumpkin. The frame is still sitting dust-covered in a corner of my garage.
The bike that got me started back on two wheels again and changed my life for the better. A Sondors Original fat ebike whose cost was so low at around $700, I was willing to toss the money out the window and take a chance this whole ebike thing was going to allow me to get back onto a bicycle. By the time my first year was up I had put more than 4000 miles on it. I had also changed out almost every component but the frame, and converted it to 2wd – something you will still see supposedly experienced builders tell you is impossible to properly function for a whole host of reasons that sound smart but are all dumb and wrong, and easily demonstrable as such if you build one with your hands rather than type about one with your fingertips on a keyboard.
The Colonel died with his boots on. After almost 6000 miles on the road, supporting a whole lot more power and speed than it was ever designed to bear by its original Chinese overlords, the rear seatstay cracked at the lower rack boss. My philosophy on frame cracks is not to repair them as where there’s one crack there will likely be more showing up soon. Components were transferred to The Purple Thing along with several upgrades.
My first set of Big Bags were 77L each, almost the same size as the largest generally available cargo bike pannier (and 1/3 the price). It turns out you can go a lot bigger than that and stay practical.
The Surly BFD Project Menu Prologue Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?!(you are here) Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar Episode 5: Odds and Ends
When I put together my first set of Big and Cheap DIY Cargo Bike Bags, I thought two 77L panniers were huge! I fit them onto my Mongoose Envoy cargo bike project, and for several months they have been great, but not quite perfect. Not because of the capacity of the things. They were perfectly sized for that mid tail frame. But there were a few convenience issues … you’ll see below what my solutions were.
Why go bigger?
Well, I liked the Mongoose mid tail so much (it was my first dedicated cargo bike) I decided to jump all in and go for a full sized longtail with as much capacity as I could get my hands on. The Surly Big Fat Dummy was a bike I had *almost* bought before the Mongoose, and I decided with its fat tires, sheer size and very stiff frame it would offer the larger carry capacity and greater versatility I was after.
Going from a mid tail to a long tail meant I had more room for bigger bags. I could do the Rothco 77L canvas bags again, but after quite a bit of shopping around, I found Rothco’s larger, heavy-canvas 34″ long, square zipper’d duffel bag was dimensionally just about perfect to fit the BFD’s rear cargo area.
Total Project Cost: About $221.00. Result: 276L of pannier space. Two Hundred and Seventy Six Liters.
Notes on the Parts List
Foam I am sure you can find something cheaper. I wanted something bright yellow so I could see the contents of the bag easily. Cross linked polyethylene is essentially a thin version of gym mat material. Extremely fine-celled. I have used Foam Factory for some esoteric jobs in business for custom cut stuff and found they had what I was after. What you want here is a big single sheet of foam that wraps entirely around the bag interior. The large foam sheet specified here is just over double what you need. Cut it in half, shave a few inches off one side and its a perfect fit. As an alternative you might try a couple of the Therma Rest mattresses that I used in my original bags, and some gorilla tape.
Grommets You can also use #6 grommets just like I did with the original Big And Cheap Bags. It all depends on what tools you have in your garage. If you have no grommeting tools whatsoever, this #5 size midget grommet kit will give you everything you need – the tool and plenty of grommets. Cost is about $56 and you will have plenty of grommets left over so you can hammer reinforced holes into more things.
The Wooden Dowels You can go to Home Depot and pay about half what you will at Amazon. Thats what I did, and HD has a handy manual-cut station you can use to cut the rod down if you don’t have a saw (please buy a saw instead). I only put Amazon as a source so there is an online purchase choice.
The Luggage Straps, Part 1 I specified four 2-paks for a total of 8 straps. 4 per side. Generally you only need two. But when carrying really heavy items, like the pictured load below (still in the shopping cart) that weighed about 128 lbs (58 kilos) … you want more straps to help take the burden off of your wideloaders. So, you can buy fewer straps. Or you can buy the max that will fit and toss the spares into your cavernous panniers and forget about them until they are needed. Your choice.
