Bafang Mid Motor: Multiple Speed Magnets

Some Bafang BBSHD and BBS02 programming tutorials say Speed Meter Signals must be set to 1 or bad things happen. They are right. They are also totally wrong.

This is going to be a quickee post to show off a little spiff you can do on a Bafang mid drive, and point out something wrong I see in some tutorials or forum posts about Bafang BBSHD / BBS02 settings. Specifically:

The Speed Meter Signal

Put simply: It does not have to be set to ‘1’. But I am getting ahead of myself. Lets start from the beginning:

At the root of the matter is the BBSxx Speed Sensor. If you buy one as part of a kit, or on its own, this is what you get for roughly US$20:

Figure 1: L to R: Sensor magnet, sensor base, sensor and underneath, the two screws used in the install

The speed sensor magnet attaches to one of your spokes. You attach the sensor to your chainstay (usually) and position it so the magnet passes close to it as the wheel rotates. The sensor detects the magnet’s passing and calculates your speed, via a rotation count and knowing your wheel diameter via a separate setting.

Figure 2: The speed meter installed on the chainstay.

So if you buy the typical sensor, you get one magnet, one sensor, and you need to set the Speed Meter Signal to ‘1’. Is that setting because you have one speed sensor?

No. Speed Meter Signals counts the number of magnets. Not the number of sensors. Each magnet is a signal. Got one magnet? Set it to 1. Got two? Three (for a 36-hole wheel)? Four? Change the setting accordingly and it works great.

Figure 3: The Speed Sensor settings from my Luna Black Box, with the setting in question circled.

Why do we need more than one?

The one magnet works pretty good as it is, so nobody really gets too deep into this. Plus nobody sells Bafang speed sensor magnets by themselves. So to do this you are talking about roughly $20 per magnet because you have to buy a whole speed sensor assembly.

But… what if you don’t? Cateye sells a sensor magnet all by itself. It is cheap, widely available and can be gotten cheaper in a 2-pak. Here’s one, close up:

I have found these can just be tightened onto a spoke by hand, and they do not need any thread locker to stay tight (adding some Vibra Tite would not be such a bad idea). Reportedly these magnets work over a much greater distance than their Bafang cousins, which is another benefit.

Get To The Point!

Fine here it is. Look for the speed sensor magnet in the picture.

Figure 4: How many lights do you see, Picard?

There are four lights magnets on this wheel. One every 8 spokes. I have the Speed Meter Signals reading set to 4. The improvement is not earthshaking but I do get the following:

  1. My speed reading on my display updates faster and more smoothly. Quadrupling the signal input is a good thing which is not a surprise.
  2. The Cateye magnets are smaller and lighter by a fair bit than the Bafang magnet assembly. This results in the wheel getting thrown less off-balance than when using that big heavy Bafang doodad (even if you place it opposite the valve stem to even out the weight distribution).
  3. Four magnets placed equidistantly around a wheel make for a more balanced wheel spin. Its minor. But when spinning the wheel with the motor when the bike is up on the stand the lesser amount of shaking is noticeable.

Using just two sensors (the 2-pak of Cateye sensors is only $9.95) gives a noticeable improvement as well. Enough that 4 sensors is not noticeably better or worth even the minimal the cost/effort. I can’t help but think that two magnets means two points of potential failure rather than four. This weekend I’m going to go back to two magnets.

So…

You can take this tidbit as useful in a couple of ways: A cheap, lightweight, stronger magnet replacement or a way to get a better speed signal to your display.

Its not a big improvement, but it is a nice little one.

Big Fat Dummy: Leftovers

We hit the high points of the Surly Big Fat Dummy build. Lets wrap it up with a discussion of some odds and ends

The Surly BFD Project Menu
Prologue
Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?!
Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders
Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos
Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar.
Episode 5: Leftovers (you are here)
Episode 6: Electrification

Basket-Case Handlebars

One of the most notable features of this Big Fat Dummy are its handlebars with the integrated basket made of thick, hollow alloy tubing. At first glance, these are nothing more than EVO Brooklyn integrated-basket handlebars. Here’s a factory-stock picture of them.

Now lets take a look at the ones on my Surly Big Fat Dummy. Notice a difference?

Figure 1. Hint: Look at the grips

The grips give it away: I extended the handlebars so now they have a width of about 810mm. I am using ESI Extra Chunky 8.25″ grips to cover the extensions and give me an extra-long gripping area, suitable for multiple hand/seating positions (choke up and hammer it, sit up and cruise). Just like on a pair of Jones bars, the brakes can be reached from any position on the handgrip.

The grips give something else away: the bar extensions have a smaller diameter than the stock handlebars. At first I planned to use the extension you see in the pics below as an internal sleeve coupler between another bit of tubing, the same outside diameter as the handlebars. After seeing it in place and thinking this ‘coupler’ had potential on its own, I covered one side in a grip to see what it felt like. The two diameters worked for me and I decided to stop there.

I like the lesser diameter as a sort of change to the handhold. Good for longer rides where I want to vary my grip to reduce fatigue. The wide outer hold is better suited to comfy cruising anyway, so between that and the added thickness provided by the fat ESI grips: The lesser diameter section feels normal. The point of transition between the two diameters is also another form of handhold variation. It is just one more way to grip the bars differently on a long ride to change up what part of my hand is getting pressure.

What about the bar extensions themselves?

They are a bit of aluminum bar stock whose outside diameter is very near that of the inside diameter of the handlebars. Some fairly pricey stuff can be found at specialty hardware sites. I stumbled upon pre-cut bar stock with the right OD; already cut in the perfect length, so I didn’t even need to put a saw to it. (I did chamfer and bevel the inner and outer edges with the same tool I list in the Big Fat Wideloaders post). I bought two of these and that part of the job was done.

Specifically, the material is 6061-T6 aluminum bar with a 0.625″ (5/8″) outside diameter, a 0.375″ inside diameter (0.125″ wall thickness). Each bit of tubing is 10″ long. On the off chance its a link that will live on (its live as of today, several months after my purchase), here is what I purchased.

How did I affix it inside the handlebars? A combination of things hold these extensions firmly in place:

  1. The inside diameter is a close fit but not a tight fit. I wrapped a single layer of silicone tape around the inner bar in two places with a gap of a few inches in between. Just enough to make it a seriously tight fit.
  2. I spread/glopped some JB Weld around the outside diameter of the inner bar, in between those silicone tape wraps, before insertion. That makes for a bit of a seal for the application of the JB Weld and ensures during insertion it builds up into enough to fill the gap between both bars.
  3. I inserted the bar fully and then used a 2-lb sledge to make sure it was for-sure seated inside the handlebar.
  4. Stretching/installing the ESI grips over the assembled, extended bars provides, in and of itself, a strong hold that prevents movement.

One last note: Even at an 810mm width and extended grip length, the ESI grips are just a skootch too long for this bar, considering the controls I have to mount on whats left of its straight portion. I turned that bug into a feature. The ESI grips are so substantial they are good as bumper pads. To supplement that, I tightly rolled up some white silicone tape (the same stuff I used in giving the bars a tight fit) and used that as a bar end plug. The roughly 3/4″ of overhang is now a substantial padded bumper, useful when I am leaning the bike up against something. You can see the bumper in Figure 2 below.

The Double Stem

Figure 2. Going up. The stems are angled up in this pic for an elevated bar orientation.

Wait… what? A double stem? What the hell is the thinking behind that?

So, here I am building out this Big Fat Dummy with these basket-case handlebars. I have used them before, on Frankenbike. On that bike, the bars could shift down if you were standing up, honking on the pedals and putting strong downward pressure on the bars. Knowing this can happen, how can I get around it? Would using a higher quality MTB stem do it? Then I realized a)I had an uncut steerer on my Bluto fork and b)the handlebars have two mounting points in their design.

The idea was to use one or the other. But that long uncut steerer might just let me use both (spoiler alert: it does).

So, as usual I tripped and fell into a functional and eye-catching solution. Use varying spacers in between the two stems so they space apart exactly to fit the two mounting points. The lower 25.4 stem mount point needs a 31.8 spacer around the bar. Also, the easiest way to limit the variables in play is to use identical-model and -angle stems and simply vary their length. I used Funn Stryge stems in 60mm and 80mm.

In Figure 2 above I have angled both stems up, giving the most upright position possible. Later on, I flipped the stems to a down position to give more lean-over (clearly these bars have a significant rise built into them so seating position is still fairly upright).

Figure 3. Going Down. Both stems are mounted upside-down for a lower handhold. Just reverse the front plate so that part is right-side up.

In my final tinker with the stems, I changed their orientation once again: The lower stem is still pointing down, but the upper one is pointing up. This still keeps the bars oriented in the ‘down’ lean-over position, but the position of the upper stem moves further down the steering tube to achieve the same bar angle it had when it was matching the lower stem as seen in Figure 3.

Whats the point of doing that? It uses less steering tube. As you can see in the pics above, I am using 100% of the Bluto’s uncut tube. Making this flip and exposing more available steering tube enables a change to a Wren Inverted fat fork, which reportedly had a shorter uncut steerer…. with this change I would use 100% of the Wren tube, should I ever find another home for the Bluto.

UPDATE:
The Bluto did find a new home and the Wren is on the bike now... I compared them while I still had both in hand and both forks have identical steering tube lengths.

Reinvented Wheels

The Surly My Other Brother Darryl wheelset that comes with the Bliolet Big Fat Dummy is very good. It can take quite the beating. I certainly have never been able to throw either of them out of whack. However, I wanted summer and winter wheels, the ability to go tubeless, and have wheels as strong as possible. Additionally, the MYOBD wheels hold on to tire beads so tight it is effectively impossible to get at a tube to repair it on the side of the road. That had to change.

SIDEBAR: If the MYOBD rims are tubeless-compatible as claimed by Surly, mine certainly are not. The rims are pinned and not welded. And both of mine leaked at the pinned seam on the edge just under the bead – a place you can’t tape. I personally don’t see how they can be used tubeless unless you get lucky and those pinned rims are perfectly manufactured. Mine were, and are, great tubed wheels but they can’t be used tubeless even when its been done by professional LBS techs who know what they are doing. I failed. They failed. The rims don’t work tubeless.

With that said, lets focus on the wheel build. I settled on the following components:

DT Swiss 350 Big Ride hubs

The DT Swiss 350 Classic is just that. A reliable classic. In particular, the rear hub is acknowledged by DIY builders as extremely durable when paired with a high powered mid drive. Couple the ratchet engagement mechanism to the steel cassette body option that DT offers and you have the core components of a bulletproof drivetrain. DT even makes the 350 Hybrid hub that is reinforced still further for tandem and ebike applications. Sadly, its not available on the fat bike Big Ride variant. But a plain 350 with a steel body is still unstoppable. I know because I have used one on my 2Fat build for some time. The 2020 parts shortage made finding a front and rear hub an adventure – I got the rear in Poland and the front from the U.K. … But I got them.

Alloy on the left after 1500 miles. Zero miles and steel on the right… After 2 years it still looks that good.

Nextie Wild Dragon II Rims

This was a tough one. These are expensive hoops at over $300 each. However, they are also a known quantity as I own another set on the Stormtrooper (those wheels with their matte 3k finish are the header image for this blog). The standard version (not the Elite light weight) have a load capacity of 250 kg.

As far as I can tell, nothing else on the market can touch that load capability. Also, they have a center channel I know from experience makes ALL the difference between getting the tire off the rim on the side of the road, and not being able to do so (that would be the case with the MYOBD’s). Lastly, they are a nice compromise of 90mm, which I hoped would allow me to lose only the highest rear cog on my 11 spd cluster. Turns out that was a correct guess. Others who go 100mm lose the top two.

