Building a Front Wheel Drive recumbent lowracer – England

recumbent lowracer

Ian Swindells of England built this lowracer from scrap and custom parts.

Ian W. Swindells (forum member swizz69) always wanted a recumbent bicycle. Researching online brought him to the AtomicZombie builders forum.

After learning about the Warrior Tadpole Trike, Swindells was motivated to design and build a Front Wheel Drive recumbent lowracer. In a feature article for the AZ newsletter, Swindells discusses the project and the challenges along the way.

Read his story>>

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Bike builders newsletter online – Oct 30

bike builders news

Feature article by David Monk: Building the AtomicZombie Warrior Trike

Parts for your bike projects: axle adapters, disc brake adapters, hub flanges, head tubes and bottom brackets

Bike builders community: Hot topics and intriguing conversations.
Bike builders gallery: New additions. Upload your own photos.
Bike builders feedback: We love to hear from you.

Free DIY tutorials: Many in PDF format
AZTV webisode: There and Back Again: A Zombie’s Tale

This and archived newsletters are here: http://atomiczombie.com/NewsLetters.aspx

 

diy bike plans

A unique highway lowracer

A big wheel forkless lowracer

 

Even though my bike building has come to a bit of a halt this year, that doesn’t mean I’m not coming up with new ideas on a daily basis.  A few times a day, I like to find a quiet place to relax with a notebook and sketch up new project ideas. I have really missed my Marauder. I think it may be time to make another long wheelbase lowracer so I can get out once in awhile to feel that burn as I push both machine and engine to the limits. The terrain out here is not the same as the city, so my lowracer will need to have suspension to take me down the gravel road out to the highway. There isn’t much traffic on the paved highway around here and the ride would certainly be challenging thanks to hills and tight corners.

Another option is to transport it to a nice stretch of country road about 15 minutes from here where there is very little traffic and fairly smooth straight terrain. There are many cyclists using this stretch. I can just see myself eating roadies up once again as I slip under the wind and pass them one by one!

 

Some forkless bike examples

 

This time though, I want a very unique lowracer that has 700cc or 26 inch wheels on the front and back, a rear suspension, over seat steering, and no front forks. Yep, you read that right, no front forks! I have two designs for a forkless bike: one with a hinged triangle and the other with a wrap around frame that allows the front wheel to pivot much like the front wheels of a quad or tadpole trike.

Having no fork over the front wheel would mean that a larger wheel could be used without obstructing the pilot’s view. This will also smooth out the ride, so it would be a decent chassis for an aerodynamic fairing, allowing the rear suspension and long frame take up the bumps. Suspension is a must on a faired lowracer since these things can easily reach automobile speeds, making the smallest bump feel like a pothole. The forkless design and long wheelbase configuration also keep the front of the fairing low so that you can see the road ahead rather than having to peer around the body. This type of streamliner would not be all that great for pack racing on a track, but out on the open road, it would be a real blast!

 

A crazy pivot fork bike

 

The easiest forkless design is shown in my sketch and in these cool examples, where the hub pivots on a kingpin held in place by a single tube that wraps around the wheel, leaving space for the turn. I would run a connecting rod up to a control arm just behind the front wheel and then use dual cable steering to get around the curved tube so that there would be less flex in the system and tighter side tolerances for a fitting into a full fairing.

My other version involves a hinged triangle with the pivot very low behind the wheel to keep the tiller effect minimal. I have tried this in the past on this crazy ride called “Tour De Hell”, but the result was a bike that had serious bad attitude and took a lot of practice to ride smoothly.

Of course, having a short wheelbase and a huge amount of tiller, this bike steered like a front end loader, swinging from side to side and causing serious steering feedback. I think this system would work out on a long wheelbase recumbent if the pivot had more caster and was placed much lower to get it closer to the axle. I am not sure if I will actually try the pivot fork design since the other method would defiantly work as expected.

Perhaps this winter I may cut some tubing and lay out my new forkless highway lowracer. I always wanted to build a long wheelbase lowracer and then go all the way on a fiberglass fairing so I can get out and push the limits of what is considered possible under human power. I certainly won’t be heading to Battle Mountain to race with the big boys of speed, but I would certainly have fun smoking past road bikes doing 50 MPH on a faired lowracer down our country roads!

