How To Build a Mid Drive Ebike That Doesn’t Break

No wearing-out of the drivetrain early. No broken chains. No motor shifting…
No whining. Read this so you don’t become That Guy on the internet.

This article is the follow-up to How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It. That article points out how most of the online tantrums about unreliable mid drive ebikes are bad riding, not bad equipment.

This article’s main points are all found in different posts here on this site, and together, here and there, they all cover the ground I am re-covering here. However, this subject comes up so often I decided to try and consolidate things into one place.

I am not trying to list every single thing you need to do to build a bike (I don’t mention tightening all the bolts or putting air in the tires, for example). I’m trying to shine a light on the more common mistakes. Don’t make them and you stand a good chance of having a trouble-free bike. Some of this stuff is pricey, so maybe you’ll want to work it in bit by bit as budget permits.

Remember: a successful DIY mid drive is about both building and riding optimally. Mid drives – particularly the ones made for USA-legal and adventurous, off road DIY builders – up the ante on the required competence of both builder and rider. There is no way around this. If you want idiot-proof and simple do a hub kit. If you want the versatility that comes with a mid drive, though, you need to put in the extra time and effort.

I’ll focus solely on the mechanical bits this time, and break the process down into key component areas. We’ll start with:

Pick a Frame…

To get a mid drive to work properly, you need to pick a frame that can handle it, and this is not a given. Lots of frames are a bad choice. So what are we looking for?

… That Handles The Torque

I can still remember looking down at my very first mid drive build, a 4kw Cyclone, and saw the motor flex when I hit the throttle. With that flex, the whole bottom bracket flexed with it.

Thats a bad thing. Pick a frame of very sturdy construction. You are going to have an electric motor giving one hell of a pull on a chain that is connected to your back hub. That pull can flex the entire bike frame.

Can your typical mountain bike do it? Yes. Can your road bike with Columbus tubing from the 1980’s do it? Ehhhh lets say no on that one. Whats the problem? Designed for light weight and strength keyed to relatively smooth roads and human power, the stays are too spindly. All that power can pretzel the poor, innocent chainstays and seatstays when the power of ten pro riders yank on the chain.

How do you fix that? A lighter-duty BBS02 with the amp output dialed down is one solution I have seen done successfully several times. The lower amps do not yank on the chain hard. Some effort on the builder’s part to change the settings so pedal assist is kind and gentle is also important (and also preserves an authentic cycling experience).

… That Fits The Motor

Modern downtubes on mountain bikes tend to be curved and swoopy, coming into the bottom bracket at an arc that equates to a roughly 3-o’clock position. That arc means an installed external motor like a BBSxx has no choice but to hang straight down. Kiss goodbye your ground clearance. Here’s a picture of my 2018 Guerrilla Gravity Smash:

Take a look at how the down tube is curved, and how, on the right image where the drivetrain has been removed, its clear the only way to put a BBSxx-style motor on a bike like this will result in that motor hanging straight down.

You can see, sitting on the floor in that right picture, a Cyc X1 Pro motor, which has long arms that mount the motor as far forward as possible to avoid this ‘angle of the dangle’ problem.

How did I do in terms of mounting the motor and preserving ground clearance? Well, look above at the final installation. Look how low the chainring is. Draw an imaginary horizontal line parallel to the ground from that chainring… the motor is above that line.

The higher the better, but bottom line here is the motor is above the drivetrain so we haven’t lost a lot of ground clearance on this frame by using it (with the right mounting kit a Tangent Ascent motor will fit inside the triangle, just under the shock). So, this frame that is totally unsuited to one kind of motor can be pretty well suited to another.

Here’s another example frame. This is the type of frame typically recommended for a BBSHD, BBS02 or similar motor:

The down tube of this frame is straight as an arrow and attaches to the bottom bracket at a high angle. This allows you to rotate a dangly motor like a BBSHD up as far as possible so you lose as little ground clearance as possible. How did this shake out once this bike was built?

It came out pretty good. Bearing in mind this bike used a smaller-than-usual 40T chainring, the motor is roughly at the same height above the ground as the chainring. Maybe just a bit below. This is as good of a fit as you can expect on a bike for this kind of motor.

So… the lesson here is to think through your motor choice if you already have a frame to work with. Or the reverse if you have a motor on the shelf that needs a frame.

… That offers Good Chain / Crankarm Alignment

This is a tough one to nail down in advance. On chain alignment, you can come close during frame selection but you’ll never know for sure until you actually fit a motor into the frame, along with an assembled rear wheel so you can drape the chain and figure out how it lays.