The Nexties check all the boxes. It boiled down to whether I was willing to spend the money. After some time hemming and hawwing, I surrendered and spent the big bucks.

<takei>”Ohhhhh Myyyy” </takei>

I did 3k matte finish last time. This time I upped the bling factor – just a bit – and went 12k matte. And holy cow are they ever gorgeous. They fit the bike perfectly with that deep dish construction making the fat tires the fattest fatties in Fatland. As it is, this beast of a bike already makes a serious visual statement. The wheels dial the message volume to 11.

With the above said, you might be under the impression that the look of these wheels contributed to my buying decision. I am outraged anyone could consider such a thing.

In addition to looking marvelous, they’re waterproof too!

Sunrace CSMX8 Wider Range Cluster

The original Surly-spec’d cluster is a Sunrace CSMS7 11-40T. Even though the Surly BFD is not sold as an ebike, that is the perfect 11 speed cluster for one. It is all-steel, bolted together into a single 1-piece unit and has steel spiders inside. As usual the heavier, cheaper steel component is the good one if you have an ‘e’ in front of ‘bike’. Finding an 11-42T version of that cluster would have been perfect… but alas thanks to the 2020 parts shortage, I couldn’t get my hands on one. I settled for the CSMX8, which is 11-42T and also uses steel cogs. Its in 3 pieces and uses alloy spiders. Not ideal on a mid drive, but its still a respectable bit of kit. Why did I want a wider range cassette? because I knew other Big Fat Dummy riders who went to wider rims and tires lose their two biggest cogs. Expecting this, I wanted the biggest cog I could still get to. So: wider range cluster.

As it turned out, the 90mm rims and 4.8″ Vee Snowshoe XLs only cost me one cog. So while I cannot use the 42T cog without rubbing, the 36T just under it is no problem. That means I only lost four teeth off of my former 40T inner cog, and I have a 10-speed instead of an 11. I’m fine with that.

Sapim Strong Spokes

Here is the one place I compromised. I wanted DT Champion 2.34 spokes. In the age of lockdown-induced bicycle parts shortages, that was just not happening. Nobody had enough spokes in the three lengths I needed … worldwide. Actually I did find stock in a bicycle shop in Germany but they refused to ship to me because of the then-severely-extended ship times of 10 weeks-plus. DT Swiss themselves said forget about it until at least 2021. Casting about, I talked to other strong players including Phil Wood. Every time, I struck out. Eventually I did find a small local bike shop in another US state who had Sapim Strong spokes and could cut them to the sizes I needed in-house. The 2.34 Champs would have been stronger, but the Sapim’s are plenty strong themselves. I don’t expect any issues.

Orange Seal Valves and Whisky Tape

Last but not least: The valves and the tape. Whisky tape is good stuff – a bit wider than most alternatives – and I was able to find a big roll, so I had plenty of extra socked away for my attempt at converting the MYOBD rims to tubeless (which as noted above… failed). I chose the Orange Seal 60mm valves because they have something a lot of valves do not: A metal bottom. Why? the metal bottom provides a hard surface that the valve gasket can firmly smoosh up against. There’s no way for the valve to pull thru. Its also less likely to spring a leak down the road when you manhandle the valve putting air into the tires. This last issue plagued my Stans valves on a different bike, until I replaced them with these.

You get everything but the kitchen sink in the bag with the Orange Seal valves, including a nice core-remover that screws onto the valve itself so it can’t get lost.

Phat Tubeless Tires

So… on this bike… tubeless is where its at! The Nextie rims coupled to Whisky tape seal right up. The Vee Snowshoe XL’s I put on (I have had them in the garage for a couple years and it was time to use them up) sealed to the rims so well I didn’t really need any sealant to finish the job. They held air for days as-is.

But of course I used sealant. And as I have mentioned in earlier posts, after discussion with the manufacturer and some great experience with it as a tube sealant, I used the recommended 16 oz(!) of FlatOut Sportsman Formula as my tubeless sealant. Application is easy via adding a presta adapter to the end of the integrated hose in the bottle lid. Once in the tire, they hold air for about… 5 (five!) weeks before its time to air up again.

And since I set these tires up, after a few months, I had the worst-case experience with respect to finding out whether FlatOut actually works to seal up tires.

Want to see a cyclist poop his pants? Punch a line of a half dozen of these in his back tire. Then tell him to hop off the saddle and go look…

Yeah thats right. So I go to Home Depot and load up on all sorts of crap. My Great Big Bags as well as my upper deck are pretty much full and I am chugging home. Suddenly I hear a tickticktick behind me and I know thats not good. I jump off, look down and OH.MY.GOD I see a row of about six roofing nails stuck deep in my back tire. As if thats not bad enough they are off to the side in the vicinity of the sidewall (the ticking was a nail head hitting the frame as the wheel revolved). Not thinking to save the nails for a future photo shoot, I pulled them out and cast them away. When doing that I saw the tire knobs pull away from the tire thanks to the damage from the nails and of course the hissing got worse. Having lots of sealant in the tire, I did what I could to lean the bike over on the side with the holes and roll it down so the goop could glop into the holes and save my bacon.

The hissing lessened but didn’t go away.

26×4.8 tires inflated to a street-legal pressure of 18 psi have a lot of air to give, so I jumped on the bike and got rolling fast; again with the idea of letting the sealant spread and seal. I got maybe a block before the lessened but continuing air loss meant it was time to stop and refill. Here’s where having the lightweight, emergency electric bike pump made all the difference. In short order I had the pump connected to my tire and battery and it began noisily refilling the now almost fully flat tire. Once the tire got reasonably firm I disconnected, stuffed the pump into the kangaroo pouch and got rolling, all the while hearing hissing, still. I repeated this process two more times on the way home. After the third refill, the hissing stopped. FlatOut sealed a massive series of holes and today, weeks afterwards, the tire is still holding that same amount of air.

It remains to be seen if the tire can be considered reliable for long term, long range use. I have been riding other bikes in The Pacific Fleet recently until I can take the time to do a full post mortem. But bottom line: FlatOut got me home and averted certain disaster. It gets my enthusiastic seal of approval.

The Bag Bumpers

Problem: the Great Big Bags are so big, they exceed the length of the frame structure. The padding keeps them from flopping around, but they can still curve inward and, on the drive side, touch the chain which is very close by. That chain is a chain saw on the fabric and you’d better not let it contact the bag for long. Also in the rear the bags can be worryingly close to the tires – still 2-3 inches away but it would be nice for them to keep their distance period.

Solution: Re-purpose the existing M5 bosses that Surly used for the stock Dummy Bag mounts. Attach a 36″ metal strip, whose function is pretty obvious just looking at it:

Figure 1: Initial test fit. This fit uses smaller washers and the strip is upside-down as noted below.

Pretty straightforward stuff. Whats not so straightforward? I think Surly did a pretty solid job of engineering this frame so its sturdy where it needs to be and flexible when it needs to be. They don’t need me re-engineering the give and take this frame was designed to deliver under load. So the challenge is to create a rigid structure that keeps the bags from intruding into the wheel well, but at the same time does not provide unexpected structural rigidity.

A stiffer frame sounds great, until you realize you are adding rigidity selectively. If flex is a part of the frame design, then its going to happen one way or another. I would rather it be distributed as the manufacturer intended rather than restricting all of the forces to exert themselves in a new spot, in a way the designers didn’t anticipate.

So here’s how we do that: first and foremost, I drilled an oversized (M10) hole at the front anchor point. Additionally, I sandwiched the connection in front and behind with rubber washers that themselves are captured on both sides by stainless oversized washers.

That big hole is off center on purpose. You hang the strip so it lies roughly centered. Then it can still flex without hanging near its edge (Figure 1 is a test fit and its actually upside down in that pic).

Also note the steel washers above were swapped out for wider ones to fully capture that rubber washer in between.

Just an oversized hole doesn’t fully allow the frame to flex as designed. You need a long slot in the back to further allow unrestricted frame movement. I created this by hand using a time-tested – and ugly – method:

  1. Mark your material with a Sharpie.
  2. Drill a line of pilot holes with a small bit. Yes it looks sloppy.
  3. Drill out the pilot holes with a larger (M6) bit.
  4. Hand file to a squared-off rectangle slot. Not quite finished in the last pic at right.
  5. File the face of the strip on both sides to debur it after all that filing.

When done, bolt it on. If I had this to do over again I would add another half inch of play fore and aft just to be sure I achieved my goal here.

Yes, of course I replaced that rusty old bolt after this test fit.

The Inexpensive, Custom Frame Bag

Custom frame bags cost a small fortune. Mine cost me $40 delivered to my doorstep. I use a vendor on EBay named Uraltour. Four bags purchased from that vendor so far and all are sturdy, heavy cordura with perfect fit around existing frame bosses and whatnot. You can specify width and since I am buying bags that will hold 18650 battery packs, I insist on a 10cm width. Maybe you can get away with 9cm. Don’t use the default of 6cm unless you have different needs. He will also work with you for shapes other than triangles.

See the little red whatsit up front? Thats my charge cable with a waterproof cover. Ask for flaps top front and rear for cables.

The downside? Well, his business name provides a clue: He’s deep in the middle of Russia. So mailing stuff from Russia to the USA can take at least a month and possibly two. My first bag took three. But thats life. A USA supplier would have provided me with excellent bags, at a much higher price point. Oftentimes they are booked up and you’ll wait months assuming they will take the order at all. Not being able to get a US vendor able to take my order was what made me go looking for another source and finding this vendor.

The Shelf

The space just behind the top tube on the Surly Big Fat Dummy – just ahead of the rear rack supports – is wasted space. A few owners have had custom bags made for this area. I more or less built my own cargo shelf out of odds and ends.

  1. A small bit of aluminum flat bar stock roughly 4″x16″ (I forget the exact size… I had it in my garage from a previous project where I was making a rack floor for another bike).
  2. Another small bit of flat bar stock, about 4″ wide and 10″ long
  3. Leftover 3/4″ ID Silicone hose
  4. Some leftover Great Big Bag closed cell padding
  5. An M6 bolt, washers, a nut, an unthreaded spacer, four zip ties and some Gorilla tape.

Showing pictures of the thing make it pretty easy to figure out how I used the above parts.

The silicone tubing is used to pad the frame. Just slit it down the middle and fit it over the frame tubes. It’ll hold and stay on its own.

Look under the bolt on the crossbar. There’s a spacer with washers underneath so the bolt doesn’t just bend the floor plate up towards the frame.

The padding covers the big floor plate, and the gorilla tape covers that to make a big padded shelf base.

The smaller flat bar plate and zip ties make for a backstop for the shelf. Its sitting at an angle and the last thing you need is for your stuff to slide into the wheel well. I painted mine black but gorilla tape could be used on it as well. Drill 4 holes for the zip ties.

If you look over at the post on A Proper(e)Bike ToolKit – which spells out the BFD’s tool kit – the cheapie MOLLE bag I use there is sold in a pack of two. This is where I use the other one.

This is how I carry along my super duper Pragmasis hardened steel noose chain and U lock.

I keep the keys in the bag with the lock so I never forget them.

The Quick-Detach, Carry-On Battery

I wrote this up as its own separate thing. Check it out here.

Big(ger) Brakes

The SRAM brakes that come stock on the Surly Big Fat Dummy are good, but on a bike that can take on extreme loads and terrain, they need to be great. I literally use the same brakes on all my bikes.