The Luggage Straps, Part 2 Notice in the pic above, and in my previous Big Bag posts, I used 2″ and then 3″ wide velcro straps (a single 3″ above). these hold fine, but in daily use, velcro is… velcro. It is constantly sticking to things it decides to stick to, and generally making my life more difficult. The straps do indeed do their job, but first and foremost just finding 3″ wide straps long enough to work with these bags is very difficult (and a process I will not describe since I abandoned them). Also these 3″ extra-long unicorns are just too damned expensive. Kydex buckled straps unbuckle in an instant, don’t stick to themselves or anything else, fit 4 to a side which is plenty and cost less to boot. Lastly, the luggage straps I am specifying adjust from 40″ to 74″ which is perfect for folding the bags up, empty, and expanding them out when full. Since the excess strap length is captured via a sewn-on sleeve, nothing is ever flopping around.
Whats With The Dowels?
My original Big Bags used hooks, and I went to a fair amount of trouble to make sure they were absolutely planted and rattle-free. And they are all that. But still, I thought there has to be a better way, and I ended up coming up with one.
Using dowels and cargo loops for hanging the bag has major benefits over hooks:
It doesn’t rattle
It is light weight (lighter still if you use an alloy tube)
It is cheap (less so if you go alloy)
It distributes the load on the bags evenly across their entire length
It holds them fully secure
There are no points of excessive wear/rubbing.
And last but not least, they make bag removal and reattachment a snap. The process described in a nutshell:
STEP 1: Loop-tie five cargo loops per side to the Dummy rails, and loop those up thru the deck itself so they drape down. If you are not making bags for a Surly or Xtracycle-compatible cargo bike, use as many loops per side as you can, as well-spaced as you can make them.
Here is one of my early fitments when I was figuring this all out.
STEP 2: Create 5 grommet holes in the top inside edge of each bag. One on each top corner, and the remaining three positioned so they are roughly equally spaced down the side of your rack. the exact positions will vary depending on your rack. I illustrated the whole grommet-creation process in the original bag creation post. But worth noting for these bags I used smaller #5 grommets and I really prefer this smaller size.
STEP 3: Line up your now-holey bag with the dangly loops and, one at a time, put each loop into each corresponding bag hole. As you do this, thread your dowel thru the loop on the inside of the bag.
Here is what this looks like with no bag in the middle
Annnnnd with the bag:
STEP 4: Remember the rubber chair feet? Put one on each end of the wooden dowel. This keeps the bag from rubbing on a relatively sharp edge of cut wood. Sooner or later it will rub enough to wear thru the canvas. But not if you have a big soft round rubber bumper on that edge.
Note the above pics show a 1.25″ wooden dowel. I downsized to 7/8″ and its much easier to fit the loops thru when putting the bag back on. You can see the smaller version in the pics below. Original concern was the dowel bending, but there are so many cargo loops to suspend it… thats not going to happen.
Spend a few minutes with some fine-grit sandpaper to make the imperfect surface of your dowel silky smooth.
Bag Removal and Re-Attachment
Here it is in a few easy steps. I photographed my first bag removal as you see, and I timed the second with a stopwatch. It took 30 seconds to detach the bag and another 15 seconds to toss the straps in and zip the bag up.
You can forget about making something that fast and easy with hooks.
STEP 1: Unbuckle the two bag straps. Pull the top inside corners of the bag back so each end of the wooden dowel is visible.
STEP 2: Pull off the rubber foot from one side. I removed the rear one this time. STEP 3: Pull the dowel out from the other side. Its only halfway out in the picture. It will slide out quickly and easily.
STEP 4: DONE. The bag is now free. It is now a big duffel bag with handles you can lug into the house with all its contents. Feel free to use the shoulder strap that came with it.
Did I Mention The Kangaroo Pouch?
Yes really. Just like the original bags, Big Bags 2.0 are typically folded up when empty. The foam liner inside means the folds are fairly thick and a pouch is created in the fold. For bags this big, its pretty deep, too. And almost three feet long. Check out how I almost disappear a 2 lb sledgehammer into it, standing on its end, below.
That makes for secure storage of most daily-use items. On a typical day, a small backpack with my work clothes, pouch with my keys and alarm remote and garage door opener, and another with my wallet and phone are all snuggled in one side or the other. Road bounces and vibrations don’t disturb them, and there is enough room left over that I don’t have to open the bags up at all unless I am on a shopping trip. So as big as these things are, if anything they handle small jobs just as well as the the large ones they were designed for.
