Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mostly The Jobs We Call Paint

Here is what we're looking at for a paint theme. I painted the colours you see unto a primed piece of square bar as a test (having previously tested a variety of paints on cardboard). The round tube features a textured black paint that mimics pitted wrought iron very well.

All the paints currently being considered are from Rustoleum. The dark colour pictured on the square bar is called Oil-Rubbed Bronze. It has showy metal flecks that as such isn't the most realistic. But it's gorgeous in person and I've fallen in love with it. The lighter colour is Metallic Brass (despite the name you cannot see metal flecks but a solid realistic tone).

The simulated wrought iron is called "Hammered" and comes in several colours. Black is the colour of choice here for wrought iron.

Friday, March 28, 2008

58 Pounds, 26.3 kg or 4.1 Stone

So we weighed the trike in its current form today by balancing it on a cinder block with a board and scales on top. It weighs 58 pounds, and we haven't even started adding brass yet. ;D

The test rides have been quite pleasant but perhaps I'll feel it on a 20 mile ride. If nothing else I'll get a better workout. I get alot of momentum and can coast quite far, even while doing a turn through clumpy grass. It's the caddy of trikes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Space For The Brass Horn

Sadly I think we'll have to bid adieu to the big brass horn. It is alot of fun and would certainly help to Steampunk up the trike, but I don't see how to manage placing the thing where I can easily squeaze it, especially if I want room for a water bottle or any electro-gadgetry. Perhaps with a compressed air supply and some sort of control mechanism I could relocate the horn elsewhere.

Speaking of, one Mister Richard Philabaum of the 'Bent Rider Online Forum modified his Airzound horn with a button valve and some tubing to relocate the control to his horn. Maybe we'll have to try something like that.

Then there's always the good old fashioned brass bell. But I'd really like a horn.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Clever English Bicycle Awareness Ad

This is a very clever public service announcement from England on the subject of spotting those flitting about faerie creatures known as bicyclists. Just watch it. :)

Thanks to

Homebuilt Tadpole Trike Field Test (Hill Climbing)

So with new sprocket, front derailleur, chain and pedals we toured around a parking lot for about 90 minutes to test the new improved drive train version 6.87. ;p

All seems to work quite well. There is still the business of fashioning the perfect chain guard but that's a relatively minor detail. The trike works.

We had early on decided to give a good go to including a pillion seat on the back for a passenger (read: 115 pound Alan). If you look at the design of the trike you can spot the evidence- an elongated bar over the back wheel and extra support behind the seat. We abandoned the idea early because pedaling proved impossible but taking a second look at it we think it might have been more a fault of the misbehaving drive train than my lack of bike legs. Either way, I can pull Alan along with me much better now. So we're going to have another look at how to make a pillion seat workable. Where do we put pegs for the passenger's hands and feet? I mention this as it may delay the finishing of the trike a tad. Otherwise with the drive train now working we'd be ready for paint! But patience is a virtue, and I trust the final result will prove worthwhile.

Here's a nice seven minute thirty second video featuring some decent hill climbing, something trikes aren't known for being good at because you can't stand on the pedals with your weight forward.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Seeing The Light

We've been working on a new drive train, and now the trike has a new front derailleur, shiny new chain, and as depicted in the photo a sprocket off a bmx bike for drive side chain management.

We rode for about three hours on what was a picture perfect Easter Sunday. Forty-nine degrees and pure sun. We had worked up a new chain guard for the sprocket much like the chain guard for the old pulley. But it would move and the chain grind against it after awhile. So there's still work to be done there. The trike rides fine without a chain guard, it's just that on some lateral bounces in grass or on rough terrain the chain tends to come off the sprocket making it necessary to stop and reset it. We also added on some new wider pedals, and at night we decided to go for a second ride with the help of new LED headlights we acquired figuring on stuffing the electronic innards and lights into old bicycle lamps. Below there is a short video featuring the bike lights at night.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Antique Bicycle Lamp

I finally managed to win an auction on ebay for a vintage bicycle lamp from the 19th century, when bicycle lights were oil lamps or had carbide batteries. They seem quite popular for collectors as there is always a few on ebay and the bidding is always active.

This one ain't too pretty, one reason I didn't have much competition for it. It's also nickel plated instead of brass but I like it none the less. A little polish and elbow grease and the lamp will shine fine. The lamp has no lens but we can salvage one from another (modern) light or even fashion a lens.

As you can see in the photo the old reflector (the little round bit on the ground)normally in the back of the lamp is quite corroded. It may be salvageable but I might also replace it with the brass door slide handles you see pictured below with the lamp. The size and shape are perfect, and brass would give a warm glow.
I may also stuff the lamp with the battery pack, electronic innards and light array of a modern LED bike light, without modifying or harming the original lamp.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rogues Gallery


So I've been experimenting with different Rustoleum rattle can spray paints. Sure it would be nice to always use real brass, wrought iron etcetera, but that's not always practical. Weight and tensile strength are two important considerations. But there might be some frugality involved as well- if I'm going to have something powder coated I might as well not build things myself. ;)

Just don't tell anyone at the country club.