  1. Magura MT5e 4-piston brakes. The ‘e’ means they have a built in cutoff cable that I can plug into my BBSHD or hub motor.
  2. 203mm Tektro Type 16 rotors front AND rear. These are downhill rotors that are 2.2mm thick. Magura brakes are meant to work with 2.0mm thick rotors (typical quality rotors are 1.8mm thick). The Magura calipers will work with the Tektros albeit only barely with fresh pads. Often when I set up a new bike, I swap in partially worn pads from one of my other bikes and give that other bike new pads. By the time the new bike wears thru these swapped-in partially worn pads, the rotors have enough wear that they can take new Magura pads no problem.
  3. Magura MT7 4-piece pads. I still use the 2-piece MT5 pads that come with the brakeset, but as soon as they wear out, I switch to the MT7 pads, which fit perfectly. They have the performance advantage of delivering significantly more measured torque according to reviews. They also can be taken out with your fingertips without removing the caliper from its mount. MT5 pads on the other hand come out from the bottom and to do that you have to dismount the caliper. So better performance and easier maintenance.

The Big Battery

Fopr most of the life of this bike I have been using a 52v, 17.5ah battery pack I bought in 2017 from Luna Cycle. This pack has a 50a continuous BMS and uses 25R cells. The pack has been in use on three successive bikes over the years and has seen almost daily use, with two charge cycles per day since I charge at the office and at home. However, thanks to my ridiculously rigid adherence to best practices when it comes to battery charging, that pack has almost miraculously lost no measurable amount of its original capacity.

However, a bike this size eats power. Especially the way I ride. Recently I purchased a 21ah pack from this vendor and have been very pleased with it. It only barely fits in the Size Medium frame triangle, but it does fit.


The End?

For the Surly? Hell no its the One Bike To Rule Them All. Really, its a great bike and I intend to ride the wheels off of it.

Is it the end of the mods to this bike? Pretty much I think, with the exception of the summer wheels I’m making up using the MYOBDs and a pair of Apache Fattyslick fat tires, for that Kojak street commuter look. Since its a true slick, we’re talking summer wheels for sure. But maybe not as I live in California and like the old song says, it never rains here.

Kickstand Kaos

A whole page on a kickstand? For a bicycle? If you are riding a 100 lb freight train whose weight can quadruple when loaded up, there’s more to ponder over than you might expect.

The Surly BFD Project Menu
Prologue
Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?!
Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders
Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos (you are here)
Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar.
Episode 5: Leftovers
Episode 6: Electrification

The Surly Big Fat Dummy is a fantastic bike, with one widely acknowledged weakness: The kickstand.

There are those out there – possibly this includes the staff at Surly – who say this is a feature and not a bug. The BFD after all was created as a bikepacking, overland trailblazer. You don’t need no steenking kickstand since you can just lean the bike up against a cliff face, or an axe handle.

Begrudgingly it seems, the Big Fat Dummy is delivered with a kickstand that on any normal bike would be pretty sturdy. Alas on this monstrosity, it is adequate only when the bike is empty, and woefully inadequate when loaded.

How do I know this? Well, ask around any user group, but insofar as personal experience goes: On my first shopping trip with my new freight train, I went to Costco and loaded up four packs of soft drink cans. Since this was Costco, each of those four packs holds 36 cans. Thanks to a total lack of planning and intelligence on my part, I created a load where just the soft drink cans weighed over 100 lbs.

Memo to Me: When shopping on a bicycle, pay attention to how heavy the cart is before you leave the checkout line.

So, my wideloaders were sturdy enough to handle this. My great big panniers were more than big enough. But… how am I planning on loading the bike, then loading the (14 lb, 2-meter) chain and u-lock, and only then climbing on the bike and rumbling across and out of the parking lot? During this loading process, I learned first-hand how important a solid stand was. The next 15 minutes after this picture was taken were a big adventure.

Figure 1: All quiet at the bike rack… things are about to go horribly wrong.

Moving Forward

So, the problem is obvious: If you are using the BFD as a cargo bike and not a bikepacking bike, the kickstand is way out of its league. Has to be replaced. Period. Talking to folks on the various Surly user groups, the Rolling Jackass with its roughly $400 price tag is the best commercially-available solution.

Its DIY Time

I wasn’t ready to fork out that kind of money. I was bound and determined to build my own stand, and I had an idea. How tough could it be?

If you have seen my article on the wideloaders for the Surly Big Fat Dummy, you may have noticed (and seen mention of it in the post) there were some oddball fittings pictured that served no purpose in the published design. That is because I planned an integrated kickstand as part of that project.

The idea went thru a number of iterations. I started with the idea of using simple ‘pegs’: a 3-way elbow on the outside edge, with a length of tubing extending to the ground and terminating in a rubber crutch pad. Place it maybe in the front, or perhaps the rear. Perhaps one on each side, or maybe the front and rear of just one side… what about front on one side and rear on the other?

After mulling the possibilities, I came to the conclusion that every type of peg idea was fatally flawed. There was just too much potential for the bike to fall over while attaching the pegs, or removing them. Especially loaded.

I ended up settling on this: use a 4-way elbow joint on the inner, forward tube joints. Form the actual stand from two pegs attached to one another by another tube to make a ‘U’. And furthermore, make the ‘U’ stand up on its own with another 4-way tee sprouting two short arms that become stabilizing props. This will let the stand be placed in position without someone holding it while the bike is set up onto it.

Its a whole lot easier just to show a picture of the final product than it is to describe in words:

Figure 2: Crossbar with standy-up crossbrace thing completed

By the way, I used the same marine rail fittings that I used for the rest of the wideloaders, so these connections, with a little Vibra-Tite, are guardrail-solid.

The whole idea of making it self-standing was a happy accident sprouting from my need to turn two leftover short pieces of pipe into a full-length crossbar. the 4-way tee was a leftover itself, that I thought I was temporarily pressing into service. I didn’t think to add tubing and feet to the two unused, open holes until I glanced over at more leftover parts lying on the floor. Adding this self-standing (and load distribution) feature turned out to be crucial once I actually tried to use the stand.

Figure 3: This picture was actually taken before Figure 2, during initial construction/guesswork.

And this is what ended up working. I measured the vertical tubes so they only raised the bike up by a bit off the ground. This was crucial as attachment was achieved by lifting the front of the bike up and simply plunking it down on the stand. This is the part where inadvertently making the stand able to sit upright turned out to be (very) useful.

Attaching the stand is easier to do than it sounds. Load on the bike is on the back wheel. Lifting the front is not very difficult even when the back is loaded. And keeping the rise low on the stand is important because it means you don’t have to lift up the front too high.

Removal is also simple. Lift the bike up and the stand falls away (sizing is crucial for this to happen so the stand doesn’t hang up inside the fittings). Push the bike back an inch and set it back down. Grab the stand and toss it into your panniers.

It Works! more or less…

Success! And I still had $400 in my pocket, but… really… after using it for about a month every day, I found the attach/detach process was kind of a pain. As an exercise in problem solving… as a fun project… it was great. But as an expected convenience used with a daily driver. No bueno. And if you have wondered to yourself if, while lifting that bike onto, or off of, the stand it might just fall sideways… I had a few close calls but it never happened, even with a full grocery load.

Still, if your use of the bike is more occasional, this could be a viable option to add into your wideloader project.

Or skip the wideloaders, do a short front crossbar only, use simple single elbows for the stand pegs and work out how to flip it up and down… You could make just a stand with a little more effort and some smarts.

Figure 4: Kickstand/workstand in use

I ended up relegating the kickstand to a portable work stand, and bought the Rolling Jackass (they can both fit). In Figure 4 above I am at a city park, with the bike up on the ‘work stand’ so I can clean and lube the chain. The work stand does a better job than the Rolling Jackass because the latter can come undone if you mistakenly push the bike forward. Not possible with the fixed stand. I like doing basic maintenance at a park after a ride so the time and effort to make this stand was not time wasted.

A short Afterword on the stand…

I made one more improvement – sort of – that might be more successful for someone more determined than I was to see it through. There was a second issue beyond just lifting up the bike and putting it down onto the stand. That lift was actually fairly easy. The real potential for annoyance was if the stand shifted a hair, or my aim was off by a smidge, and the bike hangs up and sits atop one of the open tubes of the stand, rather than sliding into the fitting. Solution to that was to walk over and give it a little kick which, 9 times out of 10, would work. Sometimes not if my aim was really bad, though, and I would have to retry the process. Like I said: an annoyance.

The boat rail fitting itself has an internal chamfer to make fitment easier. And there is quite a bit of extra material there to allow you to hog it out further to make a much bigger well. That would work great. But these are steel fittings about 3mm thick. My poor little Dremel’s grinding wheels just polished that steel and little else. Something bigger and badder was needed and I wasn’t up to it at the time (the job needs a drill and a big internal chamfer bit).

Instead, I rounded off the ends cheap and easy with 7/8″ round end caps. this worked perfectly, but the caps are so tall they make the stand a bit wobbly, since so much less of the pipe is now in the socket.

Pop this onto the tube end. Problem solved.

Whats Next?

So, we went round and round with the kickstand and in the end, bought one and use the other for a work stand. Fine. I’m not done yet as there is one more goofball problem to solve.

Where I work, I am lucky to have my own private garage where I can park the bike, hook up a charger, turn on a couple of industrial fans to blow the sweat off me and change into proper work clothes. I’ve even got a small air compressor, a big rug and a nice padded chair.

There’s only one problem… to get into that garage I have to make a U turn through a narrow walkway under some stairs.

Figure 5: uh oh…

It was never an issue until I built a bike almost three feet wide and over 8 feet long. Yeah I sort of didn’t really focus on that until after I had the build completed. You’ve probably heard the story about That Guy who bought a pickup and then realized he couldn’t fit it in his garage? What an idiot, right?

Problem Solved!

Use the little dollys that people use to move around pianos and pool tables.

Figure 6: Choose your product carefully. A lot of them have horrible reviews.

Throw one under each leg of the kick stand and just wheel the thing around as you please. Easy peasy.

Figure 7: Hello Dolly! Note the Rolling Jackass, and the still-in-place elbows for the ‘work’ stand.

Moving the bike into the office garage through that narrow entryway is a snap. Without them its still possible but involves a lot of dragging and lifting and fighting and cussing.

Last But Not Least (At Last!)

Take a close look at Figure 7. At the feet of the Rolling Jackass kickstand. Underneath them. Looks like some kind of disc or foot? Well, it is. If you refer back to the Frankenstein boots for the Ursus Jumbo, I did essentially the same thing here. The idea was the steel feet of the Rolling Jackass – are thick steel. they will probably last a long time, but I want them to last forever. I also park the bike in places where I do not want the floor scratched (like the marble floor of my bank’s lobby. Yes really).

Using the same process I described in my other post on the Jumbo, I layered on about 10-12mm of Shoe Goo… the artificial shoe-leather. It became a flexible but durable sole to the Jackass’ steel shoes. Before applying the Goo, I roughed up the smooth steel surface of the feet with some power tools.

10-12mm may seem thick, but that thickness is necessary to keep the edges of the steel feet from digging into the ground as you lever the stand into the down position.

The security guard at your bank will thank you for taking the time to go that extra mile.

Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar.

The Surly Big Fat Dummy has a great big deck in the back. Using a 40″ kicktail longboard and some hardware, Lets make it bigger. And a double decker to boot.

The Surly BFD Project Menu
Prologue
Episode 1: 138L (each) Panniers… Seriously?!
Episode 2: Big Fat Dumb Wideloaders
Episode 3: Kickstand Kaos
Episode 4: Add a Flight Deck. And a Hangar (You Are Here)
Episode 5: Leftovers
Episode 6: Electrification

In the Beginning…

Back when I put together the Mongoose Envoy Project, I used a skateboard deck to cover over the long, but only marginally-useful-on-its-own rear framework to create what ended up being an aircraft carrier landing deck.

