The Easy Way Or The Hard Way?
Lets make things as difficult as possible and do both. My loss is your gain and now you can see the results of both paths. I don’t regret this one bit (at least, thats my story). It gave me a spare wheel and motor, which is a good thing for a bike I need to depend on. I’ll lay out both paths and you decide how you want to do yours.
The Easy Way: Just Buy a Kit
In my run-up to buying my Bullitt frame kit, I looked extensively for the right 48v motor with a 20″ wind. It turns out those are pretty uncommon. Usually they are 36v, with a 250w or at best 350w rating. Oftentimes the winding is questionable as being suited for a 20″ wheel. Usually a motor is wound for larger 26″ or 700C wheels, and the torque is just not there for a little 20″ wheel build. Perusing EBay and AliExpress listings, you are often left wondering if what you are seeing REALLY is the variation you are looking for.
I lucked out, and found posts on the Bullitt: The Dark Side Facebook group from someone who had just finished receiving and installing a complete 48v, 500W Bafang front motor kit. Based on what the posts showed, it was quality stuff. So I bought one myself: A Greenergy 48v, 500W complete front wheel kit. This kit was advertised as express-shipping from China to the USA and that is really what they did. I had it in a few days and followed its progress all the way here via the Fedex tracking number I received in my Ali control panel.
It was helpful to already have experience with Bafang geared hub motors, to understand their reliability and performance. It also helped that I knew exactly what other hardware worked with them. Particularly the display and controller I eventually wanted to use on my custom build vs. this kit.
A word on buying from AliExpress: Its kind of an adventure. Definitely not as convenient as buying from the USA, but if you have experience doing it, you can smell out the bad actors. I have bought many ebike parts there - this was not my first motor shipped direct from China - and have only had a few sub-optimal experiences with low-risk, low-cost parts. Don't fear the platform. Its a professional operation. But if you are going there for the first time try and buy from a source that has been recommended to you directly. Let some other pioneer take the arrows in the back.
Up front: I knew I did not want to use the ancillary parts (controller, throttle etc.) that came with the kit. For the low price they were charging, I considered those parts throwaways and was only interested in the right configuration of motor already built inside of a decent if not especially noteworthy wheel.
Waiting in the wings:
It is present day, and the Greenergy kit wheel has a new Schwalbe Big Ben 20×2.15 belted tire mounted on it. Inside is a Schwalbe A7 tube with Flatout sealant inside. Recently I swapped out my regular wheel, described below, so I could take my time re-greasing that second motor at its current 1000 miles. The G020 motor is adequately greased from the Bafang factory, but only barely so with white lithium grease that needs refreshing every 2000 miles at best. Since the above motor/wheel was an extra I was able to pull it apart, look inside, clean it out and re-grease it with Mobil28. That grease will at the very least have triple the service life before another re-grease is in order.
Is it the best grease for the job? Opinions vary widely. Mobil28 is a favorite in the DIY community and I can say from having it in geared hubs over a couple of years it has never done any harm. The motors I have used it on have never behaved differently other than to run a bit more quietly.
The Hard Way: A Custom Wheel Build
I knew from my previous AWD builds what controller I wanted to use, and I already had all the small parts like PAS sensor and throttle. The only thing needed was a display and I had an easy source for that.
In the end, the electronics were easy. It was the mechanical bits that were tough. I had a hell of a time getting hold of the right spokes, nipples and rim. Once acquired, I had to wait about 6 weeks for my poor, perpetually-backlogged wheel builder to get to making the thing. Having the kit wheel I could just plug in was great. I was able to ride the bike maybe two months earlier than I would have otherwise.
Having just finished buying one Bafang G020 with 11T winding, I didn’t need to expend any more energy figuring out what motor to use. I just needed to find a bare one. I was able to acquire one from the same guys who sold me the kit – for just over $200 on AliExpress (and it took quite a while to arrive this time). Thats the good news. The bad news is I can’t give a link to that motor as its no longer available there. But I can display a picture of the almost-identical motor model designation, and show you what you want to see for a comparable buy for a 20″ wind:
Reading the Bafang factory codes in the image above:
|500||Rated for 500 watts|
|D||Disk brake compatible|
|12||“12T”, or 12 turns of copper winding on the motor core|
My motor is 11T, not 12T. 12T could work on a 20″ wheel, as it gives you higher torque and consequently a lower top speed than 11T. However my 11T motor works perfectly as I want it to – right in the Goldilocks zone for a front motor that I don’t want to be too powerful off the line (no need to pull hard on that front fork – or the fork’s dropouts) and which starts to peter out just as the rear mid-drive starts kicking in hard, for a nice drama-free balance. A 12T motor would have a lower top speed that might make it die off below the typical cruising speed for this bike and I’d rather keep both motors working for as much of the range of normal use as possible.
Details on how the motors interact on this 2wd ebike:
“Hub + Mid Drive Cargo Beast”
Here is a link to what appears to be a very similar if not identical motor for sale on Amazon. You will want to ask the seller what the motor winding number is. Based on the similar name of the seller on the listing as of today, this may be the same one I bought mine from.
