(e)Bike Tool Kit – The 2022 Edition

In the last few months, I’ve made a few changes to my standard on-bike tool kits. Lets take a look.

Things have changed a little since I originally wrote up my full size tool kit in late 2020, and my minimalist tool kit a couple weeks later. The changes are not big but when you are talking about risking your ride turning into a walk – especially in rough, remote terrain – its worth bringing up the things I have changed.

The Core Kit Items

Unless noted otherwise, the changes here are the same for both my full and minimalist kits. Lets run down the main players on the small kit first, so you don’t have to go and refer to another article to get the complete contents.

The Patch Kit

As I noted in 2020, Rema Tip Top cold-vulcanizing patches have been the gold standard for decades. And that is before I started using them in the 1970’s. They are essentially unchanged today. If you just want to buy what you need, then the Rema Large Touring Kit is the way to go. At present its a whopping US$7.15. However, I do it a little differently. I take an empty Costco pill bottle with its locking lid, and then I add a slew of my own patches, along with a snip of special sandpaper and a much larger tube of cold-vulcanizing goo. This gives me a more capable patch kit in a better, stronger container. It is not the no-brainer that just buying the pre-made kit is, though.

The Tire Levers

As was true in 2020 so it stays true now: After trying many alternatives, the Park TL-6.2 tire levers are the ticket. You can see them rubber-banded to a patch kit bottle above. They’re superior because they are metal, with a sturdy-enough-to-withstand-use plastic coating.

A Tire Patch

The Park TB-2 Tire Boot remains the standard and one is always found in my patch kit just in case. This is just a great big gooey patch meant to be applied to the tire and not the tube. You use one of these if you have some kind of major slit in the tire casing that gives it the tire equivalent of a hernia.

Hex Wrenches

A stubby set made by Bondhus metric wrenches is in most of my kits (some of the bigger ones get a long set). These are made of high quality tool steel and inexpensive. You don’t need a whole set so if you want to shave weight or save space, you can buy these individually or just buy a set and include only what you need. However an extra piece of steel can be a handy pry bar. You never know…

A Pocket Knife

A pocket knife is one of those just-in-case items that has no specific job, but can come in REAL handy in so many ways. A Kershaw Shuffle is a good quality, inexpensive folder that incorporates flat and Phillips screwdriver bits. A.G. Russell’s Featherlite One Hand Knife is lightweight and handy for only about US$35, and their ‘Simple 3″ Lockback‘ is a bit less than half that price. Or how about a Slidewinder for ten bucks? Substitute in a multi tool for greater functionality (I saw a Leatherman Bolster on sale in a local Costco recently for only $39.95), but that is expensive and could make your tool bag a bit crowded.

Needlenose Pliers

I carry these outside my toolkit, usually somewhere I can grab quickly. The idea is if you hear that awful hiss-hiss-hiss sound as your tire rotates around a nail or similar, you stop the bike, jump off, grab the pliers which are in a quick-grab place and pull out the offending nail. Speed counts on this particularly if you have tire sealant like FlatOut waiting to do its job once the nail is removed and you spin the tire.

Its entirely possible the needlenose pliers can be done without depending on how you feel about the first item on my New Stuff list below.

New Stuff

Knipex Wrench/Pliers

7 1/4″ (180mm) size is my favorite for a bike tool pouch, although I also have the two smaller sizes (150mm and 125mm). The 180’s are ideal in my opinion. Small enough to use on a rack bolt, big enough to use on a pedal, or even an axle bolt.

These tools are spoken of in hushed tones by the folks who have been turned onto them, and I’m no exception. Think of them as a kind of super Channel Lock style of pliers, except they are optimized so you have much finer graduations in your ‘channel’ widths, the jaws always stay perfectly parallel and you can really clamp the bejesus out of these things, so much so they can be used like an adjustable, open ended crescent wrench. A 10″ / 250mm set lives permanently in my car and is great for bolting stuff like trailer hitch bits down tight.

This tool takes up the same space as the former adjustable crescent wrench and is more usable since it is a pair of strong pliers as much as it is a wrench.

Be warned, though. The little buggers are freaking expensive. But if you are a tool geek, you’ll love them.

A T25 Torx Wrench

Over time, the T25 Torx wrench has gone from something only Magura used on their brakes to a sort of alternate standard among manufacturers. Particularly when it comes to brake rotor bolts.

My brakes, brake rotors and now my seatpost use a Torx T25.

As much as I hate to admit it, the T25 is a better tool socket than a simple hex. Formerly only kept in my bigger tool kits, Since my Squeezy seatpost clamp also uses a T25 on my Apostate I’m officially carrying one in even my minimalist kits.

Battery Powered Pump

A couple of years ago I began championing the use of a portable air compressor that could be slightly modified to run off your existing ebike battery. I still have 4 or 5 of them, and I have never had one fail. However after reading some success stories, and my own research, I’m ready to say I have found a couple of models that are worth relying on.

About a year ago I started doing remote beach runs where there is no land access for miles along the route. You either climb up the beach cliffs and leave your bike, you go swimming, you turn back or you reach your destination. No one’s coming to get you because nobody is out there and your cell phone doesn’t work. Since my ride to the jumping off point was a few miles of paved shared-use path, followed by a bunch of deep sand and then more pavement home, I found I now needed a pump that could be used routinely and regularly rather than emergency-only. So I started looking at pumps and their reviews.

Out here, running out of juice would REALLY suck.

I found out pretty quick that many pumps advertise long life but when you dig into exactly what battery is inside, you find there’s not much there under the hood. Maybe 800 mah. For a pump that has to inflate two *fat* tires at least once and probably twice during the ride, AND have enough left over in case of emergency, I wanted some serious juice in the battery pack.

I decided to try out the CycPlus A8 pump, which had good reviews and published their battery spec. Not 500 or 800 mAh. 2500 mAh. Thats the biggest I could find in this class of small portable pump. What remained unanswered was whether the pump was reliable and whether or not – like lumens on headlights – the claimed battery capacity was remotely believable.

After a lot of use without any failures, I can say it has proven to be reliable. I literally can’t run the battery down in use on a given bike trip. The same has proven true with its companion model, the cheaper, lighter A7 model that trades the alloy pump casing for plastic.

The A7 is also narrower and longer. When I needed a pump for The Apostate, I wanted it to fit in my handlebar bag. I found I had to go with the A8. The A7 was too long to fit in my chosen handlebar bag. Not the biggest deal in the world. The A8 fits perfectly and the weight on the bars is not noticeable.

A7 on the left, A8 on the right. Comparative sizes are not quite to scale. Pic on the right is a little smaller than in reality compared to the A7.

Hockey Pucks

Most useful if you have a two-legged center-mount kickstand. A couple of regulation hockey pucks underneath your kickstand effectively puts the bike up in the air for service on either wheel. Ridiculously handy. Also if you are parking your fat bike on sand, the enlarged puck under your single kickstand leg can mean the difference between the bike staying up or sinking. Call this an optional item but if you can spare the space one or two pucks can be a huge convenience.

Hockey pucks in place let me easily lube my chain at the park rather than in a dingy old garage.

Gone But Not Forgotten

This is what was once in the toolkit but is now gone/replaced.

Wrenches

The Knipex pliers take the place of the adjustable crescent wrench.

CO2

Now that I have an on-demand air compressor, I can kiss goodbye this ancient, single-use technology. That means no more cartridges stashed everywhere I can find a place to fit another one, and no more cartridge head

A super cool, best-of-breed little part… but good riddance to antiquated, single-use co2 technology

Manual Backup Pump?

I’ve worked with the battery powered pumps listed above enough to finally cut the umbilical cord to my backup hand pumps… but if I can carry one without too much difficulty I will. This is one habit that is very hard to break for someone like me who is so invested in having redundant backups.

Needlenose pliers?

I think the Knipex will also do this job, but my US$9 needlenose pliers are often out in the open in a MOLLE slot outside one of my packs. I don’t know for sure if I want to hang a US$60 set of fancy German workmanship out in the same way. So long as I have the space I’ll keep the needlenose’s on the payroll. But really if we’re being a weight weenie, I can find a way to safely secure the Knipex’ and get rid of the pliers. Or attach a multi-tool to the exterior of a bag perhaps and make my emergency tire pliers handy thataway.


Well thats pretty much it for the tool kit. Not the most exciting topic… until something breaks and you’re sitting on a rock trying to fix it.

Ride on…

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Perfecting

We built an ebike. Are we done? Here are the things that typically go a little wrong with a build, and some ways to fix them.

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

Preparation is Everything?

In Planning, I opened by saying Preparation is Everything. With that said…

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

-Iron Mike Tyson

Yeah. Lets talk about the reality check that is coming, once you actually ride the bike you just built. You learn whether what you thought would work actually does. More than likely, something will not work the way you’d like it to.

It won’t be a catastrophic problem, but this is a custom bike and you should expect a do-over or two to make it exactly what you want. This is how I wound up with the materiel and experience to write Musical Chainrings.

On that subject (bicycle gearing), over time that inevitable uncertainty has worked out in my favor. I know I am going to need some time in the saddle to figure out exactly how I want to gear any bike. I may also be surprised when I get a look at actual versus expected chain alignment. Thanks to Tyson’s Law, I have plenty of stock on hand to play around with and get it right.

You have to plan for and budget for this final step. Not necessarily for chainrings. There are a variety of typical culprits.

What Culprits?

There is a pretty common hit parade of things most likely to need a tweak. They all have something to do with the human/bike interface: How comfortable the bike is to you when you ride it.

Handlebars

Is their width comfortable? What about the angle? Your wrists feel OK after awhile? Need a rise on the bars? You’ll only be certain you got it right after riding the bike.

For the Apostate I put on a 760mm titanium flat bar. I have tried to use this very snazzy handlebar on a half-dozen bikes over the last few years, and was never happy with it, so it went back to the parts pile. Having had the Apostate on the road for a few months now, it looks like I finally found a permanent home for it.

My first ride on my Bullitt on February 21st, 2021. Look closely and you can see the same titanium handlebar on this bike; a few weeks later it came right back off. Again.

Handlebar stems

This is surprisingly important for rider comfort, and is perhaps the part I most often change after a new build hits the road. A longer or shorter stem can make a world of difference in comfort depending on what reach to the bars best fits you and your riding position (seat height relative to bar height also plays a role, so once again you need to be on the actual bike to understand what works best). A stem at a different angle can raise or lower the bars for a different improvement than changing the reach with stem length.

SIDEBAR:
No matter what... do not use an adjustable riser stem.  The kind that has a hinge you can supposedly bolt down so its safe.  I know of two separate instances where they broke loose (thankfully I was not the rider).  Both under heavy braking.  Want to keep your teeth?  Use a fixed stem with a set angle to raise handlebar height.

For the Apostate I tried an 80mm stem with a 6 degree rise. Based on measurements from other bikes, I knew this was likely to work. But once again… you never know until you ride it.

Once I did, my posture naturally gravitated to holding the bars with my thumb and forefinger; not naturally planting my upper body weight on my entire palm. I needed a big change, and so I grabbed the biggest change I had: a much longer 120mm stem with a 45-degree rise. This raised the bars as much as was reasonably possible (about an inch and a half) while not really moving the bars forward much (which would increase my reach and make the problem worse).

I set aside these potential alternatives, just in case. I used the one on the far right.

After riding it for a week, it felt better, but I still had to think to put my hands down flat on the bar. I hadn’t gotten it quite right yet. I needed to reduce reach a bit while not affecting handlebar height.

Since I was pretty much at my best result on the stem length and handlebar height, my next step in fitment moved from the handlebars to the seatpost, where I knew I had a little room to maneuver, so to speak.

Worth noting: I could have stayed at the handlebars and changed the bar to one with a pullback of some kind. But I wanted to keep the bar flat and straight on this bike so…

Seatposts

If you are having reach or posture issues, one of the tools at your disposal is to change your seatpost. Some have a setback, where the saddle is mounted aft of the seatpost tube itself. Others have no setback and the rail clamps are directly over the tube. The difference moves your body forward or backward depending on what type you use.

I try to solve fitment issues with handlebars and stems. Changing seatpost setback is usually a last resort (and if you have a suspension seatpost, changing that expensive part is usually off the table as an option).

For the Apostate, a vintage 350mm Kalloy Uno came with the frame. This venerable post has been on the market for decades. It is a no frills, sturdy option. It turns out a 350mm post, with a bottom set near to matching the frame’s bottom edge (still well within its safety limits) was perfect for my pedal stroke. Winner winner chicken dinner.

Or not. As noted above, after riding it for a week I felt I still needed a small change, and it seemed like it would have to be a seatpost change.

The alternatives left were scooting the seat forward in the seatpost clamp (minding the limits scribed on the saddle), and changing the post to one with no setback. Since I was already at the forward limit of the saddle, that meant a different post with no setback. I did that in an over-the-top way, which moved this modification out of the ordinary and into the Afterword section below. We’ll discuss details there.

My original Kalloy seatpost had a ‘setback’ that moves the seat’s mount back behind the post’s center axis. The post I replaced it with has no setback.

Saddles

You won’t know if it works until you sit on it and ride for awhile. But, you don’t have to start from scratch, either. What you like on another bike is liable to work again. I know that for bikes I pedal hard, I like narrower saddles. I knew I liked the WTB Volt (taken off of my Surly Big Fat Dummy) on my GG Smash enduro bike.

So I put on another Volt (I scored the much nicer Chromoly version on a clearance sale) and its fine. No changes necessary. You may not be so lucky as saddles are notorious for not being quite right without some trial and error.

Pedals

Again… this is about comfort. But budget is a factor as well. I tried going with a more or less period-correct option via some old cage pedals with mtb clips and straps. I had them on a shelf collecting dust, and thought this was a great place to put them back into use.

Wrong answer. Some things are better left to the past. Toe clips are one of them. I only had to fumble getting back into them once (I’m not cleating in here) to remember how annoying that was. Fortunately for my budget I also had a pair of perfectly good, cheap flat pedals on the shelf, which I put on.

And I still wasn’t happy. Again thankfully for my budget, my Smash is stored with its pedals off, and those pedals are Pedaling Innovations Catalysts, which are sort of monsters, but I have several sets. I really like the ability to support my arch, in a mid-foot position that benefits from a stomping pedal stroke.

New bike. Scruffy pedals swiped from another bike. No problem.

So on they went and … perfect. I’ll use the cheapie flat pedals on the Smash. For now.

