How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Assembly (General Notes)

We’re finally to the nitty gritty: Actually assembling our parts pile into an ebike. This quick foreword will set down some final notes before we pick up the wrenches and begin.

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

Here We Go!

The assembly process that we have finally arrived at after all of the other steps in this saga should actually go pretty quickly, right? Well… it will only if you’re lucky. Lets just go over a couple of quick things.

Expect The Unexpected

Unless you are DIRECTLY following a blueprint from some other identical build, with identical parts, chances are really, really good something is going to hang you up at some point.

  • Something that is not supposed to be a giant pain in the ass, but turns out to be exactly that.
  • Something that you have every reason to think is only going to take a few minutes introduces a wrinkle and turns into half a day’s work. Or worse.

You are creating something. Creation doesn’t always go according to plan. Expect this, and roll with it. Don’t let it get you upset. Just get to work, and remember you can always walk away from the project for a short time if whatever it is thats hanging you up is taking the fun out of the process.

Walking away from a brain teaser can be the best way to solve it as the solution will oftentimes pop into your head as you mull it over from the safety of your sofa or the driver’s seat in your car.

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

Keep in mind that failure is always an option 😀 Know when to walk away from an idea you thought would be cool to do if thats what it takes to keep the project moving.

For instance, I intended – as part of an overall effort at bulletproofing this bike’s wheels from flats – to install Tannus Armour when I installed tires and tubes on Assembly Day 1. I failed, and probably wasted an hour on the attempt. I have Tannus on several of my bikes and the ease of installation ranges from simple to horrific. Add in the fact that Tannus Armour is acknowledged by the manufacturer to compress thin over time, which significantly reduces its effectiveness.

I had decided that even a thin armour plating is better than none, so I was OK with that. But this latest installation failure was not my first, and represented one failure too many. I have three bikes’ worth of inserts sitting around now that could not be put into a wheelset and thats a lot of wasted money. There are other ways to flatproof a tire that don’t cost as much and don’t suffer from this installation weakness.

Chip Away in Advance Where You Can

You might consider tackling standalone elements of the project in advance of the actual build event. There won’t be many of these, but one likely candidate is to finalize your wheel assembly. Put tubes and tires onto your wheel. Add your brake rotors. Put sealant in the tubes. Having wheels ready to mount will save you time when you are ready to put them onto the frame (for this project, I wasn’t able to do this).

One unique element done outside of the build days was a custom motor cover. After I was done with Tinkering, I changed my motor cover to a Lekkie version that allows the use of a special, smaller 40T front chainring. All in, counting some extra fiddling thanks to the need to deal with a surprise screw-length issue, it was a couple of hours worth of work (if I had to do it again, I would take less than half that since that was my first time at the job).

But enough of that.

Lets Begin

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Buying

You’ve made your parts list and checked it twice. Time to start the feeding frenzy: buy your parts.

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying (You Are Here)
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

Its about time! We’ve been preparing for weeks. Lets break out the debit card.

This step should be straightforward and by the numbers. In previous steps, you determined what your parts were going to be, and as part of your planning process you acquired links to all of your parts sources during the process you underwent to assess the project budget.

At this point, all thats left for you is to click the links, Add to Cart and go thru the checkout process.

Your Build Sheet Is Your Project Bible

I think I used this exact term earlier on in this series to describe your build sheet. Its going to turn out to be absolutely true if you have been keeping it up. At the beginning of this stage in the process it should look pretty much like what you see below. Red with a few green lines:

The Build Sheet up to this moment in our story
  • The frame has been bought, paid for and delivered.
  • Our motor and motor mount parts on the paid and delivered list as well.
  • The greenlit items we have purchased now have their dollar amounts in the Paid column. We have a clear view of what has been spent, and what needs to be spent to finish the project.

What Comes Next?

That depends on your cash flow and how you want to go about your build. At this point, you could simply

Click to Unleash

And show no mercy to your debit card. Buy everything at once and start tracking whats incoming.

OR

  • If you still have any level of uncertainty on any part that may or may not fit, stage your purchases so you buy just the part you need to test-fit and nothing that depends on it. Wait to buy Part Y after you confirm Part X behaves/fits as expected.
  • Do your buying in stages to accommodate your budget.
  • Buy the stuff that will take the longest to arrive first.
  • Whatever… its your call at this point.

Specify a Landing Zone

For stuff that comes in and has to sit – possibly for weeks – and wait for the build to commence, I like to set aside a great big, empty storage box. EVERYTHING related to the project goes into it or next to it in a dedicated corner of my shop or garage. Otherwise its easy for stuff to wander off in the weeks between the first arrivals and the last.

For the Apostate build, I set aside an entire set of shelves, since I had one available. That was really nice as I was able to lay everything out, which in turn let me find a part with a glance rather than having to rummage thru a box to haul out this or that bit if I wanted to check something.

While parts are en route, I also like to hunt down esoteric tools I may need. Like my headset press, or my star nut setter. Stuff I use once a year only on a build. During the Buy and Ship phase, you have a few weeks to gather your tools together. I can guarantee you not all of them will be handy – or even found – if you are just looking for them at the moment you need them (if you are buying tools as part of your project, they might go into the project box with the parts, or if you are lucky enough to have empty shelves, give the tools one of their own, which is what I did for this project).

