Building bikes in my “spare time”

Now that I am having my morning coffee in front of the computer in order to do these daily blogs, I find it difficult to talk about anything except for bikes and trikes. After 10 years of keeping to the subject on the AZ forum, it is almost strange to sit here and simply spill my thoughts out to the blank document on my screen. Ok then, let’s talk about the term “spare time”.

As many of you know, AtomicZombie is a spare time venture for us and I have a day job that had required a lot of attention lately. Yes indeed, I only build bikes when I have the chance and most of my days are spent in front of an oscilloscope in my basement lab where I cook up all kinds of “MacGyver-ish” solutions to my clients’ technical problems. Add to this the “To Do” list of house and yard chores and spare time is almost like gold these days.

We moved out (way out) to the country a couple of years ago and have been learning the ins and outs of being mostly off the grid and maintaining a large yard, greenhouse and garden.  We also intend to move to mainly wood heat, so there has been a lot do to in regards to cutting wood, making a woodshed, insulating the basement and getting ready for another harsh winter. So, it seems that bike building has taken a back seat lately. Am I complaining? No way! But I do miss having two or three days in a row to complete a new bike project.

So, I figured it would be interesting to show some of the other things I have been doing that require the same type of “build it and see” attitude that bike building requires. The last few weekends and non-rainy evenings have been spent digging 3 foot deep post holes in our yard in order to make an arbor and a woodshed.

We needed the arbor because we have no shade in our yard and need a space to grow grapes, so this structure will come in handy. Digging post holes in this soil was an interesting task indeed since it is hard red clay littered with baseball sized stones. This hydraulic auger really worked hard for 12 straight hours, and it was a monumental chore to dig the 20 holes we needed for both buildings.

Some online videos showed this “one man auger” effortlessly drilling into the dirt, making a hole in about 10 minutes, but here it took both of us anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours to dig a single hole due to the sticky clay and rocks that jammed up the machine. To make this thing dig, I actually had to hang off the handle while Kat attempted to keep the auger level at all times. Every 30 seconds, I then had to lift the machine out of the hole and use a screwdriver to chisel out the sticky clay. Yes indeed, we were both sore the next day!

Oh well, we eventually had the posts all set in and finished the arbor, but this two weekend job took up almost a month of evenings and weekends, so I saw no garage time last month. The end result was certainly worth the effort though, and considering this was our first attempt at putting in post or building anything like this, it turned out very well. The arbor is 32 feet long, 14 feet wide, and had a lattice roof so that we finally have a place to hang out and get some shade. I intend to write the next AZ plan on a laptop, and enjoy the country air rather than sitting inside for two straight days.

We planted eight grape plants in the bed behind the arbor and hope they will grow up the entire side of the structure and take over the roof as well. Kat cut dozens of small willow trees from the ditch and wove them between the wall boards to help the grape vines climb the wall, so this should work well as they grow.

Building something like this isn’t really much different than building a bike or trike prototype, you just have to dig in and give it your best shot. Measure three times, cut once, and hope Murphy’s Law won’t work against you that day. So, now I have to build a similar structure to hold our firewood for the year. Oh yeah, I have to actually cut and split it as well, so that should eat up a good chunk of spare time!

I did manage to get three evenings in the bike shack though, and managed to finish the Transporter Cargo Bike, which is now half assembled.

I was just about to put the wheels and chain on and the rain came in heavy, so this is as far as I managed to get on the bike. I am hoping to have the cargo bike ready for the weekend so I can start writing up the plan (under the new arbor), but that will depend on how my day job goes.

This week, I have to complete a circuit board layout, design a software program, build a new graphics processor prototype, and somewhere in there find time to complete the woodshed, so I better keep this blog entry short and get busy so I can show off the new cargo bike soon. So, I shall talk at ya later, and hope you find some of your own spare time to enjoy fun hobbies like bike building!

~ Brad

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