I knocked this project out in maybe an hour, start to finish. I’m doing the same with this quickee explainer post.
There is a Part 2 followup to this article detailing some improvements. See it here.
What It Is
Not too long ago I saw someone show off some LED strip lights lining the front and bottom of their Larry vs. Harry Bullitt. Since I am fooling around with and writing up bike lights recently, I thought this looked pretty cool, so I decided to spring a few bucks to do a simpler version of the project myself.
What I Did
I have a reputation for not taking the easy way out, with careful planning and meticulous execution.
None of that happened here. I just slapped this sucker together, kind-of. Actually the way it went down … I was mocking up a couple different layouts in the garage, a light bulb went off for a simple setup, decided “how tough can it be?” and from there did the complete installation in under an hour.
I will probably pretty this up at some point but for now I’ll just enjoy what I have and see how I like it as-is. Before I get into the strip lights themselves, I need to back up a step and describe a mod I made awhile back that led me directly to lining the side panels rather than doing the usual and lining the frame.
M6x25mm stainless socket cap screws with washers (2).
I wanted to use the big countersunk washers and screws on all of the attachment points, but the front two don’t have enough room for the washer to fit so I just used standard socket caps.
Pictures of the parts installed will do a better job of explaining how this all came together than writing it up:
The spacers add 8mm of width and the skinny washers sandwiching it together give a bit of extra strength. They also add about 2mm total for a roughly 1cm widening of the panel mounting on each side (so 2 cm total width increase). The countersunk washers and screws give a nice flat facing, with broad contact to the mounting bracket. The socket caps worked fine too, so the expensive option of the countersunk washers can be considered optional although I think its a nice touch, and prefer the facing to the cargo area be nice and flat.
I could have gone a lot wider as you can see if you explore the site linked above, but that would spoil my ability to use my LvH tonneau cover. As it stands its tight but it fits.
On To The Light Show
So… coming into the game this is what I bought:
4000k LED Strip Lights If you want something to match your typical bicycle headlight, choose a strip with a 6000k color temp. I decided to go a little warmer and it turned out to be a good choice, although I didn’t know why this was yet.
I chose this set of lights because it was a longer 1.5M (just in case), it used 3M adhesive tape for mounting – these kinds of lights are infamous for coming off after exposure to weather – and it had a simple, switch-free USB plug.
Inline LED Switches I thought when I bought the parts that I might not use switches at all – I would just plug and unplug my lights from the power bank I planned to use (more on that later) or use the power bank’s on/off switch to do the same job without extra parts. If I had been thinking I would have bought the white ones to match the USB wire coming off the strip lights.
0.4″ (10mm) -wide 3M VHB Double-SidedTape VHB – aka “3M red body tape” is a weatherproof, super-durable rubber tape available in a variety of widths and thicknesses. The bigger stuff can literally be used to stick smaller body panels (trim pieces and such) permanently to a car. Most modern car badging uses this stuff to stick on the vehicle make and model logos. Its strong and weatherproof. I had a roll already in my garage. Use the link above to get yourself some.
My idea was to lay down the VHB on the bike frame, and then stick the lights to the VHB – essentially: stick tape on the lights to tape on the frame. It’ll never come off.
Anker 13000 mah USB Power Bank I already had this power bank in a drawer. It has two USB output ports and works perfectly to power both strips. Looks like it will last for a full week (I recharge all my stuff once a week).
I started out trying to rig something up by running a USB extension up the steering tube to the handlebars where I have a bag already. I could have mounted the switches on the bags. This meant I would need to run the USB connections from the lights from the rear of the frame, and hiding that connection wasn’t going to happen since the light strips only bend on one axis. Plus I’d be gaining two more wires running up the steering tube and more visible wires are never a good thing.
While I was pondering that, I realized I had an overhang created by my side panel extensions. This gave me a rubberized surface to stick my base layer of VHB, which will only make for a more firm connection. Also this would bring the wiring up further away from the ground, splashes and shield it from ground impacts.
After poking at it a bit more from this panel-mount angle, I realized I could run the power connections from the front, directly into the front of the cargo box. Since I already had a small bag located there holding two power banks for my lower front headlights, I could just add this to the bag that was already there.
Dang thats good enough to just get it done in a few minutes. I can mess with cleaning up the wires later if I feel like it. And so, here again I’ll use pictures to show the install result:
You can see the light strip is sitting directly on a ‘bed’ of thin black rubber. That is the 3M VHB, which I laid down first as a complete strip, front to back. From there I peeled and stuck the lights atop that. Since I was sticking sticky tape onto sticky tape I had to be careful to get it right the first time, but it wasn’t difficult. The light strip can be cut at specific, marked spots along its length and it was easy to do that.
You can see on each end there is a rubber cap. This is 3M 2229 mastic electrical sealing tape. Essentially its tape-shaped rubber goo. You cut a thin strip of it and lay it over what you want to insulate. Then you work it a little like clay until its formed into a shape that gives you a watertight seal. Mastic is one of those things everyone should have in their tool box. There is a thinner version – 3M 2228 – that is commonly available in big box hardware stores in the USA (much cheaper than found on Amazon).
And yeah I know that bag just sitting there is kinda cheesy, but it was already there holding the power for the two fork-mounted headlights. Thats a spot where my lock is always sitting (in that black bag) so its not taking up space I use for anything else.
Whatsit Look Like Turned On?
Well, before you scroll down to see the pics, know this: The camera gives you a false impression of how bright it is. It is nowhere near as blindingly bright as you see in the night time pics, and its brighter than it seems in the daytime pics.
At night, mounting the strips on the panels – which thanks to the mods I did create a narrow overhang ideally suited to mounting these lights – the effect is to light up the frame as if it was a billboard. Its bright and legible and really cool looking. The camera makes it look like its a blinding washout of light and thats the camera, not reality. Also, the 4000k warm color temp I chose meshes perfectly with my green frame. Different color frames (Moondog – navy blue – comes to mind) might take better to a 6000k color temp, and I bet Pepper (hot red) would like 3000k better than 4000k.
The bike jumps out in the night, which is the idea insofar as visibility in traffic is concerned. Also, the lights face downwards and illuminate the ground in a nice big circle around me. Thats useful to me in a minor way (whatever I smash into will be brightly lit up), but also helps increase my visibility to oncoming and overtaking traffic. The forward facing lights provide a minor benefit to illuminating the road close up.
During the day, the effect is minor but on a cloudy day the bike does look a bit ‘brighter’ from the side, and for sure the forward facing portion of the lights provide a daytime running light effect. On sunny days? No idea I just did all this last night.
As near as I can tell, power usage is minimal. I was unable to dent the battery in my testing and trials. We’ll see how that goes after a week of daily use.
Down the road, I may play around with USB extensions and move the switches back towards the rear – I can run them behind the padding that lines the box – so I don’t have to open the tonneau to switch the lights on. I have a couple extension cables and smaller power banks without a job that may work well in this regard. We’ll see. For now this is quick and dirty and pretty slick.
Seeding BBSHD aftermarket controllers has gotten more complicated in 2021. The 2021 choices have seen BBSHD market gorilla Luna up their controller game. To take on start up ERT in the F.O.C category, Luna has recently beta tested their Ludi V2 BBSHD controller. Luna explicitly states to “use this controller in off road only situations”.