As to crankarm alignment… thats one you will have to work out once you have a bike on a stand during the build. The key is to remember that your desired final result is to align the pedals directly underneath you… not the crankarms. Focusing on the pedals gives you a couple of extra options over and above finding an offset pair of arms to even things up. I have used uneven-width pedal spacers for some big changes, and different washer counts on one side or the other (from zero up to two) to move the pedals an additional 1.5mm to 3mm in either direction.

uh oh… lots of extra space on the drive side. Can’t use standard crankarms on this bike

I covered these issues in excruciating detail in How to Build an Ebike From Scratch: Tinkering. So I’m going to link you to that page and stop, rather than going through it all over again.

Buy The Right Drivetrain Parts

So very many builds fall on their face because the builder left cheap parts on the bike rather than replacing with strong ones.


Here is another topic already done to death elsewhere. The options laid out here result in significantly different chain alignments. This is a pretty good general resource on the subject:

Musical Chainrings

Generally speaking for BBSxx style motors with a large secondary housing located where the chainring ordinarily resides, you want a chainring with an inward offset that helps with chain alignment.

You also don’t want to overdo the size of the ring. Generally, “smaller is better” thanks to the rules that go along with riding a mid drive ebike (See below). You don’t want to pick a big ring unless you know exactly what you are doing with regard to gear selection and chainline. 42T is typically considered ideal unless you are riding singletrack. You go as small as you can get away with in that case.

Do a little shopping and you’ll find quality offset chainrings from the usual big name players aren’t cheap. Especially post-COVID. Here’s a new one I found recently on Amazon that offers about 15mm of offset and is well constructed. The offset looks to be more than that simply because the alloy used in construction is so thick.

I bought this ring and it appears a solid alternative – with a great tooth profile – for about half the cost of the other high end rings.


A beefed up chain is often overlooked and just as often results in an Epic Fail. You can’t run a powerful mid drive and expect to use the cheapo chain you already have on your bike. Whatever you do, don’t use a cosmetic (painted) pretty chain, or one of those pricey skeletonized weight-weenie chains. Instead, spring the bucks and buy a proper strong chain.

I run 11-speed systems with a KMC e11 chain – the KMC ‘e’ line is specifically designed to take a mid drive’s punishment. These 11s chains are brutally expensive (today’s price is over US$47), but this is part of the cost of admission if you want to run 11s and a high powered motor that doesn’t snap chains (or wear them out really fast). 11-speed is a wonderful thing to have on an ebike – particularly on a bike you pedal instead of throttling – but the cost of durable 11s drivetrain parts is a serious deterrent.

The story gets a lot better if you are using an 8, 9 or 10-speed setup. The SRAM EX1 ebike chain is used for their (hideously expensive) 8-speed EX1 mid drive-stressed drivetrain system. Here’s the thing though: That chain has an MSRP of US$28, and is usually sold for about US$25. The link above to Amazon has it on sale right now for US$18.95.

It gets better still: The EX1 system is 8-speed, but the chain is sized for a 10-speed system. That means you can use this chain on 8-, 9- and 10-speed drivetrains. Since 9s is probably the ideal sweet spot for mid drives, this chain can be considered almost everyone’s inexpensive default. To sweeten the deal, the chain comes with 144 links. So it will fit everything but a longtail without having to buy and section two chains together.

Rear Derailleur

This one is quasi-optional. A quality derailleur is always a good thing. Especially if your alternative is something like a cheapie Tourney or similar.

11 Speed

I use a SRAM GX 2.1 long cage rear derailleur. This is not meant for a 1x drivetrain but if you just use a narrow-wide front chainring, you’re fine. At over US$100 a pop this is not a low cost option, and one more reason why you need to know you want more gears and more finely-diced cadence options to bother with 11-speed.

10 Speed

I haven’t done a 10-speed mid drive until recently when I changed my Bullitt hill climber from a Box Components Extra Wide 9-speed drivetrain (discussed below) to a Microshift Advent X. At present the derailleur costs around US$69, and its companion single-click shifter runs about US$31.

Despite the compatibility being labelled “Advent X only” you can mix in any 10s cassette that fits within the range.

The Advent X is only available in one (medium) cage length, but that “medium” cage is a great match for the inexpensive steel Advent X rear cassette cluster, which has a whopping 48T big cog. The Advent X is distinctive from the other derailleurs in this list because of its larger pulleys and that at-least-theoretically shorter cage. It uses the same excellent clutch that the 9-speed Advent version has. Like the Advent, it is inexpensive and workmanlike in its finish.

I use it to shift a lot on a bike that goes up and down hills and flat ground, and it shifts smoothly and surely. Especially when paired with an 11-speed chain. Good to know: 10s and 11s chains have the same internal dimensions. The 11s chain is just a hair narrower on the outside. So an 11s chain on a 10s drivetrain has a little more elbow room. When I fitted an 11s chain to an Advent X drivetrain the resulting silent performance a) made me realize how much chain noise we put up with on a bike and b) was so quiet its like I am running with a belt.