OPEN. THE. BOX.

Fortunately, this is a lesson I had already learned and remembered to apply for this build project. I need to make sure I pass it along to you, dear reader, because its very important to preserve your sanity:

DO NOT trust that a box labeled X actually contains X.

I have ordered presta inner tubes of a given size, set the unopened package aside, and then months later when I need one, opened it up and oh crap they are Schraeder tubes. The box was mismarked. Or the box was not mismarked and the seller shipped me the wrong stuff. Months later when I really need the part, I am screwed and a)cannot use what I have and b)can’t return it since I’m now past the return window.

My first time buying wheels online. They came very well packed and arrived undamaged.

So for the Apostate build, because its an old-school frame the hubs need to be old-school QR and not thru axle. I specified this in my wheel order of course. Unfortunately, I got thru axle wheels. Now… lets be fair here: Someone ordering high-end DT Swiss MTB wheels in 2022 is pretty much never going to be ordering QR hubs. So thats a detail that skated past the builder. He just goofed. Luckily DT Swiss hubs use interchangeable end caps so its no big deal to change a thru axle wheel to QR.

But those caps ain’t cheap, so its something I needed a fix for from the seller. And they were sorry for the mistake and happy to immediately ship out the hardware I needed to complete my order.

So it was no big deal and I only had to wait a few days to begin my assembly process. But if I hadn’t opened the box and looked inside… well, you get the idea.

Open up all of the boxes and make sure everything is inside each one of them that is supposed to be there. Not just the main part you expect, but all the little bits that go with it as well.

Managing The Process

As your build proceeds, your build sheet will change colors as you move forward with the process of purchasing your parts. As you proceed, add in the tracking numbers as soon as you get them. Having everything on this one central sheet will save you enormous amounts of time versus wading thru all of the web site service areas and emails.

Bank account drain in progress

A bonus to using Google Sheets for this is you can just select the tracking number in its cell, right-click and from the menu that pops up, tell Google to search for the highlighted number, whereupon it will, for most shippers, recognize the number format and give you tracking info onscreen, or an automatic link to tracking on the shipper site. No typing in tracking numbers necessary.

Putting expected arrival dates in Column D will also make your daily areWeThereYet check on your list a lot smoother. Its going to save you a lot of lookups to find out whats on time, whats delayed and what maybe needs a phone call to the seller to find out where the hell your stuff went.

Installation Guides

As the buy process goes on, you are going to be visiting product pages that may have static installation guides (pdf or html format) or, ideally, install videos on Youtube or Vimeo. Look for these (go to a manufacturer’s web site if you are buying from a reseller with no supplemental info). Copy the urls of the guides to the Notes column of the Build Sheet for use during the Assembly stage. These will be of enormous help to you. If I come across a pdf for a given product, I like to download and store that guide in my project area on my Google Drive account, for reference later.

For example, my Marzocchi Bomber X-Fly Z1 fork is a vintage fork manufactured in 2000. 22 years ago as of this writing. The fork actually has a manufacturer stamp stating it was machined in 1999. Only the service manual was able to tell me how much oil to refill the fork to after a seal replacement, and I really, REALLY had to dig to find it. Someday your parts may be old and your parts manufacturer may no longer post the service manuals for them. Ideally you will get hold of pdf copies of all service manuals, specifications and install guides for reference in future years.

Finishing The Process

At some point, the board is going to go green on you.

  • You’ve spent all the money
  • Nothing got lost and what did, you were on top of and dealt with because you stayed aware of what was on the way, on time and overdue.
  • You have a big box of parts all in one spot. Nothing wandered off and got lost because you faithfully put everything in the box and if you did take something out to play with it… you put it right back when you were done.
Bank account drain complete. Note the item in red. We’ll cover that in Assembly, Build Day 1
  • You have set up a place to work and execute the bike build. Preferably somewhere with a lot of flat, clean concrete space that is also near a bathroom and a refrigerator.
  • You have a laptop (first choice – big screen) or a phone with an internet connection, as you are going to need to refer to installation videos on Youtube and read installation sheets throughout the build process.
  • During this parts purchase process, you also bought the tools you needed and set them in a segregated spot waiting for them to be used to….

Oh my Gahd! We’re finally ready!


Step 5: Assembling

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Tinkering

We crawl one step further: confirm as best we can that motor will fit, then buy and test-install it so we can take more measurements.

Introduction
Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering (You Are Here)
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: Assembling
Build Day 1
Build Day 2
Build Day 3
Step 6: Perfecting
Tools List

In our last installment, we bought our frame after doing our research. Its here now.

We Got The Cart. Time For The Horse!

Back in the Planning stage, I decided that, given a choice between a geared hub motor, a direct drive hub or a mid drive, I wanted to use a mid drive. A mid results in the least weight added to the bike, and gives it the most versatility over varied terrain.

Now that the frame is here, its time to take some measurements to make sure my plans were realistic before I go and buy the motor (lets pretend I didn’t already have it, as most folks will not have extra new motors laying around to pick up and use).

If I did not have the motor handy already, I would have measured two things.