I installed a Luna Ludi V2 FOC controller on my Specialized Pitch BBSHD conversion that utilizes a 42T Eclipse and wears Schwalbe 27.5 Moto X tires. Prior to upgrading the controller, the Luna 860c display showed a little over 30 hrs of riding time. I ride the same 25mi route of asphalt with this bike. It’s powered by a Luna Dire Wolf 52v 21aH battery that contains 84 LG MJ-1 18650 cells configured 14s6p.
My commuter routine is about 12 mi asphalt in AM. Charge at work to 80%. Then ride home same route. Without changing gearing between the stock BBSHD controller loaded with Karl’s Sauce Settings and the Luna Ludi V2 controller, I have gained about 8 mph top end speed and my battery consumption has remain the same or slightly decreased.
The only issue so far with the controller upgrade is that the battery indicator goes red during acceleration or hill climbs when below about 50v. Previously the stock controller with Karl’s settings at the same mph and same gear selection did not trip the battery icon to red on the Luna 860c display .
On average, I am consuming about 3v less of total battery upon arrival at work, which is the 12 mi mark, before charging the battery to 80% using the Luna battery charger. My transit time is about 45 minutes to work and is nearly all ghost pedaling.
I am basically maintaining the same speed covering the same distance arriving at the same time to work but using less battery. This is possible because I am using less wattage/requiring less PAS as observed on the display.
The efficiencies can not be attributable to becoming a better ebike rider; getting more efficient in gear selection, braking, running stop light etc. If anything, I have greatly decreased gear changes. I am staying in my most effective cassette gear of 24T, 3rd biggest cassette gear, and not downshifting to provide more leg drive. 24T provides maximum chain wrap with out stripping. The previous 25hr of bike time I stripped out the lower tooth gears to the point I can’t use them under BBSHD power or human only power; the chain just skips terrible in those smaller cogs due to not enough chain wrap and the cassette teeth being worn down.
How much did I pay? This was beta and I did pay my own $. This is not available stand alone from Luna right now. If you want the Luna Ludi V2 FOC controller you have to buy a Luna BBSHD bike. In the past I did buy a Luna Ludi V1 controller for over $200 and I did buy an ERT NXT BAC 855 BBSHD kit for over $500. This beta was somewhere in between.
Is the Luna Ludi V2 desirable? YES!!! At the very least you can extend the range of your current battery. You can get more top end out of your bike and using throttle only you can reach a higher mph.
It was very straight forward to install. I have previously removed BBSHD controllers. I am familiar with how the PAS clip and 6 halls/temp clip operate etc. After you get familiar with this, it took under 1 hour to remove the stock BBSHD controller and install the Luna Ludi V2. It took about 10 minutes to silicone/water proof the connections.
Pro Tip!! When connecting the 3 BBSHD phase connection spade connectors, make double sure the spade goes into the female socket …… Plus look at the 4 pin PAS and 6 PIN halls/temp connector on your V2. Hints can be found how to disconnect your stock controller by actuating the retainer clip of the connector. When you disconnect wiring looms do you generally just grab and yank??!! No. Look at what came with the kit and carefully disconnect the stock controller by actuating the retainer tangs!
2nd Pro Tip!! Elevate the bike. Hang your bike by the front wheel and try to get the BBSHD/bottom bracket as close to eye level as possible. I had the luxury of a ceiling hoist. But you can use your garage door track or a ceiling hook as well. This will make it much easier to remove the stock controller and install the upgrade after mkt controller. You have to water proof all connection in the BBSHD before screwing down the controller and this is much easier at eye level.
Luna has posted a firmware update. Using the VESC app, my nephew flashed the controller wirelessly using his Android phone and the blue tooth connection via the small antenna sticking out of the controller case. The flash upgrade included a pseudo-motor idle function that helps keep the chain semi-tight when letting off the throttle, helping to reduce chain slap. The amount of idle is increased by increasing the PAS level.
Performance into a 15MPH wind flat ground 55v at full sag during these observations.
Throttle only in PAS 5 and the biggest cassette gear of 34T gives 25MPH at 800 Watts; over 30+MPH at 1200 Watts. Full throttle made the LUNA Dire Wolf battery icon go red so I did not hold it there long but it was very fast acceleration and speed.
PAS 5 ghost pedaling and the biggest cassette gear of 34T gives 16.5MPH at 500 Watts; 24T gives 22.5MPH at 500 Watts.
In PAS the speed controller would stick to a MPH level and increase or decrease the Watts to maintain that speed; almost like a governor.
The BBSHD never got too hot to hold your hand on the motor or the controller. The motor never got hotter than 110 F.
Overall the Luna Ludi V2 is very good. It’s $ well spent even if just considering the battery range extension. If you are looking to scooter throttle only you won’t be disappointed in acceleration and top speed. As a PAS ghost peddler, it does not seem that different from the stock Bafang controller loaded up with Karl’s Sauce Settings. VESC app analytics dashboard looks cool but I don’t have an Android device nor the time to play around with those features. Luna warns not to change parameters on the controller without considering the consequences and locked out some of the most dangerous ones to the motor and rider.
P.S. At the time of publishing another field weakened BBSHD after market controller has burst on the scene. Enthusiasts of ASI BAC 855 have banded together via Discord collaboration to present a potential product challenge to Luna Ludi V2. The High Voltage team of Captain Codswallop, Mike and Greg bring a formidable grass roots business plan. I’ve done business with Captain on 3D printing for ebike items and was blown away at the exceptional level of quality and customer service. Captain told me High Voltage is “…new to the market but are providing a high quality product that customers are very happy with…focus…on customer service and quality. We are looking to expand to other motors in the near future.”
The High Voltage brand graphic to look for on authentic products:
So, my Gen 1, 1.5 and 3 bike layouts are all twin geared hub designs. What was Gen 2?
750w, 35a geared Bafang G060 front hub motor
30a BBSHD mid drive
52v, 12.5ah rear motor battery in triangle
52v, 12.5ah front motor battery on rack top
Batteries connected in parallel to form a single ‘virtual’ 25ah power source to both motors
KT and Bafang displays
160Nm rear… 80 Nm front (do the math on that one!)
I live part-time in two towns: The first, an extended work visa, is in Fresno California, smack in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley and flat as a table. I built The Colonel, The Purple Thing and The Great Pumpkin for commuting in Fresno.
After a fashion, I finally was able to get a big enough bike rack on the back of my SUV to bring the Colonel to my actual home in Pacific Grove, California. My house is at the top of the hill there. Unlike in Fresno, nothing in or around the area is flat. You are either going up a steep hill, or down one, or both.
My intention was to be able to use the Colonel like I did in Fresno, as local errand transport and a light duty cargo-shopper. Unfortunately, I found out the first day about the limitations of hub drives: They suck in hills.