I started out with a 33″x10″ double kicktail which I mounted on top of eight 25mm tall by 13mm dia. spacer posts. The idea behind the spacers was to give me some working room to attach a net to the top of the deck, and have room to easily mount its hooks to those posts. It worked well, but I left money on the table with only a 33″ deck. I could go longer. So I did. I found a 40″ longboard with a single kick and mounted it on 10 posts, this time.

It was great, but of course, I thought I could go one better. So I scored a 44″ double-kick longboard, and – since the 25mm posts were a bit fiddly trying to get my fingers in that small space – swapped out for taller 40mm replacements. I also made some other improvements, and that deck remains on that bike as you see it here to this day.

Fast Forward To The Present…

Now I have a Surly Big Fat Dummy, and I want to do the deck idea one better (AGAIN!). I still have the 40″ deck left over from the Mongoose build. Since the BFD is already like 8 feet long I don’t need something that makes it longer, so this ‘shorter’ deck will do just fine. I drilled some new holes, repainted it and took the spacers a step further.

The Next Level (literally)

Unlike the Mongoose, which had nothing but a framework, the Surly Big Fat Dummy already has a pretty good deck as it is. On the Mongoose Envoy I was trying to cover over the bare framework and make something useful. This time I am trying to make something already useful more so.

To preserve the utility of the existing deck, I went with much larger spacers. That created a ‘hangar’ under the deck of this aircraft carrier of a bike. This new hangar’s purpose is to house things that need to be carried along, but generally kept out of sight. Stuff where I can benefit from it being reasonably handy, but kept out of the way.

Great Idea. But first I had to assemble the parts and make the thing.

To give plenty of room between decks, I went to McMaster-Carr and acquired ten 3″ long alloy spacers, 5/8″ outside diameter, sized for 1/4″ bolts. Then I went to Pegasus Auto Racing and, after measuring the exact stack height I would need, grabbed ten AN4 1/4″ hardened airframe bolts of the proper length, along with ten AN970 hardened large-area washers for 1/4″ bolts (for the top deck side) and a bag of AN960 1/4″ x 0.32″ flat washers, where I would need 30 for the deck underside, plus the top and bottom sides of the alloy dummy deck. I wrapped up the party with ten AN365 nylock hex nuts.

Airframe bolts have a specific thread length designed to fit a single bolt and a single double-thick washer. This project uses 4 washers of two different varying thicknesses. Measure carefully.

Wow thats a lot of hardware

Like my previous decks, I wanted to use enough spacers and bolt anchor points to make the deck an integral, structural part of the frame. No wiggling possible. Part of what it takes to do that is to use the widest spacers I can find (the 5/8″ OD are it, and dictated why I couldn’t stay metric). To further solidify the connection laterally, I needed washers everywhere clamping everything.

You can still see the holes from when the deck was bolted to the Mongoose, as well as the holes for the trucks that aren’t there anymore.

And excepting the spacers themselves, its all Grade 8 hardened steel. Its. Not. Moving.

Notice also I used hex bolts and did not bother to work with countersunk heads, matching washers etc. as with the previous decks. This thing is spray painted in truck bedliner to help keep things from sliding around, and the hex bolt edges do the same job.

Airframe bolts exist in a wide variety of very finely diced sizes. I am not giving the size I used because the ones you may need will vary according to the thickness of your top deck.

Here’s what the finished assembly looks like up close:

Now that the aircraft carrier has a landing deck, we find out what we stuff down underneath in the hanger.

Up front, fitting just barely between the front posts, is a 3-amp weatherproof adjustable charger that is a permanent companion to this ebike. In the middle is the toolkit for this bike, containing a pump and all sorts of other goodies. It fits just between the two sets of spacers so it can be dragged out the side. And in the back we see a big thick plastic ziploc freezer bag wedged in between the rear 4 stanchions. Thats the in-case-of-disaster emergency inner tube.

Since then I have added another little jewel:

Thats right. A folding chair. Held rattle free thanks to the net. Stuck in line at curbside pickup? Have a seat and relax.

Take the crap off the top of the deck and you have yourself a work table. Or a coffee table. Or a picnic table. Its 40″ long so use your imagination.

See that net? Its 30″ long before it gets stretched out, and since I ordinarily have the Great Big Bags on the bike, I generally do not need to use the top deck for storage of items up so high. But when I do, that nice long cargo net does a great job.

Here is one of the rare times the bags are full and I need to stack something up on the deck other than a rolled up jacket

Now What?

Got a Big Fat Dummy? And a drill? And a skateboard? Make yourself one of these. Next time you have to sign a peace treaty, host a banquet or make off with an emergency supply of toilet paper… you got this!

BBSHD Programming For The Pedaling Cyclist

(But Not For The Throttler)

WARNING. Before you start fooling with your BBSHD settings, take a photo of each screen with your cell phone. If you screw up, you have a quick reference back to your original settings.

Once you get through this article, check out the follow-on article that slightly refines these settings a bit further.

The subject of what settings to use when programming a BBSHD comes up now and again. Its a question with a fairly complicated answer that does not lend itself to your typical Facebook 2-sentence post.  So here is the long version. I have my own suite of settings that suit my personal riding style.  I am primarily a pedal-pusher: I want to get exercise when I ride, so I seldom use the throttle. But if you try to take that throttle away, you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead thumb.

So I want pedal assist that does the following:

  1. Doesn’t lug the motor.  All that does is turn electricity into heat.
  2. Conserves power and extends range.  See above.
  3. Keeps me working, but not too hard … unless thats what I want, and then it has to let me do that, too.

Interestingly, with both my Mongoose Envoy Project and Surly Big Fat Dummy Project, I found what worked great for me on other BBSHD-equipped bikes was completely ineffective on a cargo bike.  I frankly haven’t figured out why this is, but I think it may be because my older builds were just that: Older. Something maybe changed in the firmware.  My PAS settings that conserved major amounts of power while pedaling wound up being totally inadequate. I needed to step up some settings, which I will describe below. While my settings then vs. now are quite different, I don’t see any real penalty in range.

Feel free to tinker using both and see for yourself what happens to your own motor.

How do you program a BBSHD?

Strictly speaking, you don’t. As a for-reals programmer who for most of his life made his living writing code, I have to point out this is not programming even if everyone calls it that. The BBSxx line of motors have a quasi-hidden settings interface. With the right software you can gain access to those settings and simply change them, resulting in big differences in behavior.

Myself, I am using the Black Box sold by Luna Cycles (available here).  The Black Box makes it much easier to go on a ride, tweak as you go and get things just right after only one or two rides. Also, I literally have a half-dozen bikes now with one of these motors. The initial expense of the tool is a lot easier to justify if you are sharing it across the Pacific Fleet.

The other way to do this is to spend about US$18 and buy a laptop cable. Then you use your existing Windows laptop to host the app that you will use to make the aforementioned changes. Here is one place to get that Windows app. I started out doing it this way, but as laptop operating systems evolved I found it increasingly difficult to get Windows to accept the cable’s right to exist. I don’t miss fighting with it one bit.

If there is such a thing as a bible on how to program your BBSHD, its Karl Gesslein’s blog post on the subject (read it here).

If you want to know everything about programming your motor, you should read the blog post linked above.  That post is the definitive tutorial on the interwebs, despite its age.  All I am doing here is calling out some of the things I have done that deviate from the norm, work for me and why it seems that is.  So I will not be explaining things as if you have never seen any of the BBSHD settings screens before.  This article assumes you have at least read the above blog post and familiarized yourself with the screens and settings.

I am not showing original factory settings. Your motor may have settings your vendor considers proprietary. So I am showing screens I have altered and then calling out the bits I consider important.

The BBSHD’s settings are presented on three separate screens: Basic, Pedal Assist and Throttle.

The Pedal Assist Screen (2 of 3)

Yes I know. I’m starting out of order. Its easier to understand this way.

Much of what is on this screen… you shouldn’t mess with. I’ll just hit the high points.

Regardless of what you see here on my own screen, I strongly suggest you leave the first three settings alone unless you know exactly what you are doing.

The Pedal Assist screen on 2Fat – my ti-framed 2wd bike whose motor dates back to about 2016. I use these settings on new motors as well.

Start Current

The lower you set this number, the more gentle it is on the controller and your drivetrain. Experimenting with lower numbers will make life easier on your rear freewheel pawls, and chain. Setting this number low is especially helpful if you are running a cargo bike under load and want to be extra careful. Setting this to lower numbers may also be too little startup assist – remember the purpose of the motor is to help you get off from a standing start. This setting only applies to pedal-assist power delivery.

A typical default number here is higher; often around 10. I have found kicking it down just a bit more is much better for your drivetrain if you have a heavy (cargo) bike; especially one that is loaded. Even if its not a cargo bike, how bad can it be to beat on your drivetrain less? Remember you can always mash the throttle if you want <clarkson> power </clarkson>.

UPDATE (10 May 2021): 
No more messing around:  I now use a setting of 5 here to match the same setting on the Throttle Screen below.  The reduced wear and tear on your drivetrain is well worth it and there's no downside to a smooth startup.

Slow Start Mode

This setting determines how gentle the ramp-up is on your power on start. Starting up too fast can kill your motor’s controller so beware. I am using the lowest setting published in the article I linked above. Here again, why create a situation where you could end up blowing your controller or chewing up your chainrings? I stay on the conservative side.

Stop Delay

A common complaint on the BBSxx motors is that you can stop pedaling and the motor keeps going for what feels like a full second. Its a valid concern. 5 is the lowest safe number for the BBSHD so thats where mine is. This setting effectively means your motor stops when you stop pedaling.

BUT it also leaves a hair of rotation which you can use to your advantage when shifting gears: Stop pedaling and in that instant execute your shift. The shadow of remaining power and rotation will be enough to gently complete the shift (SRAM gears will shift in about 1/4 rotation) and you can start pedaling again almost instantly. I call this a ‘stutter step’ in my cadence and I personally prefer it to using a Gear Sensor which automates the process. Tomato-tomahto. Depends on how you learned to use the drive as to which you like better.

Current Decay

This is a big one. Current decay helps decide when your motor cuts power based on your cadence. A huge complaint about cadence sensing is it causes the bike to run away from you and the rider is just spinning the cranks… its called ‘ghost pedaling’. This is part of a complete solution to that problem.

My philosophy is (and plenty of people disagree with this) if I can pedal at a high cadence I don’t need power assist, since I can spin the cranks. By cutting the power back when I start spinning (a.k.a. “clown pedaling”), I not only reduce power consumption and increase range, I also create a scenario where I either keep going on increased amounts of muscle power (which a high cadence demonstrates I can pull off), or I decide to shift to a higher gear, thereby naturally slowing my cadence and telling the motor to give me back some power.

This in turn has the effect of letting me ramp my cadence back up and increase my speed. Done right, this is much closer to a natural cycling experience and either lets me a) haul ass to my destination on the streets or b) get a hard workout. Or both.

Why would anyone disagree on this point? Easy: If you are running a powered bike on singletrack, and you hit a steep hill that is all muddy and root-strewn, you need to spin to keep yourself going up that hill. If the bike gently ramps back power on you, well thats a dirty trick indeed. So… remember what I am describing here is maybe the magic elixir for street riding; but not for an eMTB running hard singletrack.

Stop Decay

This is another setting that helps govern how fast the motor shuts off when you stop pedaling. Zero milliseconds sounds good to me. Stop Delay determines how fast a motor begins its shutdown after you stop pedaling. Stop Decay determines how fast it fully shuts down after the shutdown begins.

Keep Current

This is another companion to Current Decay. When Current Decay decides to cut back power, this percentage determines how much power you keep. So by setting mine to 40%, I am getting a 60% power cut when I spin my legs past the Current Decay threshold. And my Current Decay setting determines how steep the offramp is down to the lower power level.

Here again remember what a bad idea this can be on an eMTB. This is for city riding and commuting, where you want the benefits of boost but you also want the option of getting some exercise and your terrain is reasonably predictable.