Chainrings

Finally, I built a bike I did not need to play musical chainrings with to get it geared right. Some of that was luck, some of it experience. The 40T Lekkie I used – which requires a special motor cover to be substituted on to fit – was a big ticket item, but its the smallest chainring available that would give me the offset I needed to get excellent chainline on this build.

Pay no attention to those wires. Cable management was tackled on Assembly Day 3. This picture was taken on Day 2.

That chainline was figured out in the Tinkering phase, when I had only the frame, the motor, a wheel and some of my spare chainrings to play with. Chainline is dead straight back to the middle of the cluster, and the gears I am comfortable riding in on this bike are the middle ones as well. One and done. For once.

So… maybe Planning Really is Everything.


Afterword

The Apostate pictured in my Day 1 ride didn’t stay the same. Most of the changes are documented above. But things don’t always fit into neat little categories. What unique bits did I end up changing or prettying-up?

Battery Mounting

The battery solution on this bike came out great. The frame fits a certain type of ‘in-triangle’ battery pack, and of those packs, the Wolf Pack from Luna Cycle fits as if the frame was made for it.

However, clearances are tight. Particularly on top where it really matters. It was clear even during test fittings I wanted to keep this battery permanently on the frame and remove it as infrequently as possible. Ideally: Never remove it.

Not just because there isn’t much room to work with in terms of getting the thing off of its (super strong) magnetic mount. That strong magnet, versus the rivnut bottle bosses on this vintage frame… worry me. You have to apply so much force to remove the pack (or move it in any way forwards or backwards), I’m concerned something is going to bend (the mount) or break (one of the bosses tearing loose from the frame). There’s likely no coming back from a failure like that on an aluminum frame 23 years old and counting.

SIDEBAR:
Why use the cinch straps if the magnet is so strong?  
The straps provide additional stability and support.  I want to do everything I can to take as much stress off of those two little rivnutted M5 bosses in the frame, which otherwise are holding the entire 9-lb battery on their own through all manner of road and trail shocks.

Initially, I used three velcro cinch straps to nearly cover the pack, and also stabilize the magnetic mount as much as possible. Later on, I decided to take advantage of two of the three slots on the battery side’s mounting tabs. These exist so hose clamps can literally clamp the battery permanently to the frame.

The clamps further reduce the reliance on the bottle bosses to do all the work of holding onto the pack. I had already padded the underside of the mount with a thin pillow of red silicone tape. The hose clamp makes no contact with the actual frame thanks to the mount width on one side, and the wire tunnel for the shift sensor and main motor harness cables on the other.

Those clamps also help reduce the potential of battery theft. Sure, nothing is going to stop a determined thief, but the hose clamps – and I made a point of not hiding them for this reason – make it clear to anyone looking that a few minutes (or an angle grinder) will be needed to get that pack off the bike. There isn’t going to be a grab-and-go theft. That fits in with the very limited likelihood of leaving this bike outside at a shop, locked but unattended.

If someone tries to steal it anyway, once a thief shears off or unscrews the hose clamps, they’ll be confronted with that magnet. I bet it will take some time to realize whats holding the battery so tightly. And once that realization dawns, they will have to figure out how to get it moved just right to angle it out of the frame.

Thats time I can spend setting bear traps, digging pits and buying a baseball bat.

I also used velcro to ‘face’ the cinch straps. This holds them together – really only for cosmetic purposes. The straps don’t move once tightened down. The facing (on the sides and the top) just makes the velcro present a little better; keeping the graphics on the battery from bleeding thru in the gaps between the straps.

Handlebar Bag

The Condor Deployment Bag is something I use on almost all of my bike builds. Its easy to adapt into a secure handlebar mount, its small but still the perfect size for a tool bag that can also hold a wallet, phone and keys. These bags are my go-to for hiding wires – and especially controllers – on my 2wd bikes.

The original brown bag was replaced by a black one I also owned – when I finally found it.

Having several of these on hand, I simply switched from a brown one to a black one. The reason is straightforward: black wires blend in better when they are running along a black bag. Note that in some of the photos you may see a lot of wire stuffed behind that bag. I didn’t cut down the brake hoses to size until the very end of the build and test ride process.

Seatpost

This was a big change, but not for an overtly obvious reason.

The vintage Kalloy Uno seatpost that came with the frame worked great. Except as noted above I had reach issues. I had already moved the seat forward, and I did not want to shorten the stem as that would create other issues. So that limited next steps in terms of fitment.

I didn’t need much reach reduction, so I decided to do a seatpost with no setback. My first thought was a Thomson Elite. Which is a great product but not a trivial purchase at about $115. Since I was in that league in terms of cost, I decided to try a dropper post. They all have no setback. A dropper would be handy for all the reasons droppers are handy.

Also, the frame introduces constraints. The post can’t be super long. 350mm is the right length for a seatpost when fit on the frame to my anatomy; any longer means it protrudes down towards the shock, where the potential for contact is worrisome. Droppers tend to be in the neighborhood of 450mm long, so I wanted to find one with minimal drop. Those posts tend to be closer to 400mm. Also I didn’t want to blow the already blown budget, and a really good dropper costs big money.

I found an interesting option that would be an experiment of sorts, and decided to try it: I bought a PNW Components Coast dropper post, with external cable routing. I could have done internal cabling but a cable coming out the bottom hole in the seat tube could once again be a contact risk with the shock.

Why is the Coast an experiment? Because it is a – unique on the market – suspension post as well as a dropper. Advertised motion is 40mm (it can be more) and its a weird choice because this bike has full suspension already. My reasoning behind doing this – and my results – are enough for a full blog post all by themselves so I’ll just say I did it and it worked well.

Dropper post, with wiring thats not too bad; piggybacking onto the brake hose. Ignore that cheapo temporary seat collar.

As a dropper. Jury is still out on whether it is also an effective suspension feature, but it does seem to work for me in an unusual sort of way. Stay tuned for a separate post on this oddball idea and result.

After all was said and done, I did find a way to test whether there was risk of the seatpost hitting the shock: I removed all but about 20 psi of pressure, which let me easily compress the frame by hand, and observe the result. It turns out, for my frame, there is no risk of contact. Perform this check with yours to learn your result.

Seatpost Collar

This one was pretty straightforward, but boy was it frustrating. I have had occasion to lock the bike up outside a store. The Salsa quick release seatpost clamp that came with the frame carried the usual risk: It makes it easy to steal the saddle and post. Since I am using a US$170 dropper and a US$95 saddle. thats worth taking steps to protect.

With a dropper, there is no longer any need for a QR clamp. So time for a fixed collar. I chose a Bike Yoke Squeezy in 35.6mm size, which turns out to be the wrong size thanks to a mistake on my part. Hint: Take the seatpost clamp off and measure under it. Not below it. This frame has two external seatpost diameters, which is invisible if you leave the clamp in place.

Why the Squeezy for a post clamp? It was a whim. The Squeezy is a bit of a unique animal and I wanted to try it out. Its a neat idea and well-made.

But there was that sizing issue, which I was only able to temporarily overcome with some shimming. I ended up finding a basic 34.9mm Axiom seatpost collar in my parts pile that I made work. Its an unremarkable part not really suited to this build. Still, it was handy to just install so I could move on to the next job … and wait for my annoyance at myself to subside so I could spend another US$35 for the correct 35.0mm clamp. Its on. It works. It holds my weight over time with no shifting. It looks great.

The Squeezy defines low profile. Note the very light torque specification. The T25 socket adds a hair of security without requiring an additional tool in my onboard toolbag.

The Wire Harness Tube

This was a unique need for this build. The usual preferred solution of a battery bag in the triangle didn’t work on this frame. Not so great news, as you use the battery bag to hide wires. My best solution to hiding otherwise bare wires was to enclose them in a pipe that more or less matches the frame.

I originally used cheap red PEX pipe purchased locally for about the price of a candy bar. I ended up not being happy with the red color and did a spiral wrap of red silicone tape to get a better match. In a short time it darkened to be a near perfect match to the frame. But it also had a few problems:

Rips like this only get worse with silicone tape, which becomes easier to tear as it ages

The tape was just not durable. I had rips and breaks in it – more than in the picture above . Also, I had cut the pipe a bit too long. When turning the bars to an extreme, the fork poked the top of the tube and pushed it to one side or the other.

Oops. You can see how the fork pushes into the tube when its turned to one side.

The solution was to replace the pipe. I used a length of furniture grade, red 1/2″ PVC – a better red than the PEX came in, so no tape. I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive. Cost was about US$20.

The new pipe’s presentation is a lot cleaner given no need to wrap it in silicone tape. Its also cut shorter this time.

The shorter pipe didn’t need as much in the way of fastening thanks to two things: Wraps of more red tape around it provided sticky bumpers that hold the pipe to the frame under the pressure of the hose clamps and the velcro straps. The biggest benefit was the shorter length preventing any contact from the forks. So there’s no longer something trying to push the tube out of line all the time.

The wire tunnel is not a perfect solution, but the alternative is bare wires and zip ties.

So… to paraphrase George Lucas, a bike build is never finished. It is abandoned. And so, for now at least, we abandon the tinkering, building and perfecting of the Apostate. I’m sure I’ll do something to it again as time passes, but for now its time to just do to it what is meant to be done to a bicycle…

Ride it.

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Final Assembly Day

We’re in the final stretch. All of the big stuff is done, except installing the brakes. Today, the work is mostly about tying up loose ends.

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2
Build Day 3 (you are here)
Brakes
Working Handlebar Setup
Test Rides
Custom Motor Settings
Finalize Battery Wiring
Grips On – Finalize Handlebars
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

Wrapping It Up!

We accomplished a lot yesterday. What do we have left? Only one major component is left to install – the brakes – and then some final mopping up. We’re almost done.

Put On The Brakes (Literally)

We have already completed a part of this job: We put the brake rotors on with the wheels during Day 1. Now, we add the brake calipers that grab those rotors. We’ll mount calipers to the fork in front, and the frame in back, with the brake hose coming up from each caliper to the handlebars, where the levers are attached. This will be a lot simpler than it could be as hydraulic brake kits ordinarily come as a set with everything attached together already.

For this project, we chose a small 160mm rotor on the front wheel and a 180mm for the rear. A given bike could be built with various combinations of rotors. A brake caliper adapter lets a generic brake kit match up to any rotor size. How to pick the proper adapter is a common question, so let’s take a short detour and explain.

How To Pick A Brake Caliper Adapter

For almost all bikes, there are two different types of adapters: IS (International Standard) and Post. I’m going to ignore some of the fringe products like flush-fit, which you’ll probably never see on an ebike conversion/build.

International Standard mounts have two unthreaded M6 bolt holes, (spaced apart 51mm, center to center) facing horizontally, that pass a bolt through into a threaded adapter. The brake caliper then bolts to two top-down, vertically facing holes. Our project bike has a typical rear IS mount. Here it is, both before and after the brake caliper adapter has been installed.

Figure 1: Rear frame IS brake mounts, bare and with adapter installed.

In the right picture above, that is a Magura brand adapter. They handily have the adapter type printed right on them. You can see the model is QM-10, which is not particularly useful here (its an old part number… I dug it out of my parts pile for this build). What IS useful is the size/type designation under it: ISR-180. That stands for an IS mount type, R = Rear and 180 means it fits a 180mm rotor.

The most important takeaway from this tidbit of knowledge is there is a difference between a front and a rear 180mm rotor adapter for IS mounts. The two are not compatible, and if you try to swap a front adapter to the rear, at the very best you are going to get a bad fit to the rotor. At worst the caliper won’t fit over the rotor at all.

Our project’s front fork is a model-year 2000 Marzocchi Bomber Z2 X-Fly. That old fork has (for 2022) a very unusual disk brake adapter for a suspension fork: an IS mount. Almost all modern suspension forks use Post type mounts.

Figure 2: The IS type brake adapter mount on the Apostate’s model-year 2000 Marzocchi front fork.

Here’s a pic from my Smash’s front fork, which is an MRP Ribbon. You can see where the name ‘Post’ comes from as the two mounts look like posts sticking straight out of the fork at a 90-degree angle.

Figure 3: The arrows are pointing to the post mounts on the fork

A Post mount adapter bolts straight down onto the threaded posts, which are spaced 74mm apart (center to center). Typically, a fork has “160mm posts” which means you can use a 160mm rotor with no adapter. I have seen some forks with 180mm posts, which means you don’t need an adapter with a 180mm rotor, but those are rare. Regardless, you want to KNOW what size your posts are if you have them, both front and rear.

Bolt the caliper directly to the posts on the fork. Just like the IS mounts, M6 bolts are used on Post mounts.

Figure 4: This is a Post mount adapter in the rear. The rotor is 203mm.
What Have We Learned?
  • Brake caliper adapters with IS mounts are specific to the front or rear.
  • If the frame or fork has two unthreaded M6 holes that you put a bolt through horizontally inward across the bike’s wheel, with a 51mm distance (center to center) between the two holes, that is an International Standard (IS) mount.
  • If the frame or fork has two threaded holes facing outward (usually that look like two parallel posts) with a 74mm distance (center to center) between them, then that is a Post type mount.
  • Post adapters are unthreaded. IS adapters are threaded.
  • Pick the adapter that is meant for the rotor size, mount type and front/rear axle that matches your wheel.
One More Thing!

As if the above is not enough, there’s one lesson I have learned that has served me well: Buy an adapter made by the same manufacturer who made your brake calipers. A homebrew brake caliper job often involves using washers here and there as spacers/shims to make up for a slightly wrong/bad fit of the caliper to the rotor face.

I have never had to shim a brake setup since I started matching caliper and adapter manufacturers. Here’s the thing: An adapter is often made with the manufacturer’s calipers in mind. So for example, Avid brakes are mounted with semi-hemispherical washers above and below the caliper (this is used to aid caliper alignment to the rotor). The lower washers take up vertical space. That space is accounted for with a slightly lower rise in an Avid adapter.

Try mounting a different manufacturer’s caliper on one – where that caliper was not intended to be spaced with those washers in mind – and it’ll be too short. You’ll need two or three M6 washers (or dedicated brake spacers, which are a precise thickness) between the adapter and the caliper to make up for that difference.

Or use a matching Magura adapter with your Magura caliper and everything bolts directly together with no messing around.

Speaking of which, rotors are by no means manufacturer-specific, but you may see a slight misalignment when mixing rotor and caliper manufacturers. So there is a case to be made for matching the manufacturer throughout the entire system unless you are willing to do some experimentation off on your own You may suffer through a little trial and error, but you may also find a perfect combination, as I think I have (I normally use Tektro TR-17 rotors but not on this particular project).