Hubs are Single Speed
Hub drives power an ebike via the axle. They don’t – and they can’t – use the gears of the bike. Forcing a single speed hub motor up a hill makes it just as miserable as a human stuck with no gears. So even though I have very powerful hubs, and they were geared hubs that put down the most torque of any on the market… they still struggled. Even with two of them. I could hear the gears groaning inside the motor casings and I could tell that, while I could get up the hills, my motors were not happy about it. I did not want to lug them into an early grave. I had already gone to a lot of trouble to make the bike bulletproof and had no desire to ignore the problem and inevitably kill it.
I Need To Build a New Bike
Everybody knows mid drives are the solution to the hill problem for an ebike. A hub motor is single speed and at least relatively weak on torque, but a mid drive uses the gears in the drivetrain, plus it has double or more the torque output of a hub, and thats before you factor in the multiplier of the gears. Wonderful right? Except mid drive motors – especially DIY builds – are notorious for putting drivetrains into an early grave. Why? Well because they pour a LOT more power through the chainring, chain, rear cluster and cassette body (i.e. “the drivetrain”) than a bicycle was ever meant to withstand.
A normal cyclist can pump out maybe 300 watts for a minute or so, but typically normal sustained – strong – output is about 100 watts.
EU-market electric motors must peak at 250w of output to stay legal (pssst… they don’t).
A 25-amp BBS02 on a 48v system puts out in excess of 1250 watts peak
Your garden variety 30-amp BBSHD running under a 52v battery is peaking – and can sustain – about 1750 watts of output.
That gives some perspective on how much abuse is heaped upon a drivetrain with a mid drive. Coming off the successful builds of The Colonel (v1.0) and the Purple Thing (v1.5), I knew AWD reduced load on the individual motors dramatically when they work together as a team.
Given that, I thought about how I could use a front hub to reduce or eliminate the shock that a mid-drive puts onto the ebike’s drivetrain. Not only would I gain the traction benefits of AWD, and the benefit of reduced load from the team effort – things I already knew were a big positive – the front hub would also, if used in a slightly different way, provide an important added benefit: eliminating all the extra wear and tear that goes with having a mid drive.
If it worked, it would give me a bike with all the original AWD performance benefits, plus the ability to effortlessly climb walls, without tearing the bike up.
SPOILER ALERT: It worked unbelievably well.
In fact this bike is a showcase on how AWD can almost eliminate mid-drive wear and tear. Making a bike that climbs hills and bombs trails really well is almost an afterthought.
So that is what I am going to focus on here in this article. What was built and how was it used?
Briefly, this bike is the Great Pumpkin on the front wheel, and a typical mid-drive installation on the back. In between is the usual extra wiring scattered all over the place to deal with powering two motors, set up dual PAS etc..
The Front Motor
2Fat has another Bafang G060 80Nm front fat motor installed – this time its inside of a custom-built 100mm double-wall Weinmann (branded as an Origin8) rim. Go fat or go home. Attached are the same two torque arms as seen on the Pumpkin’s installation, and once again the controller is sitting in a grommeted handlebar bag that doubles as a wallet/keys/phone holder. It also serves to disguise the uncut steering tube I used to give me a more upright – but not too upright – riding position.
Different from the Pumpkin is the battery setup. This bike was built before the v3.0 Pumpkin came onto this Earth (The Purple Thing had just been born). So, lacking the wherewithal to commission a big custom battery for the triangle, I used two packs, one for each motor. The front motor’s 12ah 52v battery was located in the rack trunk at the back of the bike. I had already learned I did not want to put a battery on the front rack as it made the steering too heavy. The rear motor’s 17.5ah pack was in the triangle.
Additionally, due to the very low standover of 2Fat’s Large sized frame thanks to its top tube (it is a titanium, USA-made Chumba Ursa Major) there is not enough room to plug in a properly big battery in the triangle to handle both motors. So I had to do two batteries and live with the awful choice of putting one on the back rack.
After running the two dissimilar, separate batteries from its initial build in 2017 to March 2021, I switched to two identical, now-parallel’d-together packs in the same locations. Each is 12.5ah (14S6P) with Samsung 25R cells. Each has a 50a continuous BMS. As such, the system has a single 25ah power supply with a BMS capable of handling 100 continuous amps. Considering I can never peak past 65, I’m in great shape. I purchased the packs from Bicycle Motorworks, who builds their packs in the USA and constructs them at time of order.
Sidebar: Running battery packs in parallel should only be done by those who have done the research and know exactly what they are getting into. In this case, both packs are identical, being manufactured to-order together, and have the same charge cycle count. Their voltages were matched before they were joined and there is some additional babysitting that will be necessary for charging and balancing. If you can avoid running packs in parallel and use just one battery: Do that instead.
Using two entirely separate batteries is a kludge and your last resort. Not only will you have to charge them separately, you will also draw down the two batteries separately at different rates which will result in uneven remaining power, lesser range and more frequent recharges.
The Rear Motor
This is pretty much your garden-variety 52v BBSHD installation. It has a couple of nice spiffs in the form of a 42T Lekkie Bling Ring, and Lekkie Buzz Bars, but neither of those things are a requirement of the AWD approach we’re discussing here.
The rear wheel is another matching Weinmann 100mm rim, again with DT Champion 2.0 spokes and 16mm brass nipples. The rear hub is a DT 350 Big Ride, which has sealed cartridge bearings and has been upgraded to a steel cassette body. Additionally a 9-speed Shimano HG400 cluster gives me steel cogs literally welded together into a single cluster, that spreads the enormous torque of the BBSHD across the entire steel cassette body. The DT350’s ratchet engagement mechanism is one of the few known bombproof rear hub mechanisms when faced with the power of the Dark Side 30a BBSHD motor.
A solid rear wheel build with extra strength parts throughout is crucial to a successful mid drive ebike.
The Special Bits
There is a bit more that went into making these motors work together. The complete integration possible on the Pumpkin thanks to the use of identical motors and controllers wouldn’t work here.
Trying to share cutoff signals between the motors again – using adapters for the red-to-yellow connections found on the BBSHD – resulted in bricking both motors. I tried everything to share the signals. It can’t be done unless you are willing to install a second, independent set of hydraulic magnet style cutoffs, zip tied to the integrated MT5e cutoffs and connected via a ‘y’ further down the line. That would work but it would look like crap, for very little benefit over what I ended up doing: I set up the front brake to engage the front motor cutoff, and the rear – with a red-to-yellow HIGO adapter – to cut off the rear motor. Since I always use both levers to do my braking I get an effective result.
PAS for the BBSHD is built into its motor casing, so it just works. PAS for the front motor was another matter entirely. Ordinarily the assist disc and sensor runs on the right-hand, drive side of the bike and hides behind the front chainring. This is not possible with the BBSHD’s secondary gear housing being there instead. So PAS had to be made to work on the left hand side. The KT controller has left-hand PAS sensor installation settings.
What was needed then was a left-hand install. This was quite a bit trickier, since the 120mm motor running in front of 5″ tire-compatible chainstays had zero extra spindle length to mount the disk. Lacking a bottom bracket cup to mount the PAS sensor ring, I set it behind a second inner lockring – I used two inner lock rings stacked like jam nuts rather than the usual inner+outer ring. These doubled inner rings had the secondary benefit of being a more aggressive, solid mounting for the motor.