The Basic Screen (1 of 3)

The BBSHD is capable of supporting up to 9 assist levels.  Actually its 10 since there is a Level 0, but that level is (nowadays) a special case that you pretty much have to leave at a special setting and can’t adjust.

Each level is defined with two numbers.  A Current % Limit and a Speed % Limit.  They are, in a word, opaque in terms of what they do, and not easy to understand.

Also I have achieved great results in entirely different ways on different bikes. I’m going to show multiple screens.

This is my ‘old school’ screen. It works as a power-sipper on older BBSHD motors. I can not use this on motors I have built bikes with in maybe the last 2 years.

Note the Level 0 setting of ‘4’ with a speed cutoff of 30%. The intent there was I never really want zero power on pedal-assist and Level 0 provided a very mild bump for times when I am pedaling slowly and going slow… like when on an oceanside bike path loaded with tourist pedestrians, and I am just barely exceeding walking speed.

Here’s the ‘modern’ motor, pedal-assist-friendly version. Note the 25a power reduction (and ignore it).

This one is apportioning quite a bit of additional power, level by level. On the newer motors, this is what it takes. The 25a power reduction shown on this screen is specific to this bike and not something you should read anything into. Just know that the Current box is where you limit the amps for regulatory or other reasons (i.e. this is your maniac child’s bike).

Whats with the Assist 0 setting of 1 and 1 above? Its a requirement of newer BBSHD motors. If you set it to anything besides 1 and 1, you wind up disabling pedal assist. This is far from my preferred setting as you can see above. I originally used Assist 0 for sort of a crawl mode when wending my way through tourist-laden sidewalks, where I’m going just a bit faster than a walk and don’t want to run anyone over, but still want a touch of power. Bafang’s release firmware is a moving target so if this changes I’ll amend this note.

  • Current % is when the power cuts out based on road speed.
  • Speed % is when the power cuts out based on motor rpms

Whats this ‘cut out’ stuff?  Well, remember the ‘decay’ and ‘keep’ stuff we described when going over in the previous screen? These settings help determine when that kicks in. Clear as mud? You’re not alone. ‘Counterintuitive’ is the name of the game when messing with your Bafang motor settings.

Screen 3 of 3: Throttle

So… the pedal assist levels are on the Basic page.  Makes perfect sense. Strangely, the throttle settings are on the Throttle screen.

See below. This article was updated and ideal Start Current is not the same as pictured.

There are only two things that, really, you should be fooling with here.

End Voltage

Generally this stops at ’35’ or 3.5v. What that gives you is, effectively, a throttle that has two speeds: Completely Off and Full Blast. Not really but it will feel like it.

Instead, if you set End Voltage to ’42’ (4.2v) the result will be a smooth, linear throttle where it will be easy to, say, blip out only 200w of throttle-based assist to your motor while you are struggling to get going after a stop. Being able to dribble out just a bit of power is something your cassette pawls – and your wallet – will appreciate after a few thousand applications. No more clanging noises coming from your poor, soon-to-die rear hub.

Start Current

Hey waitaminute… we had Start Current on another screen too! Yes we did. But that one was Start Current for pedal assist. This one is Start Current for when you mash the throttle.

If you set this to, say, 10%, that means the initial beat-down given to your cassette body by the cluster (that gets jerked forward by the equally unhappy chain) is only 10% max the power of the motor. The rest of the power you asked for gets poured on a split second after that. But the initial shock to the system is reduced by this setting, which has obvious benefits. For a heavily loaded bike where you want a smooth startup on throttle, setting this down to 5 (or less!) should be considered.

UPDATE (10 May 2021):
Having done some experimentation, with the wider throttle delivered by the End Voltage setting of 42, a Start Current of 5 is much better.  Set to 10, the least throttle I can deliver is about 150w or about 1-1.5a (using an 860C display set to display both values simultaneously).  Set Start Current to 5 and that minimum value is about 50w and 0.5a.

Wrapping it all up…

So there you have it. This is FAR from a comprehensive tutorial on the subject. Remember also that everything done here is done for a BBSHD that is running a 14S/52v power system, so if you are, lets say, running 48v… its possible you may want to jigger some of the assist levels a bit upwards. But now you can do it with a starting point.

Last Note:

The settings above are my personal settings. Starting from a stop, my assist will not kick in until crossing 5 mph or roughly 8km/h. If I want assist from a standing stop thats what I use the throttle for. Remember: All this pedal assist sturm und drang is wiped away if you just use the throttle and make it go.

Remember… Take pictures before you click Save

A Basic (e?)Bike Tool Kit

Rather than looking at the ideal kit, whats the basic everyman version?

Lets Not Get Carried Away Here…

In my previous post, I laid out my idea of an ideal tool kit for my current daily driver/commuter/shopper/cargo bike. That sucker is one big bike, and given its nature, I can carry along a lot of crap with me (like a chair!) without really noticing. I thought maybe it might be a nice idea to toss out a short post supplementing that one, showing what I carry along on a much more normal sized ebike.

So, without further ado, lets see all the stuff:

The Patch Kit

As I noted in the other post, I am using kits I made myself of bulk patches and bigger vulcanizing fluid tubes. I save a little money, can carry more patches in the same space and get a little better container. If you just want to cover this base and aren’t into buying patches 100 at a time, the Rema Large Touring Kit has been on the market for decades, largely unchanged, for a reason (since I was a kid riding in the 1970’s, they improved the sandpaper. Thats the only change). It will suit you just fine.

Rema Large Touring patch kit: The gold standard. Throw away the instructions

The Tire Levers

No discussion of alternatives this time. These Park 6.2 levers are sturdy and thin, so they fit more readily in a small kit. Over time as I mentioned in my other article, I have tried many different levers and settled on these. They’re worth the extra money.

Very thin plastic coating, metal core with smooth exposed metal edges… The best lever I have found, on balance.

A Tire Patch

If you encounter something that puts a major slit in your tire, you need some way to limp home. The Park Tire Boot is basically just a great big gooey glue patch and probably the best overall solution to this. Another one is to pull a dollar bill out of your wallet and line the tire under the slit with it. Still another: Wrap duct tape around the outside of the tire and rim and suffer thru the thumpThumpThump on the ride home (I have done this and it really works). But a tire boot is the cleanest solution and may even be a permanent fix if the tire is not too badly damaged.

A Tire boot is different from duct tape in that the goo on the patch will really stick – forever – on the flexible corded tire surface.

Small Pliers

At minimum, small needlenose pliers. Why? To pull out a bit of stuck metal or glass from your tire. If space permits in your bag, bump that up to a small multitool with a pliers attachment so you can count in a knife, screwdriver etc.

Pocket Knife

If you bumped up to a multi-tool above, you already covered this base.

Stubby Hex Wrenches

I used the long version of the Bondhus hex wrench set in my big kit. But usually I use this shortie version of the same wrench set. If I was REALLY trying to save weight I would pull out all the wrench sizes I don’t use, but you never know when you could use an extra little pry bar or brace ;-D

Short Adjustable Wrench

If you have a hub motor, then you need one of these to remove your wheel IF NECESSARY. While a big wrench is always easier to use as a lever, you should be able to use a small 6″ wrench almost as effectively. Make sure you need one of these for wheel bolts before you bring it along.

Its not big. But its big enough. Check to be sure it will operate in the available space on the frame – in your garage before you need it.

c02 Inflator and cartridges

This is something you will keep in a separate bag of some kind. It is your backup inflation method – that will be your primary in some cases where you need to blast in a lot of air fast to get a tire back up to pressure so the sealant inside can do its job. Usually that means blast in a cartridge, jump on the bike and ride a half block and pray the hole has sealed. If it does, use the pump to get it back up to a rideable volume. I haven’t discussed co2 before so this is what I used:

C02 inflator

There are many out there. I have settled on the Lezyne inflator and have half a dozen of them. You can save a buck or three on something different, but this model has a regulator that doesn’t stick out so it can get bent in your bag. Its reliable over time and multiple uses. Its just a clean, reliable example of the species.

Super small and reliable. Best of breed.

co2 Cartridges

Bring as many as you can figure out how to carry. Especially if you have a fat bike. I use this brand and size (25g) of co2 cartridge… but the price they want for 9 is about what I paid for a pack of 30 of the things. Prices have gone way up on these bulk cartridges in the year or two since I bought them. Shop around and you can get a better price, but not a lot better. For tires that are not fat tires, you can get away with 20g cartridges.

Pump

Here again you have multiple choices. If you have a road bike you will want a high-pressure pump. If you have a mountain bike you will want one slanted towards high volume. While I generally like the Lezyne line of portable pumps, I have one of these and its a great alternative. The T handle in particular is worth a lot when it comes to delivering a hundred pump strokes, but also the screw-on chuck and the floor-mounting ability make it a standout. Typically a pump is either in a separate bag or strapped into a mount on one of your water bottle cages. This pump does have a cage mount included.

A Bag to hold all this Crap

I use an under-seat bag, personally. The one I decided I liked that holds all my stuff is a 1.5L bag found here on EBay that you can also find on AliExpress, so long as you are willing to take the usual risks associated with buying direct from a Chinese vendor (I did).

I have 4 or 5 of these bags. Cheap, roomy, well-made and they stay put.

There are many other alternatives. This one looks promising. I like velcro as it stays put where adjustable-length snap buckles tend to slip.

Chances are pretty good a bag like this will be large enough to handle more than the tool kit, like your keys for sure and maybe your wallet as well (or a couple-three co2 cartridges!).

The End

I think. We’ll see if people come up with more questions on this subject on the FB groups where posts like this one are used to provide more in-depth answers.

A Proper (e?)Bike Tool Kit

You need to carry tools as a matter of routine. Especially if you ride daily for transportation or commuting. But what do you really *need*?

This is the companion post to “(e)Bike Flat Prevention“. In that post, I talked about how best to prevent the inevitable: Flat tires. Well, since they are inevitable you had better be able to fix one when your luck runs out. Part of that process is having the right tools for typical roadside jobs.

If you think there is too much stuff in the bag here, check out the Basic (e)Bike Tool Kit as a more mainstream alternative.

As I mentioned in the initial post on this subject, I ride pretty much every day by choice. Day in, day out. If it is raining I’m riding. Same for when the sun is blazing. I’ve been doing it for many years and over time I have experienced quite a lot in terms of pratfalls, mishaps, bad decisions and just plain rotten luck. One of the benefits of experience has led me to make specific choices with regard to the tools I bring along with me on the road. I see some folks bringing along the kitchen sink, including bandages, spare electrical wire and diagnostic equipment… All kinds of crap. I’ve been there myself, but if something hasn’t been used in my kit in awhile, it gets left at home eventually. The reverse goes for something that totally saved my butt. Its got a spot in the kit for life.

So… what does the kit look like? I’ll use the BIG one on my Surly Big Fat Dummy. It is larger than some of my kits, but not by much. I’ll go over the whys and wherefores of every item and you can decide if whatever it is I am including is something you want to leave off.

Lets See All The Stuff

Whats Missing?

Before I go into all the details, lets talk about what you cannot see.

The Electric Pump

I wrote up a post not too long ago on an emergency electric bike pump that uses the ebike’s battery so it can remain lightweight. That pump is on the It Saved My Ass list so its always included. As you can see in the linked article, I keep it in a cloth pouch and generally it sits at the bottom of one of my panniers.

The Spare Tube

I carry one of these whether I am running tubeless or not. Its the last line of defense between me and trying to carry the bike home. The spare tube on my Surly is located in the ‘basement’ deck at the back, in a ziploc bag. Where it will hopefully remain forever.