Here's a rogues gallery of Rustoleum paints. I've cut up some cardboard to serve as sample tabs. I primed and clear coated them as well. In fact I'll be testing different coatings- enamel, urethane and so on. My favorite paints I will test on square bar.

I know I'm not the only one who uses the occasional rattle can so hopefully my ongoing paint experiments will prove useful to my compatriots.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Groove Thing (or That Ain't Right Pt. 2)

Methinks there's a little wear between the chain and the idler pulley.

I guess we're going to try a different wider pulley, a one eighth inch chain, a twenty-five dollar TerraTrike pulley or some combination thereof. None of which address what made the chain do that anyway (I don't know).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

That Ain't Right

We were having problems with our thumb shifter of choice and the front derailleur gears, so we switched back to its original twist grip shifter. We also made true the rear wheel. I had a spill taking a tight turn at speed which seemed to make the back wheel off center but thankfully didn't "taco" the wheel. We also finally got around to installing the front brakes. All those cables now have made for a cable management nightmare. The tension on the collective cables is actually interfering with the Ackerman steering, preventing the wheels from righting themselves when in forward motion. So there's work to be done there.

We don't know if any of the above is related but I had a spectacular failure of the drive train today during more extensive tests, ranging further on the trike than before. I was pedaling up a slight incline feeling what would be a typical amount of resistance. I never felt the front derailleur or chain fail but one dragged the other into the crankset (which I don't know). I only noticed a problem when I could no longer pedal because a link of chain had become unriveted and was bent perpendicular to the rest of the chain and stuck fast in the chainring.

So a wee bit more work to be done on the drive train. I wish I knew what to ask advice about but neither of us knows how such a thing could happen. Anyway, here's the horror show. :)

Brass pRon

This is what happens when I go to the hardware store. Just one more brass doo dad I may use. Someday. See that brass coat hook? I want to make a brake lever with it. Maybe a thumb shifter.

Friday, March 14, 2008

To Wit: Steampunk

No, this is not another attempt to define Steampunk. You may find such scholarly work elsewhere should you wish it.

Now that our tadpole trike is mechanically all but finished I must begin in earnest to define how it may be transformed into a Victorian Lady of some refinement. I allow myself some conceit there- it will never be a Fine Lady. But it may through diligent work and divine temperance become at least a daring middle class adventure seeker!

With apologies for the distress it may cause, I must inform you the trike may not be photographed for a time. Know that the hours spent debating its character will only sweeten the debut of what can only be a technological and artistic marvel for our time.

There are matters to discuss. Which seat is best, button upholstery or Victorian print? Is it acceptable to mention spray paint in polite society? Will I ever win an ebay auction for an authentic brass bicycle lamp? How much brass can be fitted to the trike anyway and still maintain a constant speed of three miles per hour? How much choice is available for white bicycle tyres? Which law governs steam driven vehicles on bicycle paths- bicycle, moped, motorcycle or automobile law? How can I work in some vacuum tubes, and is my horn too big?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Field Test

As promised, here is video of a little field testing of the tadpole trike.
The drive train was still giving us trouble during what is the first part of the video. The problems are ironed out by the second half of the video.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


With the tadpole trike now operational I hope you, dear reader, can see within the following photographs potential for the trike to be Steampunked.

Moving pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Drive Train In Vain

The time came for one of the most meaty parts of building the trike, the drive train.
We cut a bottom bracket from an old bike with as much connected tube as we could so we have plenty to work with (it can always be shortened). Tabs are welded to the bottom bracket with tube at a precise angle, and holes drilled in the tabs so the whole apparatus can by bolted to the main boom of the trike. This approach has the advantage of making the trike adjustable for different lengths of rider. We fudged a little on the above photo as it is more recent. We forgot to take any pictures of certain parts of the build including this crankset assemblage. Processing photographs for this blog has taught me how useful photography is at spotting things that may have gone unnoticed. Observe the shiny new red synthetic axle grease visible inside the bottom bracket, the brass horn, and the mud. While we're at it, shouldn't that horizontal line drawn on the bottom bracket tabs be parallel with the boom? Pip. -_0

An axle for a pulley with bearing is welded to the side of the main boom to guide the drive side of the chain underneath the cross boom to which the front wheels are attached. Otherwise the chain would rub against the cross boom and that would be unpleasant as well as inefficient.

We've had a number of problems with the drive train, not least with the pulley. Within ten feet of the maiden test ride of the newly trike-like trike the pulley was sheered upward breaking the apparently not so great weld as you can see in these images:

Know, good fellows, we record our foibles as well as our triumphs.

A stronger axle was masterfully welded into place. Another problem we were having was the chain would leave the pulley in hard turns at slow speeds (In first gear). With some help from the Atomic Zombie forums, we affected a cunning solution. A pliable ribbon of steel is affixed around the pulley to act as a chain guard so the chain cannot escape. We added our own extra touch- a little wriggle room is left on the axle between pulley and securing nuts, and a spring inserted so the pulley remains taught but can move wherever the chain wishes it. The new guide pulley looks thus:

Continuing with the drive train, part of a rear derailleur is attached to the back of the main boom behind the seat to pick up slack and help guide the return side of the chain.