I used to think the 77L bags were crazy big. I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether I was wasting time and money even attempting to go bigger with these duffel bags. Now, having had some time to live with them and on more than one occasion to stuff them full, I can’t imagine why I would want to go smaller.
Less than a year ago, I started the Mongoose Envoy Project. I loved the bike and – after dabbling with fast-carry-stuff ebikes for a few years (that ended up looking more like zombie-apocalypse bikes), it was my first actual purpose-built cargo bike.
With respect to the cargo platform, I. Freaking. Loved. It. I am not a recreational rider. I never have been since I started riding in the 1970’s. I put in long commute rides, and I try and do as much as I can of my daily errands on a bike vs. uh… one of my automobiles. Yes I have to admit that while I am doing the whole save-the-planet schtick and trying not to drive, its because I love riding bikes and I always have.
Anyway, where was I? Right. Cargo bikes. So… I built the Mongoose out until it was truly as perfect as it can be for its intended purpose. Its even a good value and componentwise I would put it up with just about any high end cargo bike. With that said, it has some problems.
It doesn’t fit me quite right. Mostly in the upper body. I have done pretty much what I can to deal with this. A LOT of the problem has absolutely nothing to do with the bicycle and has everything to do with lingering injuries from when I was T-boned by an inattentive driver in a SMIDSY type collision. I did a passable Superman impression on the arc upwards… and a decent impression of Vinko Bokataj for the landing.
It hurts to ride the damn thing. Again, this is all about residual pain from the above-referenced accident and has nothing to do with the bike. My wrists remain in bad shape, probably permanently, and while the Jones bars help by putting my hands at a better angle, I need both a higher upright riding position to take weight off my wrists, and a suspension fork to reduce the impacts that are part of normal street riding.
As the cargo bike platform expanded my idea of what a bike could accomplish, I wanted more than the Envoy, with its mid-tail size and only plus-sized (after upgrading) tires could deliver. Go big or go home as the saying goes, and the Big Fat Dummy is arguably, physically the largest production 2-wheel bike on the planet.
The addition of the larger 2.8″ plus sized tires on the Envoy worked so well, and I have done so much work with the fat tire platform, I wanted to go fat on a cargo bike and take advantage of the added capacity the fat tires give (and since my very first serious Costco run weighed in at a total of over 500 lbs counting me and the bike… good decision!)
So, this section of the blog, of which this page is only a teaser that will eventually house the episode menu, will document the custom work I have done on this bike. What is worth mentioning that is. This is not going to be a rivet-scraping pass over the bike. We’ll just hit the high points.
I had an aftermarket kickstand that was too short. Here’s a way to add a tough-as-shoe-leather extension that should last forever.
My Mongoose Envoy received a much-needed upgrade to its kickstand when I upgraded to an Ursus Jumbo, whose much-wider (18″) leg platform keeps the bike stable on uneven pavement or when it was heavily loaded.
The stock Envoy stand works well unless you have 100 lbs of groceries loaded up. Do that and .. oops you gently bumped the bike! Over it goes and boy does your life suck. You’ll have to unload the bags, stand the bike back up, uncrack the eggs and load back up again. Same deal happens when parked on an incline.
The Jumbo solved this problem given its obvious mechanical advantage.
… until I put some big poofy 26×2.8 Vee Speedster tires on the bike, which raised the frame up probably a full inch; maybe more. That meant of the two legs that Ursus kickstand has, only one of them was on the ground at any one time. At first it was kind of fun to be able to lower the stand and roll the bike around, or out of my way with ease. Then I saw what a bad idea it was on a sloping driveway. The bike was happy to tip over. For a cargo bike that will be loaded, that has to change.
A couple of methods presented themselves. The first was to lower the stand by shimming the base. While I would have been able to find a longer M10 bolt to do the job, making a shim that will actually work is a lot more complex than just throwing in some washers and calling it good. Absent a mill and some billet to do some custom fabrication, shimming was a no-go. So, since I can’t make the base longer, that leaves only the legs. I had to make them longer.
