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A critique of mid-drive riding recommendations (and hub drive criticisms)

richj8990

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How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It


My comments in italics below


How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It​

If you can ride a bicycle you already know how to ride a hub drive ebike. Not so a mid drive. Particularly a powerful one that can tear your chain apart. Fear not. The rules are simple.

“Mid Drives For Dummies”​

This article is based on a portion of this post where I discuss the strength and weaknesses of different types of ebike motors. I link that article many times in help discussions, but usually only for the part about how to ride a mid drive without excess drivetrain wear, mechanical failures etc… so I am creating this standalone post on the subject… and stealing liberally from the original.
This post now has a companion: How to Build A Mid Drive Ebike That Doesn't Break.
Mid drive motors on ebikes are very common in the production-line, name-brand-manufacturer ebike world. Its safe to say they dominate the industry for eMTBs. Why is this?
Hub motors power the bike … from the hub, so they are single-speed: their motive power has nothing to do with the chain, chainrings or cogs. Try taking off your chain and then go pedal the bike around. Pedal assist will work just fine. The chain and chainrings are only there for you to slug it out with; the motor couldn’t care less.

Until you hit a hill offroad where the cadence and stability of adding human power to the rear tire starts to become very important.


Since hub motors are single-speed, that means they are not happy climbing hills… for the same reason your life sucks trying to do the same thing with no gears. The only fix for this is to run thousands of watts thru the hub (we are talking 3-6kw or more, which is approaching e-motorcycle territory).
Unlike hub motors, mid-drives power the bike thru the drivetrain. They use the chain and the gears just like you do. This is a good thing for the same reasons its good for you.

This of course a gross oversimplification. If the hub drive bike were a true (chain) singlespeed, and there were no pas levels, only throttle, then yes you'd need a lot of electric power. But there are generally more pas levels (5-9) for a hub drive than the typical 3 for a mid-drive, and there is also more GEARING if the hub drive has more than one front chainring. Human power while riding an e-bike should not be ignored. That 'little' 100-300W of human pedal power depending on the situation has a lot more of an effect in real life than on paper. Conversely, when you add power in a shorter gear with a mid-drive (a larger rear cog), the speed will top out because the chainring/cog gear ratio will hit a cadence of over 100 rpm. Sure, there will be plenty of torque, but the speed will top out and then you have to shift up again to get more speed. In other words, with a mid-drive, the torque is usable but in the lower gears, speed is NOT usable. Because hub drives disconnect electric power from human gear power, they can mix and match electric power with the right gear ratio for the climb. The author also completely ignores the huge advantages of geared hub drives.


Only a fanatic or a penitent rides hills on a single speed bike. So how is it ideal to do that with an electric motor? Spoiler Alert: it’s not. A single speed hub motor is often strong enough to help get you up that hill. But its not happy doing it, and its not good for the motor or (if it has them) the gears inside of it.
If you have only had a hub drive ebike you won’t realize just HOW unhappy, until you take your first proper ride up a steep hill on a mid drive ebike. Get it in the right gear from the start and the bike simply doesn’t care that its going up a hill. It scoots right up without breaking a sweat (it does go slower, since you are gearing down just like you would on a normal bike).

I will admit that. As long as of course there is enough traction for the rear tire.


The benefit is multiplied when you look at a mid drive’s motor specs. Usually they are more powerful than a hub drive by a wide margin. A typical hub puts out 40-60 Nm of torque, with a very few going up to 80 Nm. Production mid drives usually start there as the bottom end. Aftermarket motors commonly put out 120-250 Nm.
The Cyc X1 powering my Guerrilla Gravity Smash delivers 180Nm of torque to the drivetrain. Couple that to the small front chainring and huge steel gear cluster in back: you can climb a tree no problem.

So What?​

Well, if you aren’t familiar with what it means to have X Newton Meters of torque going thru your drivetrain, lets use the more common (but functionally useless) measure of watts:
  • That 180Nm motor pictured above has a peak output of 3000 watts.
  • A BBSHD or a Bafang Ultra peaks at 1750 watts (peak power on the BBSHD can also be maintained continuously so its REALLY a beast).
  • A 48v BBS02 is about a thousand watts.
  • your typical street-legal pissant EU motor is rated for 250 watts (pssst… the manufacturers are all cheating and delivering much more power than this. Don’t tell anybody).
  • A normal cyclist on an analog bike is capable of putting out roughly 300 watts over the span of a few minutes.
  • A professional sprinter/mutant can hold almost 1000 watts, but only for a minute or two (thats not enough to make a slice of toast).

ohhhhh…​

Yeah ‘oh’ is right. Your mid drive is pumping a metric shipload of power thru your drivetrain. That power is likely more than standard bicycle parts were meant to handle. So how do you have a motor this powerful (its not as much of a boost as the math makes it sound like) and not bend, break or snap stuff?
The BBSHD powering ‘2fat’ – my 2wd titanum-framed awd fattie – runs off of a 52v battery that, combined with its 30a output, delivers sustained output of about 1500w if I choose to peg the throttle and drain the battery as quickly as possible (hint: I don’t do this).

