Bike builders news – Pedal Positive!

Think Positive…Pedal Positive! In this issue, Joe Crennen, the creative genius behind Pedal Positive, reveals what drives his creativity, the birth of Pedalpalooza and pedal tractor pull competitions. Folks in Colorado love bikes. Read about some of the unique human powered projects Joe works on.

Also in this issue, Builders Gallery: recumbents, trikes, choppers, tandems, kids’ bikes, tallbikes, electric and motor cycles, cargo bicycles, and more. More than 2 million views!

We need your help. Find out how you can get involved.

This and archived newsletters can be found here:

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

Mutant Ninja Flowers and a Turtle

The AZ Yard Muncher

I know, it’s a bizarre name for a blog title, but when I started doing these morning musings, I decided to just write about the day before and try to keep it fun! As I had mentioned previously, this place has been like a rain forest lately, with rain almost every day for weeks on end. This onslaught of cloud juice has made bike building a real chore since I work outdoors mainly and have a completed bike that I need to take final photos and videos. Yesterday, the rain turned into more of a drizzle so I took this rare opportunity to get the mower out and get some of the yard cut. Now, this may not seem like much of a big deal, but we have to mow a three acre section of the yard. OK, that may also seem like no big deal but get this…I hand mow the thing!

No doubt you think I am insane for mowing three acres with a hand mower, but we have no place to store a ride mower, and this twice monthly mowing sure keeps my legs in good shape. Of course, a true garage hacker would NEVER EVER use an unmodified appliance, so of course I turned this otherwise tame mower into a beast of fury by modding the deck.

As you can see, the safety guard thingy that once held the bag has been replaced by a steel horn like thing that looks more like a snow thrower output horn. This little mower can now shred 3 foot grass, leaves, even small trees into mulch, tossing the shavings in the air a good 10 feet. Before I made this scary mod, the mower could barely cope with knee high grass and would jam up once every half hour. When I mow this yard, it takes me seven to eight hours if I walk non-stop, only stopping to refill the tank.

Mutant mow-proof wild flower

Since we have been having rain forest like rain lately, I have not been able to mow for more than two weeks, and these tall yellow glowers have taken up most of the yard. I don’t know what these things are, but I don’t think they are from this planet, and probably came here on an asteroid or some alien probe. In two weeks, these things grew over 2 feet tall and they can actually survive being run over by the mower. Yeah, no kidding, I mow them over two or three times and they just pop back up! I pulled one out by hand for inspection and they seem to have a stem made of green carbon fibre. At less than a quarter inch thick, the stem is so durable that it cannot be snapped by hand, and is as strong as wire. Anyone know what these things are? I wonder if dynamite will get rid of them?

Half-way through my mowing, a turtle decided to crawl up the hill through the tall grass for a visit. This little guy/gal was a bit annoyed by being picked up at first, but then relaxed and seemed to enjoy the free ride to the other side of the yard, away from the Yard Muncher. There are several creeks and ponds way back in the yard, but these are almost a mile away, so it must have really wanted to explore to make that kind of journey.

This cool dude came for a visit

With the way the weather is changing around here, I wouldn’t doubt that the next thing that comes wandering our of the pond will be a big ol’ gator.

~ 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

Apples, Sparks and Skitters

Summer is definitely a lot better than winter! Let’s face it, when it’s -30C out or even -10C, you cannot work in an unheated space. I have tried this in the past, and even if you can keep your hands warm somehow, the welder won’t run right, causing sticking and burn-throughs nonstop.

There are good and bad things about summer as well, but for the most part summer beats winter any day. Along the pathway down the hill to my building shack are several apple trees and Saskatoon bushes, and I find myself living on the fruit for days on end when I work on a new project. A few gallons of ice water and the apples are usually enough fuel to keep me going for eight hours or more.

Thanks to a lot of rainfall lately, the Saskatoon berries are almost ready to pick, the raspberries are coming along and the apples are about half way there. I look forward to “living off the land” once the berries are ripe, but will probably have to deal with that bear again. Oh well, I have a plan this year, and it involves some “MacGyver-like” contraptions.

