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Plus size woman looking to build ebike for commuting & car replacement in Pittsburgh

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    Plus size woman looking to build ebike for commuting & car replacement in Pittsburgh

    I’m a 310 lb woman and I live in Pittsburgh and I’m looking for a new E-Bike to use for commuting, groceries, and maybe someday a full car replacement. My current return bike commute is 6 miles with 400’ of elevation gain. I also regularly need to get up slopes up to 10%.

    This won’t be my first e-bike as I currently own an Aventon Pace 500.2 ST. I bought the bike over the summer and put 900 miles on it in 3 months. That would have been way farther too if it wasn’t for my last two months of ownership being plagued with constant issues. Notably the spokes kept breaking on the bike and after doing some research it appears that this is a common issue for bikes over their weight capacity. (The Aventon Pace 500.2 has a 300 lb capacity.) There’s also been issues with overheating, losing power through the ride, etc. I think this bike is a cute bike but it seems like it was built for casual riders, not what I do to it.

    So I’m currently looking for a replacement bike and having difficulty finding one out there that is affordable and meets my needs. I want a bike that has a maximum payload capacity of at least 350 lbs but preferably more BUT I do not want a long, large, or heavy cargo bike or fat tire ebike. I need to get the bike up a short flight of steps with a sharp corner and a long cargo bike would be impossible to get up there. I’m also not super strong and I can’t push a heavy fat tire mountain bike up the stairs. I want something with a lot of torque to handle the hills and the weight. It seems like all of the pre-built options out there are either dubious or very expensive and not many of them have checked all my boxes.

    Recently I picked up a 1993 Specialized Hard Rock Ultra off of Facebook Marketplace. The bike is in great condition and it’s got this sick purple and pink retro paint job. And I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of converting this into an ebike. I’m not sure if it’s the best bike for me to convert though.

    I think I would like to do a mid drive conversion on this bike and put one of the 750 watt Bafang mid drive motors on it, possibly the BBHSD? I’m open to suggestions, is there anything out there that would be good at handling up to 400 lbs of weight up steep hills?

    I’m concerned about wheel strength given my prior experiences but I think it’s worth noting those wheels were aluminum and the Hard Rock has steel wheels. I’m wondering if I should be considering a different frame that can accommodate wider wheels. That said bike aesthetics are important to me and I don’t really like the aesthetic of fat tire bikes.

    I’m also wondering what I should be looking for with my gearing on this bike. I need something that can get me up hills with groceries but I also want something that can keep up in city traffic, up to 25 mph.

    I’m also thinking I’ll need to put some good breaks on this bike since I have the weight and I’ll be going down some steep hills and I have to deal with stop and start traffic. Also don’t want to hit the pedestrians or other cyclists.

    I don’t have any experience working on bikes except for fixing flats but I do have a couple of local bike collectives who may be able to help me with the basic bike stuff. I also found these videos and they’ve been very informative so far. I’m really interested in learning how to work on bikes and ebikes though.

    My target price is somewhere less than the Surly Skid Loader. I test drove that ebike and it would be perfect to meet my needs if it wasn’t almost $5,000. I’m sure I can keep an ebike conversation (much?) cheaper than that.​

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    The gears on your Aventon are of little help to you because the hub motor doesnt use the gears. So you have little control of overheating issues as you bike your territory. But Mid drive motors use the gears, so you can shift to the lower gears and zip up the hills with no heating issues. So upgrading your specialized would be a good bet unless that bike is truly specialized with quirky dimensions. Fat bikes are better for more capacity, but thats out. So you are looking at getting thicker stronger spokes at the least, and maybe even a set of stronger wheels with thicker spokes already equipped. All dictated by your budget and if you are good with tools. Oh and the bike laws in your area play a part too. BBS02 is 750 watts. My state wont let me use anything bigger. BBSHD is at least 1000watts. So you will have to make those decisions. But the kits are pretty much plug and play. So its mostly just tool skills to mount all the stuff. Then after you get it going, you can see what else you want to upgrade. Like disk brakes and stuff.


    Greetings and welcome to the forum. I think you're on the right track with your reasoning, bike and motor thoughts.

    The BBSHD would be up to the weight and speed task, when properly geared. The CYC motor series is another possibility. The bike is somewhat hampered by the rim brakes and the 7-speed rear gear cluster. The BBSHD also doesn't support multiple front chainrings, further limiting gearing, but it does have a slow walking mode which helps on stairs.

