For me, the choice of brakes are easy: I use Magura MT5e brakes on all my bikes and the Lizzard King was no exception. Poke around and you will see the MT5e is arguably the best ebike brakeset on the planet – even over and above the new MT7e (which provides identical calipers and brake levers… the stickers are different, plastic caliper covers are yellow not silver and the only functional difference is slightly better pads you can buy yourself – after you wear out the perfectly good ones that come with the MT5e’s).
I also use a less expensive but better rotor, as seen in the above headliner photo. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. By and large, this is an entirely mundane brake installation, with the exception of an extra-long front brake hose, plus some tweaks on pad choice. Lets begin with the…
For the rear axle, its a totally generic job. The brake hose simply runs along the guides of the top tube and down the non drive-side chainstay to the caliper. Zip tie the hose to the existing mounts on the frame and job done.
Well, not exactly. You will want to cut down the 2200mm hose that comes with the brakes, and unless you are very careful (it can be done and Magura shows you how in their Youtube videos) you will have to bleed the hoses after cutting them, then reattaching the sized hoses to the lever.
If you are using the standard Bullitt frame kit, you have a Satori Easy Up, which allows you to raise the handlebars temporarily so you don’t bonk a passenger on the head with your handlebars as you ride. When you size your brake hoses, do so with the Easy Up fully extended.
Its the front mount that needs special attention. On a normal Bullitt, running the hose the way Larry Vs. Harry intended, they specify a 2350mm hose length. I heard 2750mm in a discussion with Splendid Cycles, and I think they are more right than wrong by going long. Either number is well beyond the 2200mm provided with the Maguras in their caliper/hose/lever kit.
Note: My needs for running brake hose from the front wheel are different than most because I had a battery box where a normal Bullitt would run its brake hose.
So this is going to be one long hose; longer than is needed on a tandem, so you are going to have limited options. If you dig around, you will find a few sources for extra long hoses. You may hear the recommendation to use one of a couple of extension solutions that use a butt-end connector to bridge two hoses. These will work, but I won’t discuss them because thankfully, I found other options:
This can be purchased on Amazon and comes with a single 3000mm hose. You are supposed to cut that 3000mm somewhere in the middle so it is enough brake hose for both your front and rear brakes. On a normal bike thats plenty of hose for front and rear. For a Bullitt its enough for the front only. You will also have to buy the hose end kit for your brand of brakes. Naturally, those are sold separately. I bought this one for Magura brakes. It should be noted the only reason I bought this is because – most likely thanks to COVID shipping delays and general global chaos across the planet – the next option listed was taking months to deliver. In the end I didn’t use this Jagwire kit because the following finally arrived:
Via Ebay from seller ‘judma‘. There is no telling how long this link will last… The green ones I bought are already gone and only orange and white remain for sale (for now? Maybe they’ll come back?). I didn’t want colored hoses so much as I wanted 1-piece hoses, and this seller had a particularly useful option: I could specify the custom length of each hose. So I specified 3000mm (I actually got about 2950) for the front and a lesser, specific size for the rear. Since these hosesalready had the ends properly machine-pressed on, I opted to use them. However the neon green was a little too bright. I toned it down by covering it with dull green heatshrink tubing, from the caliper to where it entered the cargo area (more on that later) and with black heatshrink after its exit into the sunshine near the handlebars. These hoses turned out to be of top quality.
UPDATE: An Alternate Path
In discussions about this article on the Bullitt – the Dark Side group on Facebook (thanks to Arild V. for bringing this up), it was pointed out Magura sells extension hoses alone in 2500mm lengths. Thats another avenue to the same goal, then: Buy an MT5e kit, still (buying a lever and a caliper outside of the kit is much more money than just buying the kit and stashing the hose that comes with it for some future project). Then buy a 2500mm 90-degree hose. Substitute this hose for the one in the kit. You will have to have a complete bleed kit and all tools necessary to redo Magura brake hoses (you should have this anyway).