Of course, summer does bring it’s annoyances as well and yesterday they almost drove me completely mad. Yeah, you already know what I am going to say…black flies, ticks and mosquitoes! It was raining yesterday afternoon and then the temperature went right up to 30C, so I took the opportunity to head down the hill and see if I could get the Transporter Cargo Bike together for this morning’s blog, but the mosquitoes were so bad that I had to run like a coward back into the house.

Since there is a 60 foot difference in height between the old shack I work in and our house, the climate is completely different down there much of the time. Up on the hill, it is always dry and breezy, but down the hill, it can seem twice as hot, muggy and often no breeze at all. Add to that the fact that my shack has no doors and you have mosquito hell sometimes.

I did manage to get the wheels and chain on the bike, but after dropping the bike twice to swat humming bird sized mosquitoes off my neck, I gave up in frustration. The grass was too long, the place was humid like the rain forest and water was leaking through the roof, so it just wasn’t a productive afternoon. I am really looking forward to getting the new bike out for a test run, so I will see what the weather has in store for me today.

So far, the Transporter Cargo Bike came together very well and only needs to have the brake and shifter cables installed to be usable. I also have to come up with some kind of latch to hold the kickstand up, but have a plan on the drawing board for that. The other tricky bits will be the rear shifter and brake cables, since they need to be more than twice as long as those on a regular bike. I do have some long throttle cable that was purchased off a roll from a motorcycle shop, so I think that will do the trick.

Well, that’s it for this morning; not too much to report on the new bike. If it dries out a bit today, I may get the chance to add the cables and get a few action photos of the completed bike for tomorrow’s blog. Hey, I wonder if I could weld and grind with a mosquito net over my face.

~ Brad

Update – Head tubes and bottom brackets for your bike projects

We are updating the AtomicZombie store to begin accepting pre-orders very soon. Because we do all of this in our spare time, we have to direct our attention to our “real” jobs and thank you for your patience.

AtomicZombie is a two-person operation – Brad and Kat – and there are only so many hours in day to get things done. We’re doing our best for our AZ family and aim to keep expanding our worldwide community.

We appreciate your understanding and continued support.

Yes, head tubes and bottom brackets are being made as I type this. We expect begin shipping orders in late April or early May.

However, we will be accepting pre-orders within a week. So, stay tuned to the forum, AZ newsletters, blogs and social network sites like Facebook for announcements.

Build a simple SWB recumbent bike

Build the KoolKat SWB recumbent

Here is a very simple 20 inch wheel short wheelbase recumbent bike that you can build in a few hours using nothing more than a kid’s bike and a few lengths of round tubing. This project makes a good starter recumbent and is a good experimenter’s platform for those who want to try out various seating positions and angles.

The completed bike doesn’t weigh much more than the bike used as parts, and can be stored in the same space as a regular bicycle. Of course, this simple project lacks many of the more advanced features offered in our DIY plans, but you could always add your own modifications to expand on this project.

You can build a 20 inched wheel short wheelbase recumbent out of just about any kid’s bike or BMX bike. You will need to start with a working cycle or at least one that has functioning wheels, cranks, and a transmission system.  The rear wheel should have a multi-speed freewheel so that you can have multiple gears, but you could also build the SWB around a coaster hub and just make your bike single speed. If you want to climb a hill or reach any decent top speed, then you will need a rear wheel that has at least a 5 speed freehub.

take apart a donor bike

Besides a working 20 inch bike, you will also need a few feet of round tubing. You can cut up another bike frame for the tubing, or just use some thin walled electrical conduit (EMT) for this project. Basically any square or round tubing with an approximate 1.25 inch diameter and a wall thickness similar to bicycle frame tubing will work.

The other part shown in the photo is the bottom bracket and crankset that will be placed ahead of the front wheel. You can cut the bottom bracket from another frame since the original bottom bracket will be unused and left on the frame. For more information on bottom bracket sizes and assembly, see the tutorials on our main page.

making the seat

This simple recumbent bike is made to fit the rider, so it has no adjustable seat or bottom bracket. For this reason, we will make the seat first so that you can later use your body as a measuring system in order to determine the optimal placement of the cranks for your leg length.