9 Speed

I have found two I consider to be stars:

Box Components Prime 9
I have two bikes with these: The Apostate and 2Fat, my 2wd adventure bike that got the Box upgrade when I made it into a sand crawler. My preferred version is the Box Two Prime 9 Extra Wide, coupled to their Box One single shifter, which is tailored for ebike use. The Extra Wide part refers to extra wide range on the rear cluster, which in English means Big. You can go up to I believe a 50T rear cluster with one of these. Combined, shifter-plus-derailleur is about a US$185 solution. I like it better as a premium option because… it shifts spot-on, was super easy to initially adjust and runs silky smooth.

Microshift Advent
I like the Long Cage version, which runs US$60 and is meant for 2x systems but works fine on 1x. The Pro shifter is single-shift like the Box, and costs a whopping US$29. This setup is significantly cheaper than the Box. It works just a little less slick, and the fit/finish is more… workmanlike… but its nothing to complain about given the price range its in.

I have to say I like the adjustable clutch on the Advent better than anything else I have ever used.


I have mentioned but not explained why single-click/single-shift is needed for a mid-drive so here goes: Shifting under power is a Very Bad Thing. If you shift a bunch of gears at once, as is easily possible with a standard trigger shifter, its Way More Bad. If you are trying to snap your chain as quickly as possible (or taco a chainring or cog), thats how you do it. Single-shift shifters only allow one gear shift per trigger pull, so you can’t screw that part up. So either learn to carefully shift one gear at a time (certainly you can do that, as I do on my older bikes) or buy something that eliminates the issue.

This looks like a good time to link to the discussion of whether or not you want to install a gear sensor. Spoiler alert: I don’t use them and I still stay safe.

Rear Cluster

Put simply, you want durability. Forget about light weight. You want all-steel cogs, preferably pinned together into a monolithic block. That block distributes the force across the cassette body/freehub underneath so you don’t dig a trench into the poor thing when you hit it with a shipload of watts.

The Sunrace CSMS7 is an all-steel 11-42T cluster, pinned together. I haven’t found anything else that is all-steel in an 11-speed. These clusters are often tough to find in stock and there’s no telling how long the link above will remain valid.

The CSMS7. Steel spiders, steel cogs and permanently pinned together. Wunderbar.

The Microshift Advent X 11-48T cluster with hardened steel cogs is the only one I’ve used. It seems perfect for the high power mid drive application. a 48T big cog is great for steep climbs. Its all steel. It is pinned together all over the place to distribute the punishment across the entire cassette body. Its fairly cheap at around US$47.

For bikes that don’t require a lot of range, you can’t beat the Shimano HG400-9. They are found in a range of tooth counts – my favorite is the coated 12-36T. They are dirt cheap and functional. All steel except the smallest cogs, and pinned together. Nearly indestructible and easy on the cassette body.

The Microshift Advent 11-46T Hardened Steel cluster is my absolute favorite. A nice wide range up top. No spiders (each cog is 1-piece). Pins are generously used to hold it together and prevent any torque tacos.

And its cheap with a US$35.99 price at the time of this writing. Unbeatable for a 9-speed mid drive build.

Rear Cassette Body (Freehub)

Whatever it is, it needs to be steel. If not, with an unrestricted DIY mid drive you’ll dig into it like its made of cheese. This is a big deal. I’m only devoting a couple of sentences to it, but thats because there’s just not that much to say. If you want to avoid tearing up this rather expensive and possibly difficult to replace part, use one made of steel. Period.

Left: Alloy at 1300 miles (and an AWD bike so it had an easy life). Right: Steel replacement. A year later I checked the steelie and it wasn’t even scratched.

Rear Hub

With all the talk above of strong chains, steel cogs and steel clusters, you can see where this is going I bet. With all that durable hardware we are reinforcing the drivetrain further and further down the line until we find the next failure point. After we get to the surface of the cassette, the next thing that breaks are the pawls inside the freehub. Whats a pawl? Here are a couple of pictures where they are visible:

The little things sticking out on the end are ‘pawls’: ratcheting couplers that hold the hub firmly while you and your motor apply force to the rear thru the chain. If they give out, the chain ‘freewheels forward’ and you lose the ability to apply force to the rear wheel to make it go. Mid drives putting out big power put big stress on these poor little pawls, and they can die as a result.