Part 1 of 2

First, I would have looked at the length of the axle housing versus the width of the bottom bracket. I want to find out if my motor axle, designed to fit thru a range of 68-83mm bottom brackets, will actually come out the other side with plenty of available threads to complete a proper assembly (a locking plate and threading on a couple of lock rings). Chances are pretty good you can infer this number by knowing your bottom bracket width and buying the correct motor sized for it. Axle length is part 1 of 2 and its the easy part as, effectively, you can just read the motor specs to get this number.

Part 2 of 2

If I had a fat bike, I would next be looking at the frame’s chainstays (which I hope you were at least eyeballing for suitability while you were hunting for the frame in the first place) to see if I needed to upsize the motor. Oftentimes (particularly with 197mm rear dropout spacing) if you have a 100mm bottom bracket, you need to upsize to a 120mm motor to clear a fat bike’s chainstays, which I’ll talk more about below.

This is what you want to see once the motor arrives: Plenty of available threads and they don’t bottom out to the bare axle.

Next as part of this chainstay fitment process, I would take some circular measurements around the bottom bracket to see if the big round secondary gear housing fits reasonably well in that area. It needs to tuck into the frame at the root of the chainstay (but not touch it!). The secondary housing is about 133 mm (5.25″) in diameter. Go find yourself a juice bottle or coffee can thats about that width to best visualize how well (or how poorly) its going to clear. A 1x frame that is meant to hold a single small chainring is often a good frame candidate for a BBSHD, by the way, as the secondary housing is about the size of a 34-36T chainring.

Worst case: draw a circle on a piece of box cardboard, cut it out and overlay it on your frame’s bottom bracket. Will it fit? Chances are pretty good it will. But if its a fat bike, you may need to use spacers to move the secondary housing out further, and this will have implications for chainline (all of them bad, but not necessarily fatal).

What you see in the pic below is the desired result: The secondary gear reduction housing tucks right into the root of the chainstay and bottom bracket. Fitting it so it comes close to but does not touch the chainstay (look closely… the actual thing we have to not touch is a bolt end where the chainstay is bolted to the frame) does not result in a large gap that will be filled by a potentially large spacer.

There’s a gap in this test fitment at the bottom bracket on the left/drive side that will need a shim. That comes in a later step. We’re just confirming the fit to the frame is good right now.

If my efforts showed me I was going to need a large shim to clear the chainstays, this can mean I’m going to have a chain alignment issue once the motor is on. If its bad, I might abandon the BBSHD and pick a different motor. The two most likely alternatives are a Cyclone (assuming you can find one for sale these days) or a Cyc X1 (Pro or Stealth as you please). The Cyc motors are recommended for beginning to intermediate builders, and the Cyclone is strictly for the advanced, experienced builder who understands some metal fabrication is probably necessary coming into the game.

Here’s a quick visual example of what good chainline is, and isn’t. Image courtesy of Lekkie Ltd. Used with permission

Other mid drive alternatives with this narrow bottom bracket could be a BBS02 (unlikely if a BBSHD doesn’t fit for some reason) or a Tongsheng TSDZ2. The latter is more or less in the class of the BBS02 in terms of power level, provided you get one that is properly uprated for 750w.

So, there are alternatives but the BBSHD is a quick and easy motor to install, if it fits. Its probably the quietest mid-drive on the market. Its also relatively inexpensive, mild-mannered (if its settings are worked over since the factory settings are crap) and has loads of aftermarket support. As such in my book its by far the preferable motor to plug into my project (having seven of them, I also can keep one set of spares that work across the fleet). And luckily, since I had a motor already in hand, I was able to quickly determine it fit just fine.

More on Chain Alignment

Notice something about that chainring diagram above? It includes the chainring on the motor and the rear cassette cluster on the back wheel as part of the measurement process. So, at this stage, with only a frame and a motor you are not going to be able to measure much of anything with precision regarding chainline. You are going to be eyeballing things and estimating.

Still, you want to do your best. Look at the picture below and check out where the chain is lined up over the secondary housing, with that Lekkie chainring it has on. Use that as a reference point. If you can spring for a chainring, and a chain (or find an old one in the garage) that will only help you here.

If you have parts on another bicycle (like a back wheel) you will be well-served to take it off of that bike and stuff it on temporarily to the back of your new frame to help with this process. A long hex wrench can substitute for an axle if all it has to do is hold the wheel roughly in place on a stand for 10 minutes while you drape a chain over the cluster and eyeball it.

There are many alternative chainring configs in a successful BBSHD build.  These solutions deliver dramatically different alignment results.  Consider this a resource for sussing out your build situation.
Whats the extreme for frame fit? A fat bike. Look at how far to the left the motor had to go to not touch the chainstay (Its close but not touching). That is a custom 17mm steel bushing used for a spacer. The chainring is so far out, even being an offset Lekkie I can’t go all the way in to the biggest cog in the back. A Luna Eclipse has too much offset and will not fit.

How Close Does The Motor Go?

Looking at the pics above, the motor appears to actually touch the chainring. It doesn’t. But it does get very close. How close is close enough? A good rule of thumb is the thickness of two business cards (or just fold one in half). So if you are thinking you need a bunch of clearance from the secondary housing to the frame… you don’t.

However, you also absolutely, positively do not want it to touch. Having the secondary housing in direct contact with the frame will eventually cause the chainstay on the drive side to straight up break off at the point of contact.

