Custom Build Gallery, The Appel Cruiser

August 13, 2018

Here is an ebike where the builder is using a common hubmotor, but…he is mounting the motor into the frame, and connecting it to the rear wheel by a chain. Of course, most available frames wouldn’t allow for a motor to be mounted there, so…he simply brazed-up a custom frame. There are several benefits to doing this, and if this kind of thing interests you, read on…

Pic #1, The Appel Cruiser, with a hubmotor used as a mid-drive.

There are several things I like about this ebike. As soon as a saw it, this ebike jumped to the top of the waiting list of articles I wanted to write. For several years I have known about a variety of builds that used a hubmotor as a non-hub build. However, this one did a great job of engineering the details, and also provided enough pictures to show future builders how it could be done.

A common hubmotor is almost a commodity item. They are literally mass-produced by the millions in China, and the few ebikers in the USA who buy them can only choose from the selection that the Chinese manufacturers provide to Asia and Europe. However, the selection has improved over the last few years, so that we here in the US finally have a fairly good selection of options. Hubmotors are narrow enough to readily fit inside a bicycle frame, and the most common direct-drive (DD) hubmotor size has a 205mm diameter stator.

Geared hubmotors have a lot of torque for their size, but….you must use them within their rated power levels because they have a poor heat-shedding pathway from the interior of the motor to the outside air. Although…I must admit that if you gave a large geared hubmotor the use of seven derailleur gears (like the way this build does, or maybe 3-speeds in an IGH?), then…it would actually be a viable option that was slightly smaller in diameter than the Crystalyte shown.

The DD hubmotors can take quite a bit more heat than geared hubmotors (in their stock form), and…they also have the option of adding Ferrofluid and hubsinks to increase their ability to shed heat. So, geared hubmotors are a great solution for a mild commuter, but for hot-rodding?…a DD hubmotor is the way to go.

Pic #2, The Appel Cruiser DD hubmotor (this pic from the V2). Reference this picture when you read below. The single-speed freewheel is a 16T, and the solid track cog that is attached to the motor is a 17T.

Most bicycles don’t have enough room to mount the battery and also a DD hubmotor inside the frame. But…if you manage to do this, there are several performance benefits. It would be easy to use available sprocket-sizes that would provide a 3:1 ratio between the motor and the wheel, so lets discuss that as the theoretical option.

DD hubmotors (by design) will spin at the RPM’s of the rear wheel. For a common 26-inch bicycle wheel that is spinning at the US national ebike speed limit of 28-MPH?…that is only 362-RPM’s. Spinning that slow means you are leaving a LOT of horsepower on the table. Most industrial motors operate at their most efficient speed, which is near 3,000-RPM’s. Higher RPM’s than that have some power benefits, but it would also have higher frictional losses. If we are using an easily-sourced 2:1 sprocket ratio, then…we can spin the motor two times faster, for about 700-RPM’s. It’s not the more ideal 3,000-RPM’s, but…it’s a hell of a lot better than the stock 360-RPMs when it comes to getting the max possible power and the resulting lower amp-heat.

This builder has reported that this ebike accelerates quite well, and also climbs hills well…and that is even while it is currently using only 36V. (edit: to spin the motor faster than the common RPM’s, you would have to spec the fastest kV model of the motor, and also raise the system volts, and two 36V batteries in series can provide 72V)

A closer look at the components.

Since the rear wheel has a freewheeling freehub, the motor only needs a solid (non-freewheeling) sprocket to drive the rear wheel. As you can see, the “track cog” shown at the bottom left of the pic above is a 17-tooth that is made for a common 3/32 bicycle chain (17T is the smallest that will work with the adapters shown in the same pic). The next stronger size up would be a BMX chain (sprocket is 1/8th inch thick), which is still an option. However, an 1/8th inch chain would not be able to run through a derailleur, and it would be restricted to driving a single-speed, or a 3-speed IGH.

The technical problem that this build answers is…how to let the motor drive the rear wheel, while also letting the pedals remain stationary? If the motor is driving the pedals at the same time that it is driving the motor, then the pedals might strike the ground when turning in a curve (causing a crash), or…it might also swing around and hit the back of  your leg, if your foot slips off the pedal…

Most mid-drives use a freewheeling bottom bracket. There is nothing “wrong” with doing that, however…most freewheeling BB’s are expensive, and they have to try to fit a wide variety of frames. If you use a common “non-freewheeling” BB pedal set, they are readily available and cheap. Using the one that came with the frame you have is guaranteed to work. But…there needs to be a freewheel somewhere between the pedals and the motor, so…Mr Appel has used a clever assortment of available bicycle parts to attach a FW to the motor, for handling the pedal input to the drivetrain.