Its not hard to see why. All torque is transmitted through those pawls. What you need is more points of engagement. You can find 4, 5 and even 6-pawl freehubs. You can also buy quality rear hubs that can take this level of abuse (I hear Salsa makes some, as do Sun Ringle). You can also change the game and go to a different kind of mechanism that is effectively indestructible to a mid drive…

Hooray for a ratchet engagement mechanism

Bike Radar did a good piece on freehub construction so I’ll just link to that article here and let you read the details, and the comparison of pawl vs. ratchet. So far as I can tell across several wheelsets and several thousand miles, the DT 350 hubs with standard 18T and 24T ‘Hybrid’ ratchet mechanisms are effectively indestructible.

Rear Wheel

So we’re walking the points of failure back still. ‘Under’ the inside of the cassette mechanism is the hub, spokes and the rim itself.

This is not something anyone wants to hear, but if you want a trouble-free mid drive you put on a quality wheel built for it, by someone who knows what they are doing. This is not cheap, hence the reason nobody wants to hear it. And you may be able to do without. Heck… a lot of Mongoose Dolomite conversions are out there and running just fine. But if you expect to pour on the miles and keep doing so for years, trouble-free. Well, your money will be well-spent on a beefy wheel.

Lets take a typical 26″ example. I really like the SunRingle MTX39. It comes in 32- and 36-hole versions. At US$60-90 each they are not cheap, but also not crazy-expensive, either. Its ridiculously strong, but isn’t light weight.

My MTX39 on the rear of my Bullitt. I also use them on my Envoy.

If I want to blow off the budget and go for strong, lightweight (and tubeless) a DT Swiss FR-560 is a winner. I have them on 26″ and 29″ wheels, and they are also available in 27.5. But at about US$150 a pop you have to want em pretty bad.

Next, what about the spokes? Choose good, strong ones. Sapim Strongs are an excellent choice. So are DT Swiss Champions, or DT Competitions. If you are made of money, DT Alpines are pretty awesome, too. These spokes as a body are not the great big 12-gauge spokes you see on some imported Asian rims. the European manufacturers substitute quality materials and smarter engineering and don’t need that massive construction, but they still provide superior strength.

And lets not forget the nipples! Spoke nipples that is. Once again, choose strong ones, not light ones. That means no alloy. Use the brass ones.

Don’t Ride Like a Dumbass

Build it as smart as you want, but if you do bad things you will get bad results.

How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It

So last but not least, follow that link. And don’t be a …

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.

Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying (You Are Here)
Step 5: 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.


  • 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).


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.

Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting
Step 3: Tinkering (You Are Here)
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: 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 chainstay root. 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 can 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:


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.


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?


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.

Step 1: Planning
Step 2: Hunting (you are here)
Step 3: Tinkering
Step 4: Buying
Step 5: 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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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

We’ll begin the series with the earliest stage in our 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, lightweight bike easily stuffed into and hauled out of the back of a station wagon. 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 trips. I’d want 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, 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 to the frame… so that frame has to be able to fit that motor.

Fundamental to the motor decision is expected terrain: If you will ride 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 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 tackle any terrain. Choosing a mid drive 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 jumped out at me was a ‘mountain bike’. Further, since I wanted to achieve a fully functional bike yet stay at a modest size, I knew I wanted a frame that used small-ish 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 the best style of bottom bracket to easily accept a mid drive motor.

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, all together, are much more common on older frames, so all these factors 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″ effective seat tube), then. I can get one of those to fit me with a longer seatpost and handlebar 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. tuck in the secondary gear housing) a BBSHD without chainline drama.
  • Straight down tube into the bottom bracket, old-school style.

And of course add in I want it to be in good shape, 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. You may see that price at the bottom of the list and realize its too much. At that point the build sheet becomes a tool to choose different parts to get the budget under control.

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 help 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, these line items are going to be what you need, too. 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 tiny bits needed to make a bike… this is your cheat sheet listing everything.

How it Works (project management)

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. 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, 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 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-is 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 / No Go?

Look to the bottom line on the sheet. Can you afford this bike? Its possible the answer is no. Running this build sheet exercise 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 without having spent any real money.

Speaking of costs, its worth noting a DIY bike is not necessarily cheaper. You could go cheap, or you could also go with top components that are better, stronger and more reliable than any manufactured bike that has to make a profit. The Apostate is such a project.

What About Cost Of Tools?

There is a whole separate installment on tools. Plenty of them are specialized. There aren’t many that can be worked around. Since I build bikes as a hobby, and use 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 a current build – (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 eyes open regarding the tools needed to build a bike.

While You’re At It

You need a place to work on a bike. If you don’t know exactly how thats going to happen, now is the time to start figuring it out. Most likely final assembly will take more than a single day (for me it was a solid 3-days, with numerous short afternoons and evenings working thru the Tinkering and Perfecting phases).

If at all possible, make your workshop a place where you can leave everything overnight. For instance if you can, leave your car in the driveway overnight for the weekend, so you can work in your garage.


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

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