It Ain’t Hard To Do Right…​

…but you gotta do it. Here then are the rules of the game when riding a powerful mid drive motor. The goal is not to just avoid breaking things, but to also not wear them out unusually fast.
The Short Version: Keep the motor spinning.
Now the Long Version:

Keep The Motor Spinning​

Here’s a basic tenet, true of all electric motors: Electrical power goes towards turning the motor over, which in turn is used to produce forward momentum. If there is resistance – which keeps the motor from freely spinning – then instead of motor rotation, the electrical energy is converted to heat. Mid drives have so much power they get really hot, really quick if not allowed to spin up.
But they are so powerful, they might not just stop at generating heat.
My 52v-powered BBSHD’d Big Fat Dummy has changed a bit since this pic was taken. It now has a 36T front chainring on dedicated to overland and forest riding. Slower but more torque-y for when the trail gets rough or goes away entirely.
Lug a powerful mid drive and the torque that is pouring out of it could tear your chain apart – if it can’t rotate it thanks to resistance. Or, you might discover what it means to ‘taco’ your front chainring or a rear cog. If your sins are not quite that egregious – and you just lug it gently enough to not tear something apart – then within the span of a single ride you can ‘peanut butter’ the nylon gears inside your motor. If that gear shreds its gone-soft teeth your bike becomes a pushcart until you open the motor up and replace some parts.
Thats very, very bad. So don’t let it happen. Here’s how we do that:

When Coming To A Stoplight, Downshift!​

Always. Either that or always stay in a lower gear in the middle of your cluster, so when you start up again the motor does not lug itself. Doing one of these two things, you spin up quickly and without any brutality being visited on the drivetrain.
From a standing start, a mid drive will slowly tear into the cassette body, or damage the pawls inside. this will eventually tear the freehub apart and kill the hub. Which means you get to build a new wheel.
On the left: 1000 miles of use… and I was nice to it! But this freehub body was still torn into a bit. What does yours look like?
If you downshift, that damage will not become severe for a long, long time (it happens with normal bikes, too). So remember: downshift before you come to a stop.
Sidebar:
This is a gear cluster. Each wheel is a 'cog'. Smaller cogs are higher gears (you go faster). Bigger cogs are lower gears (slower, distributes torque, gentler on the chain). This cluster is a SunRace CSMX8 11-46T: The smallest cog has 11 teeth and the largest has 46.


When You Want to Go Faster, Upshift​

When working a mid drive, just like driving a classic sports car, you ‘row’ through the gears both slowing down and speeding up. Wait until your motor is maxed out before you kick it up a gear (up = a smaller cog in the back). Chances are good its going to be smarter to stay one gear down from what you would have used without a motor (down = a bigger cog in the back).

Bad idea. As mentioned above, the mid-drive will top out the cadence much quicker than a normal bike or lower-powered hub drive up a hill. Then if you stick with the low gear on a mid-drive you simply limit yourself to crawling instead of jogging or sprinting up the hill. You don't have to crawl up the hill like on other bikes. 2-3 gears above what you normally use to climb hills is best. The drivetrain can handle it. You don't need to use 1000W, 500W is enough. That way you can modulate the PAS or throttle power in a higher gear and go faster or slower around and over obstacles as needed. You can keep the same higher gear and modulate the power and speed accordingly. You can't do that with other bikes that need either a ton of power from the direct drive throttle or human power from a 'correct' low gear ratio on a lower-powered hub drive (or analog bike). I have not even bothered with my two lowest 46 and 52t cogs, because it's simply too slow up hills. Even a 20% grade is fine for cogs in the middle range of a cassette. Again, it can handle it; remember that the torque goes down if the cogs are upshifted, speed goes up. As long as you still have enough torque, you will be fine. The increased mid-drive torque completely changes which gear ratio you should be in compared with a normal bike.



Why is that? Your bike will spin up to the same top speed on its next-highest gear (the next-bigger cog in back) as it will the highest one: But it will get there faster if you let it use the bigger/lower cog next to it. Mid drives are like that, especially when going fast on the street. Here again we are going back to not lugging the motor, and letting the mid drive spin the drivetrain faster than you would if you didn’t have a motor.
I am not talking about nailing the throttle and going along for the ride. You can certainly do that, but this spinning-faster bit is more about using the motor for an assist to allow higher cadence than you ordinarily could attain under a similar load, unpowered.
Again thinking of your mid drive ebike as if its an exotic sports car with a manual transmission: In between each gear you need to let off the power (stop pedaling or thumb off the throttle), shift and hit the accelerator (the throttle, or start rotating the crankarms/pedals). If you have a gear sensor you will not have to worry (officially) about the ‘let off the power’ part as that will be safely done for you.
If you want to pedal the bike and not use throttle at all, thats great. Use the lowest comfortable boost setting, and keep your legs spinning fast via smart gear choices – just like on a regular bicycle. Never lug the bike with slow pedaling up a steep hill. Be a spinner, not a masher.
If you are pedaling slow on flat ground, or downhill, you are not providing resistance to the motor or added pressure on the chain. There is a lot less to worry about insofar as cadence or lugging the motor is concerned. You do however need to ALWAYS do the following no matter the terrain:

Never Shift Under Power​

Even if you have a gear sensor. Thats right I said it. Don’t trust the gear sensor unless you are forced to. Pause your input for a split second and do your shift.
More Specifics on Mid Drive Shifting here:
"Do I Want A Gear Sensor?"


Shifting while pouring huge watts into your chain is an ugly thing. You will recognize your mistake the instant the result hits your ears. It probably won’t kill the chain outright, but as you hear that chain smash from one cog to another you will know your bike hates you very, very much.
If you treat the gear sensor as a fail-safe rather than taking it for granted, you will be much more likely to avoid disaster. As you become familiar with riding your mid drive and how it behaves, you will naturally figure out how to push its limits and minimize that pause/blip when you shift. You likely will get smart enough to shift under power and let the gear sensor save your bacon. But for your first few weeks of riding this thing… treat the gear sensor as a backup, not the default.
Here’s a technique you want to learn as part of your education on operating a mid drive: Using your brake lever motor cutoffs as a clutch: Just slightly actuate the levers so the cutoff kicks in, but the pads don’t engage. Lift when the shift is finished. You can stay on the throttle or keep pedaling while doing this so the process is near-seamless.
Many ebike levers have this ability built into them. Magura MT5e levers have a mid-lever hinge that lets you touch the brakes and engage the cutoff without any pressure making it to the caliper.
Check out the little pin in the middle of this ebike brake lever. That is a hinge to give the lever a *touch* of give so you can cut the motor off without engaging the brakes.