With the sensor mounted, next I had the sensor ring to deal with. As noted above… there was no length available period for the sensor disk as the crankarms mounted pretty much flush to the bottom bracket.
The eventual solution involved hogging out the center of the PAS sensor disc so it could sit on the inner flange of the Lekkie crankarm instead of the spindle. I prepped the crankarm with… thin strips of thick duct tape so the disk would sit tightly on the flange. It was a bodge but it worked, and with just one improvement since installation in 2017 it has held perfectly. That improvement is a zip tie to help hold the disk steady in position (of course I used a zip tie. We have duct tape in the mix; all thats missing is a zip tie).
Worth noting: I used this identical PAS ring mounting when I built the Lizzard King AWD cargo bike in 2021. Not only did I have enough extra spindle so I did not have to do this surgery on the ring, I also realized I could unscrew and reverse the sensor in its mounting ring. This eliminated the need to use the reverse settings in the display/controller. Since the inset ring was reversed, it was outset now… and that held the sensor closer to the magnets (they work fine inset as seen here, but closer is better).
Here’s where the eagle-eyed may spot a preview of how I ride this bike to soften up the mid drive.
On the right, we have the grip, then the brake lever, followed by the 9-speed shifter. Here again we see a v2.0 feature that v3.0 fixed: A SRAM drivetrain gives us a SRAM, not Shimano shifter. The Shimano shifter needs so much real estate on the grip it is impossible to put a throttle on that side of the handlebars. Look at the cockpit of The Great Pumpkin and the Lizzard King to see how a SRAM shifter solves this and lets me do one throttle per thumb.
Being unable to do that at the time – and believe me I tried EVERY possible combination of throttles. I still have most of them in a box in my garage. I settled on two styles of thumb throttle, side by side on the left, with the innermost throttle being for the hub/front and the outermost for the BBSHD/rear. As for the eagle-eyed part: The front throttle is cocked higher so between that and its longer throw, it is engaged first and when at 100% it follows the natural curve of my thumb. Both throttles can then be at 100% and my hand stays comfortable at WFO.
How To Ride It
At last we get to the point!
I already let the cat out of the bag earlier: The biggest deal associated with this bike is not that it can climb really well (REALLY well). Nor is its ability to handle trails and rotten conditions its star quality.
No, the real point of having a mid drive teamed with a front hub motor is to use that hub motor to take the shock off the drivetrain that mid drives deliver. Do that and you also take away the excess wear and tear on the parts (if we are being fair, a lot of this comes from doofus riders who don’t know what they are doing).
When starting, start with the hub
This is most of the deal right here. Don’t make the mid drive haul the bike up from a dead stop. Its got the torque to do it. But everything takes a beating in the process. The nylon gears inside of the mid drive. The chainring. The poor chain. The suffering cogs. The cassette body being dug into by the cogs. The pawls inside of the cassette body that are straining against the hub. Your ebike hates you for doing this to it.
By using a mid-drive-strong chain, a steel cluster and a steel cassette body with a ratchet engagement mechanism, we harden the drivetrain to be very tolerant of this abuse. Between that and learning how to use a mid drive, wear and tear really isn’t bad at all. Maybe no worse than a quality analog bike used hard. But still… even with the hardened drivetrain it sure would be nice to take things easier.
By using a hub motor to get the bike rolling – even by just a few mph – we accomplish this mission. Using my pedaling-friendly BBSHD programming or something like it, the BBSHD will not kick in on pedaling until the bike crosses about 5 mph. So from a stop, you hit the front throttle for about one full second. That throttle is cocked up a bit higher on 2Fat to make that a natural move. The bike starts up from its dead stop without any strain on the drivetrain since the BBSHD is not even running. Simultaneously, you also start pedaling. This engages the cassette mechanism.
When speed crosses 5 mph, the BBSHD’s pedal assist now kicks in on a drivetrain that is already engaged. There is no longer a risk of having the motor jerk the chain and smash the cluster into engagement. And with this gentle engagement, the motor starts working on a bike that is already moving. So you get the doubled benefit of a lighter effort against all components to get your fat bike off its fat ass. Instead, you get smooth – and strong – acceleration. The lack of lugging the motor has the further benefit of not generating anywhere near as much heat since the motor is no longer running at low rpms for anywhere near as long. And those nylon gears inside the motor are writing you a nice thank-you card.
Rather than using the throttle, you could also just start pedaling. I have set the KT controller to engage PAS as quickly as possible. Combine that with the BBSHD’s controller being told to hang back for the initial startup, and you have a completely thumbs-off solution that implements at a nice gentle pace.
So… It just works.
Or you can force it! Remember with this setup you have two throttles. There’s no law that says if you need it, you can’t jump the gun and either hit the rear throttle early, or hit it so the motor engages harder than it would have in your designated PAS mode. So if you need a little extra push thanks to an XL load of groceries, or a steep hill, you have options at your disposal.
One of the mantras associated with smart mid drive riding is that you always Always ALWAYS freaking downshift the bike when you come to a stop. The LAST thing you want is to lug the motor up from a dead stop because of all the brutality it visits on your chain, your cogs blah blah blah. So that means you remember to downshift one or two… maybe even three times before you come to a stop. When the light turns green you upshift in sequence one gear at a time as you get back up to speed again. Thus as we all understand: you row thru the gears.
Another rule mid drive mavens repeat ad nauseum is – if you have an 11T small rear cog… stay the hell off of it. Its too small to use on a mid drive. It bogs the bejesus out of the motor from a stop, its too small to be able to get up to speed before the sun sets and if thats not bad enough, the teeny cog on even the steel Shimano clusters is alloy and it is not attached like all the others are. Its an individual. So not only do they dig into the cassette body harder, they die fast. Like Really Fast. As in a few hundred miles tops.
Well, on AWD mid drives like 2Fat, you can forget about all that. Because of the powered front hub doing its part (either thru a quick dab of throttle or just letting PAS start the bike), there is no longer a need to shift at a light. You can forget about the whole process. Just leave it and it’ll be fine as if it was a hub motor! In fact the front motor allows the bike to increase its speed so it gets up and goes fast just like a hub motor does.
I found this out within a day of building the bike, and since then learned from experience the 11T cog will last about 1500 miles before it typically cracks (two so far). Thats not so bad for a readily available US$7 part. And if I wanted it to live longer, well it wouldn’t kill me to go up a gear at a light once in a while.
Wrapping It All Up
2Fat itself is not the ideal example of how to execute this concept. It is a product of when it was built and my knowledge level at that time. In the present day, I for sure would not want to build a bike with two batteries, and if I did I would NEVER put one on the back rack. But thats partly the limits of the frame I used. I came within a hair of using a Salsa Blackborow frame kit for this bike until, at the last minute, this titanium beauty fell into my lap for a song… but thats another story.
Next, I wouldn’t use Shimano components thanks to the real estate problems introduced by the shifter. Instead I’d use SRAM components so I could do one throttle per thumb.
Really the Great Pumpkin with its XL size and XL triangle, plus its SRAM shifters – would be ideal here. But them’s the breaks. This is what I’ve got. Boo hoo.