~ Brad

The time and space conundrum

Our basement before any renos were done

 

Time and space are those two things that have always managed to stump the world’s greatest thinkers, leaving us to the stark realization that we are but visitors on this rock, hurling through time and space at 66,000 miles an hour, tethered to a burning sphere by an invisible force in an unfathomable universe. This most of us take for granted, while refusing to believe these forces have any more effect on us than a butterfly beating its wings halfway around the world.

Yeah, I stole that quote from the X-Files and my mention of time and space here is under a different context, a more literal one; most of us need more free time and a larger space to work in! I am constantly trying to find more room for my junk (priceless parts collection) and at the same time store my creations, but there is never enough room, so often bikes are recycled for parts after a year or two. This constant shuffling of stuff then leads to my ever present lack of time, and often I just let things pile up and work around the mess since a full cleaning would take most of the day away.

After we moved into a single wide modular home, I knew that my indoor workspace would need more a lot more room; it was time for some basement renos. I have a fair collection of electronic bits for my work, so storage space and workbench room are very important. I decided to turn one end of the basement into a lab. It’s always fun to share photos of our workspaces, and since I have blogged about my old bike building shack down at the bottom of the hill, I thought it would be fun to show the space I am occupying as I write this now. The lab!

Anyone who has been in a modular home knows that they are 16 feet wide and long, really long! We decided to custom design the modular to sit on a full 9 foot basement so that we would double our space and end up with huge windows, making it seem less like a basement and more like a split level. The engineered trusses are great because all of the ductwork is out of the way, 9 feet about the floor level.

All of my electronics parts, robot bits, and good bike parts ended up in the basement, since we have very little outdoor storage space. The AZ parts orders are also packed down here on the brown table. There is a decent amount of space here, but I have not had much time to organize it or do any work. I did however, get to complete my new lab recently and am typing out at you from it right now.

Working with wood instead of steel

 

When you are a DIY type, it doesn’t matter what materials or tools you are using – you just measure three times, cut once and adapt along the way. Working with wood is certainly easier than steel, but doing a proper renovation does take a lot of research into code. Living in a Northern climate and having a 5 foot concrete wall with a 4 foot stud wall on top took some amount of planning in order to get the insulation done correctly. I had to build another 2×6 wall an inch ahead of the concrete wall and create an air barrier on the cold side then a vapor barrier on the warm side, keeping to an R24 insulation value.

Sure, I know what I am talking about now, but when I started, I didn’t know the deference between an air barrier and a moisture barrier. A moldy basement was not something I wanted, so I did my research. The secondary wall took out about a foot from the width of the room, but it still ended up being 14×16, and that was certainly enough room for me to work on my technical projects and plan writing.

My new lab partially completed

 

I continued the secondary wall up to the top, added a suspension ceiling, lights, lots of electrical and then put down a waterproof composite floor that looked like hardwood. I was quite happy with the final results, considering much of the things I did were new to me. I still need to finish building the cupboards and workbenches, but I am quite comfortable on the temporary tables and have plenty of room to store my stuff.

So, if time permits, I will once again expand my space, enjoying the rewards of DIY and learning new skills as I move along.  No doubt, if you are the type of person who would build a bike, you probably enjoy other DIY projects as well around the house and yard. DIY is a way of life!

~ Brad

Random thoughts, more rain!

Managed to snap a pic in between storms.

 

It’s official; we now live in the rain forest! And, when it’s not raining, the humidity hovers between 70 and 80 percent, so it might as well be. Oh well, here I am complaining about the rain when three months ago I was up to my waistline in snow. I guess that spring and fall really are the only good seasons for an outdoor bike hacker like me.

I did manage to get an hour on the Transporter Cargo Bike and added the cables, levers, and shifters. The first test run went well minus the fact that I had almost no air on the front tire. To complete the plan, I still have to get some photos and video of the bike being loaded with cargo, so it will be a game of waiting for the weather to cooperate.

Wow, a day that might not rain!