Keep Chain Alignment As Straight As You Can​


This doesn't really apply to less than 1000W bikes.

Mid drive motors tend to work in a lot wider range than humans do. So you can leave the motor in a gear that would be too low for your cadence and let it spin away like crazy… it likes it that way. So, this piece of advice is partly about how you ride the bike (i.e. what gears you let it sit in) but also about how you build it if its a DIY effort.
You really only need three or four gears in the middle of your cluster on a mid-drive-powered ebike. You want them to be the ones that let the motor spin fast. You also want the cogs the bike is happiest in rpm-wise to not be cockeyed, front to back (i.e. bad chain alignment). So regardless of whether you built this bike or you just bought it, when hammering on the torque through the drivetrain do not do it when the chain is yawed wide to one side or the other.
On an analog bike you can get away with a lot, since you are only feeding back lets say 150 watts to it. Feed it 1500 and that sideways-skewed chain will become a saw and chew right through your front chainring and rear cog teeth. Be smart when you shift your gears (and when you build the bike in the first place).
The Stormtrooper is a simple BBSHD fattie – at its core a resurrected Motobecane Lurch frame, stripped, de-rustified and powder-coated – that once again uses a steel cluster and halfway intelligent riding to avoid any semblance of extra wear and tear in a VERY hilly neighborhood.
If this is a DIY build, learn in your first outing or two whether there are any problem gears you should stay away from. There are all sorts of offset chainrings (plus 1mm and 2mm shims) available on the market. They cost money, but spending that money now means not spending it later after you have walked home.

Just Say No To Your Smallest Cog​

Standard advice in DIY build circles is to Stay The Hell Away from your 11T small cog. If you don’t, you will wear it out very quickly – as in only a very few hundred miles. Or you will simply break it. Even if you are smart and pick a steel cassette cluster, the two smallest cogs in that cluster will typically be alloy. And as we all know… steel bends but alloy breaks. Those little cogs are just as likely to crack as they are to wear out superfast.

FYI: 11t, 12t, 13t, 14t, 15t cogs can be purchased on Amazon for about $6 each, and they are available in 7/8 all the way through 12-speed. They work, and they are exactly the same as the cog you are replacing besides the brand name. So don't worry about eating through your smaller cogs. Normally the smallest two are disconnected from the rest of the cassette, so they are easy to replace, you dont have to drill out the rivets or anything.


There’s a second reason to stay off the little cog. If you build your bike right, the best, straightest chain alignment is somewhere in the middle of the cassette. You want that to keep your chain from becoming a chain saw to your front chainring and your rear cogs. Since your teeny little cog is all the way outboard, that is worst case for chain alignment. On some bikes you’ll even start skipping your chain on that little cog, thanks to a skewed chain and high torque. Under serious power that is a recipe for cracking the cog… or maybe even breaking the chain.
And here’s a third reason: When you start riding your new wonderful bike build, you will likely find there is a point of diminishing returns that your littlest cog is well outside of. You can shift into a higher and higher gear but at a certain point… all those cheeseburgers you have eaten over your lifetime impose an upper speed limit. Shift to a higher gear and the motor just bogs down. If it can’t generate motion, it generates heat instead. And thats bad.
Testing my Stormtrooper’s 30a BBSHD running a 52v battery, I found the following: I built the bike with a cluster whose smallest cog was 12T, knowing the problems with 11T already. I found (with stock programming, before I revised it) I had a 33 mph upper speed limit on that 12T cog. But it took a city block to get up there. If I shifted to my second, 14T cog, my top speed was about 31 mph and I got there within maybe a hundred yards. On my 3rd cog in, top speed was about 28 and I zipped right up to it.
So… no real incentive to use the two smallest cogs.

Build Smart​

If you bought your bike manufactured with a mid drive installed from the factory, this part has already been taken care of. If you are building an aftermarket conversion, you will have to buy components that are strong enough to handle the punishment your 1500w+ motor will mete out. Almost 100% of internet whining about mid drive reliability is from builders who fail at this stage.
While a lot of this article is repetition as I stated at the beginning, this is one place where I will just refer you to what I have already written elsewhere. Its only applicable to DIY builders so if thats you, go to this link and scroll down to the Mid Drive Motors section.
UPDATE:
Or just go here as, since I wrote this post originally, I did a whole article focusing exclusively on avoiding mid drive build mistakes.

Quit Whining… Its Not Really This Bad​

I am making this sound like a lot of work. Upshift this and Downshift that. Here’s the reality of it: You’ll figure out a happy medium real fast. You won’t need to do much shifting at all. I certainly don’t. Mid Drives live in a much wider gearing range than humans like to, so you will naturally need to shift less. You’ll figure this out soon after you begin riding.
As a builder the first thing I do is pick a chainring size thats suited to my terrain. Big ones for flat land. Littler ones for steep city streets. Tiny ones for the Sierras. Thats part of the magic as well. Most of the rest is you just picking a cog a couple-three steps up from the bottom of the cluster and staying there. Live with a little less top end speed, or say to hell with it and hammer it if you must. Let the motor spin you up so you can whizz past the small children playing ahead of you.
My Envoy cargo bike lives on the California coast, where nothing is flat. But I hardly ever have to shift. The egg sandwich, however, is no longer with us.