With that said… I did learn as I went along, and in 2021 I returned to dual motor bikes with the Lizzard King, a bike meant to prove a different kind of AWD could be awesome: You don’t need the 80Nm, 35a punch of the Pumpkin’s or 2Fat’s front hub to gain the benefits of AWD. A low power implementation, done a little differently, should be very effective and appeal to a much broader range of everyday, low-speed, low-drama ebike use. And…
1 x 52v, 30ah battery with Samsung 30Q cells, 90a continuous BMS
2 x 35a KT brand controllers
2 x KT brand displays
160 Nm total power
The Great Pumpkin remains my fast commuter workhorse. This bike is meant for transportation to and from a destination, not sightseeing. As such it is designed to travel as close to the safe, legal speed limit as possible. Here in California the assist limit is 28 mph, I stay on the street (no shared-use bike paths allowed) and this bike’s gears are made to let me power it up past that 28 mph limit to about 34 mph – if I am strong enough to pull it off.
A note on speeds and our local roads here, and how they influence the design and capabilities of this ebike: in California the law limits ebikes to 28 mph (45 km/h) of assist. Thats an assist limit, not a speed limit. The maximum lawful speed is the posted motor vehicle speed limit, adjusted downward if necessary to maintain safety. So if you can pedal the bike faster than 28, thats fine so long as doing that is “safe for conditions”.
These speeds seem like a lot to readers in some parts of the world. But remember here in the USA we’ve got open roads that are nothing like you see in many urban centers in, for example, the EU.
The two pictures above come from two different places along my 15-mile commute route. The speed limit signs are in mph not km/h. Bear in mind drivers regularly exceed these limits by a significant margin so in rush hour traffic a 30 mph bike is by far the slowest thing on the tarmac, with no pedestrian issues to speak of.So, on streets like this, if I can pedal to 34 mph – and oftentimes I can – thats perfectly legal. In fact I have been paced and radar’d by police cruisers and motorcycle traffic enforcement many times without incident.
So the secondary purpose of this bike is to enable me to work hard while still transporting me to Point B at a practical speed. You’ve heard how ebikes let you arrive at your destination without getting all sweaty? Well, this one lets you arrive all sweaty on purpose if you like.
The geared hub motors let it accelerate fast in traffic, and despite its necessary lack of suspension, the fat tires (and the suspension seatpost) let it ride well on lousy pavement. It has over 7000 miles on it at present (March 2021), and benefits from all of the learning I got the hard way building its predecessors. In fact, I am using the same set of wheels I had built for my very first AWD ebike: The Colonel. This is a testament to finding a good wheelbuilder at the Local Bike Shop of your choice and have them build you a quality wheel with quality components.
The Pumpkin is a flat-country bike. Dual geared hubs are powerful, but hub motors – since they power thru the axle and cannot use gears – are just single-speed. Despite their power and ability to handle lots of current, they can get the bike up steep hillside streets, but they struggle doing it. Riding this bike in the Carmel/Pacific Grove portion of the Monterey Bay Area, where nothing is flat, I found it could climb anything but it lugged its motors mightily doing so, to the point I feared for their long life. But if you live on flat land (and this bike’s permanent home is in the table-flat San Joaquin Valley), this is the design that will gobble up pavement for lunch. It will get you where you need to be safely and quickly as an ebike can legally travel.
Why didn’t I choose maintenance-free direct drive hubs? Because they lack torque, and that means slow acceleration unless I load the bike down with bigger, higher voltage batteries and motors with much more unsprung mass.
Having done it the wrong way before out of necessity (translation: too expensive) I put in a single big battery on this bike. It has the biggest battery I could fit into the triangle of this XL-sized frame (A Chumba Ursa Major made with chromoly tubing). A 14S9p (52v) pack that uses Samsung 30Q cells to give me about 30ah. That means it takes awhile to charge. But it also takes awhile to drain, and this single battery is placed down in the triangle where it does not reduce the carry capacity of the bike, or screw up its performance with schlocky placement of a battery on the rear rack.
But doing an AWD bike with a single battery means you have to address more than just size. The Battery Management System (BMS) has to be able to handle the amp draw of two motors simultaneously. Looking for batteries out in the wild that can do this… you’ll find almost none that are capable of it.
How do you calculate the sort of battery you need? You take the peak output of both of your motors and add them together. Your BMS’ “continuous” power rating has to be more than that peak to ensure your motors never trip the BMS’ limits. If they do, to reset the battery you have to hook it up to a charger, which is unlikely to be handy on the side of any road you’re traveling on.
So, with a 35a rear controller and a 35a front controller, I need a battery with a 70a continuous (or more) BMS, and thats a special order item. In my case, the BMS can handle 80a continuous current.
Controllers and Wiring
The 35 amp KT brand rear motor controller is sitting under the saddle, zip-tied neatly with small clear, low-visibility ties to the seatpost mounting arms of the rear rack. This puts the controller in open air to keep its heat down. It will reach temperatures of 135 degrees fahrenheit if stored enclosed. A home-made fender comprising of an extended commercial mudguard and cut-to-size flexible cutting board provides complete coverage from water coming up off the rear tire.
The front motor controller is an identical 35 amp KT, housed in the handlebar bag. This bag has had reinforced brass grommet holes placed strategically inside and out so cables can pass thru its inside compartments to the outside of the bag, without creating issues of splashing water (here again extended fenders help). The top of the bag is left zipped open and this keeps heat from becoming a problem. The front motor cable travels directly up and into this bag, while cables for pedal assist, brake cutoffs, display and throttle exit out either a grommeted side entry or out the open top of the bag. The bag itself essentially hides all of the front motor cabling rats’ nest, both by housing excess wire inside itself and via natural camouflage, providing a black backdrop to black cables running along and woven into its MOLLE exterior. Cables exiting and entering are carefully bundled together for neatness.
The center triangle bag is stuffed mostly full with the custom-sized triangle battery. Like any triangle bag on an ebike, it also serves to hide excess wiring, and given the dual custom splitters for brake cutoff signals and pedal assist (one sensor signal is split off to both motors for simultaneous PAS power) there is plenty of wiring that thankfully remains invisible thanks to this bag, which seldom needs to be opened. The bag has forward and rear-facing cable holes that don’t suffer from water ingestion, again thanks to the fender setup. A capped XT60 charger plug is coming out the front of the bag just behind (and shielded by) the head tube, and this cap is removed and a charger is plugged in here to recharge the battery.
Ergonomically, the cockpit is very well designed and reflects this being my third or fourth try at doing the job. There is one throttle for each thumb in easy reach, and both throttles are clocked so when fully engaged, the paddle is pointing straight down. If you hit a pothole your thumb doesn’t push thru and break the throttle. It slips off instead. The PAS panel is also one-per-side, and also within thumb reach without losing your grip on the bars. SRAM 9-speed shifters are in use, because a SRAM shifter gives you enough real estate on a handgrip (vs. Shimano) to stack multiple hand controls and still be able to easily reach everything.
Despite the duplicated motors and controllers, the displays are mismatched simply because I am re-using parts from older bikes no longer on the front line (in this case parts came off The Purple Thing). For this build I needed a new display and the KT model LCD8H was available, so I grabbed one. It is the same display as the KT model LCD3 above it, used for the front motor. The LCD8H is just in color and easier to configure.