One item I am not discussing in this post is seen front-left in the basement: a weatherproof, adjustable battery charger as discussed in this article devoted to showing you how to make one

The Bag Holding All This Crap

Its a straightforward, cheap canvas MOLLE pouch purchased from Amazon. You can see it in the basement in the pic above, held down by a velcro strap and taking up most of the center section.

Yes it is a pretty big bag, but its also a big bike and fits perfectly in the basement rack.

The Chair

Yes thats right. A freaking chair. This is my newest addition and it got included after I had to stand one too many times in a sun-baked parking lot waiting for curbside pickup. A simple folding 3-corner stool, it can be used either as a seat at the (skateboard) table, or anywhere around the bike while I work. Much better than squatting on the ground or kneeling.

The chair tucks in under the side of the deck using the net I’m already using to hold stuff down on top.

This is a luxury that, realistically, is only possible with a larger longtail bike, or at the least one with a rack you can lash a chair to.

A luxury made possible by an 8-ft long cargo bike with a 40″ deck out back.

  1. Tubeless Tire Repair Kit (from Lezyne)
    I use FlatOut as a tubeless sealant and it should seal holes up to 1/2″ (I already have seen it do its job up to about 1/4″). But stuff happens, and a tire plug kit like this (same idea as the ones sold for car tires) is what you use to seal up a tear in your tire that your sealant doesn’t want to plug, or you just feel better about repairing – these plugs are a permanent fix. A tire plug is not going to make up for torn tire casing cords. In all but extreme cases you can use one of these and forget about the damage the hole made to your tire.
  2. Tube Patch Kit (home assembled)
    I make these up myself. You can buy them cheap, but with all the riding I do, it makes more sense for me to buy a pack of 100 patches and stuff about a dozen of them, a snip of flexible sandpaper and an XL tube of cold vulcanizing sauce into an empty prescription bottle. That bottle has an adult-proof cap and a hard shell superior to the plastic boxes the full kits come with.
    Note that generally you would use this kit only if you are running tubes. I keep it along just in case I meet a fellow rider who has flatted on the road, or the off chance I can make use of it myself

  3. The Ridiculous Tire Lever (from a set of 3)
    This is a tool reserved only for when I am desperate. It is in fact meant for a motorcycle and it is a solid piece of steel. A tool like this can easily damage a bicycle rim or tear open an inner tube so while its included in the kit, its there as a last resort only.
  4. Sturdy, Safer Tire Levers
    I have tried many different tire levers. The Park TL-6.2 steel core tire levers I use these days seem to be the sweet spot between sturdiness and usability, and have never bent or broken on me. Before I switched to these I ran Pedro’s tire levers, which are cheap and smooth enough they pretty much never pinch a tube. But on really stout tire/rim combinations, they like to break, so its always smart to carry more of them than you need, and expect to keep buying them to replace broken ones.

    Before I used those levers, I used the Portland Design Works 3Wrencho. I had three and bent two of them. Also the plastic on the lever side likes to tear away (something the Park levers don’t do).

    Since we are ticking off the also-rans, these Schwalbe levers were pretty good, and don’t take up much space. But they are definitely breakable and the edges on the lever can tear into a tube.

  5. 6″ Needlenose Pliers
    These are your basic, garden variety small-ish needlenose pliers. I have them listed as going in the tool bag, but these are actually in another secure location where I can grab them fast. Why? Because when your tire is hissing air, you may or may not be able to remove the foreign object with your fingers. It could be a sharp bit of steel or jagged glass. Pliers will always be a better choice than bare fingers for grabbing that. Since you have to remove larger foreign objects so the tire sealant can do its job… keep pliers handy. You can jump off the bike, pull out a nail, jump back on again and keep riding like nothing happened.
  6. Long T25 Wrench
    Most folks will have no use for this. But, I use Magura brakes. Magura has decided NOT to honor the M6 hex bolt standard used by the entire rest of the industry, and instead uses a Torx T25 for all their fittings. So I have to keep one with me. I keep the green plastic store card on it so its easier to find in the bag.
  7. Pocket Knife
    Bit of string. Handkerchief. Some hard candy. Pocket knife. Gun. Stuff a guy needs on general principles. Tossed onto the pile. No purchase link because of course you already have several.
  8. Chain Pliers
    Nowadays, chains use master links and don’t need chainbreakers (usually). Sure you can use a bit of your shoe string to separate a master link, and there are other tricks to reassemble one… but the right tool for the job weighs almost nothing and takes very little space. The pliers in the picture above are made by Park Tool. But these cheapo chain pliers work just as well at half the cost. I have a few of both. Make sure you buy a pair that can both separate and assemble (some just do one or the other).
  9. Battery Charger Adjustor (#0 phillips screwdriver)
    Since I carry along a portable, adjustable, weatherproof charger on this bike, A little screwdriver is needed to adjust the pots that govern target voltage and current (amps). Even though the one in my kit is inexpensive, an electrician’s insulated screwdriver like this is overkill. You can find something much smaller, like an eyeglass repair kit screwdriver.
  10. Metric Hex Wrenches
    Even though, on a bicycle, you only need about four sizes, I carry the whole set. For this XL bicycle with an XL toolkit, I am using the extra long ball-end wrenches. But for most of my bikes I use the short length wrench set. This is easily the heaviest tool in the kit, but its also the most useful. I like the USA-made Bondhus wrenches because they are a) cheap and b) made of strong tool steel. They will not round off.
  11. Chainbreaker (aka “chain rivet removal tool”)
    With master links now being in common use, a chainbreaker (and the black art of its use) is no longer essential on the side of the road. However, this tool can be the only one capable of fixing chain issues that decide if you are riding or walking. This mini version by Park is a bit more expensive than others, but it is very small – just large enough to use effectively. And it has something a lot of chainbreakers don’t: a second ‘shelf’ that the chosen few know how to use to unfreeze a link.

  12. Sized, Spare Chain (with fresh, reusable master links in the bag)
    This is the third and largest of the chain-related tools in this kit. A whole freaking chain! With the number of links needed to serve as a proper emergency substitute. In the case of this 11-speed Surly longtail bike, that means I have to use two chains sectioned together to hold roughly 210 links. If I am using the factory-stock 11-speed drivetrain, that means for normal daily riding I run two 11-speed ebike chains. Not cheap at almost $100 for the pair (thats the COVID shortage price. You should bargain-hunt when you don’t need them. I paid about $28 each for mine).

    Why bring a chain? Because we are using a mid drive for power-assist. Mid drives can eat chains. So just as you carry a spare tube and a patch kit… the smart mid drive rider brings along a spare chain. Goes with the territory.

    Since this is an emergency just-get-me-home chain, I use two KMC X11 chains, which only cost about half of the ‘e’ chain.
  13. 4″ and 6″ Adjustable Wrenches
    You’ll want to look at whether or not you need an adjustable wrench at all on your bike. In my case I do have some hex bolts with nuts. Realistically I can get away with just the 4″ wrench and as such I will probably get rid of the 6″ even though it is not especially large.
  14. Brake Blocks
    These are a good practice to use when pulling off a wheel if you have hydraulic brakes. Depressing the lever when the wheel is off the bike extends the pistons way further than they were meant to go, and that can cause the caliper to leak fluid… onto the pads. Thats a disaster that can even mean replacing the brake caliper. You can also use a popsicle stick, a bit of twig off of a nearby tree or a key from your keychain. But the Magura brakes I buy come with these brake blocks for free so I carry a pair along.

    The fact that these stupid things cost almost $10 each to actually buy is ridiculous. I have a stack of them from owning about 6 sets of brakes so that means I could sell them all on Fleabay for over $200?
  15. Fat Tire Hand Pump
    Now that I have the emergency portable electric pump, this one is a backup. But lordy… trying to use a hand pump to re-inflate a flat fat tire is a nightmare! But this unique Lezyne Micro Drive XL portable pump is a modern miracle. It will turn 400-500 pumps into … well, 200. Thats still awful until you sit down roadside and try and pump up a fat tire with 500 strokes of a normal portable pump. Then… only 200 is freaking great.

    Note you can also use 20g or 25g co2 cartridges – you’ll still need more than one cartridge of either of these expensive XL sizes. I have both. But since I have gone to using the portable electric pump, I have taken the single-use co2 inflators and cartridge piles out of service.
  16. Padding
    All of this junk in the bag does two things: a) it does not fill up the bag and b) it rattles around as I roll over things. So I stuff in some padding to help keep things from rattling. this yellow closed cell padding is extra left over from when I lined my Great Big Bags. It serves a second use: A knee pad for when I am down on the ground. Another excellent candidate for this sort of padding is a sized slice of Thermarest Classic padding.
  17. A Nice Soft Towel
    I roll up my adjustable and hex wrenches, plus the Ridiculous tire lever in the towel. Between the padding and the towel, there’s no rattling in the bag when the bike is going over bumps. Plus, a towel will always come in handy somewhere.

A Word On Tool Use

I try NOT to use tools that are half sized for easy packability, or otherwise downsized somehow (particularly multi-tools). When I work on my bike at home in my garage, I try and always use the tools in this bag. The idea is, if I am used to them – and they are as close to full size as is reasonably possible – then I am not handicapped when sitting on the side of the road, trying to do a job with tools that are half-assed.

Epilogue

So… thats it. All of the tools I carry on the bike. And yes thats plenty. But bear in mind this is a big bike and I am counting things in like pumps and chairs and such that take up a fair bit of space, and ordinarily aren’t looked at when it comes to tool kit inventory. I have plenty of bikes where all of the tools fit into a pouch behind the seat, and a frame pump is attached to a water bottle mount. What you see here is the most complete, more better version that, if you have the capacity, should solve all of your typical problems.

oh, and don’t forget to bring along your phone and at least a debit card 🙂

(e?)Bike Flat Prevention

As a daily rider for decades, I have some thoughts on this subject. Mostly along the lines of “no flats allowed, ever”.

This is Part 1. Part 2 focuses on tools to carry. This post was updated on 27 Dec to report the results of the tubeless installation with FlatOut sealant.

So… I try to ride to work every day. My office is 4.4 miles from my residence, but since I am trying to get as much exercise as I can, I may take up to 15.5 miles to get there. Thats all on city streets, which translates to potholes, nails, staples, steel shards, rabid rats and whatever else the mean streets throw at me.

With one break of about 15 years, ending about 5 years ago, I’ve been doing this since the mid-1970’s, and that includes shopping and errands as much as possible. I do actually own a couple of cars, but I’m trying to completely replace them.

I bought this station wagon factory-stock to carry bicycles without needing a rack… things got out of hand (Location: T8A @ Sonoma Raceway)

As such, I have spent more than enough time on the side of the road, dealing with punctured, flat and damaged tires.

There are five patches on this tube. It lasted until Hole #8 was finally too big to fix.

What Not To Do

Be a weight weenie. If you want the most responsive ride, and are willing to work thru flat tires to get it, fine keep your wheels light weight, your tubes ultralight and your tire casings thin. Thats not me and we’ll be doing the polar opposite of this philosophy: going almost literally for Bulletproof.

What TO Do

Everything described here is about flat prevention. I have tried just about every anti-flat tech there is. I won’t be describing all of it and just focus on where I have evolved to today – probably after trying a lot of other things that you are thinking about trying yourself. I am this kind of guy: I use the best. Not because I can afford to throw money at the problem but … because I need to keep rolling; not walking. Nothing sucks worse than flatting on a cold winter night after work (well, maybe getting hit by a car but you know what I mean). What you see here is what I’d call state of the art to keep me on the road and not on the side of it.

Belted Tires

If you have a bike where such tires can fit, these are the Holy Grail. I have found, for instance, the Continental Contact Plus City tire is to all intents and purposes invulnerable. I found it also wears like iron, so you will get lots of miles out of a set. It is E50 rated so its got a seriously sturdy casing.