So, with all that said, for this project bike I need a front (Magura QM-43) 160mm IS mount, and a rear (Magura QM-41) 180mm IS mount.


Bolt the two adapters on, front and rear. Magura specifies 6Nm for the M6 bolts you will use to do this (they should be included with the adapter you buy). Magura adapters include bolts with a Torx T25 head. 6Nm for an M6 is a good number regardless of what brand(s) you buy.

Attach The Calipers And Levers

Once thats done, you are ready to bolt on the brake calipers. Once again, you use M6 bolts, but the standard 6Nm may not be where you want to be on the torque spec. More on that when we tackle caliper alignment below.

Before you do this, you need to spread the pistons inside the caliper so they are fully retracted. Depending on your brakes, you can do this with a screwdriver, or a brake block that came with your brakeset, or both. The actual procedure for this is illustrated in the Filling / Bleeding Video 2 below. You want those pistons spread wide for that first installation. After you have spread the pistons, if you removed the pads (not really necessary if you just used a screwdriver) put them back in.

Now you can mount the caliper. Do NOT torque it down. Thread down the bolts until there is only a very little play in the caliper. It should be able to slide sideways left to right with fingertip pressure. You need to be able to fudge it around a bit in our next step.

The brakes I am using come pre-assembled – the caliper is connected to the brake hose, and the brake hose is connected to the brake lever that goes on your handlebars, so it is a ready-to-run assembly. The brakeset has hydraulic fluid in the lines already and does not need to be bled unless you cut the hoses to fit your bike. This makes initial installation a lot easier.

After mounting the calipers, your next step is to provisionally bolt the brake lever onto the handlebars (don’t worry about routing the hydraulic hose just now. Thats for later). Since brake levers are manufacturer-specific with their own torque settings and bolt sizes (some are M5, most are M6 and the SRAM brakes that came on my Big Fat Dummy were actually an SAE size) I am not going to get into the bolt or torque spec for the lever. Refer to your manual for yours. Just get the lever on in more or less the right place, and only tighten so its barely held in place. You should be able to rotate it on the bars without effort, which you will need to do later on in the day.

Align The Calipers

With the brakes on the bike but not safe for riding just yet, we need to align the caliper so it doesn’t rub on the rotor, which it will when you do an initial install.

Take up the ‘slack’ in the brake pistons

In the auto racing world, brake pads can wind up getting spaced away from the rotor thanks to the torsion that comes with sharp curves and high speed flexing of the suspension. This gives you something called ‘knock back‘. The cure for knock back is to do some gentle brake pedal depression in advance of that corner you are rushing up to. This tee’s up the pads so they are right up there with the rotor again. Otherwise, your pedal goes to the floor and you need a change of underwear.

We artificially induced a form of brake pad knock back when we spread the pads during the caliper installation. Now that the caliper is on, we need to undo that. The procedure is the same as with a race car: Squeeze the brake lever a few times, and don’t worry that it goes all the way down to the handlebars on the first couple of pulls. Keep squeezing and proper lever travel will eventually come back.

NOTE:  What follows is the 'brake whisperer' version of aligning a bicycle brake caliper.  This is a lot more effort than most people go to, but it will yield perfect alignment on even marginal brakes, barring some sort of mechanical defect (like a warped rotor).  It is almost a you-have-to-feel-it-to-get-it technique.  I will try my best to write it down coherently so you can replicate it yourself.  Here goes!
Rear Caliper

Lets align the back wheel first. Toolwise, you need to keep within arm’s reach whatever wrench you need to tighten down the brake caliper. Usually that is an M6 hex key wrench, or a Torx T25.

Either spin the rear wheel by hand or use the crankarms. Get an earful as to how much misalignment there is (your ears will tell you how much real quick). Now grab and depress the brake lever to clamp and stop the wheel. Keep holding the lever down so the brake continues to hold the wheel. Since we left the caliper so it had only light play and could move freely, that caliper is now sitting very close to its natural, proper alignment, and is holding itself there thanks to your hand clamping the brake lever.

Now pick up that wrench you set aside with your other hand. While still holding the brake lever, gently tighten first one bolt, then the other so now the brake caliper is just barely held in place. It is imperative you apply only the gentlest amount of torque to that wrench, because even a bit too much will cause the caliper to move and spoil your alignment.

When done with two gentle tugs on that wrench, spin the wheel again. Does the wheel come really close to rotating without any touch to the rotor? Since we only barely tightened it, you can now move first one side and then the other of the caliper side to side, just a hair, with your fingertips to try and eliminate all contact. The slight tension you put on the caliper via the bolt should still allow you to move it, and that movement will now stick. Fiddle with it front and back, gently, side to side until you have the brake caliper in the perfect spot, so it does not rub at any point in the wheel revolution.

If we have the caliper in a final position, since we have barely any tension on the brake caliper bolts, we need to – again, very slowly and gently – apply more torque, alternating from one bolt to the other. It is a good idea to physically hold the caliper and adapter with your thumb and forefinger, clamping it in place with your fingers while you do small wrench turns – maybe 1/16th of a turn or less (!) at a time at each go. After each adjustment, spin the wheel and see whether the caliper shifted a hair in the wrong direction. If so, try and correct with your thumb and forefinger, or back the bolt off just a touch until you can make an adjustment.

You may have to undo and restart the process a few times. It is not at all unusual for the caliper to rotate on its horizontal axis a hair – even on a caliper not using hemispherical washers. Don’t be discouraged by this. Just take it into account as you try (and likely retry) to get the caliper tightened down sufficiently so it is in place, not moving and not rubbing. Do it precisely enough and you will find that sweet spot.

When you do find it, that bolt is almost certainly nowhere near the 6Nm that is typical for a tight M6 bolt. It will be much less. I do not try to tighten the calipers down that tight. Applying torque like that makes it almost impossible to align the caliper with the kind of fine control I want. I have never had a caliper loosen so, anecdotally, you should be fine too.

Its worth mentioning that this procedure is being used with Magura brakes along the lines of what you see in Figure 4 above: No washers, no spacers. Just direct part-to-part contact. And I am often using 2.3mm thick rotors, which are very thick. Even thicker than the 2.0mm rotors Magura recommends for their calipers, which are in turn thicker than the 1.8mm rotors that are the standard for most of the rest of the industry. So this procedure is used to dial in a very tight system that has very little wiggle room in it. Still, it will work great for any system if you are willing to put the time in. And once its done, its done. It will survive wheel removal and reattachment just fine.

Front Caliper

Aligning the front caliper is the same process as aligning the back. Only one additional observation is necessary that applies to both wheels: given the low torque on the caliper used here, you could be forgiven for coating the threads with Vibra Tite gel (NOT Loc-Tite). I use it if a tube of the stuff is within reach. Otherwise not. So its not something you have to do, but it can’t hurt, right? Don’t lose any sleep if you forget to use the stuff.

Route The Brake Hoses

This is effectively the identical process that was described in Day 2 when we routed the shifter cable. Once again the exact process varies greatly by bike, and you’ve already seen how I am going about it on the Day 2 build. So we won’t re-cover the same ground. Below in Figure 5 is a pic showing the anchor points for both brake hoses. Numbers 1 through 3 are identical to the shifter cable that is on the other side. #4 is a simple zip tie wrapped and anchored by crossing the V-brake post. Modern front forks will have some sort of dedicated, manufactured anchor point at roughly the same spot.

Be sure you leave enough slack in the front so there is adequate room to turn the handlebars to their fullest extent without any tugging on the brake hoses. Need an example? Look at another finished bike ๐Ÿ˜€ . The hoses need to be long but not too long.

The picture below shows the temporary brake routing I used in the first few weeks as initially I did not shorten the brake hoses.

NOTE:  When routing the hoses, they will be longer than necessary.  Route them so the excess hose is sticking out in front of the bike.  From the caliper forward/upward to the handlebars, the hoses should be tied down as you expect them to stay.
Figure 5: Brake cable anchor points.

Shorten The Brake Hoses

This is luckily one of those times when a video is the best tutorial, and we have a great one here. Again this is tailored to Magura brakes, but the principles hold across all brake marques. Its only 3 1/2 minutes long so watch it now:

VIDEO 1: Specific to Magura brakes, but still a good tutorial on snipping and shortening a hydraulic brake hose.

Here’s what I do differently: I use a different hose cutter as shown in the tool list. I also would put on the cable molding cover, nut and olive BEFORE I stuff on the metal hose barb. The reason for this is when you put the barb in, it often spreads the housing of the cable just enough to make it impossible to thread those fittings over the now-finished hose end. So just put them all on before pushing the end barb in.

My treasured needle driver. Makes a PITA job so simple its worth the $26.

Additionally, I use the specialty tool (brake hose needle driver) that carefully drives the end pin into the hose. Its a lot easier than hammering in the pin. Video 2 makes this process look easy as pie and it is seldom that. If you don’t want to spend the $26 for a specialty tool, yes you will get the job done by using the method shown in the video. For me, I never want to fight with a hose barb again and I’m glad I sprang for the needle driver.

Bleed The Lines

Once you have cut down the hoses, you have air in the hydraulic lines, which is very bad. You have to bleed the brake lines to get the air out. Here are two videos that show ‘the long way’. This is how you should do it at least the first time after cutting the hoses down. I am also showing you Video 3, which is much less messy than the ‘official’ instructions in Video 2. It is worth mentioning that the instructor in Video 3 is a Magura tech specialist. So its not like he is breaking any rules.

VIDEO 2: This is the ‘long’ way to bleed your hydraulic brakes, minus one trick to minimize fluid loss.

The only issue with this next method is you have to remove the caliper, which means you have to realign it per the procedure above.

VIDEO 3: This is the same ‘long way’ to bleed hoses, but with an added trick – remove and raise the caliper to the level of the brake lever.

And now for the short way. Use this method for a touch-up bleed down the road. You can probably get 90% of the efficacy received from a full bleed by doing it this way, which is much simpler and does not involve disconnecting brake lines and spilling fluid. Its also faster.

Note also that when I do ‘the long way’ I just use a syringe stuffed into the reservoir hole like is done below and do not bother with the expensive bleed bottle that is used in Videos 2 and 3 above. I use just a syringe with a hose and screw-on tip, a syringe reservoir and a bottle of fluid. No need for any fancy bleed kit.

VIDEO 4: Yet Another Brake Bleed Video

Handlebars!

Its time to start getting the handlebars set up in their final format. Now that the brakes are on, we’ve pretty much got a working bicycle here and all thats left is some tidying up. The only thing we aren’t going to do is put the grips on, and thats because the grips I put on often have to be cut off. So I want to wait until the last second to take that final step. Everything else should be put in its final position.

Brake Levers

These are what you position first. Nothing is more important than being able to easily reach your brakes without having to work at it. So having them set up right is Priority #1. They go closest to the grips. Always. And everything is fit around them. You don’t move your brakes to a sub-optimal position to make up for anything else. It is done the other way around.

Shifter

The next most important item on the bars is the shifter. Here again, you must have unrestricted accessibility. You also don’t want to have to change your grip to use it, so the shifter should be directly up against the brake lever. On an ebike, typically you have only a right-side shifter (for the rear cluster).

Throttle

If there’s a shifter taking up the space adjacent to the brake lever on the right side, that leaves the left side for the throttle. I am assuming a thumb throttle here and will not get into the nuances of a grip or half-grip throttle as I never use them, so I don’t have much to say for them or about them.

One nuance of a thumb throttle that is often overlooked is ‘clocking’ the lever. You want to position the lever so when it is fully engaged, the tip of your thumb is comfortably holding the handlebars, and preferably the paddle is fully extended straight down. The reason for this? When you hit a pothole or similar road imperfection, if you are putting any sort of weight or grip on that fully depressed throttle paddle, your hand/thumb will bounce down thanks to gravity and inertia… and can snap that paddle clean off as a result.

If you clock the throttle so it is pointing down when fully engaged, then your body’s reaction to a terrain impact will just cause your thumb to slip off. The throttle snaps back to zero input. Maybe a bit annoying to have to re-engage, but nothing is broken. Maybe for you straight down is too much. Experiment with it to find out what works for your preferred grip on the bars, while keeping this fail-safe technique in mind.

Once that is done, this is what the bike looks like now.

BAM! This sucker is ready to ride, finally.

Whats with the handlebar bag?

Well, in addition to being a handy way to store wallet, phone and keys, it also hides any excess wiring that I can’t easily get rid of. In this case, even though the wiring harness I am using is a little shorter than normal, it is still probably an extra foot longer than it needs to be. That slack has to get taken up somewhere. Likewise, there are wires connecting to the left brake, the right brake, the display and the throttle. In addition to the usual shifter plus right and left brake hoses. Thats a lotta wires.

I have found a handlebar bag – especially this particular molle deployment bag I am using here – is great at hiding that rats’ nest in addition to being a convenient dump pouch for what is usually in my pockets. The molle loops on the bag are perfect for running excess wire so it is literally integrated into the bag’s surface. In these early build pictures, I am using a leftover brown bag I had in my parts pile. A black bag hides black wires running along its surface much more effectively, and I switched to one later on for that reason.

Test Ride Time

Go on. You’ve earned it. Go for a ride. If you’ve done your job as described here, its ready. Sure, the grips aren’t on yet, but you can hop on and ride around the neighborhood. Start out slow. Engage the pedal assist. Give it some throttle. Figure out how it handles, keep things mellow. Oh, and wear gloves and a helmet. Some of my worst mishaps occurred on test rides that were supposed to be a 5 mph toodle around the neighborhood cul-de-sac and ended up with a faceplant. Right now you are a test pilot. Dress like one. At least a little.

Tailor The Motor Settings

This procedure will vary depending on your chosen motor. For this project, we are using a BBSHD and I have that platform down pat. I know exactly what settings I want and I have a tool to change those settings that I can plug right in.

Here’s the process I use. Once you’ve read thru this article, follow on to the sequel linked at its page top. I plugged in the Version 2 screens in that second article on this bike in a couple of minutes (shown below). These are the most neutered pedal assist settings I have in my toolbag. The gentlest stuff you can find while still retaining the ability to lay on full motor power with the throttle if its ever needed. Look to the linked articles for sterner stuff.

Clean Up The Wiring

OK so you were having fun riding your new bike around. Unfortunately there’s a bit more drudgery to get through. You need to finalize the battery wiring … at least you do on this bike because everything is out in the open. So we need to do something short, strong, neat and tidy that is also color matched so it doesn’t stick out.

Figure 6: The finalized exterior wiring. Bottom wire is AC Power to the motor. Top wire is battery charger input.