Wrapping it up​

If you build with appropriate components, and ride it smart, even a high powered mid drive will essentially last forever.

Besides going 40 mph on the street, I don't understand the point of a high-powered mid-drive. You can do 40 mph on the street just as well with a high-powered hub drive. And offroad, yes in theory you could climb fire roads at 20 mph (some guys do that) but now that becomes a test of your skill level, since in the words of a former local MTB pro that converted over to a mid-drive "The uphills are now like the downhills." That makes it more of a skill level / reaction thing than 'just someone' wanting to go fast up hills. It starts to become more like a gas-powered dirt bike where you really need proper training to offroad up stuff that fast on a heavier bike. You can't be a beginner and think you can just 'go' 20 mph up steep fire roads, that's going to be very dangerous.


Yeah sure you will wear out the chain and rear cluster in say three thousand miles, the smallest cog in half that, and the chainrings in 10. But thats peanuts considering how many miles you put on the bike.

I assume he's using 8-speed. 10-12 speed is going to wear in 1500 / 750 / 2000-3000 miles, not 3000 / 1500 / 10000 miles.


And you will have an absolute blast doing it!
 
Last edited:
richj8990,

Wonderful read.

I love your logic and your sense of humor. Bumping this gem back to the top!

-Z
 
My simple advice from having used a BBS02 for a good while? Always choose as low a gear as you can stand to pedal along with. And either develop a strong habit of shifting after the power cuts off, or use a shift cable interruptor sensor.
 
My simple advice from having used a BBS02 for a good while? Always choose as low a gear as you can stand to pedal along with. And either develop a strong habit of shifting after the power cuts off, or use a shift cable interruptor sensor.

Why did Bafang only use an internal 22:1 reduction ratio? And then put stock 44-52T chainrings up front? Isn't that built for onroad and not offroad? As relatively crappy as my mid-drive motor is, the internal + chaindrive is about 30:1 and is pretty nice up steeper stuff than something with 40% less reduction.
 
Why did Bafang only use an internal 22:1 reduction ratio? And then put stock 44-52T chainrings up front? Isn't that built for onroad and not offroad? As relatively crappy as my mid-drive motor is, the internal + chaindrive is about 30:1 and is pretty nice up steeper stuff than something with 40% less reduction.
I'm glad that there wasn't more reduction in the motor unit; my BBS02 was plenty good at wearing out chains and cassettes, bending sprockets, and crunching freehubs with only the reduction ratio it had and about 1300W maximum electrical draw.

I used 42t chainrings and 14-34 or 16-40 cassettes. I could climb the steepest streets I have available locally, with a GVW exceeding 500 pounds. I try to avoid riding on unsuitable surfaces, so I can't really speak to that concern.
 
I'm glad that there wasn't more reduction in the motor unit; my BBS02 was plenty good at wearing out chains and cassettes, bending sprockets, and crunching freehubs with only the reduction ratio it had and about 1300W maximum electrical draw.

I used 42t chainrings and 14-34 or 16-40 cassettes. I could climb the steepest streets I have available locally, with a GVW exceeding 500 pounds. I try to avoid riding on unsuitable surfaces, so I can't really speak to that concern.


I see. So you were using it for pavement. Was there any steep fire road action with it... (drooling as I type)...
 
I see. So you were using it for pavement. Was there any steep fire road action with it... (drooling as I type)...
My BBS02 was on a heavy front load cargo bike with a front hub motor in a 20" wheel. So, marginally capable of negotiating dirt roads and crushed granite trails, but not really an off road machine.
 
CYC sold me a cyc pro1 gen2 with ASI bac 855 BT controller kit. First I got the wrong wiring harness sent to me it was long Bluetooth I screwed it for weeks. Till cyc technical sent me the needed Bluetooth wiring harness I waited for 14 days and the connector was broken so I contacted cyc technical and they sent me a second Bluetooth wiring harness that wasn't defective smashed.
It made it bright but at 72 volts it through everything at the motor and would shut down I couldn't get it to work with many many other downloads and then later on they came up with a QR code it wouldn't work either I kept asking if the controller was bricked and all they want to do was sell me another wiring harness I told him I had three and what's going on with the controller they try to sell me another wiring harness they couldn't understand that I had enough wiring harnesses. Really CYC has known that their ASI BAC 855 Bluetooth controller with their download are bricked and will not work. They decided it after 2 years of me screwing with it trying to make it work I had to make a second 52 volt battery to fit in the triangle of my Kona so I could use my $1,200 triangle battery. Well since I got informed 5 days ago I have quite a letter to send them. They do make their own controller now but would only give me 20% off after 2 years of fighting to make my kit run.
Who knows CYC could even have the bugs worked out by now at 1,000 plus USD price tag. Good luck if you bought one of these.
 
How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It


My comments in italics below


How To Ride a Mid Drive Ebike Without Breaking It​

If you can ride a bicycle you already know how to ride a hub drive ebike. Not so a mid drive. Particularly a powerful one that can tear your chain apart. Fear not. The rules are simple.

“Mid Drives For Dummies”​

This article is based on a portion of this post where I discuss the strength and weaknesses of different types of ebike motors. I link that article many times in help discussions, but usually only for the part about how to ride a mid drive without excess drivetrain wear, mechanical failures etc… so I am creating this standalone post on the subject… and stealing liberally from the original.
This post now has a companion: How to Build A Mid Drive Ebike That Doesn't Break.
Mid drive motors on ebikes are very common in the production-line, name-brand-manufacturer ebike world. Its safe to say they dominate the industry for eMTBs. Why is this?
Hub motors power the bike … from the hub, so they are single-speed: their motive power has nothing to do with the chain, chainrings or cogs. Try taking off your chain and then go pedal the bike around. Pedal assist will work just fine. The chain and chainrings are only there for you to slug it out with; the motor couldn’t care less.