Look at the pics above. This is the result of a 5mm shim that I had on hand: WAY more clearance than necessary. These pics are shown before it was fully tightened (it did get closer when I put the full 90 ft lbs onto it). The lesson here is this is way more clearance than you need or want. Letting the motor sit this far away from the frame will be the difference between great and awful chain line.

Frame Fitment Overview

Here is an excellent tutorial on BBSHD frame fitment, developed and distributed by High Voltage Kits. It should help you visualize and understand the frame fitment process.


What I saw when I did my test-fit (the pics were taken at the time with this article in mind for the future):

  • I’ve got plenty of threads on the motor axle where it sticks out on the non-drive side to clamp the motor down.
  • The chainstay root hinge is cooperating nicely already in that the big round bolt is on the non-drive side. On the drive side, there’s just a small nub of the bolt sticking out. Good news for snug fitment close to the bike.
  • The big round secondary housing (where the chainring will bolt on) tucks right into the available space within the chainstay root.
  • I’m only going to need a narrow shim on the drive side to hold the secondary housing out a bit so it clears that bolt stub that holds the chainstay to the frame (it turned out that 3.5 mm was the magic number).

A secondary observation: the chainstays have an enlarged area allowing wider tire fitment. I used 2.35’s but I think I could go as high as 2.50, which would have been colossal – probably bigger than any available tire of the era – back in 1999 when this frame was manufactured. Thats the sort of tidbit you can’t easily get from a spec sheet (assuming you could find one on a 23-year-old frame), and further solidifies why you need to wait until you can lay hands on the real thing before you start buying parts to hang off of it.

I Had It Easy

As noted I already had a motor and I knew how it was going to fit, pretty much. I also have built bikes with other motors and I know how those fit as well. What if I was doing this for the first time? How would I get around my lack of direct experience?

Ask Around

The internet is chock-full of places where you can ask for help from people who have done what you are trying to do for the first time. Ask them what they think.

  • Post pictures of the frame
  • Ask what will fit
  • Expect to double-check and confirm every word you are told. After all its the internet and there are plenty of bozos out there who can do a great job of sounding like they know what they are talking about (like me!)

What else do we look around for?

Hopefully you have done some due diligence on your build and have picked up on some common issues associated with your chosen motor install. Here’s another common one that I knew was coming, tried to get around… and failed:

Crankarms!

The issue is off-center crankarms. All this talk of the secondary housing fitting on the bike and all… think through whether there are more implications of that thick, saucer-sized whatsit being there. Usually its only crankarm and chainring.

The mounting of the crankarm has been moved away from the bike by roughly two centimeters. Your Quack Factor has been increased by this amount… only on one side. Put pedals on the bike and they are now off-center beneath you by that same amount. Not a good thing.

The solution to this is to use ‘offset’ cranakarms. Your drive side crankarm is straight back, as normal. But the non drive side has a kink in it to move the pedal position outward by roughly the same amount that the BBSHD kicks it out on the other side; compensating for the motor’s presence and its effect on pedal placement. This re-centers the pedals underneath you.

HOWEVER, some ebike configurations let you do without the offset. My Lizzard King build was a bike that had a 68mm bottom bracket. I was able to use normal straight crankarms with it. I hoped to be able to do the same thing with The Apostate since it, too had a 68mm bottom bracket.

So I stood up the frame on my worktable, did a snug fit of the motor and laid the crankarms parallel to one another as you see in the picture below. From there, after confirming the rear triangle was symmetric (some frames are not so you have to measure!) I measured the distance from the inside of the crankarm to the very outside of the chainstay. If my prior experience pans out, the frame’s narrow 68mm bottom bracket, combined with a motor whose axle is made to work with up to an 83mm bottom bracket, will give me enough overhang that I do not need to go to the expense of offset crankarms.

Uh Oh

yeah ‘uh oh’ is right… click on that pic to enlarge and see my results. Actually having the frame and for reals bolting the motor in… my supposedly educated guess turned out to be baloney when it came up against reality. You can see for yourself by reading the numbers on the tape (which are pretty accurate in the picture despite my just laying the tape across the parts). The drive side crankarm is considerably outboard versus the non drive side.

So I had to bite the bullet and buy a set of offset crankarms. Oh well maybe I can use the new ones in the picture (forged Shimanos that ran me about US$50) on some future project.

Seatpost

Oh boy did I ever screw this up. This dovetails directly into the ‘buy first and measure everything’ philosophy except… I didn’t. Or more accurately I did it wrong. Here’s the deal:

The frame came with a Salsa Flip Lock seatpost clamp, which is a very nice piece. As I have mentioned already elsewhere, the frame came with an unexpected bonus in the form of a vintage 350mm Kalloy Uno seatpost, which fit me and the bike perfectly. The post was already installed on the bike and (here’s the first place where I screwed up) I never actually removed the clamp and the seatpost. I just adjusted it in situ as the build went on, and clamped a saddle to it.

I did measure the seat tube just below the collar on general principles, and got a measurement of 36.4mm. OK great if I ever need to buy a seatpost clamp thats the size I need. Simple, right?

Survey SAID: BZZZZZZZZZZZZ

So if I had followed my own advice, I would have removed the seatpost clamp and realized the stupid thing necks down to about 35mm! It does so for only a short space that is just underneath the clamp. Then it necks up to 36.4mm.