And in case you noticed… yes this is a bike with Class 3/Speed Pedelec performance that has throttles. Reality is, though, the bike is designed specifically as a pedelec. Pedaling acceleration via PAS is plenty fast and is in fact (thanks to controller settings) a little faster than using the throttles. They are only put into use typically for a split second on take-off from a standing start while I regain my balance on the bike and settle in to pedaling. If I am crossing a 4-lane street, I am off the throttles before I get past the first lane while crossing and won’t touch them again until the next stop at the next intersection.
Power (too hot)
These two 80Nm motors have controllers feeding 35a to each axle provide giggle-inducing acceleration. So much so I found performance needs to be turned down for multiple reasons:
#1– (Safety). Come to a stop at an intersection. Acceleration is so strong from a stop, you leap forward so fast you are always the first vehicle that gets to the other side, and you’d better be hanging on. Thats fine if you meant to do that. If on the other hand you accidentally engaged pedal assist, you could be throwing yourself – literally – into the path of a car.
#2 – (Safety). Come to a stop at an intersection. Put your feet down, release the bars and take a drink or something. If you engage again (pedal assist or throttle) and forget to put your handlebars straight, your front wheel will shoot off in the direction its pointed in. Typically a bad thing.
#3 – (Fork survival). With this much torque pulling on the front fork, things start to happen that a bicycle was never stressed or designed for. A front fork was never designed to be pulled on hard, for extended periods or in sudden jerks. Especially not day after day for days and weeks stretching into years.
#4 – (Frame survival). This one was unexpected: Even though I am using a highly durable hand-made-in-USA frame, I still found it was straining under the repeated daily stress of stoplight-to-stoplight acceleration from the rear motor. Specifically I started to hear creaks from the rear triangle and dropouts. eek.
#5 – (Safety again for crying out loud!). I use fat street-smoothie tires in summer. Doing that with the motors unrestrained makes for about a half rotation of front wheel spin on full throttle, and maybe a 1/4 spin on pedal assist… and a goodly chirp out of the back, at the least (lots more if the ground is not clean, dry pavement). Thats fun for an afternoon showing off but more than that and its just plain dangerous.
Power (just right)
To slow down the bike so it accelerates at a safe rate on city streets, and doesn’t wear itself out from all the extra stress of doing this day in and day out, I utilize a setting in each of the two KT brand controllers that sets the power curve to ‘slow start’: C5=00 is undocumented on all but the newest KT display manuals. Where it is documented, it is listed as the most restricted of the three ‘slow start’ modes.
What this does is create an acceleration curve slope that is shallow at tip-in but increasingly steep as it continues forward. Here’s the crazy-cool part: Even dialed way down on both motors this bike is still typically faster than anything else crossing the intersection from a standing start. So you aren’t missing out on much in the way of fun if you want to pour on the amps. Its just safe, sane and controllable when its put on a leash.
Torque Arms (!)
I’m not going to get too deep into the specifics of this topic, but I will say if you use hub motors you have to use torque arms. Gotta do it. Thats for any motor that has ‘flats’ on its axle to allow their use (which is almost all of them). It is true many motors do not need torque arms because they are of such low power. I will say having suffered the consequences of not using one, its WAY better to be safe than sorry and just go ahead and install them regardless of motor power.
What could happen? If you don’t use a torque arm, the force of the motor will overwhelm your bicycle’s dropouts and the motor will “spin out”. That means your steel dropouts will not be able to contain the motor’s axle, which will spin (instead of the motor casing spinning) and when that happens the dropouts spread. Your frame or fork is effectively destroyed and unsalvageable at that point. These 750w, 80Nm motors are right on the edge of demanding two torque arms. For sure they need one. I have used two on the front motor and one on the rear, where the stronger rear dropouts are much less likely to have an issue.
Last but not least… take a look at the pictures on this page and you will see the biggest front chainring ever on a fat bike. Look to the back axle and you may be looking at the smallest cluster. And the derailleur is a mid-length cage, to boot. Fact is, this bike was geared to be pedaled fast on the street, not overland on trails as is the norm for fat bikes.
The front chainring is a 50T ring, while the rear cluster has an 11T small cog. Frankly I forget the size of the biggest cog because I never use it. Its 28T… Maybe 30. And since the hubs on this bike are the motors, powering the bike thru the axle, not the drivetrain, gearing is largely useless unless I want to pedal faster while going slow. This almost never happens because this bike should not be taken on pedestrian paths or similar where such slow travel is necessary.
For a daily driver bike that is transportation, not recreation, you need to address many areas to ensure reliable, day-in, day-out operation. There are many issues addressed on that topic with this bike, but I’ll only touch on the AWD-specific ones here. In a word: Redundancy. If you do a general overview of this bike’s propulsion systems, you will see almost everything but the battery is a separate, independent system. None of this is accidental or done because I was forced to do so (you can buy controller solutions that reach out to two motors at once, for instance). Its done this way because its better. Dual throttles are better. Setting PAS independently per wheel is better than combining the two. Even two different displays let you focus on different bits of each (although that one I could do without if push came to shove).
Redundancy on a dual motor bike can be a big benefit. I’ve had one unfortunate lesson in this: I went over the handlebars and slammed straight down on the pavement, cracking some ribs. I also bent my front fork (just a little) and smashed my rear throttle, among other things. That broken throttle disabled the rear motor despite all other components being in working order. I was able to limp the bike home without pedaling, which I really needed given the cracked ribs and various and sundry other minor injuries.
This is one more reason by the way, why I want throttles on the bike. If I am physically unable to pedal I want to be able to get me and the bike home, or to the emergency room as the case may be.
Well, I could spell ‘ebike’ and that was about it. I had a solid background as a lifelong cyclist, but I went over to the Dark Side and started riding ebikes. I had been working on my own bikes for most of my life and I was pretty good at that part.
So, as an experienced cyclist but a newbie ebike owner I came across a bike built by my (now) friend Houshmand Moarefi, who is the head honcho over at Ebikes USA in Denver. He took the same model of rear-hub-motor ebike I had, upgraded the rear motor, then added a front motor, controller and surrounding bits to make a badass AWD e-fatbike. He posted his creation on the Interwebs.
After seeing the bike online – and peppering Houshmand with questions – I did what everyone on the internet does: shamelessly copied his idea. It is pictured in Figure 2 below. This was taken the night I completed it, moments before I opened that garage door and took my first ride.
Its a good thing I took the picture, as 15 minutes later I broke it. I got it fixed and it gave me years of service, but thats another story entirely. Suffice it to say in that pictured moment, we see triumph and despair occurring almost simultaneously.
What are we in for, building one of these things?
Why put two motors on an ebike? Well… “because we can” works. But lets do better than that.
Is it even possible?
Not so long ago, internet experts in the DIY ebike crafting community would tell you all about how a powered awd ebike could not even function in the first place.
The powered wheels would fight for supremacy between each other.
It is essential to match the power to both wheels but impossible to do so.
Even slight differences in wheel circumference between the two would make terrible things happen.
blah blah blah
So, I was being told it could not be done after having put thousands of successful miles on a bike that could not exist. A lesson on the value of internet experts. Only value the advice of those who have done the work and actually know things.