Here’s what we are looking at in Figure 6 above. First: the power lead that sends battery power to the motor. A BBSHD comes with two fairly long (roughly 35cm), separate black and red 12-gauge wires, each terminated in an Anderson Powerpole connector. While Anderson connectors are adequate, they are susceptible to water and far from your best choice, which is generally considered to be a water-resistant, spark-resistant XT90S.

It so happens the wireless Luna Wolf pack I am using also has a female XT90S built into itself, so the decision to use the more capable male XT90 is made for us by the battery.

The job was to measure thrice and cut once. I had to shorten the power cables running out of the motor just right so a similarly shortened 10-gauge XT90 pigtail could wrap around the frame at just the right length to be snug, yet removable without being so tight it would break something.

Remember:  The tutorial on making safe, reliable crimp connections is here and gives you complete details, tools and instructions on doing this exact sort of work.

Since this power cable is in the worst possible place for collecting grit, grime and water, I went overboard on the protection for the connection. I used 3:1 marine adhesive butt-end connectors and surrounded the connection area with thick marine 3:1 adhesive heat shrink. This effectively waterproofed and armor plated the connection. I topped it off with a hand-wrapped spiral of frame-matching red silicone tape to lower the visibility of the thick wire. This also adds more protection and waterproofing. If I could have found a reasonable way to use the same red PEX or PVC tubing to further armor the connection I would have done that too. But as it sits, if something gets through all that its probably going to destroy the bike, too.

The battery cable was made almost the same way. Two short 12 gauge male and female XT60 pigtails were crimped together with marine heat shrink butt end connectors to make a short extension cable. No 3:1 heat shrink this time as I need this cord to be flexible. The loose end that will be attached to the battery charger is tucked into the velcro strap that is helping to lock down the pack onto the frame. What you can’t see in Figure 6 is the open female end of the extension cord is further covered with a waterproof cap made to fit the XT60 like these (also widely available on Ebay). I finished the job with a matching, protective wrap of red silicone tape.

Put The Grips On

My chosen silicone grips are 50/50 in terms of being removable. Half the time they have to be cut off, so they only go on at the last possible moment. That moment is now. We’ve got everything installed, laid out, positioned and generally nitpicked so we can put the grips on without worrying we have to take something back off. Further, we purchased as many parts as possible that use clamshell type attachment (the one exception is the throttle) so those items can be removed without also having to remove the grips.

For silicone grips like those I am using (Wolf Tooth Fat Paw), I have found some drug store denatured alcohol inside and on the grip is the way to go. Here is a video that shows removal and installation of a variety of grip types using various methods, including the use of alcohol.

Video 5: Get a Grip!

My chosen end caps are the compression-plug type that screw on and off. Also, if you look at the final pics you will see I am using bar end extensions for some grip variety and a bit of added certainty my hands won’t come off the bars in extreme circumstances. When setting up placement of my shifter, throttle, brakes and grips I took into account the extra 1.5cm or so I would need to fit these extensions onto my 760mm handlebars. In fact, I chose bars a little wider than I like because I knew I would have these ends on, which effectively shorten the bars by placing the grips a bit further in.

Figure 7: The handlebars. Note the little lever hiding in between the throttle and brake lever in the left photo. We’ll get to what that is in the next ‘Perfecting’ post.

And we’re done. Holy crap. We’re done! We did it. We made a bike.

Epilogue

(link coming soon to “Perfecting”)

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Assembly Day 2

Assembly Day 1 got us a rolling chassis that looks like a bike. If you squint a little. Lets keep up the pace of progress here on Day 2

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2 (you are here)
The Wire Harness Tube
Display and Throttle
Chainring
Crankarms
Pedals
Shifter, Chain and Derailleur Install and Adjustment
The Speed Sensor
Battery Attachment
Motor Function Testing
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

The Fight Goes On

Well, really its not a fight. We’re moving forward pretty steadily despite a couple of time sinks that came in the form of a failed Tannus Armour installation, and a ‘peat-and-repeat motor installation where it took a bunch of time to get the cable routing off the motor just right. And speaking of motor cable management, thats where we will start.

We’re nowhere near done with the motor, but on this second day we won’t start there.

Since we bolted the derailleur on the bike as our last act yesterday, lets continue with the drivetrain and start today with…

Craft The Wire Tube

This is a component that is unique to this bike. That doesn’t mean it can only be done on this bike. But its an unusual element for an e-bike, so bear this in mind when you are building yours.

Usually (maybe even ideally) when you build an ebike you choose a frame that has ample room in the forward frame triangle for a battery pack. You secure this battery pack in a battery bag (Since we have already repeated the mantra of DIY does not have to mean half-assed enough for it to sink in, I will ignore the fact that some ‘builders’ use duct tape – or worse – to secure a battery in the triangle). Myself personally I really like battery bags, and I use them on most of my bikes.

Battery bags let you secure the pack on multiple sides, nice and tight. They also let you pad the pack so when you are bouncing around, your pack stays protected. You know what else they do?

They hide all the damn wires.

So, the Apostate’s 1999 Intense Tracer frame has the nearly unique and wonderful characteristic that it fits a Luna Cycle Wolf Pack almost as if it was made specifically for it. Not only was no battery bag needed… I couldn’t use one even if I wanted to. In the lead-up to the actual assembly days, during Tinkering, I tried all sorts of alternatives including different batteries (I have several that can either be pulled out of storage or off of another bike), the use of rectangular, strong cordura/molle bags and even jerry-rigged strapping. No alternative worked.

Its not just a perfect fit. Its the ONLY fit.

So that, as they say, is that. I can forget about having the luxury of a battery bag, where I can stuff all my loose wires and just run them thru slots in the bag, back to front with no one the wiser. I had to come up with an alternative.

For the Stormtrooper, I used matching white heatshrink to cover the exposed wiring, effectively hiding it in plain sight.

I couldn’t do what I did with the Stormtrooper above as the most ‘red’ heatshrink I could find looks pink against the deep, fire engine red of the frame.

Now What?

I decided to make a wiring tube – a bit of fixed plastic pipe clamped to the frame. I can run the main motor harness wire and the unused-but-still-dangly shift sensor wire through it.

I bought a 5-foot length of 1/2″ PEX pipe (inside diameter is actually about 0.68″) from Home Depot for a whopping US$2.93. The ‘hot’ version of PEX is red. But not right red. To fix that I spiral-wrapped the pipe with the red silicone tape I had on hand. I affixed the tube to the frame with a combination of careful wraps of more silicone tape, and red zip ties. Yes I hated to use those ties. Topping off the attachment was about 8″ of velcro cinch straps I chose to use to secure the battery as firmly as possible.

Annoyingly, I did not take close-up pictures of the wire tube during the time it was created and attached to the frame. The tool used to cut the PEX pipe to size was a simple hacksaw and the pipe was cut while holding it by hand. The hacksaw went through it like butter.

Here’s a good, close look at the wire tube at the end of my first ‘live’ ride of the finished bike (note the rain water)

This is another instance where a lot of prep time in advance of the actual build day was spent figuring out exactly how to deal with a problem. While cosmetically I wasn’t thrilled with doing it, functionally it worked very well to both hide the wiring and give it strong protection.

I was never happy with the look of the tape-wrapped PEX pipe, or its connection to the frame.  Shortly after build completion I placed an order for different parts and did a different, better tube.  Since it took weeks for the parts to arrive, many early ride pictures (particularly the ones in the Grand Canyon) show this original PEX pipe.  We'll address its replacement in the Perfecting post.

Run Main Wiring Harness Through Wire Tube

With the wire tube in place, its time to run the wire harness up through it from the motor to the handlebars. Because the connection between the motor side cable and the harness will be in the middle of the tube, and the tube has been affixed to the bike, we need to do this in a particular order.

  1. Feed the harness into the tube from the top, down to the motor. Feed it all the way in until it gets to the knot where the wires separate. This will leave plenty of extra harness wire sticking out, motor-side.
  2. Connect the harness to the motor-side plug. Be careful to line up the little arrows on each plug housing to ensure everything goes together properly. Do this wrong and you can destroy your harness by bending the wire ends inside the plug.
  3. For this build I am not using the shift sensor, which is the wire coming out of the motor with the yellow HIGO/Julet plug. Stuff it into the tube just ahead of the plug you just connected in Step 2.
  4. Feed the harness back up the tube so there is no longer any slack down at the bottom and the wires now feed straight into the tube. Because you stuffed the shift sensor plug in ahead of the wire harness plug, that thick plug, which is almost the width of the inside of the tube, will drag the shift sensor up with it; keeping it safe and snug. When the shift sensor wire has extended fully into the tube you can stop.
  5. You now have a fair bit of extra wire sticking out of the front of the tube. On some bikes, there won’t be a lot of excess. On others there will be a lot. We’ll deal with this on Day 3. Just let it hang for now.
The generic BBSxx wire harness. Green to display, yellow male to throttle, the two yellow females to brake levers. For this project, I am using a harness from California Ebike that substitutes red females for the yellow ones for Magura brakes.
As noted above, most bike builds will not use a wire tube.  If you are using a battery bag, you can just run the harness up inside of and thru the bag.  You can also use velcro onewrap straps or zip ties to run the harness wire along the bicycle frame tubing.  Remember... zip tied cables all over your frame look cheesy.  Avoid them as much as possible, but if you must use them, try to use colored ties that are at least in the ballpark of a match to the frame.  Even a rough color match sticks out a lot less than say black on red.

Attach Display and Throttle To Handlebars

This step is here simply because it has to happen somewhere. This is a good time to get it over with. Attachment of the throttle, by necessity, involves slipping it over one end of the handlebars since its a single piece, tightened to the bars with a small metric hex socket. Displays tend to be a little more flexible, typically using a hinged attachment that makes them a little easier to install. Usually they tighten up with another small metric hex socket. Sometimes you’re unlucky and its a Phillips head.

For both pieces, just get them onto the bars in roughly their expected final position. Tighten them only so they are snug, but still movable. Do not connect them to the wiring harness yet. We won’t put on the grips and brake levers until tomorrow so what we’re doing here really is just ticking a box, so we can do our motor functionality test at the end of the day.

Attach Chainring To Motor

Here again, we’re just taking a relatively easy step that gets us closer to our goal. We need the chainring on so we can put on the chain, which will let us do a motor test.

Since we’re doing a Bafang mid drive motor, attachment of the chainring involves the use of five short M5 socket cap screws. As always I recommend you visit your hardware store and acquire upgraded stainless steel examples. Also – and this is pretty much true everywhere – DO NOT use button head screws. It is tempting to do so because the low profile button heads give a more finished appearance, but they are a bad choice on a bike for a number of reasons – all of which I learned the hard way.

  • A button head uses a smaller hex socket because of its diminutive size. So when torqueing it down (or removing it after time has passed) it is much easier to strip.
  • If a button head is stripped, you will need a specialty tool to back it out. If instead you had used a socket cap, a small vise grip could clamp onto the socket and has a pretty good chance of working.
  • A socket cap is much less likely to strip in the first place thanks to the larger size hex head.
  • A socket cap is rated to withstand more torque (see above).

The prohibition against button heads used to apply especially to M5 brake rotor screws, and after losing a couple of them I switched to M5 button caps, but in recent years, the industry has fixed that problem by using screws with Torx t25 socket heads, which solves the stripping problem. If you can find longer, stainless steel Torx M5-sized screws, those could be an option for fastening the chainring.

The five mounting screw holes for the chainring.

Tighten the chainring screws in an alternating star pattern. The torque spec you use should vary by the kind of screw you are using. Here is a table showing the different common metric screw material grades, and the Nm settings that represent a maximum for each. Keeping in mind we also don’t want to strip out the threads in the socket, I would not exceed 8Nm. The minimum of 7Nm on the chart should also work just fine.

While I am a big fan of never using a thread locker, as a properly torqued bolt doesn’t back off, this is one place where I have violated this rule. However you need to use the right kind of thread locker. Consider Vibra Tite gel. It is a vibration-resistance product with roots in aviation. It never truly dries. It just goops up the threads sufficiently so they don’t back off. I learned about it participating in shooting sports, where the old hands use it on extremely expensive – and delicate – optics that are subject to repeated, severe recoil impact.

If this thread locker is used, bolts will stay put. They can always be backed off with a simple hand tool without risking a seized bolt or a twisted-off socket cap.

Quick Chain Alignment Check

Do this BEFORE applying final torque to the chainring above: Just snug the chainring bolts. At this point, you can now use your final wheel assembly, complete with rear cluster installed, to check your final chain alignment. There is no need to actually install the chain. Just drape it over the chainring, and back over the rear cluster onto its middle ring. How does it look? This is probably the first time you can see for sure what your bike’s chain alignment is really going to be.

For this project, doing this quick check, I found my chain alignment was too far inboard to the frame. My Lekkie 40T ring provides a bit over 20mm of inward offset. Which is a lot as these things go. Too much in this case. I used a Lekkie 2mm spacer (which was included in my motor cover kit) to bring it out just a bit. I also used slightly longer M5 screws to make up for the spacer moving things outboard.

This fits between chainring and motor to move the ring 2mm outboard.

Luckily this simple spacer gave me a best-case solution without having to reinvent any wheels. Which I have had to do in the past.

If your luck isn’t so great when your turn comes, Here’s a link to the likely path to your solution.

Attach the Crankarms

The crankarms are the next logical step after fastening the chainring. Here again we don’t really need them on the bike other than to make some forward progress.

Jump into the time machine again: Drivetrain fully assembled. Note the stainless M5 socket caps bolting the chainring down, courtesy of the local Ace Hardware store.

Crankarms – especially the square-taper variety commonly found on aftermarket ebike motors – must be tightened down by a torque wrench. Torque specs for crankarms specify to a range, typically, of 25-35 ft lbs. Even at the low end, thats tighter than you can guess at.

Especially because you are tightening down onto a tapered spindle (axle), for two reasons. First, the crankarm will slowly tighten down onto the spindle, going deeper and deeper, and you won’t realize it has bottomed out at the right place unless you are monitoring the actual torque being applied. You will be turning and turning on that wrench and watching the crankarm descending down, further and further and think ‘gadzooks thats got to be enough’… It won’t be. If you don’t go too little and tighten too much, you will smoosh your crankarm onto the spindle. The softer aluminum crankarm will spread as its jammed too far down onto the steel, and it will be forever loose (wobbly) once you make that mistake.

Seen from the right and left edges, this square-taper spindle end (from a Cyclone) looks square. The taper isn’t noticeable until you look at the bevel at the corner, head-on.