Do as I say. Not as I do. I figured out a way to shim it but thats the only thing that saved me from having to buy a seatpost clamp twice.

The Lesson To Be Learned Is…

Take nothing for granted. If you aren’t sure, go slow. Try and anticipate where your choices can go wrong in advance of paying for parts you have to replace. And recognize you can never get everything right the first time. Build some fudge into your budget for issues like this.

If, using the crankarms as an example, I had waited to buy those arms (and measured the end of each axle to the bottom bracket), I could have totally avoided buying that original set of arms that are now sitting in an extra-parts box. But I got ahead of myself and it cost me fifty bucks. So learn from that!

Enough tinkering already. Lets move on to

Step 4: Buying

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Hunting

We figured out what kind of bike and frame we wanted in the previous step. Now its time to hunt down that frame.

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

Find Your Frame

In the previous Planning step, we determined what kind of frame we wanted to buy:

  • Full suspension mountain bike
  • Medium-ish size along the lines of an effective 16-18″ seat tube
  • Able to be set up as a street machine (high seatpost config in particular)
  • 26″ wheel size
  • Chromoly steel or aluminum construction
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • Straight down tube into the bottom bracket
  • Space around the chainstay root able to fit a BBSHD secondary hoursing without drama.

Now its time to go out into the market, find the frame that meets these goals, buy it, receive it…

… and stop!

At least for a bit. Once we have an actual for-reals frame in our hands, we have some work to do to make sure all of our parts assumptions still hold before we take the next step and start buying parts for it willy-nilly.

Why You Want To Wait

I had my eye on a 2000 Marzocchi Bomber X-Fly Z1 fork that looked as if it was brand new, despite its age. It was priced right at about $200 delivered and would be perfect for this build. But the seller disclosed the steering tube had been cut to “about 230 mm”.

Looking at the pictures of the frame I had bought, but not received yet, the head tube on the frame looked like a fork with a 230mm steerer would fit just fine. But until I had the frame in my hands and could measure it (and added in the length of the external headset cups), I was taking a $200 guess if I bought the fork before the frame arrived.

Likewise, my chosen frame claimed 135mm rear hub spacing. Since its a 1999 frame, that sounded right. But lots of times these older frames are being sold by pawn shops or via estate sales and the seller may be guessing, or repeating something they were told with no expertise of their own. Honest mistakes can happen across a variety of fronts that will make big differences in your parts choices.

So did I want to start a wheel build costing hundreds of dollars based on anything but total certainty? Hell no. Neither do you. Cool your jets and wait until you can verify frame measurements from the advertisement. Once you have done that, then you can go and order parts that rely on those measurements.

Cart Before The Horse!

Before we go through the learning experience of confirming measurements, we have to find and buy the frame in the first place. Chances are pretty good that process is going to entail some unexpected learning as well.

For example: Here I am hunting for an older, full-suspension MTB frame. One thing I didn’t expect (and should have, because I was riding back in that day when these frames were common) was the kind of brakes commonly used on mountain bikes back then were frame brakes – cantilevers with bosses on the frame that clamped down on the rim. I found many frames that were a great fit for my needs … but they didn’t have disc brake mounts. And I consider disc brakes to be a requirement for a modern bike (and especially an ebike).

Going hand in hand with this, cable housing in the days of yore was nowhere near as effective as it is in modern times. So bikes were designed with lots of space to stretch bare brake and shift cables. Also the functional best practice solution for braking is now hydraulic – which uses pressure hose and not cables.

Lastly, I found older frames might not use the most common rear spacing. Forget about Boost spacing. In fact, I found I needed to make sure I had at least 135mm so I could use a more or less modern 9/10/11 Shimano cassette body.

Once these things became apparent after looking at a bunch of frames, I started paying close attention to these items first. If a frame looked like a winner, I immediately looked to see if it had disc brake bosses. No bosses… instant reject and move on. I saved a lot of time that way, ignoring how nice a frame may be and instead focusing on a core list of must-haves and immediately moving on if one was missing.

I was also looking carefully at whether I could adapt the cable routing on a given frame candidate.

These were not things I had expected to care much about, but after I began shopping I came to realize they were essential.

The Marketplace

So where do we go online to look for a used bicycle frame? There are some crowd favorites

Craigslist

This venue offers great possibilities, but also carries perhaps the most personal and financial risk. Transactions are most likely going to be face-to-face handovers of cash for merchandise at a public parking lot mutually agreed-upon. It goes without saying warranties or purchase protections do not exist, and you can decide for yourself whether you want to get out of your car and walk up to a stranger who knows you have – at the least – several hundred dollars in cash in your pocket.

Thats not to say that Craigslist purchases are a bad thing. They’re popular for a reason. However, there’s a bit of the Wild West going on there with regard to unrestrained capitalism and personal responsibility.