Chop off the top of the seat tube as shown in the photo and then find another 12 inch long tube that can be welded over the top of the cut-off seat tube. This tube will become your seat back tube, and it will support the back of the seat as well as set the recumbent angle of your seat.

making a recumbent seat

Part 2 in tomorrow’s blog.


Poor man’s lathe

There are times when you need to modify a part in such a way that you need the use of a lathe or CNC machine, but the cost of such a job or the wait time may not be worth it. I like to spend the day in the garage and get things done right away, but I have only the basic hand held tools, not a lathe or even a drill press. So what is a garage hacker to do when a part needs to be turned down on a lathe and you lack such a tool or the patience to wait for the shop to do it for you? Simple – make an impromptu lathe from your hand held drill!

I was working on this massive autonomous robot project and needed to adapt the axles from a pickup truck rear differential to take a set of bearings and sprockets. Sure, I could have sent them to the shop and paid $150 to have them machined on a lathe, but I did not want to fork out the dough any more than I wanted to wait a month to have this done, so I decided to pull a “MacGyver” and machine down the axles without needing a lathe. Impossible do to the precision needed? Heck no! I even added a keyway to each axle using an angle grinder and the end result was a perfect fit.
Let me show you how I adapted the axle shafts shown here to fit onto the 1 inch diameter bearings and sprockets.

A lathe in its simplest terms is a machine that spins a part so that a cutting bit can remove metal a little bit at a time. So, I knew if I could get the axle to spin, then I could just use my grinder to carefully remove the metal around the end of the shaft until it was exactly 1 inch in diameter. At this point, the axles were about 1.25 inches in diameter and tapered. To spin the axle, I welded a bolt to the center of the hub flange and then placed it in the chuck of my hand drill. The axle was then placed into a simple wooden jig and greased so that it would spin freely.

I found the drill spun the axle a bit too fast for my liking, so I needed a way to reduce the speed of the drill to about 120 RPM. Trying to tie wrap the variable trigger in place did not really work out so well, and then I remembered something about the series wound motors in drills and saws – they work with both AC current and DC current. My idea was to just reduce the voltage to the drill motor.

Going from 120 volts AC to 24 volts DC slowed the drill down to the perfect speed, yet gave it enough torque to spin the axles as I held the grinder disc to them. To power the drill from 24 volts DC, I just took two of the four robot batteries (marine batteries) and wired them in series with the drill power cord completing the circuit. I didn’t even use wires for the plug; it was just sandwiched between the two battery terminals and held there by friction.

My machining process required shortening the axles and then turning them down to exactly 1 inch in diameter at the last 2 inches on each end. Cutting the axle short was easy; I just spun up the drill and then held the zip disc on the axle until it cut all the way through the axle. I did not need the splined end piece, so it was tossed in the scrap bin.

To machine down the axles, I ran my grinding disc back and forth along the 2 inch section while the drill spun the axles at about 120 RPM. I did not push hard on the grinder, and tried to keep a constant pace as I moved it back and forth along the area to be reduced. After about 50 strokes, I would stop the drill and check the axle thickness using the bearing I intended to install.

Once the axle was just slightly larger than necessary, I switched from the grinder disc to a sanding disc so the final machining could be done more accurately.

New Gallery: Upload your bike photos

The new Atomic Zombie gallery is now online. Members can post and link to pictures, share comments, rate others’ pictures and more. You must register as a member of the AZ forum to post in the gallery.

Guests can still view the gallery and use some functions, but to fully enjoy the gallery, please become a member. It’s free.

The gallery that we have had for years will be migrated to the new gallery this summer. It will stay online at the main AZ site until all pictures are in the new gallery.

We look forward to seeing your own bikes in our new gallery, and thanks for joining our worldwide community.

Bike building is an international past time.

Cheap DIY snow tires for bicycles

Cheap snow tires

“Hey guys. Just ran across this cool DIY snow tire idea. Tried it our on our quadricycle this morning (we’re in Gloucester) and it worked great!

Can’t wait till summer to see if they work in sand too!

Here’s the link to the DIY snowtires:

Works super well using the zip ties I got at the dollar store.

Cheers. Nat (aka botwi and amphidory)”

Thanks for sharing, Nat. That’s a great DIY.

Time’s running out on this special offer. Only one week left.