    It's late here, more thoughts tomorrow. Check the rims again, pretty sure stock they were aluminum.
    BBSHD / BBS02 IGH Builds: Nexus / Alfine 8: 1 2 3 4 5 6, Rohloff: 1


    • Empress_of_Penguins
      Empress_of_Penguins commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for your thoughts! What do you think about upgrading my bike to disc brakes?

    • ncmired
      ncmired commented
      Editing a comment
      Unfortunately I think it would be difficult to find a disc capable fork that would fit your bike frame (more on this below). So instead I'd fine-tune your existing front brake arm adjustment, new compressionless brake cable housing and inner cable, new brake pads, trued wheel, and cleaned rim - as in, optimize what's there as best as possible.

      I'd also swap brake cable sides so that your right hand operates the front brake and you can use hand signals in traffic.

      Hang in there, good project start!
      Last edited by ncmired; 11-18-2022, 09:41 AM.

    At a glance that looks like it could be a reasonable bike for a BBS conversion. The 3x front drive is usually a good sign since I think that is what the BBS's were designed to fit. Its the newer 1x designs that often have clearance issues. Looks like a steel frame which I think is good. They are strong and if they fail its usually somewhat slow rather than a sudden catastrophic snap you would get with aluminum or carbon. I also think steel is best for comfort since it can absorb some of the bumps in the road.

    Brakes can be a problem with older bikes. You can upgrade to disc but that requires new hubs/wheels plus some sort of bracket for the frame which they do make but don't always look the best to me. How do the brakes feel now? If at least the back feels decent maybe I would buy a new fork for the front that has disc mounts and a new front disc wheel so at least you will have one good brake. On my street bike I use the front brake a lot and have never felt like I was going to go over the bars or loose control of the front wheel. On a quick stop all the weight goes forward anyway so even with a moderate quality rear brake you will likely end up skidding the rear wheel. Surly still makes some quick release forks with disc mounts. I just got one this spring and its great. Mine was a 29er so I got a Krampus fork. Yours looks like a 26" so maybe the 1x1? Unless you want all the pack mounts then you have to find a different one.

    I would go for the BBSHD. You got plenty of weight to move around and you want the speed and all that takes power. I'm in the 250 range plus the bike and with 29" wheels and 42 front and 36 in the back I have to pedal to keep moving up a moderate hill. My offroad fat bike has 42-42 and if I had that on the streets would probably do fine. Off road its not quite low enough for my weight. On road I can usually increase the speed to keep the motor happy but offroad that isn't always an option.

    That bike looks like its got 26" wheels so that makes the final gearing a bit lower than my 29's so that is good. You could also go with the Lekkie 40t ring which is expensive because it includes a new gear cover for the extra clearance needed. You won't likely be able to go smaller than the 40t because of the lack of an offset so your chain line won't work. Do you know if that bike has a cassette or a freewheel? How may speeds does it have? If you don't know take a picture of the area between the rear sprockets and frame, we can usually see from there if its a cassette or freewheel. IF its at least an 8 speed cassette you have lots of options. If its a 7 speed cassette not as many options. If its a freewheel there are some options there too. I think you want to have at least a 1:1 low gear so 40-40.

    I break spokes on the rear of my offroad bike (a Surly) more often than I should but I must be around the limits and am taking it offroad which I'm sure says in the fine print that you shouldn't do that. On my street bike which is a walmart schwinn I have had zero issues with the wheels other than I'm amazed how dang heavy they are every time I have to change a tire or tube. Guessing I'm just lucky there that I have the right combo of cheap and strong? Maybe the Surly is high end enough that they put a little more effort into weight reduction than strength? Dunno. Your results may vary as they say....

    For doing the work its not too bad if you can deal with hand tools. You do need some special tools to remove the crank arms and remove the old bottom bracket which is the shaft that holds the crank. Removing the old one only has to be done one time and there are several different types and brands so that may be something to just take it to a local bike shop and pay them to crack it loose for you. Likely cost the same as the tool you may never need again. Especially since its off season for bikes where you are I would think you could just walk in and have em do it while you wait if you already have the arms off.