And of course, if you don’t tighten it enough, its going to come loose sooner rather than later. In fact, square taper crankarms will ALWAYS come loose, and do so faster the more you ride. They have to be maintained. If you are pedaling hard 30 miles a day on a commute, for example, you should check crankarm torque roughly once every two months. If you are riding around the block on a leisurely cruise every week or so, once a year should be fine. But make no mistake: It has to be done or sooner or later your luck is going to run out.

So… thats why you need that torque wrench. This is the first and maybe only time we will use the larger 3/8″ version, because the torque needed is too much for the little 1/4″ unit to handle. Worth mentioning: Its possible to use the larger 1/2″ torque wrench for this job, although its overkill. Still, if you are not down with buying three wrenches, two (the 1/4″ and 1/2″) will suffice.

For square taper spindles and both high end and low end alloy crankarms, I have found a setting of 25 ft lbs (30 tops!) to suffice. I know that Lekkie says 50-60 Nm (37-44 ft lbs) right on the crank extractor plate of the crankarm… I don’t go that hard and I have not suffered any ill effects from being a bit kinder and gentler to my bolts and (expensive!) crankarms. But I also keep on top of my torque settings by checking the bolts regularly.

How do I perform a routine torque Check?

I said this was crucial, and it is. So we’d better go over how to do it, since if done wrong, you will snap off the head of your crank bolt. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Failure is always an option. Could not get the sheared bolt out of this axle, so I had to buy another axle, disassemble the motor and replace it. Use a torque wrench.

If you just set your torque wrench to the desired setting, then stick it in the socket and give it a tug until you hear a click, just the act of doing that imparts added torque to your bolt. So lets say you check it once a day (you won’t) and in so doing you give it that click once a day. A torque wrench either clicks when you reach the required torque or it clicks if you are already past that torque limit when doing a checkup. Yikes. That means once a day if the bolt has not loosened in between checks you are overtightening it a little at a time every time until … snap. Now you are screwed and you will literally have to take an angle grinder and cut your crank arm off to move forward.

The good news is alloy cuts pretty easily with a power tool. Thankfully these were cheap Bafang crankarms and not something a lot more expensive like Lekkie Buzz Bars. Use a torque wrench.

Here’s how you do it right: Back off the bolt a hair. 1/8 of a turn is enough. Now you’ve loosened the bolt just a little, when you tighten it again the click you hear will be the torque wrench for-reals reaching the desired value. If this technique sounds familiar it may be because its used at any decent automotive tire shop, after a pneumatic impact wrench has been used to install your new set of tires.

Attach the Pedals

Again, we are just ticking a box and thankfully this is a pretty simple item. Or… is it?

As an admin and moderator on a couple of online ebike support groups, I literally cannot count the number of times I have seen noobs have a disastrous experience with pedal installation, or catastrophic failure after the fact from a botched installation, where the tragic flaw wasn’t recognized right away. So lets make something simple as complex as possible by looking very closely at it.

One Pedal is Reverse-Threaded

This one item is the cause of almost all pedal installation problems. You would not believe how many people don’t know this, and then cross-thread the pedal in whether it likes it or not. This results in the pedal threading in nice and tight. Until the now-shredded threads give out a month or two later, at which time they see the trashed threads and blame the manufacturer for making crummy parts. Yeah. No. The problem is the loose nut holding the wrench.

Having suffered through so many of these sagas, I was thrilled when in 2019 I bought my Mongoose Envoy and saw it came like this (see pictures below) from the factory. Obviously they’ve seen enough of the same mistake to try and do something about it.

So if you are trying to thread a pedal on and it doesn’t go easily right in… STOP, gather your wits for a moment, think about what you are doing and why the pedal may not be going in like it should, and remember the reverse threading on the non drive side. Then proceed.

You Can Always Tell Which Pedal is Right Or Left

Just by looking at it! You won’t need any stickers. Look at the left picture above and check out the threaded pedal bolts. You can just barely see the left pedal’s threaded portion, but you can see enough. Just above the threads, its ridged. Now look at the right pedal sitting underneath it: No ridges. This is a theme across all pedal manufacturers. Usually what you see is a single circumferential line around the left (non drive side) pedal. Here are the pedals I am using on the Apostate right now. Left on the left picture and right on the right picture.

See that? There is a line scribing the pedal axle on the left, no line on the right. Easy peasy.

Grease The Pedal Threads (Anti-Seize)

I believe I have mentioned what a good idea the use of anti-seize is, and why its especially useful when bonding dissimilar metals like the steel of the pedal and the alloy of the crankarm. Its also particularly helpful if you are going to be connecting and disconnecting a threaded part, as the anti-seize will protect those threads from galling while they are being screwed and unscrewed repeatedly over time.

Why would you be taking the pedals off? Well, on a bicycle that is going to be stuffed into the back of a car, the pedals stick straight out on both sides. Also thanks to the rippy, stabby little studs festooned across most mtb pedals, they are going to hang up on and tear into all sorts of things. Just taking the damn pedals off makes the bike amazingly easy to manipulate and move around inside of a car.

Good luck leaving the pedals on and packing a bike in with all that soft cloth and canvas to rip into.

Can it be done with the pedals on? Sure. Can it be done as easily after taking 30 seconds to remove the pedals? You know the answer ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Use Very Light Torque When Tightening Pedals

This goes hand in hand with ease of removal, but the benefits of doing this are not limited to a bike that has its pedals frequently removed. To the contrary, this is how you should install any pedal on any bike.

And no, this is not the advice you are going to get from most everyone else, everywhere else. I’ll make my case:

Its common to see torque specifications for a bicycle pedal in the ballpark of 40 Nm. Thats pretty tight. I never do this. Instead I use a pedal wrench and just give a quick, light tug to snug the pedal on when it bottoms out in the crankarm.

Unless someone helps them come undone, pedals will not work their way loose through normal use. That is why the left pedal is reverse threaded. In fact, the threading on each pedal, coupled to forward pedaling action, means pedals self-tighten as the rider rides (assuming the pedal bearings are functioning, but that is a rabbit hole we don’t need to go down; especially given the modern use of sealed bearings).

Given that pedals in good working order, used properly, cannot loosen: there’s no mechanical reason I have ever come across to use high torque on a pedal. On the other hand, I have repeatedly been thankful my pedals come off easily when I want them to – and only when I want them to – as a part of the routine maintenance, transport and wear/tear of a stable full of bicycles over many years.


So thread them on, put the right pedal on the right side, just give a quick tug on them after they are threaded on and fuggedaboudit.

Install Shifter, Chain and Adjust Derailleur

I have used the Box Two derailleur and single-shifter in the past. Since I am using a Box Two derailleur here, I decided to upgrade to the Box One single-shifter, with a matching Box One shifter cable kit. The Box Two shifter worked great, but the upgrade is not much more money and has a marginally better handlebar clamp. So I splurged.

Installing a shifter involves some standard jobs. I’ll cover those in brief and then note how this bike, because of how old it is, needed some special handling.

Unbox The Shifter

I find that I don’t have a picture of the actual Box 1 shifter I put on this bike, so I swiped a couple from the store page at Box Components where you can buy one for yourself (I got mine at Jenson USA).

Looking at this shifter above, the most noteworthy thing to be aware of as a new bike builder is the fact this shifter has a hinged attachment ring. That means you don’t have to pull off (or cut off as is often the case) the grips on your handlebars, should at some point in the future you need to remove the shifter, reposition it… whatever. That silly little feature – that seemingly has nothing to do with the intended functionality of a shifter – is a big deal over the life of the bike.

Box Components does not deliver the shifter as shown in the picture above. What you get is like what you see in this different shifter, below:

Put simply: you are given a shifter with the shifter cable already installed. this is a nice little timesaver I have come to expect from every shifter I have ever bought. They all seem to come with the cable. Thats great, but you need more than that. Here is a complete parts list for a plain vanilla shifter cable; completely installed from the shifter on the handlebars to the end of the cable sticking out of the derailleur:

  1. A cable ferrule stuck onto the end of
  2. The shifter cable housing, which goes over the shifter cable and all the way back to the derailleur and terminates in
  3. Another cable ferrule. The ferrule snicks into a slot made just for it on the derailleur, where the cable continues on into its clamp, and is terminated by
  4. A cable end crimp

While I have all of these parts in quantity in little cubbys in my workshop, I decided to buy the Box One Shift Cable and Housing Kit. Box’s marketing people put up some snazzy graphs showing how muck slickerier their cable housing is versus The Other Leading Brand. So… fine. In for a penny, in for a pound. I spent the $25 on a dedicated parts kit that gives me everything I need for how I intend to build this bike. You’ll see why I put that in italics further down the page.

Now that we’ve established the parts in order of assembly above, your first job to install your shifter assembly is to bolt that shifter loosely onto your handlebars. It goes on the right hand side unless you fancy yourself some kind of rebel and want to put it on the left. Upside down and backwards. Either side, at this point the shifter and its bare cable should be just barely be able to hold its position on the bars. Not so tight it will leave a mark if you move it around.

Whats a Ferrule?

Its a metal or plastic finishing sleeve that covers the end of your bare, cut shifter cable housing.

Above: The little whatsit sitting next to the bare cable is a ferrule, which I then stuff onto the end of the shifter cable housing. The fit will be snug but easy to make just by hand. No tools necessary. We are not going to attach the ferrule on the other side just yet.

Once we have fit the ferrule onto the end of the cable housing, we want to run the wire coming out of the shifter thru the housing. All the way through. The shifter cable will be longer than the shifter housing and we want it that way. Snug up the cable to the just-snug-on-the-handlebars shifter.

Now that we have the cable-and-housing hanging loose and on the ground, we want to run it back to the derailleur along the bike in the path its going to take when its finally installed. There are a variety of ways you can do this, but perhaps the easiest is to use cheap, reusable velcro OneWrap cable ties. I love these things, and they are perfect for this job as they are reusable, easy on/easy off and not permanent – unless you want them to be at which point they seem to last forever on a bike.

Important:
When running the cable back to the derailleur for this fitment exercise, leave slack up front coming out of the shifter so the cable is never tugged upon no matter what position the handlebars are turned to.

You should be able to figure out the path the shifter cable is supposed to take as there will be braze-on cable guides along the frame dictating the appropriate path. Most modern frames will have what looks like a little altar that you lay the cable across. Under the altar there is a slot made to run a little clip or a zip tie through to … strap the cable down… er… onto the altar (I should have sounded this out in my head first before coming up with that name).

Most modern frames have these simple cable mounts where you just lay the cable over it and use one zip tie (or two very small ones) to clamp it down.

I am bringing up this ‘altar’ and ‘modern frame’ business because my frame, designed in the previous century, is a product of an era when such things didn’t exist. So I had to improvise. But, I digress. We’ll get to the improvisation part last. For now I want you to see what it is that most likely you will be looking at on your own frame.

So you have followed the path laid out by your frame’s braze-ons to route your cable, and strapped it down temporarily with wire ties or similar. What you have now is a cable and guide assembly that is hanging out past your derailleur and is way too long for it. Its time to cut the cable to size.

Top Tip: Don't screw this up.  Its better to cut a little too long than it is to cut too short.  You can cut again if its too long.  Too short... not so much. 

Hold the cable with your hand such that it loops up and goes directly into the socket on the derailleur that is meant to accept it. You want the cable to go in straight, but not have so much extra in the loop it will catch on something – when you are whizzing down a hill a branch could tear that cable clean off, or worse.

I am measuring the cable to go right into the little hole where that arrow is pointing.

Find a way to mark the spot you’ve chosen. Do not cut!

Why? Because the cable is still inside the housing. After marking the cable, you need to get some slack up front at the shifter and pull that cable entirely out of the housing. I know you only really need to pull it back several inches, but lets not guess wrong and screw up. Another 10 seconds of effort and the cable is safely, completely removed.

NOW you can take your cable cutters and, with one quick authoritative snip, cut the cable housing to size. Run the cable back thru the now-snipped housing. And here we are:

Snipped housing and still a full-length cable.

Now that the cable has been threaded back thru the housing and pulled gently taut, we fit the second finishing ferrule over the bare wire, and snug it down onto the end of our cable housing.

Next, pull the wire through the receiving socket on the derailleur and gently pull the cable housing assembly into that socket so the cable is snug inside of it. You aren’t trying to clamp anything down at this point so I am using words like ‘gentle’ on purpose.

Turn all of your ‘provisional’ and ‘temporary’ cable mounting into permanent mounts. If you do it right, ‘permanent’ is a misnomer as all you will have to do is cut the zip ties to free your cabling up again. But for our next step, we want everything in place as it is going to be as a final assembly. Try and get your positioned shifter about right on the handlebars. This will be one place where having a little extra slack in the fitment will help you later on down the road.


At this point I’m going to jump from written description to video. We’ve covered the installation of a new cable and a new cable housing. From here I can let the Box Components installation video do all the heavy lifting for final cable attachment, chain sizing, chain installation and finally derailleur adjustment. These instructions work great for the entire rest of the process, and not just for a Box Components drivetrain. Remember if something confuses you, you can always hit pause, drag back the cursor and play a step over again until you understand it.

Some quick notes on the video above:

When I first saw the instructions on derailleur adjustment in this video, I was skeptical. I was very familiar with the method shown in the excellent – and gold standard – Park Tool video below. However, what Box is describing above is a lot simpler than the method Park lays out… and it is after all the manufacturer’s official installation instructions. So I followed the instructions and was entirely surprised they worked perfectly.

The chain sizing method shown is different than many other instructions on chain length. Nonetheless it is absolutely correct for a 1x (single front chainring) drivetrain. Many builders get this wrong in part because there is so much misinformation on how to size a chain; particularly on a 1x system.

Here’s another source that describes the same method. This time in writing:
Installing A New Chain For Your 1X Drivetrain (How to do it Right!)

The key is to only slightly tension the rear derailleur cage. That ensures you have a taut chain, but also that there is much chain on your bike as your derailleur cage can possibly wrap. Make it any longer and it will sag and skip. Any shorter and you have shortchanged yourself when moving up to your biggest, lowest gear.


If you have followed through step by step on the video above, you have now installed and adjusted your your drivetrain. However, if shifting isn’t perfect, here are a couple of alternatives.

A Different Example

I recently installed a low cost Microshift Advent system on my Mongoose Envoy. The Microshift install video shows an entirely different derailleur adjustment procedure. And since the Box video worked so well when I first used it (on 2Fat), I decided to follow the Microshift directions to see what happened. It worked. This video has a slower pace and gives a much better look at some of the components and operations common to all 1x drivetrains (like the limit screws). However, I would not follow their directions on cutting/sizing the chain, as the method shown in the Box video addresses the real issue that has to be addressed (chain cannot be too long, so you make it as long as possible).

