This article has been swimming around in the back of my head for a while now. Since I am over $20,000 into the sport, and since I have spent the better part of my life being a Rock Punker I feel like I am probably the best-qualified person to write it.
Most people’s experiences with e-bikes goes something like this. They discover Endless-Sphere and spend a bunch of time reading articles, then they look at people out there selling ebike kits and they decide to buy the cheapest kit they can get. They have done enough research to avoid Lead Acid batteries and are totally going with Lithium cells, because that is all people ever talk about. Everyone seems to get super stoked over the very inexpensive Lipo packs from Hobby King that are oh-so-much cheaper than the fancy 18650 cell packs that seem horrendously overpriced. They might talk to their local bike shop who probably are pretty clueless about ebikes, or if they are lucky they talk to their local ebike shop who just try to sell them something that is really, really expensive. In they end they buy a cheap ass kit from ebay or alibaba.com and then throw it all together. They don’t understand that much about the differences between Direct Drive, Gear Hub and Mid drive systems so they just buy whatever is cheapest which is generally a direct drive or small geared hub motor.
When everything arrives they spend about an hour putting it together, maybe two and they take the ebike out for a ride. Because they cheaped out and refused to spend more than $350 for the motor & battery they end up being underwhelmed by the performance of the motor or battery. If they are lucky they don’t burn down their house with the Lipo cells and they don’t break the dropouts on their bike frame because they cheaped out and didn’t get torque arms. Mostly they just end up being dissatisfied with their builds.
This dissatisfaction leads to buying a bigger controller and trying to run more power through a crappy motor that was not designed for it. Eventually, they burn out the motor or they break the controller. This DIY disappointment I have personally experienced, and have seen it play out time and again online. This whole process I’m going to call ‘getting punked’ and I’m going to try to describe to you how to get into the ebike world without ‘getting punked’ like I did.
There is no question that the biggest barrier for people getting into ebikes right now is cost. There are a few companies that have made headway into the world of inexpensive electric bikes by using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. I don’t recommend buying an ebike this way, because basically you’re just gambling with your money. Although gambling this way has paid off for a lot of people, crowdfunding is not shopping and although the sites look like you are purchasing a product you’re really just donating money to a ’cause’ in the hopes that they will give you a free ‘perk’. I have never bought anything over about $50 on crowdfunding sites and honestly, I never will.
Overpriced commercial e-bikes
If you want to buy any commercially available ebike from a bike dealer you should expect to pay at least $2000, and most of the bikes are closer to $3000. If you want a fancy mid drive system like the Bosch or Yamaha then you are suddenly in the $4000-6000 territory. In all honesty, many of these expensive commercial ebikes really suck. They are underpowered and ugly and marketed toward older people who have a hard time pedaling normal bicycles. The number one ebike company in the US is Pedego who have never produced an ebike that I would be remotely interested in even testing, much less buying. Most of their ebikes have the motor and the battery in the rear of the bike which leads to an incredibly unbalanced ride because all weight is in the rear. Although lots of the bigger ebike review sites seem to really, really like these ebikes, they are also accepting money from them for advertising so of course they are going to sugar coat their bike reviews. You’re not going to bite the hand that feeds you, right?
This site has spent most of its time being extremely critical of any commercial ebikes I’ve reviewed. I accept no money for advertising and frankly most of these overpriced commercial ebikes just suck. If they don’t suck then they are astronomically expensive. There has got to be a better way.
How did I do it?
I’m going to talk about how I got into ebikes, because it’s something of a tragic comedy. My friend Larry started Boxy Bikes about 2 years ago and I stopped by to see his new shop. I asked what the cheapest ebike he had for sale and he showed me a pretty well-loved several-year-old Giant Twist that he had taken in on trade with a 24v motor and a torque sensor. I took it for a spin and I told him that I would take it for $700. I have a problem with impulse shopping for large things with wheels as you can tell by the fact that I am just one person with 6 crappy cars.