Shoe Goo… To The Rescue!
I should be brought up on charges for that header. Couldn’t help myself, and besides its true. Shoe Goo is a shoe repair tool that is essentially replacement shoe leather. Or shoe adhesive to hold your precious Converse All Stars together after they came apart. Or both. For you shade tree mechanics, if you think of it as a hard rubber equivalent of JB Weld … you have it down.
So what I decided to do is to stick my kickstand upside down in a vise, block off the bottom of each leg with some painter’s tape, fill the resulting cup with goo and let it dry. Peel off the tape and I’ll have a longer kickstand with a new, tough-as-nails rubber foot.
It turned out to be a bit longer than that, and took quite a bit more time to cure. But layering on a bunch of goop to the bottom of the kickstand is the short version of what I did here. And best of all, it actually worked.
Time For Plan B
What you see above is only the first attempt, using green painter’s tape. And while it worked (see photos sans tape) it became clear just by looking at it I could expand the ‘foot’ to a much greater size if I taped off the base and poured in more goo. You can see this in the last two photos where the tape has been removed. the foot of the Jumbo has essentially a large hole in it that you can further tape off, then fill in. this time you need to tape halfway up the leg as that hole runs thru to the front of the stand, and your tape will provide a deep chamber for the goo to fill and harden into.
This time I used silicone tape, which I discovered by accident does not stick to Shoe Goo! Knowing that, I was able to use a scrap of tape to help sculpt the slowly hardening-but-still-pliable glob of goo. That matters because as this stuff dries – and then cures – it shrinks into itself. You will need to come back every couple of days to apply another layer. And when at some point you call the job done, you will want to let this material sit for at least another five days.
So if you are doing the math here, that means this is going to take time. I spent a total of about two weeks applying, filling again after it shrinks down and then letting it cure so its stable with a bike standing on it.
Is it worth the trouble? Well, I spent about $8 on two of the big tubes of goo and another nickel or so on a length of black rubber mastik tape around each foot to pretty them up. When I was done, I had a kickstand that completely solved my problem, and I can expect to be able to use for the life of the bike. If you want, Shoe Goo comes in a black formula that will have a matching look… but it costs more than double what the clear stuff does.
If You Do This…
I felt my way thru this project and learned as I went. The way YOU want to do it is skip the first stage with the green tape entirely. Use the silicone tape to wrap the entire foot. Wrap snugly at the bottom of the channel you want to fill, and as you get to the top – the actual extension to the base – do not wrap that tight, just do it loosely and make sure the tape wrap adheres to itself. Then inject the goo with a narrow nozzle (there are kits out there that have them) deep into the channel you just created, filling it from bottom to top until you have a single large ‘sole’ wrapped in the silicone tape.
Then, walk away from it for 24 hours. Add more goo as it cures and shrinks down. Use a scrap of silicone to pat down the added goo so it forms a nice smooth surface. If it seems solid, remember thats just the outer layer and inside its still like jelly. I went on a week’s vacation after I thought I had it done and it was pretty solid.
When I originally used a double-kick longboard deck to make an XL cargo carrying top for my Mongoose Envoy project, its 33″ (84cm) length and 10″ (25cm) width seemed really big. Considering I was coming from a world of ordinary bike racks on normal-wheelbase bikes, it was quite large.
The XL deck worked *splendidly*. I had no complaints whatsoever, and I could have left it like that forever. However…
The board, by virtue of its 33″ length, only used 4 of the 5 available rows of M5 mounting bosses. So I had definitely left some available space on the table. In a perfect world, I would have found a longer version of the same board: Say a 40″ double-kick. But alas, at the time, I couldn’t find one. I also could not find another board that had this same 10″ width. Everything else was more narrow. But I could get close with what became Deck 2.0: a 40″ x 9.75″ kicktail longboard.
It installed easy enough. I painted it with Rustoleum truck bedliner to pebble the surface just right so it held onto gear a bit. I used the same inverted grub-screws for drill guides like I describe in the Deck 1.0 post. And the rack was now long enough so it used all 10 mounting points on the frame. It couldn’t be more solid – the board is 8 layers of Canadian maple – and makes a sturdy handle I can use to pick the bike up and move it around from the rear.