It is less expensive than the Schwalbe Marathon Plus (which garners all the mindshare for this class of tire) but essentially the same performance: Flatproof. The Contis are cheaper because in part Continental is fighting to take market share from Schwalbe, and partly because they sell into ebike rental fleets where cost is a big factor.

If you can get this tire on your wheels, consider it seriously. Be aware however that it rides hard. In other words it sort of feels like you are rolling on a smooth rock (full suspension would be a big plus). Thats the price you pay for modern, genuinely flatproof tires so either live with it or look to a different solution.

If you have a fat bike, don’t worry about what flatproof tires would do to your ride comfort because you can’t get them for fat bikes. They would weigh a ton.

Thorn Resistant / tough / Smart Inner Tubes

I’ll make this simple: If using tubes, use thornproofs wherever possible. Always. Here again, if you own a fat bike you don’t have to worry about it because they don’t make them for fat sizes. Again because of the colossal weight.

For fat bike riders, scan the marketplace (it changes by the month) and look for the thickest tubes you can get: 1.2mm is the most I have been able to find, and only sporadically. The thicker the better.

What do I mean by “smart inner tubes”? Well, the tubes aren’t smart but you need to be when choosing the size. This is a little counter-intuitive, but you want to always try and oversize your tubes. If you have a 26×2.8″ tire, a 26×4.0″ tube is perfect for it. Why? Because the tube doesn’t blow up like a balloon inside of the tire. In fact it may not be distended in the slightest.

Try blowing a balloon up full and then barely touch it with a pin. BOOM. Now take another balloon and just put a puff or two of air into it, so its barely stretched out. Tap it here and there with that pin. Different result entirely. That same idea holds for tubes. The trick is if you are doing this, you are going to need to work more carefully to get that tube in under that tire safely without it getting pinched under the bead (top tip: Barely inflate it so it is not sufficient to hold shape… that will happen when you are stuffing the tire onto the bead). Once the tube is safely in and the tire is mounted, you are golden.

Oh and, like I said you need to be smart. So when using oversized tubes don’t overinflate the tire past its rated max. You will find that using a bigger tube means it is capable of tearing your tire apart from the inside. I’ve never seen anyone actually do this. Just Sayin’… don’t be That Guy.

DIY Belts Under Tires

There are many such products, with Mr. Tuffy being the oldest of the bunch and arguably the most effective. I started using Tuffy ages ago when it first came out, on road bike tires. That polyurethane formula was damn near impregnable. You did have to fiddle with it a little to get it centered on the tread, but the result was well worth the effort. Sadly I have found that the new-generation Mr. Tuffy that is made for Plus sized and fat tires (XL thru 4XL sizes) never met a nail it didn’t like. My Tuffy 4XL had a zero percent (0%) effectiveness rating at turning nails. I gave it plenty of chances to redeem itself. Its hard to hate the Tuffy people too much for this as a properly thick belt would (drumroll) weigh a ton. Sound familiar?

After decades of swearing by Tuffy, on fat tires I was forced to abandon it for what I consider to be its natural enemy…

Tube Sealant (Slime!)

With Mr. Tuffy failing to deliver in fat city riding (maybe it still works on goatheads), I turned to the most widely available and well known alternative: Slime tire sealant.

Remember… I am riding with tubes and not going tubeless. You CAN use tubeless sealant in inner tubes. I suggest you don’t. I have used both Stan’s Tire Sealant and Orange Seal Endurance Formula in tubes. Both did a great job of sealing the tire once the sealant leaked out of the holes in the tube… but the air kept coming out of the tube and leaked thru the spoke holes (that means a LOT of sealant gooshed out along with the air… that is a mess you need a toothbrush and an hour per wheel to clean up).

To be fair, I did have instances where both sealants worked to seal goathead thorn holes on a tubed tire. But after the above catastrophic failure (lots of goatheads… like 50 per tire) I abandoned tubeless sealants in tubes. They just do not have enough fibers to seal more-stretchy tubes with the same level of reliability as tube sealant.

Get the right TUBE sealant not the green-label tire sealant

Where was I? Oh right… Slime. Tubes. Slime worked very well for me, I found if I could hear the hiss-whack-hiss-whack-hiss quickly enough, I could jump off the bike (stopping first) pull the nail, jump back on and get rolling with enough air still in the tire the sealant could plug the hole. If I wasn’t so fast I might need some co2 to give a fast rush of air so I could get that roll on. And if I did have a leak that didn’t seal up completely, many times it slowed the leak enough I could turn and haul ass straight home so I could do my repairs sitting in my garage, with a soda and a sandwich, rather than sitting on a rock, or on the curb in the sun.

Slime was of course, a mess. A huge mess in some instances. But it worked. However it is only rated to work on holes up to 1/4″ in size. Over that and you could be walking. I’ve had that happen more than a few times (we’ll get to tools and roadside repair in the follow-on post to this one).

Slime is rated to last about two years before it dries out. I’ve had it dry sooner (about a year). Once its dry its worthless. You really should just replace the tube at that point as its really heavy and won’t do you any good any more. With respect to dosage: Rule of thumb from user groups (my experience is the same) is to double the recommended dose. A fat tire bike can and should use a full 8 oz bottle of the stuff. Work down in dosage as your tire size decreases.

While Slime has been knocked off of its pedestal by the following product, it is still in wide use across the bike world. Thats why I am leaving a full discussion of Slime here rather than ignoring it as old news…

Tube Sealant (FlatOut)

So… Slime dries out and it is only good for holes up to roughly 1/4″ in your tube. Is there something better? There is and its called FlatOut. You want to use the Sportsman Formula for a bike.

Unlike Slime and most sealants out there, FlatOut is advertised to last for “10+ years” which translates to “forever”. It doesn’t dry out.

It also advertises itself as working on holes up to 1/2″ wide. Double the size of Slime and other sealants. I’ve only been using it for several months and about a thousand miles, but it has already sealed a few holes for me… one of which was a piece of jagged metal so large I doubt Slime could have handled it at all.

Again… get the right version!

It was enough to make me start believing the 1/2″ hole claim. Between that and what you will see I say about using FlatOut in a tubeless setup below, I’m fully satisfied its a better product.

The label on FlatOut indicates nowhere that it can be used on bicycles of any type. Hearing that others had been using this but nobody could say for sure if it was fit for purpose, I called FlatOut and asked. I got hold of their product manager responsible for bikes. It turns out the Sportsman formula was tested extensively by a manufacturer who made hunting ebikes: for hunters heading out to game stands and blinds in the boondocks. The recommended dose for a 26″x4.0+ tire is a half bottle (16 oz). The recommended dose for a Plus sized tire is about 12 oz. For smaller tires… figure something out or call them and ask for guidance.

So the dosage for FlatOut is quite a bit more than the amount that you would put in for Slime. On the plus side, its a one-time application that should last the entire life of the tire: Set it and forget it.

Tire Armor

This one is kind of a new category unto itself. By and large it has one credible product in the category: Tannus Armour. Basically its just what it sounds like. A barrier that completely surrounds and protects the tire. Flexible enough not to ruin your ride and tough enough to stop stuff from coming thru.

There are a number of sizes. I can say the difficulty of installation can vary widely. My 29er has two slightly different tire sizes, one of which required a trim to fit. Difficulty of installation ranged from difficult to almost impossible. But I got it in. For those two installations I used thornproof tubes underneath and that probably kept me from damaging the tubes during the installation battle. Centering the armour under the tread was also difficult.

For the two fat bikes I have it installed in, both went in much more easily. One bike with 100mm rims and 26×4.8 Vee Snowshoe XL tires went smooth and easy. If anything the Tannus protected the tube completely as I levered the tire bead back onto the rim.

My second installation with 80mm rims and Vee Mission Command 26×4.7 tires was more difficult, but still ok. Part of the reason was the fact the claimed 4.7″ tire size is baloney and the Vee Mission Command is really a 4.3″ wide tire.

A couple of 26×4.0-4.8 Tannus inserts laying out so they flatten after being stuffed in their boxes.

I did try a third fat installation that was a complete failure. Using 80mm Surly My Other Brother Darryl rims and 26″ x 4.00″ Arisun Big Smoothies. Even after trimming, I (and my Local Bike Shop who gave it a try themselves) failed.

I have heard complaints about the ride with Tannus underneath the tires. I can say I have felt a difference – best description I have heard is the tires feel ‘dead’ in terms of responsiveness – but on an ebike meant for city travel its not something I give a darn about. I’ll take the flatproofing over a loss of responsiveness. Also there is an obvious unsprung weight increase. Again… I’ll take that over a flat any day.

In the spirit of overkill, I also used FlatOut in the tubes under the Tannus Armour. So far so good no flats. But if you ride long enough you know you can go months with no problems… then your luck changes and you get three flats in a week.

And speaking of overkill, on my Bullitt I am using belted tires, Tannus Armour, thornproof tubes AND FlatOut… Rolling > Walking.

Super Moto X with Greenguard belt in the front, Marathon Plus Beyond-Category belt in the back. Both have E50 casing, both have thornproof tubes and FlatOut inside them.

I have also seen photos of Tannus Armour that has, over time and miles, compressed to being paper-thin. I’ll have to see whether that renders its protection less effective. Since as I mentioned above, I like to oversize tubes and the tubes I used under all of my Tannus installations were a bit over. In particular I used Vee 26″ x 3.5-5.0″ tubes which are small enough to work but also capable of fully expanding. So maybe that was a good choice given this potential scenario.

So only time will tell. Still, I have high hopes of at least some efficacy.

Tubeless Setup

Running tubeless is a whole different world. Here again, the right choices are simple and for simple reasons. You just have to hear what they are and the benefits should be obvious.

Tubeless Valve Choice

See the metal lip on the bottom of the Versavalve? Valves that don’t have them seem more prone to pull thru or eventually leak.

Any valve with a metal lip on the bottom. There aren’t too many of these on the market. The ones I use are from MBP and the Orange Seal Versavalve. The MBP valves are a bit less expensive but still totally solid on quality. The Versavalves give you more stuff along with the valve. Particularly a valve core remover that screws onto the valve and stays with the wheel permanently, staying right where you could need it as opposed to being *somewhere* but you are not sure what pouch you put it in when you need it.

Why does that bottom lip matter? Because it provides a solid backstop for the gasket that sits on top of it. When you screw down the valve the gasket is smooshed into the rim hole; sealing it to the rim whether it wants to or not. For a different kind of valve with just a rubber gasket glued to the bottom, well if you have to screw it down tight, you could end up pulling the valve clean thru the rim. Also the valve is not held in a vise like it is with a metal lower lip.

Like everyone else on the planet I first tried Stan’s Notubes valves and sealant. I found these valves worked perfectly on the first seal, but over time – especially when adding air down the road – they leaked no matter what I tried (including the standard pliers-on-the-valve-nut bit). Replacing them with MBP or Versavalves solved the problem instantly. Stan’s valves do not have a metal lip on the bottom.

Tubeless Sealant

In the long history of Serious Tubeless Sealant, there are only a couple of mass market players.

Stan’s Notubes Sealant

Ask any internet gathering what sealant to use and you will hear a chorus of “Stans“. And to be fair, the stuff works, and it has been on the market for years reliably keeping people rolling rather than walking. I am one of them. But being the first to market, and not really having noticeably changed over the years, I don’t think its the market leader anymore in terms of performance. You can depend on it, but it has some limitations. For starters, it dries out fairly quickly. The mfr says it will last from two to seven months. Thats not a lot but back in the day it was still a miracle just to have the stuff in the tire with no tubes, and for it to work. In my experience Stan’s lifespan is a lot closer to seven months than it is to two. This may be because I use it in thick-casing mtb tires.