 

This week’s forecast is pretty much the same as the last two months with 40 to 60 percent chance of showers, which really means spitting rain every hour followed by intense rain for a few minutes and then 70 percent humidity until the next wave of rain. I don’t ever remember this much rain, and I am seeing plant life that looks like it belongs in the Amazon jungle around here.

New welding and grinding tutorials coming

 

In an effort to do something useful this year, we have decided to start making some highly detailed welding and grinding tutorials to replace the old ones on our website. These will be step-by-step video and photo tutorials from the very beginning that will show a noob what kind of welder and gear he or she might need, right up to controlling distortion. Since bike building seems nearly impossible out here this year, I plan to retro fit the non-leaky side of my shack with some backing boards and turn it into a video studio to make the new tutorials.

I will be purchasing a MIG welder as well for the tutorials since many are using one and will go through the process of both arc welding and MIG welding in great detail. Grinding tutorials will be the same in depth video and photo tutorials with hundreds of images lots of example videos, and text that explains everything one would ever need to know in order to jump head first into this great hobby.

A robot project from 2001

 

I like to dig through my old photo archives when I am doing my morning blog. Here is a real retro photo of one of my first large robot projects. If you can drag your gaze away from my super cool sideburns for a second, then you will see that I am riding on the robot, with an RF controller in my hand during a test run of the differentially steered transmission system. This robot was quite unstable and dangerous since it could reach speeds of 20 miles per hour and then flop over face first when something glitched in the motor drive processor!

But, the robot was fun to operate. I would sit indoors looking at a video link being transmitted from the head mounted camera and navigate (carefully) around the block, interacting with stunned bystanders using a text to speech processor that made the robot talk. I do miss building these things. Once I have an indoor workspace again, I have plans to build a 4×4 autonomous robot that will patrol our yard and keep that dumb bear off the property.

Well, I am going to head our and face the rainforest now. I have to find a way to cut the lawn in between drizzle as it is now knee high in most areas. Talk at ya later.

~ Brad

Paper, Proto, Plan, Precipitation!

A tandem tadpole trike sketch

I was really hoping to have the Transporter Cargo Bike ready to show off for this morning’s blog, so far this year has turned our area into a rain forest. Sure, it’s great for the garden and berry trees, but not great for getting any welding or building time in because my shack has no doors or windows and leaks when it rains. Add to that the 2 foot tall grass and I am starting to wonder if perhaps winter would be more productive after all! OK, enough complaining I will save that for the end of the blog!

While searching for something else to blog about, I thought of what it takes to turn an idea into a working project. I divide the process into three steps: paper, prototype and then plan. Most of the time, an idea never leaves the paper stage. I currently have 43 full spiral ringed notebooks of bike ideas that I have collected from over the last five years. Sadly, I never kept notebooks before that time, so a lot of cool and crazy ideas ended up in the recycle bin.

I usually start with a few pages of rough sketching just to get my head around the basic idea and how it might look.  It takes only a few minutes to sketch up a bike. The sketches offer a decent view of many of the difficulties in designing a bike or trike such as chain line, seating position and steering. I can usually determine if an idea is viable within a few pages worth of sketching, and by the 10th drawing often the bike or trike is radically different than the original idea. This tandem tadpole trike sketch seemed workable, so it was one of the few drawings from several thousand that moved to stage two – prototype.

The Viking Tandem Trike

All of the AZ plans go through a prototype stage so that ideas can be tested in the real world and then either modified or scrapped. Having a rough prototype means I can beat the hell out of the vehicle and see what it can take, making any adjustments that may be necessary. This tandem trike proto was made of electrical conduit and BMX wheels and took about two weekends to put together. We tested this trike at a campground for three days, beating it up over trails, down rough gravel roads, and even off road at times. It held up, even though there was no frame trussing and many of the welds were only half finished. My thinking is that if a poorly build proto can hold up to abuse, then a properly built final design would certainly hold up to just about any conditions. So, the next step was to turn proto into plan.

Turning paper into prototype

When I built the Viking Tandem Trike based on the original prototype, I made it a lot more durable and added many new features such as an unlinked transmission system, adjustable bottom brackets, dual disc brakes and under seat steering. The 1.25 inch conduit was replaced by 2 inch square tubing and the frame was properly triangulated for supreme strength. Building a plan from a prototype is a much longer process because every step has to be meticulously photographed and documented, but it is worth the effort when I see completed projects based on our plans being posted in the gallery.