And… its 40″ long. With that solid center mount kickstand, its handy to have a coffee table with you wherever you go. From a cargo standpoint I could easily net down a 3-foot duffel bag on top and still have room to spare.
Still, It didn’t work out quite the way I planned. I thought I wanted to move the rack further forward so I could mount gear under the seat. So I did that and the idea was to take up the otherwise wasted space just behind the seat. But once I had it set up, I found the space effectively unusable. I needed to keep some room back there for the Thudbuster to flex as part of its normal duty cycle, and my legs hit whatever was jacked up all the way to the front.
I also missed the front kick on Deck 1.0, which provided a natural slope to keep gear from sliding forward under hard braking. As a substitute threaded a couple of M6 bolts directly into the M5 holes (no fixing nuts needed) that existed for the nonexistent trucks. These held down a simple 50-cent L bracket wrapped in my favorite padded rubber mastik tape. It worked but in the end I removed it for aesthetic reasons.
Lastly, I mounted the board just a hair too far forward, and occasionally I brushed it with my legs during the pedal stroke. Not a big deal unless you are a perfectionist. I didn’t want to redrill the holes so I could move it back. It was a minor imperfection. So I left the board on for several months and it worked great.
But I did acquire a 44″x9″ kicktail longboard from Magneto, with the intention of using it on the back of a planned Surly Big Fat Dummy build. That plan went away, and the 44″ board had no home… so what the hell lets put it on the Envoy.
While I was at it, I decided to make a couple of changes. First of all, the Magneto board comes with an aggressive, highly abrasive grip coating on it. I took an orbital sander and smoothed it down some so it would not potentially wear thru duffel bags and bits I’ll have netted down on top of it.
Next, I painted it with the same Rustoleum truck bed coating spray. This took a little more of the harshness off the grip coating and gave the deck a tough finish. I also decided to two-tone it with some medium gray paint on the underside. It turns out this is totally invisible unless you are laying on the ground looking up at it.
Also, instead of re-using the 25mm post spacers, I bought new ones 40mm tall. These required longer 75mm bolts. Having used the rack already for several months with 25mm between deck and frame, I wanted more room to move my hands in and out attaching/detaching net hooks, passing cinch straps thru etc.
It came out great. This Magneto board is a sandwich of bamboo and maple so it has a touch of flex to it. This made bolting to the somewhat uneven frame easier. Its still rock solid despite the now 4″ longer tail out the back, which I do not notice from a convenience standpoint (its not too long, which I worried about). The 40mm spacers are an absolutely perfect height to let me get my hands in there without being so long they compromise the solidity of the mount.
The board has a front kick, but it turns out it can’t easily be used, for the same reason I couldn’t use the front few inches on the 40″ deck. However it is slightly narrower than the shorter board so even though it is just as far forward, I no longer hit it with my legs.
As a gear-stop/bumper, I wanted something a bit more substantial than the half-assed L bracket I used on the shorter board, so I used a couple of the leftover 25x13mm M5 spacers, plus some 10x10mm spacers I had in my parts bin, to create some ‘electrode’ stanchions fore and aft. With the large area washers at top, they either provide a bumper for gear stowed on the deck, solid purchase for a hook, or a place for my net to grab onto in the very back. Silicone grip scraps fit right over them to ensure the edges of the top washer don’t bite into my gear.
The two forward stanchions are extended from the deck mounting holes and go all the way thru to the frame. They use 110mm M5 bolts. The two in the rear use the rearmost holes drilled for the trucks. These use matching countersunk bolts and finishing washers like those used with all the other mounting hardware.
Compare this pic above to the 40″ board and its clearly longer, but functionally, the increased length is no bother. If I had to fit the bike on a train or bus then this is not the best solution. At some point, if I need some extra carrying space out back, its available. At present, I have an extended amount of space for my round 40″ duffel.
It seems inevitable. When I build a bike, I go through front chainrings trying to get the gearing just to my liking. My Mongoose Envoy build has pretty much set the world record for tweaks in this regard. But gearing wasn’t the problem so much as chain alignment. Alignment is one of the most talked about issues with mid drives and up to this point I have not had to work too hard to get it right. This build, not so much but I think I finally got it (like $350 later).
