An Open-Source Ebike Motor Controller

DIY e-bikes are often easy to spot. If they’re not built out of something insane like an old washing machine motor, the more subtle kits that are generally used still stand out when compared to a non-assisted bike. The motors tend to be hub- or mid-drive systems with visible wires leading to a bulky battery, all of which stand out when you know what to look for. To get a stealthy ebike that looks basically the same as a standard bicycle is only possible with proprietary name-brand solutions that don’t lend themselves to owner repair or modification, but this one has at least been adapted for use with an open source motor controller.

The bike in use here is a model called the Curt from Estonian ebike builder Ampler, which is notable in that it looks indistinguishable from a regular bicycle with the exception of the small 36-volt, 350-watt hub motor somewhat hidden in the rear wheel. [BB8] decided based on no reason in particular to replace the proprietary motor controller with one based on VESC, an open-source electric motor controller for all kinds of motors even beyond ebikes. Installed on a tiny Arduino, it fits inside the bike’s downtube to keep the stealthy look and can get the bike comfortably up to around 35 kph. It’s also been programmed to turn on the bike’s lights if the pedals are spun backwards, and this method is also used to change the pedal assist level, meaning less buttons and other user-interface devices on the handlebars.

[BB8] has been working on this for a while, and although the bulk of a working ebike controller is there, it still doesn’t support the torque sensing pedals included with this bike. We’re presuming that this is still a work-in-progress as the Arduino and associated code easily interfaces with all the other sensors available on this bike. Hopefully this open-source motor controller finds its way into other proprietary systems as well, since a lot of these ebikes can turn into massive paperweights if the companies who originally built them go out of business or simply decide to stop supporting older models. Of course, you can avoid this issue entirely by building your own ebike from spare parts.

Thanks to [Arnoud] for the tip!

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