The Park Tool ‘Gold Standard’ Tutorial

This is the method I have used for years. It takes the most time, but it always works, and if you do nothing else, just watch it and learn all about how your derailleur’s adjustors interact. The methods above worked great, but they may not translate to your derailleur. If so, do it the long way with these detailed adjustment instructions. Since this is not an installation video it concerns itself solely with adjusting a derailleur in a completely installed drivetrain. This video is also the best in terms of helpful visual instruction of common component parts.

Unique Weirdness Worth Mentioning

My chosen frame comes from a bygone era. In that era, cable routing was done differently. First of all, those handy little zip-tie altars hadn’t been conceived yet. Instead on this frame we have circular braze-ons that require the cable to be routed inside of them. Want to re-route the rear brake cable? You have to disassemble the brakes to make that happen. Which was a pain back then, but more so now that we have hydraulic brakes that you don’t just take apart unless you feel like bleeding the system all over again.

It gets worse with the shift cables. Here again on this vintage frame we have the fixed cups meant to accept a cable end… but back in the day, cable housings were nowhere near as well-engineered (and slick) as they are today. So you see a frame designed to only use a minimal amount of cable housing wherever there is a bend, and then run all straight lengths of shifter or brake cable bare and out in the open air.

Well its not 1999 any more. In 2022 we have some pretty slick cable housings, and in fact my Box 1 shifter kit’s main purpose in life is to provide super slick performance with resistance so light the Box Components marketing department went crazy making sure you know all about it. On top of that, the brake cable runs meant for wired cable aren’t going to get any since we are using hydraulic hose instead.

Luckily there are inexpensive little doodads made that let you convert – more or less – these old school fittings to accept hose. Here they are installed, prior to cable and hose installation.

And below, here is how they are used. Not ideal, but a necessary evil unless I wanted to compromise performance for a vintage look on the shifter cable (which I didn’t) You can find these little parts (listed as ‘cable guides’) on the parts list in the Planning post.

And you will not need to use them at all if you are building your bike with a frame manufactured in the modern era.

Yes we’ll trim that zip tie. And I think this is the only picture of the battery mount on the bike, before I permanently attached the battery.

Figure Out Placement and Install The Speed Sensor

I’ll make no bones about it: This item was very time consuming And there’s no reason it should have been. In the end I used almost exactly the same approach as I have taken with all of my other bikes, and the final solution looks like something I could have knocked out in a half hour. Sometimes when you are building a bike these things just happen. I only bring this up because I want to emphasize that if something similar occurs in your build… don’t get frustrated or upset about it. Just stick to it – or maybe walk away for the afternoon and come back tomorrow, fresh-faced. It’ll work out.

Like this one did. Here it is fully installed and wired up:

At left, you can see an overview of the entire sensor assembly including the magnet on the wheel, attached to the spoke. Please note this is not the Bafang magnet that came with the sensor kit. The Cateye sensor magnets you can buy from Amazon are lighter weight, and at least as strong if not more so.

As you can see in the photos above, the sensor is not sitting directly on the stay. Its sort of strapped to something. That something is a marine cable crimp. A couple of them are pictured below, and while they are not quite the same as the one I used on this project, the picture gives you an excellent idea of what they look like. I buy them at my local hardware store, but you can find them on Amazon too.

I have used crimps like this for most of my BBSHD builds. They are square-ish enough and rounded enough that they can easily be mounted either on a round surface or as here: a square one. They have rounded edges that mimic a rounded chainstay, which the Bafang sensor mount is curved to and designed for. And of course being a hunk of hollow aluminum, they are both strong and light. Below is perhaps my first use of a cable crimp (I was still using the Bafang magnet back then. This photo was taken in 2018).

In both cases as shown above, the cable crimp was used to move the sensor inward, closer to the spokes. If I hadn’t done that on either of these bike builds, the sensor would be nowhere near close enough to that magnet to register.

Here is an up close look at the entire Bafang speed sensor kit. the wire that goes to it comes directly off the motor and is included with same.

Also above is a close look at all the parts that make up the speed sensor. The silver screw goes into the back side of the magnet to glom it onto a spoke. The black screw is a set screw. The actual sensor end is a sliding arm that you can move inward or outward to help you come up with a fitment that works on your bike. This set screw anchors the parts once you’ve decided what position they need to be in. You can also see the two slots on the sensor base that you will thread a couple of zip ties thru to do your final anchoring. On the other side of those slots is an adhesive-backed curved surface that we’ll use as described below.

Lets go step by step on how this mounting is accomplished:

  1. Figure out placement before sticking anything onto anything else. Your speed sensor will need to pass within about 1/4″ of the magnet (see the installed pic above – the middle of the three. That is how close you want to get). You can get away with a little more separation if you use the stronger Cateye magnet seen in this project. But don’t push it if you can at all help it.
  2. Lay down a bit of 3M 2229 mastic rubber tape directly onto the chainstay. Just big enough for the crimp to smoosh into, which is what you will do next. This will provide a vibration free base for the crimp, as well as protect the paint on your frame.
  3. Wrap the crimp with your paint-matched silicone tape. You can see in both pics above I used white. I actually have some gray now that I will use if I ever have to remove and replace this working mount (if it ain’t broke…). Between the tightly wound tape and the sticky, thick mastic, you have pretty much locked that crimp onto your frame.
  4. Attach the speed sensor’s curved base to the curved corner of the crimp. This is where the shape of the boat crimp really shines as it mates the sensor perfectly to what is now a solid mount. The speed sensor has an adhesive base. Peel off the protective film and carefully stick the sensor onto the crimp. It should now stay put, but that sticky base cannot be relied on for long. Which is why our next step is to…
  5. Zip tie the sensor to the mount and chainstay. For the Apostate, you can see I used grey zip ties to make as close of a color match to the bare alloy as possible. For the white bike above (that is the Stormtrooper in case you were wondering) I used translucent white zip ties. Once those zip ties are on, you have a rock solid mount whose only weakness is the plastic of the sensor. Be careful when you remove a wheel (on some bikes its smart to deflate the tire. You’ll know after the first try at taking the wheel off).

Connect Display and Speed Sensor

Coming out of your motor is a plug with a captured knurl-nut on it. That is your speed sensor cable. It has a flat side on its otherwise circular surface that matches up to the speed sensor. Plug it in and thread that knurl nut onto the threaded sensor, so the connection is locked together nice and tight.

Attach The Battery

Ordinarily I would not be placing the battery in the bike in its final position at this point. I’d usually put it on a table next to the bike stand; perhaps connected by an extension cable for convenience. This bike was different as I expected the battery to be a permanent fixture on the bike. I needed to be able to see the wiring challenges ahead of me: all of that wiring was going to have to live in plain sight. Cable management was not just something cosmetic I could tidy up later when I felt like it on this build.

Mount Fitment

As noted earlier, I found – via a V1.0 pack I already owned – the Luna Wolf pack was a perfect fit for this frame. I had a spare V2.0 magnet mount I wasn’t using, and that is what you see in my early fitment pictures with the bare frame. Here’s a closeup of that magnet mount.

Thats a lotta magnets!

Its a really well-thought-out product, what with its variety of mount holes and lonnnnng magnet engagement. On a frame with a big triangle you won’t be moving that pack without really wanting to, which is a good thing. On the Apostate, fitting it in the space available was tough, but once that pack clomps onto that magnet it really is best to not try to move it at all (and yes, it did eat one of my fingers once when I wasn’t careful).

To be brief, I bolted the magnet mount as centered as I could in between the two bottle bosses on the frame. The idea was, the attachment is so strong I did not want to create a situation where the battery being pulled up bends a long extension of magnet mount. These two pieces really, really do not want to separate and damaging the frame or the mount is a real possibility (my bottle bosses are drilled steel inserts into the alloy frame… 1999 technology).

As with some other elements of this build, this mounting issue was unique to this specific frame. Your experience is much more likely to be simpler and less drama-filled. This magnet mount is not problematic on modern frame construction.

Battery Placement

I wanted this puppy pushed as far forward as possible. For starters, once this pack is on its on. Its not moving and I need to be able to connect and disconnect my cables to and from this otherwise wireless battery pack (a unique feature of the Luna Wolf – you make your own cables and plug them into the battery using built-in XT60 and XT90 receptacles).

Speaking of which, when building an ebike you are going to need to be making a cable or two. This is a great time to introduce you to a complete tutorial on the subject:

How To: Safe, Reliable Electrical Crimp Connections

Since I didn’t do the wires on Day Two, we’ll save that discussion for Day 3. Suffice it to say as Day 2 wound down, I just made a test connection to the motor from the battery with a short Anderson-to-XT90 adapter (BBSHDs from the factory have a long battery lead terminated with Anderson powerpole connectors).

Test Motor Functionality

Its getting late, and I’m starting to get sick of looking at this bike. I need to knock off for the day. But before I close up shop I want to just test the motor to make sure it works. Otherwise I’ll be tossing and turning in bed, wondering if I got it all right. With the speed sensor and battery connected, all I need to do to make a functioning motor is to

Connect the Display

Remember how early in the day we put the display on the bars, and left the connection wire dangling? Its got a green HIGO female plug on it and the only place for that to go is the green male HIGO plug on the wire harness that we also left dangling nearby. HIGO plugs have little arrows on each side that you line up (also there are pins on the inside you need to see to double-check you have it right). Push them together once you have them lined up. These waterproof connectors will often come together with a little, audible pop.

Connect The Throttle

When we put the display on the bars, we also put the throttle on. Now its time to reach for the female yellow plug on it, and mate it to the male yellow one on the wiring harness which is the only possible match. Same deal here: Match up the arrows, and double-check by also visually watching the inside pin on the male side line up with its matching slot on the female side.

Turn On The Display

This is it. Moment Of Truth time. At this point, if you hit the On switch the display should light up (naturally you need to have at least some juice in the battery ๐Ÿ˜€ ).

When I did it for this bike, it worked! Now what do I do? Well the bike is up in a stand, so its safe to give it a little throttle… and the wheel spins around! Yay throttle works! What about pedal assist? Click down to the minimum level of assist (“1”). Grab the wheel to stop it from spinning (since we haven’t put the brakes on yet) and now… rotate the pedals. If the motor fires up and spins the wheel again, our pedal assist sensor works! Look at the speedometer display. Is it registering some kind of speed value? If so, the speed sensor is working. Look at the back end of that sensor. There’s a little red light you probably didn’t notice before. Is it lit up? Hooray. So far so good.

And with that, its time to call it a day.

End of Day 2! Its almost rideable. Almost.
Final Day 2 Note:
You may have noticed the chain is not installed in the end-of-day picture above.  On the actual build day, chain installation and derailleur adjustment was held over to the start of Day 3.  I spent so much time fighting with unusual issues getting the speed sensor positioned I lost a lot of time.  By the time the photo above was taken it was evening.  I was done looking at this thing for the day.  A less fiddly build (i.e. almost all of them) would have allowed for chain attachment on Day 2.

We’ll Be Done Tomorrow

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Assembly Day 1

The first day of assembly is laid out here item by item. By end of day we’ll have a roller we can sit on and push around, not a box of parts we have to carry.

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1 (you are here)
Seatpost
Final Motor Installation
Rear Shock
Cut The Steering Tube?
Crown Race and Star Nut
Headset
Fork
Handlebars
Wheels
Build Day 2
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

The Build Finally Begins

It is Day 1 of our build. Coming into today as we saw earlier in Tinkering, I did a preliminary install of the BBSHD motor to the frame. This let me figure out the spacers needed to get chainline right.

That preliminary installation consisted of bolting the motor into the bottom bracket. The torque on the bolts was kept fairly low: Just enough for the motor to sit in place without moving. I think I used 40 ft lbs (which is just about what Bafang recommends as the factory-tight setting… thats nonsense but we’ll get into that later).

While I eyeballed what was needed to route the wires coming out of the motor, I did not finalize this process to see EXACTLY what was needed to make everything fit right, without wires dangling anywhere. That is our first in a long list of jobs.

Attachment To The Workstand

Before we do anything though, we have to fit the bike into the workstand, where it will stay for much of the build. A workstand is not required, but lets assume you have decided not to make yourself miserable and use one.

There is a right and a wrong way to hang a bike in a workstand. The wrong way is to clamp the bike in by the top tube. The right way is to clamp onto the seatpost.

So our for-reals first job is to attach the seatpost to the frame.

Seatpost Installation

Grease the seatpost lightly
I know… this sounds wrong. You want the seatpost clamped down so it won’t move. Doesn’t grease make it slip? Yes, but only in a good way. You want the unclamped post to slide relatively easily into the seat tube, marring its finish as little as possible. The clamp will work just fine holding a lightly greased post. Honest.

Since the fit into the tube will be snug, there is no need to grease the bejesus out of it. Just smear a light film on with your finger.

I use Mobilgrease 28 as a nearly all-purpose lube for pretty much everything, including as an assembly lube.  This is because I have a big tube that will take years to use up.  Its overkill but so what I have plenty.

Make a pass through the frame’s seat tube with some kind of abrasive material to ensure it is clear of obstruction
This can be as simple as a wooden dowel with some sandpaper stapled onto it, followed by a pass with a cloth towel. Or a stiff bottlebrush, or a brass or steel gun cleaning brush. You get the idea here. This does not have to be complicated or lots of work. You are just making a quick scrub to help ensure seatpost insertion goes smoothly.

Sometimes frames are manufactured but the frame interior is not deburred (or its covered with sandy crap), leaving it to you to find this out on your own when you jam the post in. Taking a moment to ensure the frame is smooth inside is a smart preparatory step.

Slip on the seatpost clamp
In this case as you can see in the pics below, we are still using the quick release seatpost clamp that came with the frame. The bolt-on clamp specified in the parts list came later (and is discussed in the Perfecting chapter). That makes attachment tool-free for now. Attach the clamp and leave it loose.

Slide in the seatpost
The grease simplifies this by-necessity snug fit. You do not have to position the post precisely. However, I know from building other bikes that I can measure 28″ from my seatpost rails to the center of my bottom bracket axle. If I position my post at that spot, I am within 1/4″ of perfect seat placement on any bike. If you have another bike, measure between those two points and save yourself some farting around later on trying to get the post just right.