Shop for ebikes on Craiglist first
I should have shopped around first because then I found a guy on Craigslist selling the EXACT same bike in pretty much NEW condition (he had used it about 3x) for $400 that evening. I did what any degenerate scumbag would do, and bought the cheap bike and tried to weasel my way out of buying the $700 bike from Boxy Bikes. I got into something of an awkward conversation with Larry about how I didn’t really want the bike that the day before I had said I was going to buy, but he rightfully called me on my sh!t and told me I already said I would buy the damn bike. He was right and I was an ass so I just bought them both. I was hoping that my son would enjoy going for rides with me. He hadn’t wanted to be on a bike since that time I took him singletrack trail riding when he was about 7 and he took that header off the bridge and dropped 3 feet down into the creek. I guess he never forgave me for that one, and has hated biking ever since. Long story short my son would only go out with me riding under threat and I got tired of threatening him. I thought my wife would love the ebike too, she rode it for about 100 feet and then got off and said ‘Don’t buy me an ebike, please’. This is from a woman who loves to cycle and was born in the Denmark, the cycling utopia of the world. She liked to bicycle for exercise and just didn’t see the point of the ebike except to help us get fat and lazy quicker. In the end, I gave up and resold the ebike on craigslist to some other sucker for $500, which brings me to my first point:
Don’t piss off your local e-bike/bike dealer
I could have alienated Larry and refused to buy the bike I already said that I would buy. In the last 2 years, Larry and I have become really good friends and we talk about ebikes all the time. Looking back at this deal with the Twist I am super glad that I didn’t have my head as far up my ass as I actually did. I want Larry to succeed and I want ebikes to become the dominant form of transportation in the USA. It’s funny because the other local non e-bike shop I used to frequent I now avoid because one of the bike mechanics likes to give me a hard time about riding an ebike on the singletrack trails. When someone is harassing you at the bike shop about your ebike just politely defer and leave and don’t come back. Don’t try to educate them and don’t try to defend yourself. That is the same trap that Internet trolls use. When someone insults me on the internet I simply click the BLOCK or SPAM button and I don’t give it a second thought. Does everyone have a right to their opinion? Of course. Do I have to listen to it? No fricken way. I can barely tolerate listening to myself type.
The quest for more power
24v on an ebike is a bad joke. 36v on an ebike is a joke that might be funny if you were totally out of your gourd wasted. 48v on an ebike is getting into some what reasonable territory, but 52v on an ebike is ideal. When I first got the Giant Twist the first thing I did was hook it up to a 36v battery even though it was only designed for a 24v one. BMS battery in China had a custom battery pack and charger for the Giant Twist. The bike performed much better at 36v than 24v but still cut out at 16mph which is about as fast as I can run if I’m getting chased by the cops. Although this Twist is an utter POS I still use it all the time in town, mostly because I love the torque sensing derailleur hanger. Although this ebike is a total ripoff at $1500, at $400 it’s actually a pretty good deal. Giant was poised to be a leader in the ebike field, but they stumbled and floundered, like most everyone else has. When you buy a battery, make sure it has enough amps for future ebikes you might buy.
If you go with a large hub motor (over 500W) then use a torque arm on your bike or suffer the consequences. Power has it’s price.
Buying a bunch of crap from China that is now all in my ebike junk pile
I spent several thousand dollars buying stuff off ebay, alibaba and aliexpress. I read all the warnings against doing this on Endless-Sphere but I thought I was really smart and would not get burned. I was wrong. Pretty much everything I bought I ended up burning up or destroying or trading them for used fat bike tires from Larry. I learned pretty quickly that you get what you pay for.
After getting burned on Ebay & Alibaba I decided that I would buy a bunch of prebuilt hub motors & batteries from actual real companies with websites in China. I ordered thousands of dollars worth of stuff from BMS battery and Elifebike because they were the cheapest I could find and spent almost $600 in shipping alone. I got burned from all of them, although I was sure I wouldn’t. The motors burned out quickly, the batteries underperformed from their claims and were several pounds heavier than what they were listed as on their website. It was a nightmare. The funny thing is I still get emails from these Chinese companies on a regular basis asking if I want to order anything else. Thanks, but no thanks.
Hobby King is synonymous with crap
Then I went the Hobby King route because their stuff was so cheap. The cells got frighteningly hot under just a fractional usage of their claimed C-rates. The packs started getting very puffy when maxed out and the chargers were a complete nightmare to use. I was convinced that these cells were going to blow up in my sleep and kill everyone in my house even though I charged them in the oven. In the end, I gave up on the HK Lipos too, and honestly I have no regrets about that at all. You get what you pay for. Lots of people tout the positives of these batteries online without being completely honest about the downfalls of them. Everyone brags about their fancy HK Lipo builds, but you rarely read about the catastrophic failures that I know must be pretty common with these batteries. Go figure.
Time to switch to LifePo4
After a while, I decided to go with LifePo4 cells because they seemed the least likely to kill me in my sleep. I bought a 52v 20Ah prismatic cell from imotorbattery on ebay which at $500 shipped seemed like the deal of the century. Within 3 months of use the battery was only putting out 12Ah not 20Ah. I tried to balance the cells, then swapped out the BMS but the problem persisted. They ended up shipping me a replacement 25Ah battery for free that I have never used because at 20lbs it’s just way too heavy to carry around. The charger that imotorbattery sold me exploded in my house last month and I vowed never to buy cheap batteries from Alibaba or Ebay ever again. Kind of sad that I had to almost have my house burn down to figure that out. I guess I’m not the smartest peanut in the turd.