Next, its formula has ammonia in it… and that can be corrosive to your rims. Yes really. Google it for details if you like. Suffice it to say this is not a good thing.

Lastly… remember I mentioned that Stans dries out fairly quickly? Well how it dries is a bit of a subject all to itself. Google “Stan’s boogers” and click on the image results to see what it becomes. This translates to your not only needing to add more sealant, but to also clean out the boogers on occasion.

Orange Seal Endurance

The Other Leading Brand (which seems to be slowly replacing Stans as the de-facto recommendation) is Orange Seal. By all accounts, it works a little better than Stan’s to initially seal up stubborn wheels. Depending on who you ask, it either lasts longer. Or not as long. Yay internet! The Endurance formula is advertised to have a lifespan of six months. I have found this 6-month span to be about right. And when it does dry out… no boogers! It dries into a thin, spread-out, easily removable coating on the inside of your tire. Not enough to throw it out of balance. So every few months you add more and you can ignore cleaning it out.

Orange Seal and Stan’s both seem to last longer than advertised. But both have a finite lifespan.

So which is better?

Both work fine but I give the nod to Orange Seal for convenience and no corrosion issues. One thing is for sure: Both of these sealants are more suited to small pinholes (think goatheads) than they are large tears…. jagged metal and your garden variety construction site drive-by pickups. They just aren’t made for that kind of puncture. Even Slime is better at that sort of thing thanks to its thick gooey fibrous nature versus tubeless sealant’s watery liquid latex composition.

There are some new kids on the block, however, that seem to eat the big stuff up.

Black Ox Sealant

This stuff is amazing. Just watch the videos on how it seals tires up. Whats not to love about it? Its brand new on the market and relatively unknown at present. I contacted the mfr and asked them about the product’s longevity. They responded that they are still determining that (like I said… new on the market). For that reason, I’ll keep an eye on it… and wait and see.

FlatOut

Yup… FlatOut Sportsman Formula. Same stuff as was described in the Tubes section above. On the Amazon product page linked here there are videos of ridiculously large holes being nearly instantly sealed by this stuff. When I discussed the product with them, they noted they have versions for military use that seal holes up to 1.5″ wide (not highway safe but they don’t need to be). I can personally confirm FlatOut sealed a hole on one of my bikes, from a large jagged piece of metal, that I doubt Slime could have handled… Never mind Stans or Orange Seal.

And since this article was originally written I had this experience, which is the worst nail puncture I have ever experienced.  On any tire with a tube or without.  FlatOut solved the problem.

It seems the equal of the Black Ox stuff in terms of sealing hole size, and they say out loud it lasts the life of the tire. FlatOut is also a lubricant so I can see using a bit of it on the lip of the rim helping to mount a tire (instead of the dish soap I use now).

In my discussion with FlatOut I asked about using it as a tubeless sealant… something they had not tried or tested. I had a game plan as a result of that conversation where they suggested to ensure an initial seal at bead seating, paint the bead with FlatOut to ensure that initial pop and seal, then load the tire up thru the valve core as usual.

Did it work? Well, I put it into play the same day this post went live, and here’s the update: Yes. Perfectly in fact. The bead-painting trick was not necessary. the bead was seated as usual with a blast of compressed air, and the sealant added after this just like any other tubeless installation. In the first few days I was losing about a pound of air per day and expecting to need to refill each tire roughly once per week. Since then the air loss has slowed and I have only needed to refill air once in about a month, after the first week. Tires are still holding without any apparent loss.

I’m running 90mm Nextie carbon deep dish rims, 1″ gorilla tape over the center depression (a unique issue with my rims) covered over by 85mm Whisky tape. 26″x4.7″ Vee Snowshoe XL tires on top.

From the looks of it, I have a sealant that never dries out and is capable of handling some of the worst things that can happen to a bike tire.

Exciting!

How Do I Bed My Brakes?

Brake bedding is a process almost nobody does and everybody should. Its a requirement on performance cars that are taken to the race track. Its the same procedure for any type of vehicle.

Preparation

Put your new, fresh pads in. Have a place with lots of traffic-free runoff available. Usually your local neighborhood streets are good. You want an area where you can ride for at least a half mile without touching the brakes, and which has so little traffic you can do the following:

The Process

Assuming this is an ebike

  1. Get the bike up to its maximum head of steam. 25 mph. 28 mph… whatever. Go fast.
  2. Apply ONE of your two brakes with firm pressure. Do NOT slam them on. Get the bike to decelerate firmly but whatever you do don’t lock up the wheel or stop the bike. NO MATTER WHAT. Pads sitting directly over a single spot on a rotor being bedded – or worse still clamped to that stationary rotor – will make the rotor cool unevenly and thats how you warp a rotor in seconds.
  3. When your speed has decreased to, say… 10 mph… accelerate again to your max.
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 15-20 times. Yes this is a lot and that excess is deliberate. Take it out to the furthest reach of your test area.
  5. Return slowly and steadily to your point of origin. Do not touch either brake if at all possible. This is the critical cooling off phase, where you ensure you do not damage your brake rotor after abusing it in the previous steps. At this point your brake rotor should be blackened and smoking. Thats a good thing as it means pad material was transferred to the rotor surface, which it can bond to thanks to your overheating it like you did. Now you have to let that rotor cool. Above all do not stop. Do not touch the brake lever of the caliper that was just bedded, unless you must for safety. If you need to brake, use the other brake that you didn’t use on this current run. But try to pick a spot where you can just do this procedure and safely putter along back to your start.
  6. Repeat Steps 1-5 this time using your other brake caliper.
This rotor was just bedded. Note the discoloration. Immediately after the run it was oily black and smoking. The discoloration fades very quickly.

The Point

What you are trying to do is deposit a thin coating of pad material evenly across the surface of your brake rotor. This will aid in properly stopping the bike, and typically also lessens or eliminates brake squeal, if you have it. To get this material transfer the rotor must be HOT. Thats why we overdo the braking process – to generate that excessive heat.

On an ordinary neighborhood bike, bedding is not such a big deal. On an ebike that gets up to some serious speeds, and may even be an automobile replacement used on city streets, its a lot more important.

A Lightweight Electric Emergency Bike Pump

Got an ebike? Use the big battery you are already lugging around to power a small portable pump.

Me personally, I like to ride around on ebikes with fat tires, and I have several of them. The most recent addition to The Pacific Fleet is my Surly Big Fat Dummy. Its a monstrous cargo bike that, for me, doubles as a commuter. A few nights ago, on my way home from work – in the dark – I picked up a piece of twisted metal in my back tire. Part of the reinflation process (I use Flatout tire sealant so you need air in the tires as they spin around and seal the hole) requires air in the tires.

Because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, by the time I got the bike pulled over and the metal removed, my 26×4.3″ tire was flat as a pancake. Fortunately, I had a painless solution in my panniers and that solution is the subject of this post.

Now, when it comes to bicycle commuting this ain’t my first rodeo. I have always carried a Lezyne portable fat bike pump and it makes pumping fat bike tires tolerable. But its still far from ideal. Life sucks while you are putting in those 250+ pump strokes. And it ain’t quick by any stretch. If your tire is leaking air while you are pumping, the pump may not be a workable solution. As a backup I used to carry 25g co2 cartridges. Two of those monsters would blast a fat tire up far enough, fast enough, to be able to jump back on the bike and roll a half block or so to let the tire sealant do its job. Followed by another 250 pumps to get the now sealed but mostly-flat-again tire back up to rideable pressure.

But… you can only carry so many single-use co2 cartridges, and they are very pricey at that large size. Some time ago I came across a better way to deal with this issue.

The Portable Pump Solution

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just connect a hose to a small portable compressor, flick a switch and pump up your tire? And the compressor pumped fast enough to outpace even nail-sized holes in your tube or tire? Well, portable pumps like that have been around for quite a while. Small automotive ones connect to your cigarette lighter plug in your car (I have this one in mine). Unfortunately they run on 12v DC. Your ebike is running at least 36v DC and likely more. So you can’t use those. There are plenty of pumps available that have their own internal battery… but batteries are heavy and so are those pumps. Besides. You already have a great big battery on the bike. Why can’t you use it?

Well, you can but you need a pump that can run on 48v. Fortunately they do exist but you have to look for them. Here is the one I use, purchased from Amazon.

Yeah yeah. I know. China. If you can find a USA-made portable pump that runs directly on a 48v power source, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll add it in here. As it stands, there are only a very few such pumps readily visible on the market and they are all from the Far East. I have used them a half dozen times without incident. Will they last forever? Good question. I do still carry my hand pump just in case.

DIY a Battery Plug

As you may have noticed from the pictures, the pump has an odd plug on it. What you want to do is plug straight into your main battery. To do that you are going to have to get your hands dirty. From here on, I’ll give a step-by-step on how to make this happen.

Step 1: Snip off the plug

View of the cut off plug and spread pump wires

This one is pretty simple. Take a pair of scissors and snip off the plug.

Step 2: spread and strip the wire ends

You can see the wire strippers I used in the picture above. I used the 18ga hole, and I left about twice as much bare wire as I ordinarily need for a crimp connector. These wires are so thin I want to fold it back so the butt-end connector I will use has more material to grab onto.

Step 3: Determine which wire is hot

Yeah thats right. The plug gives us no indication which is the hot wire, so we have to figure that out for ourselves. What I do is bring out a bike battery and connect a bare XT90 pigtail to its output cord. This in turn gives me a bare, hot lead that I had sure better be careful with, and so must you.

View of the bare hot wire setup
Those are bare live wires on the end of that pigtail! Be careful.

So the next move is to bring the bare, stripped pump wires up to the bare battery wires and – after turning on the pump, touch the wires together to see which combination fires up the pump. Getting it wrong will not hurt anything. Just try the other combination if your first try doesn’t work.

View of the marked hot wire next to the live bare wires
When you know which wire is hot, mark it. I used a bit of red heatshrink pushed over the wire end.

As soon as you have marked your hot wire, disconnect the pigtail so you don’t have bare hot wires waiting to say hi to the cat.

Step 4: Make the connection

My choice for this job is a combination of the following:
1. Marine adhesive butt-end connectors
2. Adhesive heatshrink over the individual wires on each side
3. Adhesive Heatshrink over the butt-end connectors

I’m looking to make a reinforced and solid connection since the wires on the Chinese side are pretty flimsy. Here’s what it looks like after I have crimped the wires together, but before I have done the final heatshrink of first the connectors, and then the sheathing over them.

overall view of the connection prior to heatshrink activation

Notice the different colored rings on each side of the connections?

Closeup view of the wire connectors

I used ‘step down’ connectors because the pump side wire was so much thinner. 18 gauge if we are being generous and probably 20 gauge if we are being accurate. This is why I folded the pump wires over to double them up. Which will only give more material to the crimp itself. The true strength of the connection comes mostly from the connector ends, plus the adhesive sheathing over top of that.

Step 5: Activate the Heatshrink (last step)

Finally, heat shrink the connectors first, then the individual wire sheaths, and finally the connector sheaths that also go over top of the individual small wires. BE CAREFUL on the pump side as the pump wire is very intolerant of heat and will happily melt on you even with mild heat. I use a heat gun set to low. You could get away with a hair dryer. I wouldn’t want to use an open flame due to the fragility of the pump wires.

View of finished plug
The layered heatshrink is not particularly flexible but it greatly strengthens and stabilizes the connection.

Epilogue

View of finished pump
I have added a Presta adapter to the end of the pump hose. Because I opted for a strong rather than a flexible connection, the battery plug no longer folds into the cubby on the pump.

At this point we just toss our pump into a bag to protect it from everyday rummaging, and that bag into our panniers. We’ll all hope we never have to use it, but we will of course.

View of pump inside carry bag