I don’t want to get too deep into a litany of refutation on common mistakes, but I do want to clear up a couple that come up the most often. All three, really, are more or less re-statements of the same misconception:
Matching Power (current) to the Wheels
This is a common worry, but not a real one as you will discover moments into your first ride. The concern is dissimilar power levels cause problems. They don’t. Tailoring power front to back as conditions change is a major benefit to AWD. In simple clean/dry conditions, all that will happen is the wheel that gets less power doesn’t work as hard.
The easiest way to understand how this is: Geared hubs freewheel forward. So the same thing happens if you have no motor on the back and you are, say, going down a hill with a front motor. The watt output of the front motor decreases as gravity ‘powers’ the speed increase (or you pedal your little heart out on flat ground). Likewise, differences in circumference are a non issue. This is true in bikes with slightly different tire sizes, but is most visibly proven with the in-service bike pictured below.
Here again, one ride will lay this concern to rest. Two motors will not fight for supremacy with each other despite differing power levels. Partly because of the geared hub’s ability to freewheel. You should take it for granted you will have different power levels on each axle. I commonly keep low power on my front wheel (I will expand on why further on) but for my hub+hub commuter I often just go full blast on each motor and pedal up over top of it. In that instance, with two big motors giving it their all I only very rarely feel a bit of a shift in pull vs. push and it is very minor. Another technique on that bike: 5 levels of PAS on the rear wheel plus 5 on the front means that – in good conditions where I do not vary the power for safety – I have PAS with 5+5=10 levels. As I want more I ratchet up the rear a notch, then the front, then the rear and so on never giving all PAS power to just one wheel.
One Throttle/Two Motors
You don’t want this. You can have it but you are selling yourself and the platform short if you go to the extra amount of trouble to make it happen. I will get into some real world specifics of why this is later on. The short version is if you unify the throttles or even work harder to unify PAS power levels to the two wheels you will be introducing problems with traction and control. You want to keep your control granular. It won’t be confusing or difficult!
What About Two Direct Drive Hubs With Regen?
What I said above doesn’t apply. If you expect to use regen on a twin-DD-hub AWD bike then you are talking about a whole different animal in terms of two hub motors coexisting. I know its been done, but I have never done it personally. I will let some other pioneer on the trail take the arrows in the back on that one (I suspect: regen can be used on the rear but not on the front… or just don’t do regen at all with DD hubs).
A final point: Years into having AWD bikes in service, there are now numerous commercially-produced examples in plain sight. The arguments that it cannot be done have melted away now that so many have obviously done it.
So YES you can do AWD. The question is are you doing it right? Well, thats a whole ‘nother thing.
Whats the Up Side?
Take a look at Figure 1 for the most obvious example: All Wheel Drive on a bicycle is every bit as good of an idea on a bike for the reasons it is a good idea on a car, truck or ATV. On other vehicles, putting more power to your back wheels is not as good of a solution as putting power down to all wheels. It is the same on a bicycle, but so few have done it, the result is not the obvious no-brainer it is on other platforms.
If conditions are sub-optimal, as in rain, snow, mud, riverbed rocks, hillsides and whatnot… AWD on a bike gets you through it easier, across the board. If conditions are ridiculously bad, AWD can get you thru things you thought were impossible to ride. Oftentimes so easily you stop, look back and wonder how the hell you just did that.
The range of things you can ride through just got a lot wider.
If on the other hand conditions are just dandy – say, a smooth, flat, dry paved street – having both wheels deliver power to the ground is again an improvement for all the same reasons it is better on an exotic sports car. Powered traction is delivered to the ground across twice as much rubber. Everything just works better.
And since the improvement makes for a qualitative, but drama-free result, its really hard to describe other than to say ‘everything just works better” or “this feels wonderful, like how it was meant to be” … which do not help much when explaining AWD to skeptics. Nonetheless… the nebulous, big-brush-stroke description is accurate.
In terms of acceleration, doing it with AWD vs. RWD is a very different rider experience. You aren’t being pinned to your seat, nor is your body wanting to slide off the back while you hold onto the handlebars for dear life. Instead you get an amazing rate of acceleration, but it is smooth and – again – without drama. The feeling is its effortless for the bike to do what it is doing.
Mechanically there are benefits as well. If you are keeping tabs on the amount of heat your motor generates, you’ll find gunning one motor around will get so hot you may not be able to touch it for awhile. Not so good, especially with nylon gears inside. But: Run two geared hub motors as a team to achieve the same performance and by some miracle the two don’t even get a fraction as hot as did the one. All of a sudden a motor that was working itself to death isn’t even breaking a sweat, and you’re going at least as fast and as hard.
How is this possible? In May of 2020 Grin Technologies did a detailed technical analysis of multi-motor ebikes. They explain how this is possible, complete with the technical details on why it happens. Its well worth a watch if you are interested in taking a deep technical dive on your AWD ebike options. I have queue’d up the video in the link below to the exact spot where he explains the heat reduction.
Another issue not generally considered is redundancy. With two motors, if something bad happens on your ride and you lose a motor, you still have another and can limp home on it. I learned this the hard way once when I went over the handlebars on my twin-hub Great Pumpkin. I smashed one of the throttles and disabled the rear motor completely. I managed to roll home on the front motor without needing to pedal. With freshly cracked ribs that was exactly what I needed.
Whats the Down Side?
AWD is not all sunshine and roses. There are down sides. Most of them only affect the bike builder. But a few do affect the rider, so we’ll look at the negatives from both perspectives.
For The Builder…
Put simply, AWD on an ebike is one hell of a lot more work. There is so much more you have to keep track of. So many more wires that have to be hidden.
You have to address the issue of brake cutoffs going to two separate motors simultaneously. Pedal-assist to two motors at once is a beautiful thing. But only for the person riding the bike. For the builder it typically means customized controller settings and maybe even a little fabrication to get a sensor signal to two motors at once.
Battery power? You’re going to need a big battery, and it needs to deliver more power than pretty much any regular ebike battery available on the open market. So you either have a single custom pack made or kludge together off-the-shelf packs and suffer through the weight and space issues that go with them.
What does a front motor need in terms of structural support? You’d better think that one through. NEVER use a suspension fork in an AWD build. Your motor can literally pull the thing apart. Whoever designed a bicycle fork never expected a powerful motor would be pulling on it for extended periods, or in sudden jerks. Thats tough on a chromoly fork but they can handle it. Its typically too much for an alloy fork (aluminum is nice and light but doesn’t bend: it breaks) and it is definitely too much for a suspension fork that has 2-piece blades that can be literally pulled apart.
Not to mention fork dropouts. A hub motor must have torque arms attached that prevent the motor from ‘spinning out’ (That is how I broke the Colonel on its maiden voyage; destroying its fork dropouts). You generally cannot use quality torque arms on a suspension fork due to its physical construction. If so, the dropouts have to endure 100% of the punishment and… newsflash … they may survive today but they won’t have the kind of long life they would have had without a motor axle trying to tear thru them.. Internet discussion groups are chock full of pictures of DIY builds where someone used a front hub motor and their suspension fork’s dropouts snapped clean apart. Even with a torque arm.