This Tragic Comedy is starting to sound like a Horror story
Enter the 750 watt BBS02. This drive unit completely changed my life. Without this drive unit, it’s extremely unlikely that I would have continued to waste my time and energy with ebikes at all. When I first started this blog I was going to call it BBS02.com because it was all I wanted to talk about. Unfortudently there was no BBS02 unit for 100mm fat bikes. Although you could buy a fat bike and grind off the 100mm BB to make it fit, before Doug at California Ebike came out with his conversion kit, there was just very few options out there other than the Deadeye and Deadeye Monster conversions which are fat bikes that have 68mm BB. Doug changed the entire playing field. His axle kit was quickly copied by Lectric Cycles and Biktrix before Bafang released the BBSHD which would work with any BB from 68mm to 120mm. The BBS02 was an amazing drive unit that only reached its potential at the end of it’s product life. This unit was never meant to be able to take 1300W continuous and many people who bought it and insisted on using full throttle up hills with a 48T chainring ended up frying their controllers. There was also a lot of problems with the pinion gear and the nylon gear which were both a pain to replace. Once they switched to 3077 mosfet controllers, many of the controller problems from lighter abuse were fixed. The BBS02 750W was a nightmare for most dealers to warranty and some dealers even ended up losing money from selling that drive unit too cheaply then being faced with tons of warranty replacements. Larry from Boxy bikes bought 4 BBS02’s and had a 100% failure rate on them.
Did Bafang finally get it right with the BBSHD?
The BBSHD picks up where the BSS02 left off. It is incredibly reliable under 30Amp load even when I beat the panther piss out of it on a daily basis. How is it that Bafang went from having so many problems with the BBS02 to having so few with the BBSHD? They built the drive unit to survive 50 amps and then only sold it as a 30 amp version. I burned out my plastic gear in about 5 minutes by running 65 amps through it with a giant 18FET Lyen ‘brick’ last week. Eric from Lunacycle has been successful at consistently running 50 amps through this BBSHD drive unit with an Adapto Sine Wave Controller without any issues at all. If the mechanicals can take 50 Amps and you only run 30 amps through it then that means you are going to have a pretty low failure rates on the drive. This is the key to the BBSHD’s success. It’s also the key to my misery as I can’t stop thinking about how awesome 65 Amps on the BBSHD felt for those precious 5 minutes we had together. I buy my 1000W BBSHD from
I buy my 1000W BBSHD from Lunacycle.com for $699 right here, who are a little more expensive than China, but worth every penny. They also have a bunch of custom chainrings like the 42T Luna Eclipse (for street) and the 30T Mighty Mini (for trailriding) which are a must-have upgrade that you can’t buy unless you get your drive unit from them.
So how do I not get Punked by my first ebike or ebike kit purchase?
Test ride it before you buy it
Ride any and every ebike you can get your paws on. There is no better way to cut through the hype and BS. You know what feels good between your legs. There is no substitute for raw, unrestrained power. The Direct Drive guys love to talk about how awesome their motors are, but the reality is at the same power levels a mid drive will beat the feeling of a DD motor every single time. At higher power levels (over 4000W) and at higher speeds (over 40mph), most mid drives tend to extremely problematic and this territory is where large DD motors really shine.
Don’t believe the hype
The ebike message boards are a complete wasteland of opinions that you can easily waste and infinite amount of time on and learn very little. The absolute last person you should listen to is me, I honestly have absolutely no idea what I am talking about and I am a complete fraud. My biggest fear is that you will find out how mentally unstable I really am and will totally stop reading my ramblings.
Everyone thinks they are smart. Everyone thinks they know what is best for you. They are all wrong, there is only one person who knows what kind of ebike will suit you best and that person is you. For me, I want 1300W-3000W in the lightest mid drive I can get that still runs at 52V. That setup is not for everyone, and I realize that and try to respect other people’s opinions, even though I know that what’s right for them (like a 25lb hub motor running at 6000W) is not what is right for me and will never be what I want on my bike. There are plenty of elderly people out there who only want and need a 350W hub motor, and for them, that is just perfect. Am I going to harass and insult them?