If you live in the USA like I do, this is nowhere near as attractive of an option as it is in the EU. Magura brakes and parts are double or triple the cost here. This 2500mm Magura hose in the USA runs about US$65-US$70.
After this discussion I decided to go measure my brake hose on the bike to figure out just how much I cut it down from its original 2950mm. I came up with 2670mm. Could 2500mm work? I’m sure it can for a normal Bullitt. When looking at my hose lengths, remember I had to re-route due to the battery box. This means the hose exits the corner of the cargo box and runs around (and is protected within) the concave rear edge of the honeycomb floor. It comes forward to the steering tube from the inner rear edge of that floor and only then begins its run up the steering tube. That adds several centimeters to the necessary hose length…
Which I didn’t care about as I had plenty of hose to start with. If I had only 2500mm to work with, I’m not certain I could have made internal routing work. Something for you to take into account and puzzle through when you do your own project.
In my initial build, up front I was able to make the stock 2200mm hose that comes with the Magura MT5e brake kits work – and work pretty well. Look at the picture above and pretend you are seeing the stock black hose… I ran the cabling inside thru the cargo bay as you see above, and let it sit naturally along the lower edge of the floor (it’ll stay in the channel created by the edge of the honeycomb floorboard just fine). As it curves back up to the handlebars along the back of the cargo box, it did so in an arc right along the rear bulkhead. Flush to it. Nothing sticking out.
Fitment was fine, with nothing really extra but nothing stretched, either. The hosecame up along the rear wall, out of the cargo box along the extended handlebar stem and then to the brake lever. I added a couple of zip ties to keep it snug to other hoses and completely unnoticeable.
I ran the brakes this way for a couple of weeks while I waited for the longer cabling to show up, and I could have lived with it being like that permanently if I had to. However, if I had needed to raise the Easy Up to accommodate a passenger I might not have been so sanguine about this lazy solution.
Rotors & Pads
The choice of rotors to go with the MT5e’s is a little gimmick I really like. Generally bike owners shopping for rotors only concern themselves with rotor diameter. 160mm, 180mm, 203mm… those numbers sound familiar, right? But what about how thick the rotor is? Well, Tektro type 17 rotors are 2.3mm thick.
Your typical bike brake rotor is 1.8mm thick. Some brands will shave that down to as little as 1.4mm (Avid rotors were thin like this years ago when I was still using them). A thin rotor is lighter and thats nice for your skinny analog road bike. But a great big ebike? Not so much. You want meat on those rotors just like you want great big brake rotors on your race car. Brake rotors are heat sinks and braking is the process of converting momentum to heat. The more rotor you have the more heat it can absorb. The beefier and thicker your brake rotors are, the more it takes to warp them. Or for that matter wear them out.
So, one of the reasons I like Magura calipers is they are designed to take an unusually thick 2.1mm Magura brand rotor. Great. The Magura Storm HC rotor, or its new beefier cousin the MDR-C, are designed for the MT5e/MT7e, and vice-versa. These 2.1mm rotors are considered worn-out when they get to 1.8mm – thats the size most other rotors are sold new. Magura calipers should NOT be used with thinner industry-standard rotors. Thinner rotors extend the pistons too far and could cause them to leak. Do not ask me how I know this.
But what about thicker ones?
At last! We get to the point. I’m using 2.3mm thick Tektro rotors, which were originally meant for the small niche of downhill MTB bikes. Now they are sold by the boatload as ebike rotors with Tektro’s newfangled ebike brake kits.
Is 2.3mm too much for the Magura caliper? Almost, but it works. Since I have so many sets of Magura brakes on The Pacific Fleet, I can pull a set of partially used pads off of one of them, plug those still-usable pads into a new bike build, and let the slightly worn pads give me an extra skootch of clearance. When these pads have worn down and need to be replaced, the fat rotor is now worn a bit and can handle fresh pads easily.