Facebook Marketplace

I kind of put this in a similar category as Craigslist. I have friends who swear by it over Ebay, but I’ve never found it to be particularly comprehensive in terms of the products that can be found there. You’ll peruse ads and look for pictures of bicycles. There won’t be a lot if your locality is anything like mine. Facebook searches by default in a 40-mile radius around where my personal profile says I am located

Pinkbike

A great marketplace for mountain bike parts is Pinkbike. The site is largely populated by people well-experienced in the sport, and you can expect to see some pretty high end stuff for sale there. It also has a formidable database search capability. At the time of this writing, 1125 All Mountain/Enduro frames are available in North America. Within a few seconds I can refine that search:

  • Frame Material: Aluminum, Steel and Chromoly (466)
  • Frame Size: Medium (176)
  • Wheel Size: 26″ (49)

Perusing 49 frames that are pre-qualified to a significant extent will not take long. If I expand the search to include Large frames, I have 68 to look over.

Ebay

Of course we’re going to go look on Ebay! Globally, thats where all the buying eyeballs are, and that means thats where a whole lot of sellers are as well. We’ll see as wide of a selection there as we do on Pinkbike, but with much more primitive search tools.

I used “mtb frame” as a search criteria, and from there EBay let me select 26″ wheels as a filter. Since Ebay listings are notoriously bad for sellers listing specific criteria that their filters can use, I didn’t want to go any further on search filtering, and ended up with about 913 results.

So… figure if you are shopping on Ebay you need to set aside about an hour each time to go thru the list that comes up.

Others?

The above is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of places you can find a frame. They’re just the ones I used, although Craigslist or Facebook were not exactly my preference and I only mention them here to be as comprehensive as possible.

Score!

In the end, after about three weeks of poking and prodding every evening, I found a frame that seemed almost too good to be true: An Intense Tracer from (I discovered later on) the first production run in 1999. It was very reasonably priced.

Here it is, fresh out of the box! the 350mm vintage seatpost was an unexpected freebie.

This frame pretty much ticked every box and added one or two I didn’t have on my list:

  • Size Medium/Large. (effective 18.5″ seat tube length, measured Center-to-Top). Top tube config means plenty of standover height.
  • Excellent condition. On close inspection the frame had very few marks and appeared to have lived most of its life in storage.
  • Overbuilt aluminum frame with extra-strong rear triangle (important for a mid drive where the chain will be pulling stumps).
  • Disk brake bosses!
  • Rear shock is external to a rigid ‘triangle’ that has plenty of space and is almost uniquely battery-friendly. Its almost as if someone from the future went back in time to design this bike to hold a battery.
  • English-threaded 68mm bottom bracket.
  • Lots of clearance up front at the root of the chainstays to clear the motor’s secondary housing.
  • Nice straight, angled down tube so the motor will tuck up into it just fine.

SO… job done. We have a frame. Next we have to see whats up with motor fitment. The next phase of our build is to buy the motor, now that we’ve got the frame to measure it up to.


Step 3: Tinkering

How To Build An Ebike From Scratch: Planning

We’re building a bike! Lets do it smart though. We’ll see a simple project management framework. There’s even a complete parts list here.

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

Throughout this article, I will discuss whatever concept I am going over in general terms, and then I will answer the question “What Did I Decide?” (or “Do”). The context for this will be the test subject for this series: The Apostate. We will be walking step by step through an actual ebike build.

Be aware, though… this Planning stuff is pretty dry. Not so many pretty pictures in this installment.

Speaking of pretty pictures…

Preparation is Everything

So you’ve decided to build an ebike. You’ve got enough basic mechanical ability (and/or the gumption) to tackle the task from the ground up. Great. Before you start, you want to sit down with a piece of paper and plan out your build. BUT before the on-paper part starts, lets start inside of your head and think out some things:

How Do You Want To Ride (what is the bike’s job)?

Before you decide anything about the bike, first decide what the bike is going to do. Is it a commuter? A cargo carrier? A beachfront cruiser? A singletrack mountain bike? Does it need to be multipurpose and straddle a few categories? If you don’t know already, this is the time to look at bikes that do the thing(s) you want to do. Once you know those things, you can look at the parts available in the marketplace (starting with the frame) to make your bike come to life.

What Did I Decide?  
I needed a relatively small bike that could be stuffed into and hauled out of the back of a station wagon.  Something reasonably light weight.  So easy portage (not riding criteria) was my first requirement.  Next, I needed this bike to be good for relatively short street runs.  My primary use-case was a quick jet to the office after dropping my car off at the repair shop, and a run back to that shop from home the next morning when the car was done (stuffing the bike back into the car and driving to work from there).  

So... in its primary job, the bike needs to be comfortable for 4-5 mile trips, not 20 mile, afternoon-long rides.

Next, since the bike can be stuffed into my car, a secondary use-case was to take it on vacations or work trips and have it for general light-to-medium ride duty on streets and trails.  Singletrack not so much.  Dirt and gravel roads: yes please.
Look closely. On top of all that camping gear is an ebike, with just the front wheel off and the handlebars laying flat.

Factor In Your Terrain

At this planning stage, you also want to pick your chosen assist method… the motor. The motor is integral to the bike and you want to figure out what its going to be – at least conceptually – sooner and not later. If you end up deciding you need a mid drive for instance, that is going to have a major influence on your frame choice since you have to install the motor directly to the frame… so that chosen frame has to be able to accept that motor.

Fundamental to the motor decision is expected terrain: If you are going to be riding on table-flat land (or, at the most, rolling hills) then a geared hub motor is a viable option. A direct drive hub motor could also work. If you need the versatility to tackle hills – even steep ones – then a mid drive of some kind is a must. It helps to have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various ebike motor types, so look here for specific discussion on them.

