Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Ninja eBike

Some of you may have seen my custom e-bike that I use on SOTA activations in my videos.  I also use it for commuting, and some general MTB fun in the forest.  It's a great addition to my SOTA kit.  I have over 8,000 miles on the bike commuting to work and have done several fun MTB rides, some of which were for SOTA.  I love it for that.  

I'm mainly a road worrier (commuting on roads on this bike for over 8,000 miles) and I have been all my life but I've done a little MTB.  The problem is, I don't have a lot of MTB technical skills so rocky single tracks have me walking a bit.  I load the bike on the car for specific SOTA missions when I know the terrain will work out for me (mainly an old road that is closed).  At other times, I'll take it when going into an area that I'm not sure about, in case the road is blocked or ends sooner than expected.  The Forest Service does this at times but still allows bike travel (I don't use it to get into closed areas).  

When COVID hit, no more commuting so I did a couple of upgrades to make it a better MTB, with a focus on using it for SOTA.  I started with a free frame from a neighbor and built it up from that a few years ago, and upgrading when needed over the years.  I depend on a a thud-buster seat post for rear suspension which fits my current needs.  I've recently replaced the front suspension with a rock-shock and I changed out the front chain-ring to a smaller one for higher MTB torque.  I take good care of it, replacing the chain and rear cassette and aligning the derailleur when needed.    

The e-bike is a lot of fun!  My custom setup has more than enough power for any situation.  What I've discovered though is that a lot of power doesn't solve everything.  I use a bottom-bracket or "mid-drive" mounted motor.  It provides a LOT of torque and allows me to use all of the gears in the rear cassette.  What I've found, is that when on very steep inclines, more power doesn't help me, in-fact, I'll still have to walk.  This is because more power to the rear wheel causes less traction on the front, becoming so light it's ineffective or you just do a wheelie.  Part of this is because I also have a backpack on.  I could put some weight on the front wheel via a front saddle bag but that's just going to create other issues.  I'm happy to push up some hills (with a tiny power assist) so I can ride down, which can save a lot of time and is a lot of fun as long as it's not too terrifying.  

This video is a perfect example of what not to do in a funny sort of way.  I had just upgraded the bike to  play a bigger MTB role for SOTA but I still had my peddle clips installed like an idiot.  Needless to say, hilarity ensued.   I have flats installed now so my feet don't get stuck.


If you do a build, has high quality batteries and unsurpassed customer service.

  • Bafang BBSHD Mid Drive Ebike Kit
    You have to pick your bottom bracket size.  Normally it’s the 73 - 100 unless you have a larger frame.

  • Add a 52V battery (in the kit form) for max capacity (the BBSHD will accept 48 or 52 but the 52v unit provides more ah.

  • Buy the upgraded charger, not the basic.  It lets you charge up to 80, 90, or 100%.  Charging up to 80% at slow speed will make the batteries last longer.

  • Get a Luna wrench to save headaches.  After assembly, check the nut and tighten.  Do this again after about 1,000 miles, It tends to work loose in the beginning.

  • I have the programming cable but never needed it. 

  • I updated the max speed but you can do that from the front panel.

  • I have a gear Sensor but I don’t use it so don’t buy it, buy mine 😊

  • A Luna chain ring is a must have (pictured below).  It completely eliminates chain slip that you get from the factory chain ring.  I love mine.
    (UPDATE: It looks like their kit might contain their cool chainrings as options now.)

  • I purchased the 48T unit because I ride on the road, so I didn't need the smaller one for commuting but but changed my mind and use the smaller one for MTB right now.  If you want to do that one, call them and see if they will give you a deal on it when you buy the other stuff because it’s not listed as an option in the kit but that could change.

Install & Build

I use a converted Cannondale using a BBSHD kit from Lunacycle (BBSD is hardened and I have 8000 miles on it so I can attest to the life of it but most of those miles are road miles).  It took me a couple of hours to install over my morning coffee and I had never installed one before.


The battery will get me 30 miles set at “2” for peddle assist when the battery was new over the small hills on my commute.  You can roll at “1” which gives you peddle assist over what the drag and weight induced by the system and it gives you a great workout.  Power setting of 2 is a lot more fun but a setting of  “9” is awesome  but is way tooo much powaah 😊.   The throttle override is fantastic for getting you going when going up hill or drag-racing a car from the stop light.  I've never run out of power on a SOTA mission, mainly because the rides aren't that long and, normally, it's mainly down hill back to the car.

Conclusion And Final Thoughts

For commuting, I've really enjoyed it:

  • I don't care how much components weigh and the trunk has a heavy chain lock in it.
  • It gets me to work faster and almost as much of a workout.  In fact, commuting via bike is only 5 minutes longer than driving and I don't have to look for parking.
  • Faster speeds mean better cooling, and who doesn't want that.
  • When I get to work and shower, I can turn up the power to commute to another building and not arrive all sweaty (actually faster than driving).
  • I take a longer way home, turn the power to 1, and get a great workout.
  • If at the end of a long day I have a headache and don't feel like driving, I turn the power up, put on some music and take it easy.  It's always been enjoyable.
  • It's still a great workout and delivers more utility.

The thing about building your own e-bike is that you get exactly what you want for half the price.  It’s rare to see an over the counter bike with a BBSHD.  Normally off-the-shelf is a de-rated 500w motor with half the battery for a minimum of double the cost.  If you don't have a frame, pickup one used.

There is another possible cost savings here.  When you go to an e-bike, you can stop obsessing about bike weight and the Gucci expensive components.  With an e-bike, weight doesn't really matter, so buy a frame that is strong and will last, not the super cool AND EXPENSIVE carbon fiber rigs.

Some people feel like they are cheating.  If having more fun, getting more use out of the bike and still getting a great workout (you still have to peddle) is cheating, then fine, whatever.  I probably wouldn't have commuted via bike to work because I needed to travel between buildings a couple miles or farther away.  I probably lost 10 to 20 lbs the first year and I feel great when I get to work.  

Have fun, hike, ride, or drive up a mountain and play ham radio.


Chris Claborne
aka Christian Claborne

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