For a rim, I wanted a wide BMX rim to better accommodate the plus-sized, 2.4″ Schwalbe Super Moto X (belted) tire I wanted to use. 2.4″ is outside the envelope of most Bullitt builds, but it will fit the fork easily and the frame barely. A tire that wide needs a wide rim. I chose the Alienation Black Sheep. It was the widest double-wall rim I could find. Its spoke drilling is angled, which should help when fitting short spokes into a small rim with a great big hub in the middle.
I specified Sapim Leader spokes in 12 gauge, with brass nipples. Once again I used Stoic Wheels as my go-to source for custom cut spokes in a world where you can pretty much forget about finding such things. He’s come thru for me on I think three separate builds now.
The spokes were my call. The wheel has proven (so far) able to take anything I can throw at it without any issues. But if I had it to do over again, I would not have chosen such heavy spokes for such a small wheel. They’re strong and all, but a spoke this heavy-duty did not like to be worked into a wheel this small with a hub this big. Sapim spokes are high quality and most likely the 2.3mm/13ga would have been a better choice, or maybe a Sapim E-Strong 2.6-2.3mm single-butted?
For me this is water under the bridge, but for anyone wishing to do a similar wheel build, consider carefully. My trusty longtime wheel builder at Stevens Bicycles got it done, but he said it was the most difficult wheel he has ever built. Looking at the spokes in the wheel, you can see why it was a struggle. Wheels generally derive their strength thru the rim, and the spokes need to provide some flexibility. If the spokes are too strong, there can be negative consequences. I clearly don’t have flexibility (think shock absorption) in this wheel … so fingers crossed it doesn’t come back to bite me.
Torque Arms (plural)
The G020 is rated for 45 Nm in its 350w, 26″incarnation. At best it is good for 60 Nm here in a 20″, 52v system with a 25a controller (thats set to slow start no less!). So, not exactly a powerhouse by design. You may not even need a torque arm on the Bullitt’s chromoly dropouts. But in my past I have ruined one chromoly fork and seen countless others destroyed by front hub motors. I consider a properly made torque arm essential as cheap insurance. Look at the pictures of the front wheel seen on this page and you will note that I have two of them. More is always better.
The Grin V2 arms I am using here are super easy to install and just as easy to remove if you have to pull the wheel off – just unscrew the socket cap at the dropout and the torque arm becomes a glorified washer.
PAS Sensor Installation
This was a major bit of fiddling that I have fortunately done before, so I didn’t have to do any heavy lifting to figure out how to make it happen. The job is to set up a pedal assist disc sensor on the bike, except the BBSHD is located on the drive side where the sensor goes. There’s no way to use it on that side, period end of story.
There are a couple of alternative sensors available that are meant to be usable on the non-drive side. Why is that a thing? The problem is anything meant to work on the drive side, which is moved to the non-drive side, is going to be reading rotational signals backwards, so it won’t work. Thus the left-side, or ambidextrous alternative. However this ambidextrous sensor is noisy and can fail via crud ingestion.
Using my chosen KT controller, its also possible to use one of two ‘reverse direction’ settings, so you can use a standard sensor. This was an option, but not necessary because, fortunately, I used a little trick that kills two birds with one stone: This particular sensor is held in with a screw rather than being molded in place, so I was able to simply reverse it in the mounting ring.
This not only solves the sensor-backwards problem, it also means the mounting ring is pointing in the opposite direction from normal, and now holds the sensor further out rather than tucking it in closer to the frame. That just so happens to be exactly what I want when mounting it in conjunction with BBSHD bottom bracket locking rings. You can see that in the pictures below.
What you see above on the right is an early test fit that is not complete. On the left you see the full, final setup. To anchor down the motor and then the PAS sensor ring, I used an inner ring, capped by the commonly-used dark black outer trim ring for the motor. Then came the sensor, capped by another inner motor mount ring. That third ring sandwiches the sensor mounting ring and holds it into place. My usual BBSHD installation uses two inner rings tightened together, jam nut style, but with the extra axle length sticking out of the 68mm bottom bracket, a traditional inner6+outer, followed by another inner did the trick. Stacking them like that has the added benefit of ensuring the motor never moves. The PAS sensor mounting ring is sandwiched as if it was a big washer.
Another reason the ambidextrous sensors don’t work well is they eat up about 1/2″ of real estate on the axle. As you can see on the left photo where the crankarm is torqued down fully… there ain’t no room for that here. There is however enough room to put on the standard magnet ring, and if you look closely you can see I placed a rubber o-ring on each side that in turn holds the magnet ring tightly in position, just a hair away from the sensor pickup.
Net result: Pedal assist is reliably enabled on both motors. That is a thing of beauty when you can get it to work.
Controller – Choice / Settings / Location / Wire Routing
All of my hub motors have been Bafang geared hubs, and all used KT controllers and displays. So I went with what I was familiar with. As noted above, sticking to what I know let me immediately solve the PAS sensor problem, among other things. I also already knew what I needed in terms of motor configuration within the controller so it operates safely within the confines of how I wanted AWD to operate: Seamlessly and without drama on a bike subject to extreme loads. I didn’t want this motor to be pulling hard on a bike with a potential total system weight in excess of 400 pounds.