Until you hit a hill offroad where the cadence and stability of adding human power to the rear tire starts to become very important.


Since hub motors are single-speed, that means they are not happy climbing hills… for the same reason your life sucks trying to do the same thing with no gears. The only fix for this is to run thousands of watts thru the hub (we are talking 3-6kw or more, which is approaching e-motorcycle territory).
Unlike hub motors, mid-drives power the bike thru the drivetrain. They use the chain and the gears just like you do. This is a good thing for the same reasons its good for you.

This of course a gross oversimplification. If the hub drive bike were a true (chain) singlespeed, and there were no pas levels, only throttle, then yes you'd need a lot of electric power. But there are generally more pas levels (5-9) for a hub drive than the typical 3 for a mid-drive, and there is also more GEARING if the hub drive has more than one front chainring. Human power while riding an e-bike should not be ignored. That 'little' 100-300W of human pedal power depending on the situation has a lot more of an effect in real life than on paper. Conversely, when you add power in a shorter gear with a mid-drive (a larger rear cog), the speed will top out because the chainring/cog gear ratio will hit a cadence of over 100 rpm. Sure, there will be plenty of torque, but the speed will top out and then you have to shift up again to get more speed. In other words, with a mid-drive, the torque is usable but in the lower gears, speed is NOT usable. Because hub drives disconnect electric power from human gear power, they can mix and match electric power with the right gear ratio for the climb. The author also completely ignores the huge advantages of geared hub drives.


Only a fanatic or a penitent rides hills on a single speed bike. So how is it ideal to do that with an electric motor? Spoiler Alert: it’s not. A single speed hub motor is often strong enough to help get you up that hill. But its not happy doing it, and its not good for the motor or (if it has them) the gears inside of it.
If you have only had a hub drive ebike you won’t realize just HOW unhappy, until you take your first proper ride up a steep hill on a mid drive ebike. Get it in the right gear from the start and the bike simply doesn’t care that its going up a hill. It scoots right up without breaking a sweat (it does go slower, since you are gearing down just like you would on a normal bike).

I will admit that. As long as of course there is enough traction for the rear tire.


The benefit is multiplied when you look at a mid drive’s motor specs. Usually they are more powerful than a hub drive by a wide margin. A typical hub puts out 40-60 Nm of torque, with a very few going up to 80 Nm. Production mid drives usually start there as the bottom end. Aftermarket motors commonly put out 120-250 Nm.
The Cyc X1 powering my Guerrilla Gravity Smash delivers 180Nm of torque to the drivetrain. Couple that to the small front chainring and huge steel gear cluster in back: you can climb a tree no problem.

So What?​

Well, if you aren’t familiar with what it means to have X Newton Meters of torque going thru your drivetrain, lets use the more common (but functionally useless) measure of watts:
  • That 180Nm motor pictured above has a peak output of 3000 watts.
  • A BBSHD or a Bafang Ultra peaks at 1750 watts (peak power on the BBSHD can also be maintained continuously so its REALLY a beast).
  • A 48v BBS02 is about a thousand watts.
  • your typical street-legal pissant EU motor is rated for 250 watts (pssst… the manufacturers are all cheating and delivering much more power than this. Don’t tell anybody).
  • A normal cyclist on an analog bike is capable of putting out roughly 300 watts over the span of a few minutes.
  • A professional sprinter/mutant can hold almost 1000 watts, but only for a minute or two (thats not enough to make a slice of toast).

ohhhhh…​

Yeah ‘oh’ is right. Your mid drive is pumping a metric shipload of power thru your drivetrain. That power is likely more than standard bicycle parts were meant to handle. So how do you have a motor this powerful (its not as much of a boost as the math makes it sound like) and not bend, break or snap stuff?
The BBSHD powering ‘2fat’ – my 2wd titanum-framed awd fattie – runs off of a 52v battery that, combined with its 30a output, delivers sustained output of about 1500w if I choose to peg the throttle and drain the battery as quickly as possible (hint: I don’t do this).

It Ain’t Hard To Do Right…​

…but you gotta do it. Here then are the rules of the game when riding a powerful mid drive motor. The goal is not to just avoid breaking things, but to also not wear them out unusually fast.
The Short Version: Keep the motor spinning.
Now the Long Version:

Keep The Motor Spinning​

Here’s a basic tenet, true of all electric motors: Electrical power goes towards turning the motor over, which in turn is used to produce forward momentum. If there is resistance – which keeps the motor from freely spinning – then instead of motor rotation, the electrical energy is converted to heat. Mid drives have so much power they get really hot, really quick if not allowed to spin up.
But they are so powerful, they might not just stop at generating heat.
My 52v-powered BBSHD’d Big Fat Dummy has changed a bit since this pic was taken. It now has a 36T front chainring on dedicated to overland and forest riding. Slower but more torque-y for when the trail gets rough or goes away entirely.
Lug a powerful mid drive and the torque that is pouring out of it could tear your chain apart – if it can’t rotate it thanks to resistance. Or, you might discover what it means to ‘taco’ your front chainring or a rear cog. If your sins are not quite that egregious – and you just lug it gently enough to not tear something apart – then within the span of a single ride you can ‘peanut butter’ the nylon gears inside your motor. If that gear shreds its gone-soft teeth your bike becomes a pushcart until you open the motor up and replace some parts.
Thats very, very bad. So don’t let it happen. Here’s how we do that:

When Coming To A Stoplight, Downshift!​

Always. Either that or always stay in a lower gear in the middle of your cluster, so when you start up again the motor does not lug itself. Doing one of these two things, you spin up quickly and without any brutality being visited on the drivetrain.
From a standing start, a mid drive will slowly tear into the cassette body, or damage the pawls inside. this will eventually tear the freehub apart and kill the hub. Which means you get to build a new wheel.
On the left: 1000 miles of use… and I was nice to it! But this freehub body was still torn into a bit. What does yours look like?
If you downshift, that damage will not become severe for a long, long time (it happens with normal bikes, too). So remember: downshift before you come to a stop.
Sidebar:
This is a gear cluster. Each wheel is a 'cog'. Smaller cogs are higher gears (you go faster). Bigger cogs are lower gears (slower, distributes torque, gentler on the chain). This cluster is a SunRace CSMX8 11-46T: The smallest cog has 11 teeth and the largest has 46.


When You Want to Go Faster, Upshift​

When working a mid drive, just like driving a classic sports car, you ‘row’ through the gears both slowing down and speeding up. Wait until your motor is maxed out before you kick it up a gear (up = a smaller cog in the back). Chances are good its going to be smarter to stay one gear down from what you would have used without a motor (down = a bigger cog in the back).

Bad idea. As mentioned above, the mid-drive will top out the cadence much quicker than a normal bike or lower-powered hub drive up a hill. Then if you stick with the low gear on a mid-drive you simply limit yourself to crawling instead of jogging or sprinting up the hill. You don't have to crawl up the hill like on other bikes. 2-3 gears above what you normally use to climb hills is best. The drivetrain can handle it. You don't need to use 1000W, 500W is enough. That way you can modulate the PAS or throttle power in a higher gear and go faster or slower around and over obstacles as needed. You can keep the same higher gear and modulate the power and speed accordingly. You can't do that with other bikes that need either a ton of power from the direct drive throttle or human power from a 'correct' low gear ratio on a lower-powered hub drive (or analog bike). I have not even bothered with my two lowest 46 and 52t cogs, because it's simply too slow up hills. Even a 20% grade is fine for cogs in the middle range of a cassette. Again, it can handle it; remember that the torque goes down if the cogs are upshifted, speed goes up. As long as you still have enough torque, you will be fine. The increased mid-drive torque completely changes which gear ratio you should be in compared with a normal bike.



Why is that? Your bike will spin up to the same top speed on its next-highest gear (the next-bigger cog in back) as it will the highest one: But it will get there faster if you let it use the bigger/lower cog next to it. Mid drives are like that, especially when going fast on the street. Here again we are going back to not lugging the motor, and letting the mid drive spin the drivetrain faster than you would if you didn’t have a motor.
I am not talking about nailing the throttle and going along for the ride. You can certainly do that, but this spinning-faster bit is more about using the motor for an assist to allow higher cadence than you ordinarily could attain under a similar load, unpowered.
Again thinking of your mid drive ebike as if its an exotic sports car with a manual transmission: In between each gear you need to let off the power (stop pedaling or thumb off the throttle), shift and hit the accelerator (the throttle, or start rotating the crankarms/pedals). If you have a gear sensor you will not have to worry (officially) about the ‘let off the power’ part as that will be safely done for you.
If you want to pedal the bike and not use throttle at all, thats great. Use the lowest comfortable boost setting, and keep your legs spinning fast via smart gear choices – just like on a regular bicycle. Never lug the bike with slow pedaling up a steep hill. Be a spinner, not a masher.
If you are pedaling slow on flat ground, or downhill, you are not providing resistance to the motor or added pressure on the chain. There is a lot less to worry about insofar as cadence or lugging the motor is concerned. You do however need to ALWAYS do the following no matter the terrain:

Never Shift Under Power​

Even if you have a gear sensor. Thats right I said it. Don’t trust the gear sensor unless you are forced to. Pause your input for a split second and do your shift.
More Specifics on Mid Drive Shifting here:
"Do I Want A Gear Sensor?"


Shifting while pouring huge watts into your chain is an ugly thing. You will recognize your mistake the instant the result hits your ears. It probably won’t kill the chain outright, but as you hear that chain smash from one cog to another you will know your bike hates you very, very much.
If you treat the gear sensor as a fail-safe rather than taking it for granted, you will be much more likely to avoid disaster. As you become familiar with riding your mid drive and how it behaves, you will naturally figure out how to push its limits and minimize that pause/blip when you shift. You likely will get smart enough to shift under power and let the gear sensor save your bacon. But for your first few weeks of riding this thing… treat the gear sensor as a backup, not the default.
Here’s a technique you want to learn as part of your education on operating a mid drive: Using your brake lever motor cutoffs as a clutch: Just slightly actuate the levers so the cutoff kicks in, but the pads don’t engage. Lift when the shift is finished. You can stay on the throttle or keep pedaling while doing this so the process is near-seamless.
Many ebike levers have this ability built into them. Magura MT5e levers have a mid-lever hinge that lets you touch the brakes and engage the cutoff without any pressure making it to the caliper.
Check out the little pin in the middle of this ebike brake lever. That is a hinge to give the lever a *touch* of give so you can cut the motor off without engaging the brakes.

Keep Chain Alignment As Straight As You Can​


This doesn't really apply to less than 1000W bikes.