To understand this power system, start here. You take a threaded disc-brake adapter and spin it down as hard as you can onto the stock freewheel mount, and then mark that adapter and the sideplate, so you can get them back together later in exactly the same orientation. Take note of the black felt marker stripe where the adapter meets the sideplate…

Select the drill bit size that is as large in diameter as possible, but not so large that it removes the threads in the adapter. Drill a shallow dimple in all six locations.

Notice how one disc brake adapter is marked with a red dot, and the other with a black dot? Also, the sideplate is marked with a black dot. It is possible to remove the sideplate and drill all the way through, but Mr Appel was able to achieve a solid connection with drilling six holes that are only a few millimeters deep.

This is what it looks like when all the parts are assembled and tightened down. Notice the center section now has threads in the inside diameter (ID), and this is where the “left side bottom bracket” (seen just below) is inserted, along with a couple drops of thread-locker fluid. The six bolts had their tips filed to make them the perfect length.

The odd part in this system is the cylinder with threads on the OD, called a “left-side bottom bracket cup”. An aluminum BB cup would probably work fine, and they can also be found in steel.

If your bike has a common bottom bracket, it will have 1.375 x 24 threads (sometimes advertised as 1.370 x 24 tpi). At the top left (of the pic above), there are two adapters which incorporate the 6-hole disc brake interface, and also have a 1.370 x 24 tpi inside diameter (ID) threads. Those are designed to convert a common threaded wheel-hub to a solid fixed track-cog (commonly called a “fixie”). The 1.370 x 24 tpi threads on common hubs are normally used to install some type of  freewheel on the right side.

There are many different minor variations of a left-side bottom bracket cup. They can be found in steel and aluminum, but aluminum should work OK because this part of the system only sees the power of your legs pedaling. Half of it will insert into an ID-threaded socket, and the other half will protrude which provides a mount for the single-speed freewheel that receives input from the pedals.

As you can see, he attached two of the 6-hole brake disc adapters onto a track cog, and then spun that assembly down tight onto the threaded hub of the Crystalyte motor. This resulted in the ID-threaded adapters protruding out farther than the original OD-threaded sideplate-shell, and it presented ID threads for the BB cup the be spun-on. Then, he spun the BB cup into the the brake adapter, which then provided an OD threaded shell for the single-speed freewheel to be attached to it.


This collection of parts was never designed to be used together, but…they all fit, and they create a great optional drivetrain for ebike builders.

The Battery

By his own admission, the battery pack this builder put together is mild. He is using six DeWalt 5S / 18V 5.0-Ah packs (since he has a lot of DeWalt cordless tools), in order to make a 2S / 3P system resulting in 36V and 15-Ah. He is planning on upgrading to more power someday, but he had the tools and skills to put this together fairly fast, so…here it is.

A while back, I wrote an article on using a variety of cordless tool batteries for ebikes, so if this interests you, take a look here. Plus, here is an article on a cruiser that also used cordless tool packs.

The DeWAlt battery pack assembly on the Appel Cruiser

The copper-colored box at the top left of the pic above is the controller. It looks like a common 12-FET unit, which is appropriate for a motor of this size. However, since gearing allows the motor to spin many times faster than the rear wheel (and also the side-plates have had ventilation cooling holes drilled into them)…a larger 18-FET controller (which could provide more amps) is not out of the question for a future upgrade.

Building a Custom Frame

The pic below shows a frame jig. It holds all the tubing pieces in perfect alignment while they are tacked into place in a handful of small spots while on they are on the jig. Then, the frame can be removed from the jig and oriented so the builder can get the best possible angle to connect a joint with a solid braze or weld.

Mr Appel’s frame-building jig. The table-rop is steel, and the frame tubing-clamp bases have magnets to hold them down. The rod-like assembly on the left will clamp the head-tube in place.

Raw Cro-Moly steel tubing, anxiously awaiting their turn to embrace their destiny…being transformed into an awesome ebike frame.

There are a couple of mild bends in a few of these tubes, but for the most part the frame is made from straight tubing.