So I am 95% into the plan stage on the Transporter Cargo Bike and only need to add the brake and shifter cables to complete the plan. But, the rain-man seems to have other plans, keeping me indoors as of late.

This is a typical site out here lately

The weather report has been practically the exact same for more than a month – a 40% chance of thunder showers and high humidity. What that means is that it spits rain once every few hours and dumps rain once a day. The grass is constantly wet, and my bike building shack smells like the back of uncle Jeb’s cabin…ack! I am at the point where I need a nice dry sunny day to get the final photos done, even if the rain holds off for four hours, I would be happy. Oh well, the apples and berry trees are sure enjoying the new rain forest, but the lawn is getting so tall it may take three days to hand mow the yard the next chance I get! I wonder, is there such a thing as an anti-rain dance?

~ Brad

DIY always gets attention

I’ve always had a passion for radical bike designs.

If you have been hacking things together for any length of time, then you probably know that your unique creations draw attention wherever you are. When I was in my early teens, I would string four or five scrap bikes together and my buddies and I would wobble down the street on my contraptions that often resembled bikes from Doctor Seuss books. Making it back home in one piece was a 50/50 chance because I usually only brazed my early bike hacks, but the one thing that was guaranteed was a lot of attention.  My intent was never to make something to draw a crowd, but I often found myself talking to a group of interested onlookers or even speaking into the camera on the evening news.

I took a long break from bike hacking after getting my first motorcycle (and job), but found myself back out in the garage in the year 2000 to rekindle my DIY roots and get my mind off the daily grind of living in the real world. I started collecting junk bikes and old power chair parts and concocted some cool bikes and robots out in the small garage just to have fun on the weekend. Oddly enough, I never took any photos or intended to publish these works. One day Kat suggested that I put some of the bikes up on my website AtomicZombie.com, which at the time was a home for electronics hacking stuff I was doing.

Getting youth interested in technology.

 

Well, within months I started connecting with some amazing people and realized I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed making art from metal, sometimes for fun, sometimes to be practical. It didn’t take long before the word spread locally, and we were dragging my creations to all kinds of events. The large video guided robots were always popular. I enjoyed inspiring young hackers to consider this great hobby. The robots were a natural crowd magnet since I controlled them from miles away via video link and could communicate to people by typing words into a speech synthesis station at the base, making the robot seem intelligent. Soon my remote robots’ main purpose was to draw in a crowd and baffle them with technology.

Photo op with some visiting teens from the USA after my World Record ride.

At one point, I decided to aim for a Guinness World Record, making the tallest rideable bicycle, and figure it would be fun and possible draw a bit of attention to the website which was now mostly dedicated to bike building. Well, I was certainly not ready for the storm that this thing generated once the word got out! I must have done a dozen live radio interviews, news casts and even a live spot on a a national broadcast of Canada AM . Tall bikes sure draw the crowds!

When the tallbike called “SkyCycle” made it to a full color page in the Guinness Book (along with my mug), I was shocked. I knew these crazy contraptions could draw interest, but I had no idea how far it could go. Even a simple recumbent bike like the Marauder would spend half the time parked as I explained the bike to interested people along a ride. No doubt, all you DIY enthusiast out there know what I am talking about.

When I think back to me pre-DIY days, I guess my inspiration did come from seeing others’ creations, although it was mostly in the form of photos from old Popular Mechanics books or the odd newspaper article. Now, with the internet jacked into our heads like The Matrix, it’s so easy to connect with other DIY folks and share advice, so the community is stronger than it’s even been. Back in the early 1980s I would have never thought that one day I would be saying, “Hey!” to a cargo bike builder in Africa and then a trike builder in Australia within a 15 minute span.

So, if you are a new builder just getting ready to roll open that garage door and head out on your new DIY creation, get prepared for the attention your work will draw.  You will now become the source of inspiration for a young generation of future DIYers, so make sure you pass along that attitude that drives us all, “Yeah, you can do this, too”!

~ Brad