Mid drive motors tend to work in a lot wider range than humans do. So you can leave the motor in a gear that would be too low for your cadence and let it spin away like crazy… it likes it that way. So, this piece of advice is partly about how you ride the bike (i.e. what gears you let it sit in) but also about how you build it if its a DIY effort.
You really only need three or four gears in the middle of your cluster on a mid-drive-powered ebike. You want them to be the ones that let the motor spin fast. You also want the cogs the bike is happiest in rpm-wise to not be cockeyed, front to back (i.e. bad chain alignment). So regardless of whether you built this bike or you just bought it, when hammering on the torque through the drivetrain do not do it when the chain is yawed wide to one side or the other.
On an analog bike you can get away with a lot, since you are only feeding back lets say 150 watts to it. Feed it 1500 and that sideways-skewed chain will become a saw and chew right through your front chainring and rear cog teeth. Be smart when you shift your gears (and when you build the bike in the first place).
The Stormtrooper is a simple BBSHD fattie – at its core a resurrected Motobecane Lurch frame, stripped, de-rustified and powder-coated – that once again uses a steel cluster and halfway intelligent riding to avoid any semblance of extra wear and tear in a VERY hilly neighborhood.
If this is a DIY build, learn in your first outing or two whether there are any problem gears you should stay away from. There are all sorts of offset chainrings (plus 1mm and 2mm shims) available on the market. They cost money, but spending that money now means not spending it later after you have walked home.

Just Say No To Your Smallest Cog​

Standard advice in DIY build circles is to Stay The Hell Away from your 11T small cog. If you don’t, you will wear it out very quickly – as in only a very few hundred miles. Or you will simply break it. Even if you are smart and pick a steel cassette cluster, the two smallest cogs in that cluster will typically be alloy. And as we all know… steel bends but alloy breaks. Those little cogs are just as likely to crack as they are to wear out superfast.

FYI: 11t, 12t, 13t, 14t, 15t cogs can be purchased on Amazon for about $6 each, and they are available in 7/8 all the way through 12-speed. They work, and they are exactly the same as the cog you are replacing besides the brand name. So don't worry about eating through your smaller cogs. Normally the smallest two are disconnected from the rest of the cassette, so they are easy to replace, you dont have to drill out the rivets or anything.


There’s a second reason to stay off the little cog. If you build your bike right, the best, straightest chain alignment is somewhere in the middle of the cassette. You want that to keep your chain from becoming a chain saw to your front chainring and your rear cogs. Since your teeny little cog is all the way outboard, that is worst case for chain alignment. On some bikes you’ll even start skipping your chain on that little cog, thanks to a skewed chain and high torque. Under serious power that is a recipe for cracking the cog… or maybe even breaking the chain.
And here’s a third reason: When you start riding your new wonderful bike build, you will likely find there is a point of diminishing returns that your littlest cog is well outside of. You can shift into a higher and higher gear but at a certain point… all those cheeseburgers you have eaten over your lifetime impose an upper speed limit. Shift to a higher gear and the motor just bogs down. If it can’t generate motion, it generates heat instead. And thats bad.
Testing my Stormtrooper’s 30a BBSHD running a 52v battery, I found the following: I built the bike with a cluster whose smallest cog was 12T, knowing the problems with 11T already. I found (with stock programming, before I revised it) I had a 33 mph upper speed limit on that 12T cog. But it took a city block to get up there. If I shifted to my second, 14T cog, my top speed was about 31 mph and I got there within maybe a hundred yards. On my 3rd cog in, top speed was about 28 and I zipped right up to it.
So… no real incentive to use the two smallest cogs.

Build Smart​

If you bought your bike manufactured with a mid drive installed from the factory, this part has already been taken care of. If you are building an aftermarket conversion, you will have to buy components that are strong enough to handle the punishment your 1500w+ motor will mete out. Almost 100% of internet whining about mid drive reliability is from builders who fail at this stage.
While a lot of this article is repetition as I stated at the beginning, this is one place where I will just refer you to what I have already written elsewhere. Its only applicable to DIY builders so if thats you, go to this link and scroll down to the Mid Drive Motors section.
UPDATE:
Or just go here as, since I wrote this post originally, I did a whole article focusing exclusively on avoiding mid drive build mistakes.

Quit Whining… Its Not Really This Bad​

I am making this sound like a lot of work. Upshift this and Downshift that. Here’s the reality of it: You’ll figure out a happy medium real fast. You won’t need to do much shifting at all. I certainly don’t. Mid Drives live in a much wider gearing range than humans like to, so you will naturally need to shift less. You’ll figure this out soon after you begin riding.
As a builder the first thing I do is pick a chainring size thats suited to my terrain. Big ones for flat land. Littler ones for steep city streets. Tiny ones for the Sierras. Thats part of the magic as well. Most of the rest is you just picking a cog a couple-three steps up from the bottom of the cluster and staying there. Live with a little less top end speed, or say to hell with it and hammer it if you must. Let the motor spin you up so you can whizz past the small children playing ahead of you.
My Envoy cargo bike lives on the California coast, where nothing is flat. But I hardly ever have to shift. The egg sandwich, however, is no longer with us.

Wrapping it up​

If you build with appropriate components, and ride it smart, even a high powered mid drive will essentially last forever.

Besides going 40 mph on the street, I don't understand the point of a high-powered mid-drive. You can do 40 mph on the street just as well with a high-powered hub drive. And offroad, yes in theory you could climb fire roads at 20 mph (some guys do that) but now that becomes a test of your skill level, since in the words of a former local MTB pro that converted over to a mid-drive "The uphills are now like the downhills." That makes it more of a skill level / reaction thing than 'just someone' wanting to go fast up hills. It starts to become more like a gas-powered dirt bike where you really need proper training to offroad up stuff that fast on a heavier bike. You can't be a beginner and think you can just 'go' 20 mph up steep fire roads, that's going to be very dangerous.