What Did I Decide?
I needed to be able to tackle any kind of terrain.  Using a mid drive as the assist motor was a no-brainer, since they can tackle anything a bike can ride over.  Having several of them and being very comfortable with building them to last, without any wear and tear issues, made the decision all the more easy.

Additionally, I had a 68-73mm BBSHD sitting on a shelf as a spare in case of emergency (both of my daily drivers - the Bullitt and the Envoy - use that motor).  So to keep out-of-pocket costs down I wanted to use that extra motor in this build.  This all told me I need a frame that works well with a BBSHD.

Decide What Kind of Bike You Want

So far, you have figured out what job your bike needs to do, the kind of terrain it needs to live in and as a result of those things, what kind of motor it needs. Now figure out what kind of bike fits those goals (or throw all that out and pick what looks cool). You probably don’t need to look at electrified bikes when going through this step. Just look at bikes, period… with an eye toward being able to slap a motor onto whatever ends up looking good to you.

Once you have settled onto the style of bike you want to build, your next step in planning is to set up a build sheet.

What Did I Decide?
Knowing I needed a smaller bike for relatively short jaunts, the bike type that sort of jumped out at me was a 'mountain bike'. Further, since I wanted to achieve a fully functional bike yet stay at a diminutive size (without going overboard and doing a 20" BMX kind of thing) I knew I wanted a frame that used smaller-sized 26" wheels.  Those are no longer commonly in use - so I'll probably be looking at an older, used frame.

Next, I wanted it to be full suspension and not a hardtail. By that I mean I want a live rear triangle suspended by a cushioning rear shock, and a suspension fork for the front wheel.

Because I have decided to use a BBSHD mid drive, I knew they fit better on older, more traditional frame triangles where the down tube runs straight down, directly into the bottom bracket at a sharp angle. This sharp angle gives plenty of room for the mid drive motor to tuck itself up towards the frame and away from the ground, yielding minimal lost ground clearance.  And also, sharp angled-straight down tubes are a feature of older frames.  Newer designs use curved tubes, like the one below.  A BBSHD on this kind of frame would cause the motor to hang straight down.





Also, since I have built several BBSHD'd bikes and I know their installation ins-and-outs, I know an English (threaded) bottom bracket is going to be the best style of bottom bracket to easily accept a mid drive motor (other types require adapters).

Lastly, the modern trend on quality bikes is to use carbon fiber for the frame.  But I know the torque stresses that come with a mid drive ebike introduce long term survivability issues with carbon fiber bottom brackets. As the saying goes, 'steel is real'.  Carbon fiber in DIY builds is known to pose a failure risk.  Also c/f bottom brackets have to be built thicker, and this makes a motor like a BBSHD unlikely to fit.

Ideally, I wanted a chromoly frame.  Next in order of preference would be an overbuilt alloy, followed by titanium (which is very bendy) with my very last choice being carbon fiber.





These features above, all together, are much more common on older frames, so everything above further reinforced the likelihood I'm going vintage.

What Is our net end result?

The ideal frame that I’m going to be looking for on this project is as follows:

  • Full suspension mountain bike frame.
  • Not a Large size because it has to fit easily in the car. Not a Small because of my anatomy. Somewhere in the range of a Medium (17-18″ seat tube), then. I can get one of those to fit me with a longer post and a longer stem.
  • Able to be set up as a street machine (high seatpost config in particular)
  • 26″ wheel size.
  • Chromoly steel or aluminum construction.
  • English-threaded bottom bracket with chainstays that can handle (i.e. fit the secondary gear housing) a BBSHD without chainline drama.
  • Straight down tube into the bottom bracket, old-school style.

And of course add in that I want it to be in good condition, so I’m going to be looking at condition and possible flaws very closely.

The Build Sheet (your project bible)

A Build Sheet is essentially a list of everything you need (EVERY Thing) to build a bike. Initially, your build sheet won’t list every single part your build will actually use. At this stage, you put in a wish list and see what happens when the bottom line adds up.

Why not be precise? Well, you want to be as accurate as possible. However the purpose of this initial exercise is to give a cost estimate. Its entirely possible you will see that price at the bottom of the list and realize its too much. At that point the build sheet becomes a tool to adjust your component list to get the budget under control by choosing different parts.

This is just an image of the sheet. Click below to get yourself a live look at the real thing.

Here is a sample build sheet for the bike build that is our example for this series.

What Did I Do?
I used this exact example sheet for this project, and you are looking at a copy of it - made at the end when all the lines are green - with the costs snipped out to try and make me forget how much I spent.  I did add some notes and urls after the fact but otherwise this is the exact sheet used to manage the project.

Making Your Own Copy

NO I will not grant edit access to this sheet… If you want to make a copy for yourself, do this:

  1. Open up the Build Sheet via the link above
  2. From the sheet’s menu choose File –> Download
  3. Save the sheet to your local disk in Excel format.

From there you can either use the copy directly in your favorite spreadsheet program, copy it back up to a new Google Sheets spreadsheet etc. etc.