The world is such a better place when people are not assho|es to each other. Is it really that important that everyone think that your $500 crowdfunded ebike is the best thing ever? Do you really have to insult and harass anyone with a different opinion? When I was younger and people looked at me the wrong way I would fight for ANY reason at all. Now that I’m older I look back at my youth as completely insane. If something isn’t right with your ebike kit or battery then don’t be an ass to the dealer. You’re much more likely to get much better service that way.
Buy everything from the same vendor
Certain ebike vendors are now saying that the warranty on their drive units is void if you use it with anyone else’s battery. Personally, I find this kind of lame, but it is well within their rights. If you want to make sure you don’t have these issues like that then you should just buy everything from the same place. Then the connectors will be right too, and you won’t have to cut wires and solder things, which can be downright dangerous if you’re doing it on a live battery.
Forget about Alibaba, Ebay and Aliexpress
If you want to buy your drive units, ebikes, or batteries from any of these companies you are just nuts and there isn’t anything I can do to help you. Good luck buddy. Just flush your money down the toilet. In the end, you’ll be better off; less stress, same result. Buy from someone reputable. How do you know if they are reputable? Ask someone else (other than me).
Buy from the US when you can
If you want to get support when your stuff breaks the best way to do that is to buy from US companies. You can save a few bucks buying from China, but in the end, it’s really not worth it. Trying to get stuff across the pond is expensive and time-consuming, both ways. Shipping Lithium batteries across the ocean legally is astronomically expensive. If you have a local ebike shop then support them whenever you can. These guys are the foot soldiers on the new frontier and they need some love.
Be extremely wary of used lithium packs
There are lots of messed up lithium packs out there because as the packs age they lose their energy capacity. If they are physically abused or charged incorrectly they will also get pretty wonky, although it might be hard to tell this from a cursory inspection. If you’re buying a lithium pack from someone on craigslist or on the street you have NO way of knowing if it even works properly or not. When you buy an ebike from ANYONE other than an ebike dealer you should negotiate like the battery is NOT included (even though it is). Be clear that you cannot give the seller the value for the battery unless you can have it and test it for a week before you buy it. The easiest way to test it is to run it till the BMS shuts off then attach a watt meter backwards to the charger to see how many Ah the battery can take from the charger before it is fully charged. There is no other easy way to tell how much power a Lithium battery can store. If you are buying it from an ebike vendor find out about how long they will warranty it for before you buy it.
Buy a battery pack that you can use with ALL your ebikes and will last you a few years
At this point, the only kind of battery pack that makes any sense is a 18650 pack made up of quality non-Chinese cells. You can use one battery pack between several ebikes, so when it comes time to figure out what pack to buy, I suggest you get one that is powerful enough to use on all of your ebikes. Since you are only one person, you can only ride one ebike at a time. I have about 15 ebikes but only about 5 battery packs to use between them. If you want to use a shark or dolphin pack then you can buy extra mounting brackets and put them on all your ebikes. I really like the frame packs and if you have to choose between a large triangle pack or using two smaller frame packs and swapping them out when the first one dies, I’d chose the latter. If your drive unit pulls a lot of amps that might not be a feasible solution for you. Expect a good 18650 pack to last you 3-4 years if it is mounted properly and it is not abused. Within 4 years it will be obsolete anyways.
I’ve bought and tested a lot of packs from a lot of different vendors and the only packs I use anymore are 18650 packs from Lunacycle.com. I’ve written reviews of the 52v NCRb shark pack here (the best pack I’ve ever owned) as well as a 48v 30q pack here. Other ebike dealers talk a lot of crap about Luna, but I gotta say their batteries are top notch and Eric stands behind his product in a big way. His pricing is insane, not because he’s using Chinese cells, but because he buys the batteries 15,000 at a time direct from the manufacturer and gets a great price. With all the Chinese fakes out there that is probably the only safe way to do it.
It’s no secret that Eric and I are caught up in a bittersweet friendship/rivalry that reminds me of Tupac/Notorious B.I.G. East coast\West coast thing. Let’s hope one of us doesn’t end up getting popped.
Build the industry up, don’t just tear it down
With everything you do, work towards a future where ebikes are accepted and not shunned. Be an ambassador for the sport and treat all other bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists with respect even when they totally piss you off and are in the wrong. Don’t blatantly break the laws and rub it in other people’s faces. Let’s stop talking smack about everyone else behind their backs, and let’s start to work together to make something real.
Ebikes in America are destined for great things and hopefully it won’t take a Zombie apocalypse for it to happen. We can do it. Together.
If it DOES take a Zombie apocalypse for ebikes to take off, then we’ll all be glad we have really fast ebikes to get away from them and solar cells to charge them with.