This type of cut on the end of a metal tube is called a “fishmouth”, which coincidentally was also the nickname of my high-school girlfriend.

The pic below is some straight-up frame-building porn. If you are using a brazing torch to assemble a frame, the filler material cannot fill-in gaps as well as a common MIG/TIG welder, so…the good prep work is needed to start-off with a good fit, in order to achieve good results. Mr Appel decided to use brazing to connect the tubes instead of welding, since he already had the equipment, and was skilled at doing it this way.

Look at that hand-filed fit…it just doesn’t get any better than this.

This is a machinists protractor. At the 2:00 O’Clock location from the center is a small round magnifying glass to help old machinists set the angle very accurately.

The downtube and chainstay are getting ready to be joined. Notice the life-sized drawing below them…

The brass brazing material is slightly softer than steel, so it can be sanded to a very smooth finish after the connection is made. The small crosswise section of tubing that was added just behind the bottom bracket shell could be called a “gusset”, which helps to add some strength to that portion of the frame.

Mr Appel used horizontal-slot drop-outs, sometimes called the “track” style. I’ve always liked these for powerful street ebikes.

Checking the alignment, and everything is looking very good.

APL’s early versions

How did this all get started? This builder has a wide variety of fun projects he fiddles with, when he can find some time to play. As a result he has to bounce back and forth between his home and his shop, so he pondered a way to zip around a little faster. He restored an old 20-inch wheeled bicycle frame, and attached a small brushed motor he had laying around (Currie?). It proved to be a success, but he immediately wanted more power, and a larger frame that fit him better…

Mr Appel has a lot of fun projects he works on. This is his first version of a scooter that he used to bounce around his property. The engine behind it is a vintage air-cooled VW, which is a powerplant I am very familiar with.

In the pic below, you can see the second version (V2), which used a frame he designed and built from scratch.

This is version-2 of his runabout scooter

A closer look at the V2 powertrain

In the pic above, you can see how this builder had progressed to a larger and more powerful brushless motor, but kept the motor in the frame instead of simply swapping-in a hubmotor to the rear wheel. The controller is located just in front of the motor, and the battery (along with the batteries’ weight) is the rectangle-shape that is distributed across the entire bottom of the frame.

This is a common Crystalyte hubmotor with a 35mm wide stator (the H35 series). I like how he painted the steel magnet-backing rim red. In this application, he could have cut the steel spoke rims off to reduce the diameter and weight (a tip for those who want to copy this build). The aluminum sideplates have been sanded to remove the black paint, and then polished for a sweet-looking sheen. He has also cut ventilation holes into the sideplates to allow any accumulating heat to radiate out, which will help to keep the motor cooler.

The V3 Appel Cruiser seat

The final version of this cruiser uses a motorcycle seat, and it uses a seat-suspension system that has often been found on vintage motorcycles. The support beam incorporates a pivot at the front, and there is a spring-element at the rear. The V1 pic at the top of this section uses two chromed coil-springs, and the V2 pictured just above uses a single air-shock. Since this is a “hardtail” frame, a possible V4 might use a fatter rear tire to help soak up the road bumps…

The Appel Cruiser

The national speed limit for electric bikes in the US is 28-MPH, and if I needed a commuter to get to work, something like this is an ebike I could live with every day. My most often used ebike is a stretch cruiser with a BBSHD mid-drive. It allows me to blend-in with the mild traffic near my home, while providing a comfortable riding posture and a decent amount of power.

This build has the comfortable posture I like, and even if you only need a low top-speed, it is nice to be able to “accelerate briskly” to avoid 3,000-lb cars with texting drivers. Having the motor as a separate element from the wheel means that you can climb some serious hills without any fear that the motor will overheat, because the motor can be spinning several times faster than the rear wheel.

Cruisers are a style that is usually very polarizing. Either you love them or hate them, and there is typically no middle ground. The message of this build isn’t that you should consider building a cruiser, but that…you should consider building a custom frame that YOU like, something that you can be passionate about, and something that is fun for you.

Have fun, and ride safe my friends.

Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, August 2018

Grew up in Los Angeles California, US Navy submarine mechanic from 1977-81/SanDiego. Hydraulic mechanic in the 1980's/Los Angeles. Heavy equipment operator in the 1990's/traveled to various locations. Dump truck driver in the 2000's/SW Utah. Currently a water plant operator since 2010/NW Kansas


Leave a Reply