While dealing with this I have fooled around with three different sets of crankarms (160’s, 170’s and 175’s). Not the subject here so if you notice the different crankarms in the pics, I am ignoring them on purpose.
Sidebar: When building the Surly Big Fat Dummy, I found exactly the same thing as I did here insofar as chain alignment is concerned. And used the same solution – the USAMade adapter listed as an Honorable Mention below got pulled out of the parts pile and put to use.
The Right Tool For The Job
The Mongoose build is a first for me in many ways. One thing in particular: the BBSHD fits the frame really well. Its a 68mm bottom bracket with absolutely zero chainstay obstruction for the secondary housing. So I can butt the motor right up against the bottom bracket. Further, its a lonnnng way back there so chain alignment and misalignment – an inevitable concern with an HD build – is a lot more forgiving since the angles are gentler thanks to the longer reach. On this bike, if I want I can even forego the offset non-drive side crankarm and the pedals are still easily centered under me. So the HD is a great fit here.
About That Job…
The Mongoose is a cargo bike. So it hauls heavy stuff (usually groceries). It has a secondary job as an unladen backup commuter, but primarily it needs to be optimized to start from a stop while the entire system – with me – weighs 400-450 lbs (180-204kg). I have really loaded it that heavily so this is not a theoretical exercise. So I want a big-ish chainring for when I am pedaling fast and light, and still need to be able to get to the big cogs in the back for when I am loaded up and chugging along like a two-wheeled freight train.
Plan A: Luna Eclipse (42T)
The Luna Eclipse is one of the best BBSHD chainring setups on the market, with a unique ‘wicked’ tooth profile meant to eliminate the possibility of a chain drop under extreme use. It also has the most extreme internal offset of any chainring option. This will do the most to overcome the grief visited upon the BBSHD builder by that drive’s secondary housing sending the chainring way out to right field.
Its also gorgeous. The gunmetal finish I chose matched beautifully with the dark grey frame. Unfortunately 42T (which is the standard for full-offset chainrings as any smaller and you can’t clear the secondary housing) was not large enough to keep me from clown-pedaling when riding the bike as a commuter. There was another problem: Chain alignment. Running that smaller 42T ring with the smallest rear cog resulted in, after only a few weeks, a whole lot of wear on the inside. This is why mid drive builds demand the most out of the builder in terms of thinking things thru. Time for Plan B.
The Eclipse is a proprietary chainring platform, but fortunately other sizes are available. the largest of which is what I tried next.
Plan B: Luna Eclipse (48T)
So Plan B was to swap in a Luna 48T ring onto the Eclipse center section to fix the clown pedaling, and to stay the hell off the 12T small rear cog to deal with the alignment issue (I am using a welded together steel cluster for durability and the 12T is alloy and not a part of the welded cluster, so its better to stay off it for the sake of longevity anyway). I thought that 48T/14T on this bike was the perfect sweet spot. A small front ring is best when its on cargo duty, and a large one is best when its a commuter. 48T, when used in conjunction with upshifts, gave me pretty much everything I needed.
Pretty much but not everything. First of all, remember the deep offset of the Luna ring? It moves the chain inboard 24.8mm which *usually* eliminates the damage the BBSHD does to chain alignment. Not on the Mongoose, whose narrow bottom bracket effectively papers over all of the sins committed by the motor (at this time I had not yet fully figured this out). So, as I found with the 42T ring, it was inset too far, even when I stayed off the smallest cog.
So Plan B helped, but it didn’t solve the problem. After only a couple weeks (I am now checking carefully and frequently) I saw the beginnings of the same wear on the inside of the chainring. Like the 42T, I had to retire this thing fast so I could use it on some future project.
Sidebar: A mid drive chain powered by a 1500w motor is a chain saw when it comes to components rubbing against it. That is just a reality of a mid drive and you have to deal with it as part of your design/build process. When you get it right, you are golden for thousands of happy miles. Get it wrong and you are sawing thru chainrings and cogs like nobody’s business.