I have yet to wear out one of these Type 17 rotors down to 1.8mm thickness, which is not something to complain about.
On the Front
So, on the front wheel the rotor is the 203mm size. Thats a lot of rotor for a 20″ wheel. I initially used a 180mm Magura MDR-C, coupled to Type 9 Performance (Black) pads. those are the ones that come with new MT5e calipers. I found this combo could easily lock up that poor little front wheel. I was already building another custom front wheel, so the final wheel build used a bigger 203mm Type 17 (even more stopping power, which is not so great) but with downgraded Magura Type 9 Comfort (Blue) pads – a lot less stopping power but great modulation and longer lasting.
The pads were expected to be so much less aggressive that they would more than make up for the bigger rotor, and thats exactly what happened. I still have strong braking performance on that front wheel but now its very nicely modulated so I can clamp down hard without locking up the front wheel and making a spectacle of myself.
Since the Comfort/Blue pad compound is not sold in a Type 8 4-piece pad, I considered replacing them once they wore out with the Type 8S (Green) ebike pads. Still a step down from the Performance/Black compound, but the 4-piece pad config would step up the torque the calipers can apply to the rotor. Hopefully not too much.
That was the plan, and maybe it is something you want to try with your build. But the day I was to publish this post, I performed front wheel maintenance on the bike and saw the pads are down to about 1.5mm already – time to replace them in a couple weeks. The market is such that the Type 8 green pads are very pricey, and the Type 9 pads are dirt cheap from a German bike site. So what the hell I stuck with what I know already and bought 3 sets, along with another cheap Super Moto X tire (also very pricey if bought from a USA source) to soak up the $20 shipping charge and still keep me ahead of the game on costs.
On the Back
The rear rotor is, at present, a Magura Storm HC 203mm rotor. Its a solid choice for a rotor, and of course its the go-to until recently for a factory-matched kit. Why use it instead of the Type 17? Frankly it was in my parts pile and needed to get used up. So instead of playing the pad-swap game described above to fit a fat Tektro rotor, I put on a factory rotor and we’ll wear down the pads some thataway. After 1000 miles on the bike, it is already down to 1.9mm from its original 2.1mm. It won’t be long. Don’t blame the rotor: cargo biking is as severe of a duty cycle as you can get. I use the rear brakes as my primary stoppers with the fronts eased in after the rears engage. I get well-balanced rear brake wear as a result.
Out back I am using the standard-issue Magura Type 9.P pads – the black Performance compound. Ordinarily I only use the Type 9’s initially as they come with the new calipers. I then replace with the more torque-y Type 8.P’s from then on. But here again I have Type 9’s in my parts pile so I am just using this bike to run through them. They work just fine, although to replace them or check pad wear you have to remove the caliper from its mount, which is one more reason why you want to use MT7 pads (a.k.a. “Type 8”) in your otherwise-identical MT5 calipers.
This bike has a Bafang mid drive powering the back axle, and a Bafang hub motor with KT controller powering the front. In my 2wd twin-hub-motor builds, I split the cutoff signal from one lever to both controllers on each lever, so actuating either lever alone cuts both motors.
I learned with the 2Fat build that trying this with a BBSHD and a KT hub controller bricks both motors – they never can start in the first place. I tried every kind of setting or workaround and they have to be entirely separate circuits or you get no motor power period.
Trying it again on this Bullitt build, a few years later: same result. The solution is for the rear brake lever to cut the rear mid drive and the front lever to cut the front hub.
One difference from the past is now, in 2021 I am able to buy a BBSHD wiring harness designed to use Magura’s red Higo/Julet plugs natively without messing around with finding or fitting adapters. Otherwise, you have to buy red-to-yellow Higo/Julet conversion plugs. Before the above direct connection wiring harness existed, I used these little jewels.
Thats it for the brakes. Lets talk about