So I knew I needed a KT controller. I also knew the 35 amp models I have used in the past were a) too strong and b) would not have the right motor plug. 35a controllers use the 3-pin Julet Z916, which matches up to the higher powered Bafang hub motors. A 500w motor has the ‘small’ HiGo Z910 9-pin plug, and KT controllers with that plug are in the 15, 20 and 25a range. I opted for 25a as I’d rather dial down too much power than to need more and not be able to get it.
However, I didn’t need to do much of anything except set the controller to max amps and slow-start (the C5 setting).
As to controller location, once again as with my previous AWD bikes I used a handlebar bag and simply set the controller inside of it, with the open top of the bag providing ventilation. This time I didn’t bother to use grommets to create reinforced holes in strategic spots in the bag. Because of the different sort of layout the Bullitt provides to the builder, I was able to simply run up a single bundled, loomed cable up and into the open top of the bag. You can see that cable in the right side cockpit photo below.
Controller settings are as follows for the G020 motor on a KT controller:
P1 = 100
P2 = 6
P3 = 1
P4 = 0
P5 = 00
C1 = 00
C2 = 0
C3 = 1
C4 = 3
C6 = 3
C7 = 1
C8 = 0
C9 = 0
C10 = n
C11 = 0
C12 = 4
C13 = 0
C14 = 2
The P settings are mostly specific to the motor hardware and not to be fiddled with, although I have P5 set to operate on ‘real time voltage’ rather than let the display try and calculate it via a half-baked method built into the controller. “Real time voltage” is just as useless, actually. Free advice: Use the LCD3’s live numeric voltage readout and ignore the graphic.
Beyond that, I will leave the settings to you to figure out (its not hard, and bear in mind I was deliberately toning down the performance of the motor, looking for smooth and drama-free AWD performance), with the following manual link:
For a complete KT-LCD3 manual translated by a native English speaker, follow this Google link for the Dillenger KT-LCD3 manual.
Display and Remaining Electrical Bits
The throttle on this bike is your basic thumb throttle. I intentionally used an old design of KT controller so I could re-use PAS sensors and throttles I had sitting on my parts pile for years. Modern KT controllers use master wiring harnesses very similar to the bundled BBSHD one-to-many wiring harnesses, and so if you are purchasing one in the present day your throttle and brake cutout connections will match to that harness.
The display I used is a simple, straightforward, old-school KT model LCD3. The LCD3 is an inexpensive old standby that does everything you could want a display to do, without the fancy bells and whistles of the current generation of color displays.
But… I would have rather had a ‘pretty’ one. The KT-LCD8H is effectively the LCD3 with a redesigned color display and layout. More usefully, its settings are all visible on a single screen and can all be edited from that one screen. The LCD3 makes you work for it the old fashioned way: One setting at a time, one screen at a time. Miss one and you have to cycle thru all 30 of them after a reset. Its not the end of the world but you only have to use the LCD8H’s settings screen once to appreciate the convenience.
Still, the LCD3 does its job and is economical. Thanks to the wonkiness of the global supply chain, the Model LCD8H was unavailable when I was in the market to get the display I needed for the Bullitt.
Motor Cable Routing
Last and … well, probably rightfully least is the routing on the motor cable from the motor itself back to the controller that is hanging all the way back in another county, back under the handlebars.
First of all, a connection extension to the motor cable is necessary. I bought this one from Amazon – a 60 cm extension. Between the relatively long length of cable coming from the controller, and the length from the motor, this was a perfect size. However, cable lengths vary widely from one batch of controllers or motors to the next, so have your own in hand before you decide on your needed extension length.
Many builders run the motor cable up the fork and then back down again, then running it underneath the cargo box. I wanted the cable protected from ground strikes and weather, so I ran it inside the cargo box as I did the front brake cable (more on that in the separate Bits & Pieces installment).
So not only did I run it thru the cargo box interior, I found the steering arm provided me with a shorter highway straight to that cargo box ingress point. Sure, its not a fixed mount but neither is the fork blade, which also needs slack so the fork can wiggle back and forth as you dodge potholes, run around in circles etc.
Again wanting the cable to be protected, I re-used some unused bits of 3/4″ tubing left over from what I did inside the cargo box. A couple of 45-degree elbows, a few centimeters of straight tubing and a few zip ties later, a cable tunnel was firmly attached to the top of the steering arm. The motor connection from motor to extension is housed inside this tube, and experience has shown the downward angle of the front-most elbow is enough to keep water out of the tube. Speaking of which this tubing also keeps water and crud from taking its best shot at the motor connection.
There is enough slack on both sides of this tubing, along with smooth, rounded edges, to ensure there are no motor cable pinches and no tight bends that will break down the cable over time.
And that, as they say, is that. We’ve pretty much covered everything of interest on the front motor wheel build, installation and configuration. You can use this to inform your own front wheel ebike build
Or take it as a guide on what not to do, as you please.
Thats it for the front motor and wheel. Lets talk about