Lock down the seatpost clamp
For the pictured QR clamp, this is as simple as flipping the lever and job done. HOWEVER, if you have a bolt-on seatpost clamp, it is critical to NOT overdo the torque on the clamp’s bolt. Sheared seatpost bolts are not uncommon if attention is not paid here. Most posts will have the torque specification printed plainly on the clamp itself. If they don’t, use 5 Nm. And yes thats right it sure didn’t take long until we needed a torque wrench. Keep it handy.

Now Into The Workstand

You can set your frame onto a table like this one (two folding work tables pushed together) but your upper body will be doing a lot of extended reaches and bending over, and for many tasks you won’t be able to sit down and work on a shop stool.

Now the seatpost is inserted and clamped into the bike, you can clamp the bike into the workstand. This is where it will stay for most of the build.

You can sit down in front of a bike fixed into a workstand. If your seat has wheels its double-plus-good.

Final Motor Installation

The first thing we will do is loosen the bolts that were partially tightened in the provisional installation during Tinkering. This lets the motor hang free loosely, but still remain safely connected to the bike. We can now start figuring out the cable routing.

Cable Routing

As seen in the above picture, The motor wires are hanging straight down and that just won’t do. Its best to run them up somehow, but whats the best way to do it? The right answer will vary from one frame to another. But after some trial and error it turned out these three wires are best handled as follows: The power wire and main wiring harness wire loop straight up and forward of the bottom bracket, coming up and out on the non drive side and angling back. This means they tuck in and run up over the motor. They can never present a loop dangling under the bike. This also means they can be made essentially invisible.

Jump into a time machine to the finished bike, present day: The main wiring harness and (unused) gear sensor wires come up from underneath, and move forward under the down tube. The speed sensor wire runs back along the chainstay. That stealthy matching red zip tie is loose on purpose thanks to the suspension articulation.

The speed sensor wire does the same thing, also coming up on the non-drive side. This is NOT the way it was initially attempted and you may see pictures that show different routing. There were at least three separate configs tried during the day. The speed sensor is particularly problematic as it is manufactured to a specific length, and it may take some work to get it to run back to the sensor without creating and hiding any loops of excess cable.

Those multiple routing attempts meant I had to completely redo the motor mounting more than once. Remove the loosened bolts and lock rings, then the mounting plate, then pull the motor clean off the bike, thread the wires through so they go in as desired and then put the motor back. Once that is done you have to tighten the motor back down again, making the needed spacers on the drive side remain in place and don’t get dropped on the ground and forgotten after all this fiddling.

This illustrates a great point: In a couple of short paragraphs I just described two or three hours' worth of work.  That is because this process also bled into the placement of the speed sensor itself on the chainstay.  And to get everything just right, I ended up with a lot of trial and error and installing and uninstalling of the motor as I jiggered the wires around, realized I could improve somehow and had a do-over.

I will say this was probably the most fiddly motor fitment I have ever had to do. So I have had seven other motors go in with one hell of a lot less effort. Lets not forget when I say ‘go in’ I mean go in cleanly and with as neat of a look as possible while being long-term survivable and functional. Remember the mantra: DIY does not have to mean half assed. I could have half-assed it and had the motor up and running in minutes if I wanted to use tape and zip ties to just git’r’done.

Clamping on the Motor

Your typical BBSHD installation uses the recommended Bafang inner clamping ring and the outer – largely cosmetic – trim ring. The inner ring provides the torque to hold the motor immobile on the bottom bracket. The outer ring provides modest pressure to act as a jam nut, and look nice (its thin, polished metal).

Tool Tip:
Before you begin this step, make sure your largest torque wrench with the attached Bafang inner lock ring socket you chose to buy is literally within reach.  You'll need to be able to not move and reach out and grab it.  Set the torque wrench to 90 ft lbs.
Fig. 1 – Rear: Two BBSHD outer trim rings. Foreground: BBSHD triangle mounting plate showing the ‘teeth’ it uses to dig into your bottom bracket.

Well, forget using that outer ring. We are going to stack up two inner lock rings, instead.

BBSHD installations (mostly by beginners who don’t fully appreciate their inexperience, especially when posting on the internet) are infamous for coming loose and shifting. This is easily fixed, and we’ll install this motor so it will never, ever move.

The Hose Clamp Trick

We are also going to use a supplemental clamp: Two hose clamps to physically lock the motor in its position relative to the frame. Ordinarily, if using the double-inner-ring method described below, the hose clamp trick is not necessary.

But if you are building a bike that is going to take a beating (a mountain bike, in other words) this is the absolute fail-safe: The lowest-key, easiest, cheapest and most unobtrusive way to permanently solidify the motor’s position on the frame… no matter what.

Even if you use no lock rings at all, the hose clamp trick will hold the motor in position (do not try this).

The hose clamps are shown already installed as B in Figure 3 below. We will first wrap the frame where the hose clamp contacts it with red silicone tape as seen in Figure 2 (use whatever color is closest to your frame. This is the first of several places we will use color-matched silicone tape in this build). Additionally, each hose clamp is itself sheathed in color-matched 1/2″ 2:1 heatshrink (found on the project parts list as a ‘maybe’ item).

Since we have not yet mounted the motor completely, don’t fully clamp down the hose clamps. Do a test mount to figure out where the protective silicone tape is needed to protect the frame and wrap with, say, three layers of this tape around the frame.

Next, place the two hose clamps loosely around both the frame and the not-yet-clamped-in motor, so they are interlocked with one another but not yet tightened down. Once the hose clamps are in place like this, you can proceed with the rest of the motor mounting as described below.

Fig. 2: Protective tape wrap applied to cushion the frame where the hose clamp comes into contact with it.

Don’t even buy an outer trim ring
Check the parts list. Its not there. What is there are two inner lock rings.

Attach the Triangle Plate
Make sure the teeth shown above in Figure 1 are facing the frame so they can dig into the bottom bracket. This is crucial to a stable motor. Align the mounting plate so its two bolt holes line up with the holes on the motor. You will need spacers under the plate and between the motor. Because this frame uses a 68mm bottom bracket, I only needed to stack a couple washers under the plate (A in Figure 3 below) to get the clamp to bolt down evenly. For wider motors you may want to buy dedicated M6 spacers which are sold in different lengths by the millimeter at McMaster-Carr. Hold the motor up in its final position while you do the following – I use my knee while sitting on my wheeled shop stool. Using an M6 bolt and tighten to Bafang’s recommended value of 10 Nm (I strongly recommend you go to your local hardware store and buy replacement socket cap bolts made of stainless steel).

Tighten your first inner lock ring
While still holding the motor up with your knee, small child etc., thread on the first inner lock ring. Figure 3 below shows that first lock ring halfway to its destination, which will be jammed up against the mounting plate.

Figure 3. Click to Embiggen

Once the first inner lock ring is hand tight against the mounting plate, reach over for the torque wrench with the Bafang socket you kept handy for this moment. Since you are in a relatively awkward position, holding the motor in place with one knee, use the torque wrench to put just enough torque onto the lock ring so the motor won’t move.

Tighten up the hose clamps
You actually want to work this closer and closer to final-tight simultaneously with the previous step, as once that first lock ring becomes provisionally, fully tight you may not be able to adjust the hose clamps’ position any more.

Tighten the hose clamps so they are tight, but not so tight you will damage the frame. If you added enough layers of silicone tape, you can see them squishing and, when that starts its probably close to the time to stop tightening. Notice in Figure 3 above that on both hose clamps, I tightened them such that as each one’s excess strap length increased, turn by turn, I tucked it into the heat shrink so it stays neat – and a sharp bit of metal is not waiting to cut you while you are building this bike.

You can do this tightening process with a screwdriver but the process will be less annoying if you use a small box end wrench instead.

Remove the bike from the bike stand
You cannot put final torque onto the lock ring while the bike is being held by its seatpost in a work stand. Something will bend or break. Maybe the stand. Maybe the seatpost or frame. Take the bike off the stand. You can set it on the floor, or up on a work table… somewhere that it is self-braced so what you are about to do does not break something.

Apply final torque to the inner lock ring
An install video from Luna Cycle years ago told the world they used 100 ft lbs (136 Nm) and a big 1/2″ wrench on the finished bikes they build (which only used one inner lock ring to do the heavy lifting). So I started doing that. But I’m not going to sugar coat it… 100 ft lbs is a little scary. I have gone to 90 ft lbs (122 Nm) on my last couple of builds with no ill effects. Bafang specifies 50 Nm, which is only 36 ft lbs and ridiculous. Don’t do that. 90 ft lbs on each of two lock rings seems to be the secret sauce for a street bike. Add the hose clamp trick for a bike that is shown no mercy (or you just feel like applying a little overkill).

Thread on and torque down the second inner lock ring
It turns out the inner lock ring and outer trim ring appear to use roughly the same number of threads. Putting on this second, strong inner lock ring with its rough, parkerized sort of finish versus the decorative, polished outer trim ring makes for a really solid jam nut. It also doesn’t seem to make it any more difficult to get full thread engagement.

Figure 4 – The second lock ring has been tightened, jam-nut fashion, and we still have two threads to spare.
Pro Tip:
If you trust yourself to remember to do it later, wait to put the final torque on the lock rings (plural) until after you put the wheels on and have the bike on the ground.  Of the Seven BBSHDs I have built for myself... I remembered to do this, um...  six times.  It took a few weeks for the motor to loosen on the one I forgot, and then I had to pull the cranks off so I could tighten the motor.  So, yeah.  Don't forget.

Shrink up the Heat Shrink (later)
I’m putting this step here, now because its part of this assembly, but really you want to wait on this until later in Day 1 when you know motor placement really is final. Use a heat gun or borrow a hair dryer. Apply heat to the heat shrink to shrink it up and give a more polished appearance. When doing this, be mindful of the fact you are directing superheated air near to other wires that don’t like to have someone try to melt them. You won’t… but be careful nonetheless.

Make a Registration Mark (later)
I’ll just show a picture right away, and then explain it. As you can see from the paint color, this is a different bike that uses the same doubled lock rings.

What I want you to see is the black line that crosses the frame and the two lockrings, top-center.

Why make this mark? As time goes on, you can just routinely glance down as you are mounting the bike and, seeing the straight line, know nothing has shifted. If you are using the interlocking hose clamps as we are here, this mark is less important. Do it anyway as its really handy.

Wait until the very end to do the marks. That way if you have to pull the motor back off (like I had to) you don’t have the issue of mismatched marks for reasons other than the motor loosening up on its own.

Today we are only mounting the motor.  The speed sensor install and cockpit/wiring harness stuff is going to happen later on in the build.

Mount The Rear Shock

I tried to refurb the vintage shock that was on the bike, but it was not meant to be. Thankfully a quality, compatible shock with a matching eye-to-eye and stroke length was readily available.

This is one job that requires tools and mounting hardware so specialized that, if you don't have the gear and experience to do this already, your life will be longer and happier if you just take it to your Local Bike Shop.   Have them do it for literally only a few bucks worth of parts and labor.

Rear shock installation is something of a black art. Its at least a little different for every shock and every frame combination. There’s no way I can do a tutorial on this that is even remotely comprehensive for a variety of shocks and frames that are out there. This video does a fantastic job of literally going over everything you could ever need or want to know on this subject. If you decide to go it alone, it will tell you what you need to know and where to go to buy what you need.

Should You Cut The Fork Steering Tube?

I almost never do. First of all, I am a physically large person and I am usually buying L and XL bike frames. For frames like that there often isn’t all that much excess steering tube length to worry about. Next, if I ever want to move a fork from one bike to another, an uncut steering tube makes that move a lot more likely to be trouble-free since I won’t end up trying to install a fork to a bike that needs more tube than I have left after cutting it down.

If you don’t cut the tube, what you do instead is use spacers below the handlebars to raise them up, and maybe put a small spacer on top. It depends on the individual job.

An uncut steering tube let me do something funky and practical with my Surly BFD‘s basket handlebars, that are capable of bolting to a stem at two different places. This Size M frame had lots of extra steering tube to work with.

Cutting the steerer is not a procedure used for this build (the tube was already cut on the vintage used fork I bought), but for the sake of being complete I’m including mention of it and the tools needed here on this page.

You need a pipe cutter and reamer. I have my ratcheting pipe cutter and my pipe reamer left over from when I built my Surly Big Fat Dummy Wideloaders. A ratcheting pipe cutter puts you on easy street. However its a little more expensive.

You can get a cheapie 1 1/8″ capable pipe cutter for around US$11. Or get this combo deal of a quality cutter and reamer together for about US$32.

You could use a hacksaw and a guide to cut your tube. You will do a MUCH cleaner job if you use a pipe cutter and clean up your edges with a reamer.

It took awhile to find a video where someone wised up and used a pipe cutter instead of a hacksaw…

Add Crown Race AND STAR NUT To Fork

This step may seem out of order, but life is a little easier if you have the fork ready to go before you undertake the step we’ll get to after this one.

Figure 5 – Left: Star Nut Setting tool. Center-Top: Crown race. Right: Star nuts (you only need one)

Add the Star Nut
The Star Nut is a little doodad that you literally smash into the steering tube of your fork. Don’t worry… its meant to be smashed in, but you really (REALLY) want to use the proper tool to get it in there.

See the little threaded hole in the center of the star nut? See how the ears of the star nut sort of angle upwards if you hold it right-side up?

  • Fit it upward-angle-first inside of the star nut setting tool.
  • Now set the tool with the star nut inside on top of your fork’s steering tube. On the inexpensive tool I am linking to use here, that black bit is what you are going to use your hammer on. Give it a couple of bashes and the tool/guide will ensure your star nut is seated to the correct depth and it goes in nice and straight.
Figure 6 – Star nut installed!

Set the Crown Race
Figure 5 above shows a Crown Race… thats the lower bearing race that interfaces directly with the bearings in the bottom half of your headset that we have yet to install into our frame. Its not the race that I used – I picked a durable steel race made by Cane Creek. Unfortunately the only pic I took of that race is in Figure 6 above… see that blurry blue ring in the background at the base of the steerer? Thats it. Oops. So I am going to be describing its simple installation without any pictures (you can watch one being installed in the fork installation video above if you like).

What you do is grease the base of your steering tube, where the crown race will be installed. The steering tube is flared just a bit at this base so the race will sit above the bottom by about 5mm. The grease will let it easily install in our next move, which is to drop the crown race onto the steering tube and let it sit where it lands near the bottom. Now take your installation tool (which is just a hunk of 1.25″ PVC tubing; not the US$90 crown race setting tool) and slip it over the steering tube so it touches the race.

Can you guess what happens next? Holding the fork in one hand and the tube in the other. Bashbashbash the tube down onto the crown race. After a couple-three bashes, take a look and oh wow look we’re done. Its that easy (or at least it should be). The bearing race should now be fully seated with its base flush with the crown of the fork. If its not anywhere along its diameter, give it a couple more bashes. Job done.