Yeah sure you will wear out the chain and rear cluster in say three thousand miles, the smallest cog in half that, and the chainrings in 10. But thats peanuts considering how many miles you put on the bike.

I assume he's using 8-speed. 10-12 speed is going to wear in 1500 / 750 / 2000-3000 miles, not 3000 / 1500 / 10000 miles.


And you will have an absolute blast doing it!
Looked long and hard at mid -drive v rear hub. Took advice from a graet bike shop nearby. I was shown chainrings and cassettes swappped out of a mid-drive, and a bike frame with a shattered bottom bracket where the torque of the mid-motor conversion ha broken the down tube welds.

I can see the attraction of the mid-drive and there is no doubt they yield a great cycling experience. However, on balance, the sheer simplicity, reliability and economy of the hub drive won me over. The next most important factor was the fact that I can keep all 3 chain rings with the hub motor. Where I live you are either cycling up hill or coasting down. Some of the gradients nearby are brutal and those very low gears are a life saver.
 
You didn't know that the BAC 855 is only good for 52V? You needed to get the BAC 2000 for 72V. It's right there in the sales information. But, yeah, they have some bugs still in the Photon. See my posts in that thread. They need to step up and fix or replace my unit soon or I will be sending it back for a refund... or going through my credit card for a chargeback if necessary.

CYC sold me a cyc pro1 gen2 with ASI bac 855 BT controller kit. First I got the wrong wiring harness sent to me it was long Bluetooth I screwed it for weeks. Till cyc technical sent me the needed Bluetooth wiring harness I waited for 14 days and the connector was broken so I contacted cyc technical and they sent me a second Bluetooth wiring harness that wasn't defective smashed. It made it bright but at 72 volts it through everything at the motor and would shut down.
 
Both BAC controllers work on 36 through 72 volt . The BAC 855 and the BAC 2,000 . The 2,000 is more amps.
And it did spin and run on the road but after it going foll throttle or full blast it it would shut down the controller.
I wrote a letter but it's four pages long of what I've been through to the last 2 years. And now they don't want to take any responsibility they're trying to tell me it's an ASI BAC problem. And they're trying to wash their hands of responsibility except to give me a 20% discount on that new controller that they make in house that you're telling me has bugs and is not working properly. I thank you for that information.
 
Ok... I may be remembering wrong but I swear they said BAC 855 did not do 72V. In any case, my Gen 2 X1 on Bac 855 and 52V still rocks. I just wish it weren't so damn noisy. I just had my old Stumpjumper XC out for a spin testing a new battery mount and it feels like a little moto on 52V. Must be crazy on 72V, especially with the larger controller.

As for issues with the new controller on my Photon, I am not sure the issues are with the controller or just a bad display. I haven't heard back yet. The vendor said they had "several cases" they were going to be discussing with CYC engineers, but it wasn't clear to me that they were all the same.


Both BAC controllers work on 36 through 72 volt . The BAC 855 and the BAC 2,000 . The 2,000 is more amps.
And it did spin and run on the road but after it going foll throttle or full blast it it would shut down the controller.
I wrote a letter but it's four pages long of what I've been through to the last 2 years. And now they don't want to take any responsibility they're trying to tell me it's an ASI BAC problem. And they're trying to wash their hands of responsibility except to give me a 20% discount on that new controller that they make in house that you're telling me has bugs and is not working properly. I thank you for that information.
 
Here's my post from 2020

ASI BAC 855 controller BT app problem​


  • Thread starter999zip999
  • Start dateAug 13, 2020
  • Never worked where you can ride it. It just hit so hard when you gave it throttle it would make a controller shut down. Yeah I also heard that display they sell with it will lock up as with the controller will brick but they almost told me it was ASI problem even though they sold it in their kit.
 
Looked long and hard at mid -drive v rear hub. Took advice from a graet bike shop nearby. I was shown chainrings and cassettes swappped out of a mid-drive, and a bike frame with a shattered bottom bracket where the torque of the mid-motor conversion ha broken the down tube welds.

I can see the attraction of the mid-drive and there is no doubt they yield a great cycling experience. However, on balance, the sheer simplicity, reliability and economy of the hub drive won me over. The next most important factor was the fact that I can keep all 3 chain rings with the hub motor. Where I live you are either cycling up hill or coasting down. Some of the gradients nearby are brutal and those very low gears are a life saver.

If you can run a wide enough tire in back (like a 2.5) and put sealant in the tube, yes a hub drive is fine for most stuff. 2.5 in my experience can clear the chain on the middle and large chainring but not the small one. 2.4 should be able to clear the small chainring. Should. If not, 2.35 should.

I want to climb offroad, so of course I would like to try that with a mid-drive instead.
 
Selection of Mid Drive, Geared Hub, or Direct Drive (DD) Hub is easy:

Want to ride off road...Mid Drive and the Bafang BBSHD is hard to beat.

Stay on good surfaces and a Geared Hub is the way to go if you want a top speed below 30 mph...any faster and you may run into over heating problems. I picked the geared hub over a DD hub because it will produce more torque per battery amp and it is lighter than a DD. My choice for a geared hub motor is the MAC or GMAC.

Stay on good surfaces and want a top speed over 30 mph, a Direct Drive hub is the way to go. Super simple and difficult to over heat. Add Statorade or ATF if it runs too hot. Motor choice depends on a number of variables but Leaf 1500w, a QS205, a Cromotor, a Crystalyte Crown, are all good options as well as many others.

Above is my advice...others may feel differently. The "30 mph" I mentioned above can shift faster if you have less load or shift slower if you have a heavier loads...just depends on your individual situation/circumstances.
 
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