Plan C: Lekkie Bling Ring (46T)
So now what? 42T was too small. 48T was more or less just right. And the chainring offset that lets me use the inner cogs at great alignment still needs to be reduced or I can’t use anything but the lower gears. Lekkie has a Bling Ring available in 46T. It has the same internal offset their 42T ring has and, since I use them on two other bikes I know they are top quality. At 18.3 mm its offset is quite a bit less than the Luna. So I got a 46T. I also added a 2mm spacer underneath it, further reducing the chainring offset to 16.3mm. That is a whopping 8.5mm less than before so I hoped I would be good on the smaller outer cogs and still let me use the big inners.
And, pretty much, it was. Chain alignment didn’t seem to be much of an issue, although it still wore down a bit more on the inside. I was also able to shift up to the biggest cogs in the rear for very low gearing options. Those are important on a full cargo load and if I am dealing with hills.
But… I flat out missed that 48T high gear for commuting. And I was still seeing – very slight but noticeable – wear on the inside of the chainring teeth from the chain, which was still visibly angling outboard a fair distance.
I decided to try an extreme option I had not previously considered. But on this bike, where all of the normal chainring offset stuff doesn’t seem necessary, it might actually work.
Plan D: Luna 130 BCD Adapter and Wolf Tooth 48T Ring
BBSHD chainrings are generally all proprietary to the platform. Not so in the cycling world, where chainrings are universal, needing only to match the proper Bolt Circle Diameter for the chainring bolts. Match the BCD between crankset and chainring and you are good to go. There are adapters out there in the world that allow a Bafang motor to use standard 104mm and 130mm BCD chainrings. The problem is they don’t give you anywhere near as much inward offset. But given my experience so far, maybe I can live with that. They should fix my alignment on my ‘commuter’ cogs, but will I still be able to use my ‘cargo’ cogs?
In addition to the LunaCycle 130 BCD adapter, I also chose the Wolf Tooth Drop Stop chainring as those rings are best-in-show for this sort of thing on a mid drive. Attachment to the adapter was a little different than the usual chainring-to-crank operation in that its backwards. The chainring bolts onto the inside. I was able to play some games to good effect: I reversed the chainring so it is logo-side-inward. Not as pretty, but doing that lets me take advantage of the countersunk bolt holes on what is normally the outboard side. The countersinking let me mount a bolt so it is almost flush with the ring, which in turn is butted up almost on top of the secondary motor housing. With the countersinking it now has plenty of clearance.
Plan D Results
FINALLY. Everything is working right. The reduced chainring offset means my 14T cog (still not using the 12T for the reliability issues mentioned above) lines up straight back. This outboard shift did affect my inner cog alignments but I can still get to all of them but the biggest 32T. I’m comfortable with the angles on all but the second-largest 30T for long term use, and in a pinch, that 30T will work fine. I just don’t want to stay on it for a week. So this 9-speed is now a 7-speed and as DIY mid drives go thats still better than a lot of builds can manage.
And worth mentioning, like a lot of what they do, the CNC-machined Luna adapter is freaking gorgeous, and very precisely manufactured. So much so it really stands head and shoulders above another adapter I got my hands on and was able to compare it directly to.
Honorable Mention: USAMade 130 BCD Adapter
I was surprised at how well this worked and how nicely it was made. The part only cost me $29.99 on Amazon. Still, it was Made in USA, well machined and rock solid. The only things I didn’t like about it was the fact it was machined a bit too heavily, which meant it placed the chainring a millimeter or two further outboard than was necessary, and in this game millimeters count. Further, as you can see above I was able to reverse the WolfTooth ring and take advantage of the bolt head countersinks. That didn’t work with this part as USAMade countersunk the outside edge of their part, which made the bolts too long to allow my trying the same trick on the inside, where I needed it. For a different build it might work fine so I am keeping it for my parts pile.
As for the Stone chainring seen on the USAMade adapter (scroll up to the title image at the top of the page), thats a Chinese Special that ran less than the godawfully expensive Wolf Tooth. Its noticeably lighter in construction than the WT and I’m not sure I am sold on the tooth profile. This ring will sit in my parts pile waiting in the wings as an emergency replacement.