Why this Sample is such a big deal

This is every part on the project bike. All of them, right down to the cable ferrules, the decals… even the tape. And since this is a more or less ‘generic’ bike, this supplied parts list will be almost identical to what you need. You just substitute in your derailleur in place of mine. Your frame in place of mine and so on. If you were overwhelmed by the thought of figuring out all the parts needed to make a bike… this is your cheat sheet listing everything you need.

How it Works (project management)

First of all, note the color-key at bottom-left. According to the table, every single line item on the list is in-hand (colored light green) except a couple, which I have categorized as maybe not being needed. This is what a sheet looks like at about the end of the project.

At the project’s beginning, each of these line items is likely to be in red: “Need to Buy”. As your project matures, the red lines individually turn to blue (ordered and being shipped) and then to light green for ‘I got it’. If you have to send a part away for refinishing or something similar, the line turns dark green while the part is away at the shop.

If you buy something and it turns out to not work, or in particular to suck for some reason, switch it to blood red “Tried and failed” so when you build your next bike you have a record of your mistakes.

  • Column A “Item”: Describes the line item. A general part description like “Handlebars”.
  • Column B “Model/Item”: A more specific description of the item. If the Item is Handlebars then the Model could be something like “Jones H-Bar 660mm, black”.
  • Column C “Tracking Number”: When your line item is blue that means you ordered something and its on the way. Put your tracking numbers on this sheet so you can go down the line and click on each of them to check tracking (right click and do a google search on the number works for most shippers).
  • Column D “ETA”: While your line item is en route to you, put the estimated time of arrival date here, so you can see if something is overdue.
  • Column E “Source”: Where did you buy the item from? You might use this to identify and consolidate buying sources and shipping charges prior to making the buy. Possibly to get up to a minimum order amount for free shipping. When I already have an item in my shop and I don’t have to buy it I list that as “parts pile” and set that line to green.
  • Column F “Cost”: I use this column for items not yet purchased (red). The total at the bottom of this column is the amount I still have to spend to complete the project. When I make my own lists, I do not list costs for ‘parts pile’ items in an effort to kid myself as to how much I am spending on this bike.
  • Column G “Paid”. When an item goes from red to blue, the purchase amount goes from the Cost column to the Paid column. The total at the bottom of the Paid column tells me how much I have overspent so far on this project.
  • Column H “Notes”: If you need to write something that doesn’t fit into the other columns, it goes here. I put in some notes on this sheet not for my own benefit but for the reader looking at this list for the first time.
  • Column I “URL”: A purchase link for each item on the list. Sourcing parts can be overwhelming. This list shows sources for everything on this project. Where I list an item as ‘Parts Pile’ I went and got a link as you can’t very well pull parts off the shelves in my shop like I can. Also some unique auction items, like the frame and fork, only have a generic url those were one-of-a-kind items. If an item is no longer available from the seller I bought from, I plugged in a substitute url. Usually from Amazon. Remember: when sourcing hard to find parts, Google is your friend.

This build sheet, as-delivered here, should give you a list with purchase links to every part you could need to build an ebike. You can’t use all the parts I did, nor would you want to. But now you have a road map to all the parts needed to build a bike.

Use Your Build Sheet

OK, so you have listed all the parts you think you will need. You scoured the internet to find sellers for each item you want to use, and listed what each item is going to cost.

Thats no small job. You’re going to need a bunch of evenings or a whole Saturday (or both) to get through the exercise. But its going to be worth it. Especially for the very next step:

Go or No Go?

Look to the bottom line on the sheet. Can you afford this bike? Its entirely possible the answer is no. Running this build sheet exercise is what stopped my Bullitt project dead in its tracks. When I saw the cost of building up a frame kit and electrifying it, I bailed and built something else (a couple of years later I built it anyway).

If you have concerns about project costs, now is the time to make adjustments to make the project realistic, or chuck it out the window and start over – without having spent any real money.


Speaking of costs, its worth noting you may not end up doing a cheaper bike when going DIY. You could go cheap, or you could also go with top components that will end up being better, stronger and more reliable than any manufactured product. The Apostate is such a project.

What About Cost Of Tools?

There is a whole separate installment on tools needed to build a bike. Plenty of them are specialized. There aren’t very many that can be worked around. For my project build sheet, since I build bikes as a hobby and I’m using tools that oftentimes I’ve had for years, I do not include tools on my build sheet. That is true even if I need to buy a tool for this current build – and in fact I had to buy a headset press because I couldn’t find the other one I own.

Whether you include tools on your Build Sheet is up to you. Just make sure that, as part of your project cost assessment, you go into it with your eyes open with regard to the tools needed to build a bike.

While You’re At It

You have to have a place to work on this project. If you don’t know exactly how thats going to go down, now is the time to start figuring it out. Most likely final assembly is going to take more than a single day (for me it was a core 3-day build with numerous short afternoons and evenings going thru the Tinkering and Perfecting phases).

Start thinking now about where you are going to actually do the work here. If at all possible, make your workshop a place where you can leave everything overnight. For instance if you can, leave your car out in the driveway overnight for the weekend and do the work in your home garage.

However…

If you created the build sheet, have a list of parts to buy and you can make the numbers work, its time to move to the next step… hunting for your frame, followed by the motor. Why just those pieces, in that order? We’ll see in

Step 2: Hunting