    The tool for the arms is the same as the BBS arms use so buying that is a good thing to have. Park CWP-7 is a reasonable priced compact tool that will do the job and likely in stock at your local bike shop for the same price its online so a good way to score some points with your local shop buying from them. I would not buy the Bafang wrench places sell for like $20, spend the extra money and buy the socket, it works way better. Since I bought the socket I have had zero issues with the motors coming loose.

    IF you buy from a good place like Luna or CA ebikes they will generally sell you everything you need to do all the electrical connections so its just plug and play. If you buy stuff like the battery from different places you may need to buy adapters or make the battery connections which can be out of the DIY range for some people. I like to use 2 miles per amp hour for a rough range calculation when thinking about the battery. With your speed and weight combo I don't think I would expect much better than that. A 100lb person on a rails to trail may come close to 4 miles per amp hour but bigger people in urban areas just use a little more juice. Carrying the bike up some stairs you may want to have a pack that is easy to remove to save some weight? Also if its easy to remove that gives you more charging location options which is good when it comes to safety and security. Not all batteries are equal when it comes to how they attach and safety. Pay the extra to get one from a vendor that has been around for a while and has a good rep. Grin ( has some interesting flat pack batteries that could mount to the side of the rack, note with them shipping to the US has a surcharge for batteries.

    The bigger vendors like Luna have what they call an install helpers kit that has some extra spacers and some longer bolts. Personally I think that is worth the money even if you don't have to use any of it. Better to have it and get it added to a big order so you are not paying shipping on it and having to wait if you didn't order it with the kit.


      No disc brake mounts is a deal breaker on that bike. By the time you replace the wheels fork and add brackets you will have a whole new bike. Look for a 26" MTB with disc brakes already. Look for one with 32mm fork tubes and Avid BB7 brakes and you will be way ahead of the game. Avoid light weight racing stuff.
      The BBSHd is the way to go. Strong enough and very reliable.
      The go to wheelset for strength has been the Sun Rhynolite rim with Shimano XT hubs. You may have to go custon build for 36 spokes instead of 32. Universal Cycles builds wheels.
      Azonic, and Halo also make DH rated wheels. Blue Sky cycling parts out NOS bikes, sometimes they have deals on wheelsets. But you need to know what you're looking at.
      Schwalbe Pickup 6 ply tires would be my choice. I would put Tannus Armour tire liners also. be sure and inflate them higher than normal. The Tannus improves the ride and handling also.
      For brakes Avid BB7 with EBC metallic pads. 220mm front 200mm rear. Any bike mechanic can set these up.
      Hydraulic brakes that will do what you need will be very expensive. $400-500.
      Box Components makes a heavy duty 8 speed Ebike drivetrain that's reasonably priced. The gearing is about right for a BBSHD and hills. Buy spare chain and cassette. Lube often. They don't interchange with other brands. Shimano XT derailer with Sunrace cassete and KMC chain will work alsoif you want more mainstream parts.
      There used to be a KONA Hoss bike for heavy riders. A Surly with derailer would be another brand to look at.Maybe you can locate one of those? I know this sounds like a custom built bike, but for
      + 50% weight at 25mph plus climbing hills, that's about what it will take. Everything I've listed is mid range as far as price goes. The emphasis is on strength and durability. I would suggest a 17Ah battery. but if you can charge up at work between rides the 12Ah might work.
      I know there are suspension forks that are strong enough. But getting the spring rate right for your weight is another matter. Surly makes a lot of rigid bikes.
      Thudbuster LT seatpost with heavy elastomers is probably not officially rated for that weight, but it's intended for hard off road use. I think it would be OK.
      A bike like this will weigh about 60#.
      Last edited by Retrorockit; 11-16-2022, 05:36 AM.


      • Retrorockit
        Retrorockit commented
        Editing a comment
        You could get a street legal 750W BBSHD, and get it tuned up to 1500W with a laptop. It won't hurt that motor at all. 30A @48V will do it.
        The point of this is not to go fast. but to keep up with traffic from stoplights. You can set the speed to a 28mph legal limit.
        Going up a hill at 360# total weight is mechanically doable, but the battery capacity has to be there.
        Batteries with the newer 21700 cells are getting into the normal price range and can have 40Amp continuous ratings. The BBSHD needs 30Amps so be sure you don't get a 20Amp rated battery This is not the same as Amp/hours. That has to do with range, Continuous Amps is how much power at full throttle is available.
        Last edited by Retrorockit; 11-16-2022, 05:23 AM.