We’re not done with the front fork yet. Regardless of construction, that pulling on it can loosen your headset at an alarmingly fast rate depending on your power and acceleration levels. If its a problem you have, you will want to think of ways to keep that headset in place (psssst… use two star nuts) and while you are at it, make sure you use a superduty headset with steel races. And a serious mtb stem that clamps the crap out of your steering tube.
You can google “broken ebike fork” or just follow this link (one of many) on Endless Sphere to see more electric motor + fork carnage.
So… How do you get away with using a front suspension fork, then? You see people do it with front-motor bikes. Assuming they thought the job through and are not just future emergency-room visitors, its simple: use a very low power motor. Or neuter a powerful motor and trust the buyer won’t know any better because hey… nobody has any actual experience with these things so you can give them just a little power and they will still be thrilled.
So… to build or sell an AWD bike its a whole lot of work for the same result (a single finished bike). Its no wonder AWD bikes are not common, and when they are up for sale, the seller wants a high price. Assuming they did their job right (never assume), a lot of work went into that bike.
For The Rider…
Fortunately, the downsides of AWD are minimal if all you have to do is ride the bike. But they do exist. All of the negatives can be eliminated if you just realize this bike is a new kind of animal and take it easy when starting out. So… learn how to handle the increased traction, power, and the subtly different behavior.
If your bike builder did the job right (I’ve said that two times so far and not by accident), you have two throttles – one for each thumb – to let you apply power granularly to each motor as the needs of the moment come up. Thats a new feature you will need a bit of time to learn how to take best advantage of. The basics of this will be learned by the time you have traveled about one city block. The finer points will take some experience – not a lot – to figure out.
Holding down the front throttle in a turn has the end result of elongating your turn radius (this is about how you naturally ride, not how the bike handles… but it still happens). You cannot take a turn as sharply if applying front throttle, and could wind up smashing into the center median in a right turn in traffic, or the curb in a left turn thru an intersection. There is an easy solution: stop pedaling, release front throttle, turn in, re-engage front throttle just at turn-in so the slight delay will engage the motor right about at the moment of corner exit. Leave rear throttle engaged throughout the turn if you can safely get away with it). That turn procedure all takes place in the space of about two seconds. It will become second nature in short order. But it has to be learned. Now… thats how you hot rod your way thru a turn. You won’t want to do that all the time, and mostly you will go thru a turn no differently than you do on any ebike.
On singletrack/trails, less power to the front wheel is more. Rip down a trail, hit a root and the front wheel bounces up. If it comes down pointed in a different direction than you are headed, your now-powered front wheel will shoot off in that new direction if its going full blast. Keep front motor pedal assist power low – much lower than what you have set for the rear. Then when the inevitable happens its easy to deal with. I’ve found pedal assist dialed down in the 200-250w range is best. If you decide you want more front wheel power at any point, a dab of throttle will do ya. You know you are overdoing it if you get any level of wheel spin in the front.
You are no longer the slowest thing accelerating from a stop at an intersection. So if you are not the first vehicle in the left turn lane, Your instinctive use of full throttles to both motors will rocket you right into the rear bumper of the car in front of you. This is an easy fix. In a left-turn-lane situation, initially use only rear throttle, then add the front when the car in front of you starts to pick up speed. Dial it back again as that car completes their turn and lifts on their own throttle before straightening out. Or you can just hit the front throttle for a split second to get yourself rolling from a stop, then drop it and let PAS manage the rest.
Clearly from these examples, manual AWD acceleration (separate from pedal assist) is a learning process. A dual throttle is a big part of getting this down pat without needing to dumb down the bike’s performance.
You can run an AWD bike with a single shared throttle, but doing so means you will be lifting more frequently and when you do its all-on or all-off. You will lose the ability to decide for yourself what happens. The result is more jerky and less refined.
If your bike builder did the job right (there it is again), its got a single big battery with a high capacity Battery Management System (BMS) capable of handling the peak and continuous loads of both motors running together. For the rider who has such a setup, the only thing necessary is to set aside enough quality time on a charger to get this bike up to snuff to carry the day’s ride.
For the rider not lucky enough to get a proper battery, that means – at the least – putting up with dual batteries in positions that reduce carry capacity. The rear rack typically gets the duty for one battery in a dual-pack system, so whatever your rack’s capacity was, take off 10 lbs and only use the sides. You may also have to deal with charging the two batteries separately, which is a big drag on convenience and turnaround. You *will* have days where you forget to go and switch the charger to the other battery. Speaking personally: Been there, done that.
Two motors = two sets of service intervals. In practice this should not be a big deal, but fair is fair – we have to count this as double the effort on motor maintenance. This is the part where the direct drive hub people all jump up and remind you for the 100th time their hubs need no maintenance. You will also get slightly increased wear on the front tire, now that its powered.
I’ve made it pretty clear what I think a proper feature set is for these sorts of bikes, based on the fact I started doing it a while ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to work thru a variety of designs and iterations to find out what works best.
Single hi-current battery low and centered
Redundant, dual controllers and displays
NO front suspension
Shared signals from sensors
All you have to do is look at what is out there commercially to see none of them do this. When I look, I see the sort of features – and mistakes – from when I first started kludging AWD bikes together. The reality is, from a commercial perspective we are unlikely to make much headway forward in the near term. Why?
Money… thats why. What I describe is maximum-cost given its redundancy. Its also darned expensive to build an XL battery with a high capacity BMS, and in addition to that, there is the issue of minimum order quantities from component/battery manufacturers. I don’t see a proper AWD bike coming from a commercial vendor unless one goes on a mission to sell a great bike and not take such a high profit margin.
More likely to happen: Development of a suspension fork strong enough to withstand the pull of a front motor over the long haul. It remains to be seen if ANY of those in use now on commercial AWD bikes is going to last. We’ll have to see if product liability issues (and injuries) ensue from whats in use now, or whether the sellers have de-tuned the front motors sufficiently to let those forks survive. But down the road, this is definitely something that could successfully evolve.
Something that came on stage right about the time I published this article is the Eunorau Defender-S on Indiegogo. That is a full-suspension bike, so there’s the front-suspension concern. Given its late-2021 delivery date (plenty of time to figure stuff out), the fact this vendor is going nowhere near any obviously phony claims, and reliable people who know the company are giving it a serious look, this AWD bike may be something of a landmark for the species both in price and thoughtful use of components.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the AWD motorcycles, bikes and ebikes developed by Christini, where they have created a unique, robust, mature – and patented – system to share the power from one motor (rider or electric) to two wheels via mechanical linkage. Lets say that a different way so its clear what they have accomplished: They tap into the power of a single motor (either the rider or a BBSHD) and use that to successfully, reliably power two wheels. Its pretty neat stuff.
What does all this mean for the DIY ebiker? Well, the tools and components are out there for you to build your own, and do it considerably better or less expensively (or both) than anything available in the commercial marketplace.
Wrapping It All Up
The best way to see what good can come from an AWD bike is to look at some representative examples. I have chosen three that work very well for me, and do so in very different ways. Because we’ve gotten to a good place to pause with this post, I’ll do so and point you to the individual case studies that should be linked together in the menu up top.