Figure 7 – At left: A length of 1.25″ PVC – a ten-cent tool versus a $90 one.

Your fork is now ready for installation to the frame. But before we can do that, we have to …

Install the Headset

This is one of those jobs that requires a dedicated tool. Your headset is a pair of bearings – one on the top, the other on the bottom of your frame’s head tube – that your fork sits inside of. These bearings let the fork and thus the handlebars turn smoothly. The bearing races for the headset need to be press-fit into the frame. There are many types of headsets. For this vintage build we are using a Cane Creek 40 external cup headset.

Figure 8 – Our Cane Creek 40 steel-race headset. Top left: The upper cup and dust cap. Top Right: The lower cup. Bottom Center: The steering tube cap (with star nut).

Once again this is a very simple process – assuming you have the right tools. Its certainly possible to use some assembly lube and gently tap in the cups top and bottom, being careful to not get impatient and keep them straight. However, its dirt-simple and not really possible to screw up if you just use the right tool for the job. In this case I used a $28 tool and it was worth every penny (also I did find the $17 version I already owned … after assembly was complete, of course).

Figure 9 – the headset press

Installation is as follows:

  • Separate your headset parts keeping in mind the order the parts go in so you can put them back together (take a picture!)
  • Set aside the upper and lower headset cups – those are the only pieces you will stick in the press.
  • Take apart the headset press so one end has a bare bolt end. Thats the left side in Figure 9 above.
  • Lube the head tube’s upper and lower portions where the headset cups will be pressed in. Do the same to the upper and lower cup, where they will insert into the frame. Set the upper cup on top of the headset tube. Make sure its really the upper cup as your life will suck if you put the bottom one in the top (there are tools to remove the cups but lets agree you won’t make the mistake in the first place).
  • With the upper cup in place, set the headset press into the frame head tube, bare-bolt-side-down (thats left side down per Figure 9).
  • Thread the lower cup thru the open end of the press bolt. Reattach the lower portion of the press so the lower cup is captured in the press. Tighten gently (!) until the press is almost snug to the cups. Take care that the cups are facing the head tube of the frame straight in. You can just use your fingers to do this final alignment.
  • Slowly, carefully tighten the headset press. With every gentle turn ensure the cups are going in smooth and straight. Stop when the two both bottom out for a snug fit. You should know you are done when the smooth turns suddenly get tight. There is no need to clamp the headset in hard. Just stop when top and bottom pieces are visibly bottomed into the frame and the press is no longer turning easily.
  • Grease the top and bottom bearing races, regardless of whether or not your headset uses sealed bearings. Insert the bearings and any spacers or covers that go with the headset.

This video is for a vintage road bike, but I chose it to illustrate an external cup headset install like the one I am doing here. The headset tool in the video is the really expensive kind you don’t need to buy ๐Ÿ™‚

Install The Fork

This is why we prepped the fork first, before we installed the headset… because we are immediately ready to install the fork, and in fact we want to do so to ensure various bits of the headset don’t go rolling off and under something; never to be seen again.

Top Tip:
If not installing the fork immediately, run a zip tie (or two of them zipped together to make a longer one) thru the open headset, top to bottom, and out the other side.  Zip it together gently.  This will temporarily capture all the headset parts in their proper order and make sure nothing can go AWOL.

Clamp it Snug
This is the first of many times you will be happy the bike is held in place on a bike stand. Slide the fork up inside the head tube. It will bottom out with the crown race in direct contact with the bottom half of the headset. With the Cane Creek headset, fitment out thru the top is a bit fiddly as the dust cap fits tightly to the fork’s steering tube. It will take a bit of a push to get it up and thru and you will need both hands to hold the top of the headset in place while you fit the steerer thru the hole in the cap, and then make sure everything is fit together.

When the steerer is up thru the headset, reach out and grab the handlebar stem that you kept handy. Thread the stem over the steerer all the way down so it bottoms out to the base of the headset and clamp it down. Stems typically use either M5 or M6 bolts and require 5-6Nm of torque for final tightening.

You just want to do a quick-and-dirty tightening right now to keep the fork in place, so some gentle turns on the wrench until the fork is snugly held is plenty. There’s not even any need to make sure the stem is properly aligned. Just get that fork on so it stays in place while sitting in the bike stand and doesn’t fall off. Don’t worry about the star nut or the headset cap with its M6 hex bolt for now.

Figure Out The Spacers Needed
You now have a stem that is clamped all the way down onto a bare steerer. The next step is to figure out how many spacers we need. In the parts list I specified a steering tube spacer assortment. However for this build I used my parts pile, which in this case is an absolutely accurate description.

Bare alloy, anodized alloy, matte carbon fiber, glossy carbon fiber. Thick and thin. This is my spacer pile after I completed the build, so I had more than this to start with.

On the excess steering tube length that is sticking up and over your stem, drop a combination of spacers over top of the stem until the spacers that are stacked up are a little taller (maybe 2-3mm, tops) than your steering tube. Now is the time to test-fit your headset cap with its M6 bolt. If you can tighten the cap onto the spacers and the spacers are no longer loose and spinnable on the steerer, then you have enough extra spacer height. If not, find some combination of spacers that give you just enough extra height to let the cap clamp the spacers (not the tube!).

Once you have found the quantity of spacers needed, decide how you will organize them. Maybe you want your handlebars up as high as possible, so you will put all but the smallest spacer under the bars and that small one goes on top – in fact thats probably the best way to start. recognize that down the road you may want to switch things up and perhaps lower the bars by 1 cm, or similar. You might also want to change the spacers you use so – if you needed a slew of them – maybe you use different spacers so you only need one or two.

Present Day pic: Different and longer 45-degree, 120mm stem installed. I only needed one spacer and could put the clamping headset cap directly onto the stem with no small spacer on top.

With the spacer mystery solved, its time to unbolt the stem, support the fork in place (I stick my knee into it while sitting next to the bike), remove the stem, add the spacers, replace the stem and add the headset cap. This is the final setup (until later on when you ride the bike and decide to fiddle with it some more). Once again we go snug on the bolts and not whole hog. We’ve got to get thru the next step before we start getting serious about the torque wrench.

Install Day pic: My original stem had a different ‘stack height’ – thats how tall the stem is on the steering tube. I needed a short spacer on top of the handlebars. Both stems are made by Ritchey. Stack height varies by stem.

Install The Handlebars

Put simply, put the handlebars into the stem and tighten. Easy peasy. If the bars have a taper, be sure its going the right way, but other than that you just want to make sure you center the handlebars in the stem mount. Feel free to clamp down to the max amount shown on the part itself. Usually that will be 5-6 Nm. Tighten in a pattern that applies equal force top and bottom – pay attention to how the fastening plate is angled. You want it equally far from the top and bottom sides. Remember that as you tighten on the bottom, that increases tension on the top, so it is VERY important to tighten slowly and incrementally in a 4-corner pattern. Be patient.

Now that you have installed the bars, straighten them so they are perpendicular to the forks. This is why we didn’t fully tighten the stem yet. You want the stem tight enough to hold your adjustment, but not so tight you cannot make teeny-tiny adjustments.

I used the cantilever brake posts on the fork to ensure they were parallel to the stem and thus perfectly aligned. A nice little cheat you don’t get nowadays since forks don’t have those posts anymore.

This step is an inexact science and most likely you will need to revisit it. Once you get the bars aligned, cinch down and tighten the stem to finalize the fork installation. The proper amount of tightening is a process in and of itself, so here’s a 2-minute video that gets straight to the point:

Get The Wheels Ready

We have a set of professionally built wheels for this bike, but we still have work to do.

Install The Brake Rotors

Brake rotor installation is straightforward. Nowadays it seems as if button-cap bolts with T25 Torx heads are something of a standard. At least the Magura and Tektro rotors I buy all come with a set of such bolts included with the rotors. As we’ve seen in the Tools list, and in my list of tools I normally carry on the bike, I take a T25 wrench as a routine item. However since we’re doing proper bolt torqueing, a 1/4″ drive T25 bit is needed. I torque the bolts down in a star pattern to 6 Nm.

eek. You call that a brake mount for an mtb?

For the Apostate, since it is a vintage bike that dates back to the early days of disc brake usage, I decided to use discs in line with what was considered sufficient back in the day – smaller rotors. One look at the spindly (by today’s standards) brake mounts on the manufactured-in-1999 forks and I knew I didn’t want to play hardball with stopping power. Magura 4-piston calipers are so strong anyway I have not felt a need more stopping power than the 160/180mm rotors give me.

Upgrade the Rear Hub

I know from experience that you want to use a steel cassette body in conjunction with a high powered mid drive. The DT Swiss 350 Classic hub does not come with one of these. If you can find a 350 Hybrid, it does and this is the preferred ebike hub. However, if you’re like me and can’t find a 350 Hybrid, the 350 Classic with its 18-pt ratchet engagement is known as one of the few hubs that can take the punishment of a BBSHD pretty much forever. Especially if we upgrade it with an available steel cassette body option.

Remove The Cassette Body
On DT hubs, all you have to do is literally pull off the end cap on the cassette side, then grasp the cassette body firmly and pull hard on the little sucker. It will pop right off, tool-free disassembly for once.

With the cassette body removed, you can see why the DT ratchet engagement hubs are so strong. Not 3, 4 or even 5 pawls. 18 points of engagement. The Hybrid hubs have 24 points. Those points are the ridges in between the two ratchet wheels.

Install The Steel Replacement Cassette
Again, this is simple and tool-free. Just slide the new steel body over the axle, give it a push and it pops into place. Snap on the end cap and you are done. Instant indestructo hub.

Alloy on the right. Lightweight. Steel on the left. Heavyweight. After 1300 miles its surface won’t even be discolored. The alloy on the other hand after 500 miles will look like someone chewed on it.

Install The Cassette (gear cluster)
Once again, easy-peasy. The ridges on the cassette body are all uniform in width, except for one that is very narrow. This is the ‘key’ and the cassette itself has one single narrow slot.

Find the matching key slot and groove, match them up and slide the cluster down over the hub. Do the same for the remaining two individual small cogs, and then finally thread on the lock ring. Use your cassette tool to tighten the lockring down. Officially it needs 40 Nm but since its such a weird part with a weird tool that doesn’t lend itself to a torque wrench, I try and just tighten it down pretty good while staying mindful of the fact that someday I will have to get the thing back off again.

Mount The Tires and Tubes

I have nothing against tubeless installations. I have several bikes that run tubeless in fact. But this bike build is not one of them. We’re going old school and doing tubes.

This is an unusual full-suspension city bike. I’m using very (very!) tough Schwalbe Pickup 26×2.35 tires which are in fact cargo bike tires. The tubes are Schwalbe AP (Air Plus) presta tubes. AP is Schwalbe’s take on a thick tube. Its not thick enough to be what you’d call thorn-resistant, but its heavier-duty than a standard tube. The rims in use are DT Swiss FR 560’s which are meant for downhill bikes (as in super strong) and most noteworthy here… they are tubeless compatible. That means our thick tire and thick tube are going to be fit onto a really, REALLY tight rim. I’ve used the FR560 on my 29er Guerilla Gravity Smash, so I knew coming into the game it was going to be a real party putting the tires onto these rims. And it was.

This 20-minute video is a bit long but the mechanic who is giving the instruction knows what he’s doing, as evidenced by his accomplishing the impossible without tools right before your very eyes. Stick with it and watch – all the way through – what he does. Hopefully your rim and tire combo will not be this difficult, but if it is, what he is showing you is the solution to the problem without losing your mind, your tire levers and your fingernails.

The example above uses a tubeless setup and an insert, but the issues I suffered thru with a tire and tube were identical thanks to the fact I was using a tubeless rim. The solution illustrated here is the same. I did not have the jig he uses in the video. Instead I used a few moving blankets on the ground in front of me to provide a pad, and worked around the wheel from above while I sat on my work stool.

Top Tip?
The newfangled Bead Bro and Bead Dropper tools from Cush Core are modern miracles.  The heavy lifting is done by the Bead Bro but the Dropper lever is a nice spiff.  Not cheap but a great substitute for supplementing the palm-crushing technique above.  They are meant for use with the Cush Core product but they work a treat simply as a quick and dirty way to turn the arduous process of getting a super tight tire on into a 2-minute job.
Add Tube Sealant

If you are doing a tubeless install, then of course sealant happened in the previous step. As I have noted elsewhere, I use FlatOut both as a tubeless and tube sealant. The linked flat prevention article was written in 2020, and events from then to now have only reinforced that FlatOut is the best tool for the job. For this build I used 1/4 of a bottle in each tire.

Attach The Wheels

This is pretty basic stuff. I used Axlerodz for wheel skewers. I have used them on other bikes meant to be left outside where I don’t want to advertise easy wheel removal (or offer a free $40 skewer to anyone who wants to take it off my locked wheel).

They are QR skewers that need a hex wrench to loosen up the wheel. Not high security but also not a lever asking to be snitched, either.

Install The Saddle

There’s no particular reason to put the saddle on now, other than it is very satisfying to see my parts pile starting to look like a bicycle. So the saddle goes on sooner, not later.

Saddle attachment is simple: Loosen the bolt on the seatpost enough so the saddle rails can be slipped underneath the top clamp. Don’t loosen the bolt so much the top clamp comes off. Nothing good ever comes of that when trying to install a saddle. Just make it as loose as you can while keeping it captured on the bolt. Slide the rails underneath and position it in the middle of its travel area (that area is marked on one of the saddle rails… just stick it in the middle for now).

Bolt On The Derailleur

It was getting late, and I wanted the bike to look like a bike as much as possible. So I picked as the final job of the day the simple attachment of the derailleur to the frame. I greased the threads (anti seize is a better choice given the dissimilar metals – alloy frame and steel bolt) and carefully, gently tightened the bolt. This was one time I stayed away from the torque wrench and simply snugged the bolt, which is as far as I’ll go on a frame that has an integrated (irreplaceable) hanger. If I lose that hanger the frame is done for so no mistakes can be tolerated. There’s no need to heavily torque this bolt beyond being snug-tight. If I were to guess I’d say I put 3-4 Nm onto it.

Once the wheels are attached… this is the end of the first day’s work on this build. At the end of the day to help me visualize what now almost looks like a bicycle, I set the chainring and crankarm onto the motor and axle without bolting them on, and then snapped this picture

End of Day 1. I need a beer.

We Have A Roller!

On to Assembly Day 2