      • 73Eldo
        73Eldo commented
        Editing a comment
        Good note about a 36 spoke wheel. I'm not sure how much difference that makes but my walmart schwinn that I ride on the streets and doesn't have spoke issues is a 36. The offroad Surly I break spokes on is 32. Probably a combination of the extra spokes and just a thicker stronger rim.

      • stts
        stts commented
        Editing a comment
        Yup, Retrorockit keeps track of all the best goodies. I will likely use those Tanus Tire liners on my bikes skinny tires. The benefit looks well worth the price tag. Especially since I got no suspension.

      The bike bought has 36 spoke wheels as standard, and if there's an experienced wheel builder at the local bike collective mentioned, they may be able to check, rebuild, repair, or properly tension the rear spokes - especially important due to that rim rear brake. I very much like the idea of a low-cost replacement disc front fork too (1" threaded disc forks are rare, though), and there are wider range thread-on 7-speed clusters if it comes to that. Another thing the local bike collective could do is space out the hub to an 8-speed thread-on and widen the rear triangle as needed.

      To add to Retro's battery mention, whatever you do, don't skimp on the battery. Buy ONLY from reputable sources and be prepared to spend the premium - e-bike batteries can be very dangerous.

      I think she's on the right track - better than many first-timers that come here asking.
      Last edited by ncmired; 11-16-2022, 08:08 AM.
      BBSHD / BBS02 IGH Builds: Nexus / Alfine 8: 1 2 3 4 5 6, Rohloff: 1


      • stts
        stts commented
        Editing a comment
        Yup, if the spokes are replaced with thicker spokes, those rims would be stronger than her other eBike. And this bike would only have half of the spoke stress of her other eBike. The motor flexes the spokes one way, and then the disk brake flexes the spoke the opposite way. Over and over again. This specialized with rim brakes takes 1/2 of the spoke stress out of the equation. Maybe upgrade the V brakes to solid aluminum promax types would be good enough. They dont tress the spokes and it looks like they are twice as long as the ones on the bike. So more leverage and more stopping force.

      • ncmired
        ncmired commented
        Editing a comment
        The OP's comment about "steel wheels" is ominous - the bike originally came with Araya aluminum rim wheels, and I'm hoping they weren't swapped out for schlock cheapo (cough, shite) wheels. But roughly thirty years have passed, so who knows?

      • stts
        stts commented
        Editing a comment
        Yea, she can test it easy with a magnet, but they look like cast aluminum to me from the pics. i had some cheapo steel wheels on my bike as a kid. They were so pathetic. Every pothole I hit put a new dent in the wheel. Then the rim brakes were a rumble in the jungle at every stop.

      Steel wheels are single wall and very weak. The Rhyno Lite rims are triple hollow, not just double wall, and eyelets too. They don't bend so they spread the load among more spokes. Cheap bikes with lots of cheap spokes and flexible rims aren't the answer. 4 extra cheap spokes vs good rims? The Rhynolites, and BB7 brakes have been around for 20 years or more. Mine are almost that old and no problems. TBH 32 spoke will probably work just fine. DH riders use them. One option would be to buy a front wheel with 32 spokes and M525 Deore hub, and have a 36 spoke rear with XT hub built.
      A 300# rider and BBSHD it's probably worth the trouble. Cargo bikes and loaded touring riders use these rims.
      There's a reason they're still available. They just work, and anything better will cost 2X.
      Here's what offroaders at MTBR have to say.
      Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite Rim user reviews : 4.1 out of 5 - 351 reviews. Read it's strength, weaknesses, find deals and pricing -

      Avid Ball Bearing Disc Brake System user reviews : 4.1 out of 5 - 710 reviews. Read it's strength, weaknesses, find deals and pricing -


      • Retrorockit
        Retrorockit commented
        Editing a comment
        TRP Spyke would be another brake to look at. I haven't tried them on an E bike, but with big rotors and metallic pads they stop well.
        The adjustment might be simpler once they're set up. The BB7 has 2 adjusters each, TRP adjusts at the cable like a rim brake.


      Dual 1000 watt motors and 2 rear shocks.

      Two batteries as well I think.

      Ariel Rider Grizzly: the Speed Limiter: Test:

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      Last edited by TwentyIsJustTooDamnSlow_!; 11-30-2022, 10:06 PM.