The chain was far too long, as you can see in the photograph below, so it was shortened. The chain no longer droops on the ground.

Handlebars and goosenecks were hastily hacked and welded to serve as temporary steerage. The seat long since bent and secured.

The gears and such still need some fine tuning over time, but the drive train is essentially finished. The tadpole trike is now ready for field tests!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fun With Seats

We received a seat we're considering for the tadpole trike. It's actually a motorcycle seat of the King Cobra style, I believe.

Many bike and trike builders seem to regard the seat as an afterthought, using clunky self-made seats or kitchen chairs both of which look like crap. Some construct tubular and mesh seats which look much better, weigh less, and prevent sweaty backs on long rides. Others buy an existing commercial seat, often fiberglass or carbon fiber with a nice lumbar curve. We're too cheap for that.

So, we looked at many sources, bicycle and otherwise. Lambretta seats for example, and motorcycle seats. With a particular eye for seats that would lend themselves to the Steampunk theme, or at least not impede it. The most traditional bicycle seat would be most historically correct if you look at old boneshaker photographs and the first trikes. But we decided to make both a stylistic concession and a concession to comfort (hopefully). A mesh seat seemed inappropriate for the theme.

The above seat with its buttoned pattern is at least old-fashioned. In our searches for various parts and inspiration I realized just how much motorcycles and scooters of all kinds harken back to at least the golden age of art deco if not the Steam Age.
You can't get an automobile new like the Doble steam car or a Duesenberg, but you can get a motorcycle with an old soul.

The seat is quite comfortable, though neither of us has yet sat on it for three hours in one go. More comfortable than you might think to see it but the foam is quite firm so you don't rub against the buttons. We goofed off a wee bit to take a break from serious building and strapped the seat to another little gearless delta trike we have around. Here's the video evidence:

Yes, the seat will be bent at some point for a nice curve. While we're on the subject, here is the seat to the ol' Triton Pro delta play-thingie:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hermes In Repose

Man, we just went cycling for the first time in more than a month. Winter laxity combined with most free time of late spent learning new skills and building cool stuff has lead to the loss of what bike legs this chronicler and company had.

No matter. The magnificent new beastie will whip us into shape like a drill sergeant. Eighty-five pounds of magnificent gleaming steel rolling roughshod over neglected branch covered pathways, calories burning with the hum of the rear derailleur.

I exagerate slightly about the weight.

The Tadpole Trike Takes Shape

Alrighty! Lots of welding goes on behind the scene not documented here. You see the UV light welding gives off makes it impossible to photograph without risking your camera (UV from arc welding can actually give you a tan and ruin your eyes, kids).

But here we see the seat bar and a support beam welded into place. We had the wacky idea to add a pillion seat to the design, hence the support beam. It is otherwise unnecessary. The suspension attaches to the beam with a couple of welded on tabs.
Gaze upon the awful beauty of our welds and tremble, mere mortal! Did I mention we only took up welding for this project?

The steering is finished, and even a few welds cleaned up.

Here's a close up of one of the brake arms. Caliper brakes will attach to the arm behind the wheel.

The trike has really taken shape, and I've devoted considerable time to what the finished design will look like. I'm not quite happy yet with the design in my minds eye. We've ordered a few parts and such and begun testing paints. But more about that later.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Two Wheels Are Better Than None

Okay! Now the trike is really starting to take shape. The cross beam the two front wheel head tubes will be attached to has been chopped and welded and we get to have more fun with steering geometry. The head tubes have to be mounted to the cross beam at just the right angle so the wheels turn on a single point, and with a wee front leading tendency so the wheels automatically track forward. This is the hardest part of the trike build.

Here's the cross beam ready to go:

Here is the cross beam clamped to the main boom, with wheels leaning against it just for show. The seat tube has also been welded in place.

Wee! Imagination Tricycle!

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Rear Triangle

Now it's time to cannibalize the mountain bike with a suspended rear triangle we purchased from Walmart for less than eighty bucks. That's one donor we didn't find on Craiglist (I could do an article on why bikes via Craigslist ain't worth the time). We'll also harvest other parts- it was money well spent.

Here's the bike:

The triangle lies naked with the other wheels.

We've attached the suspended rear triangle to the new main boom of the trike. Previously a bottom bracket was attached to the square bar that comprises the boom.

One is careful to insure the triangle is parallel with the main boom.

That's all for now!

Finding the Center Point

Newly manufactured metal tabs in hand, it's time to figure out the center point of the front wheels so they can turn correctly on their axles. We want the wheels to turn directly on their centers. This process (as we did it anyway) is as much "eye- balling" it as making any measurements.

The tabs are welded to steerer tubes (only tack welded in the photo).


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Now With Moving Pictures

And sound!

The following videos cover the same territory as the previous post. Which is to say the slaughter of innocent bike forks for their precious head tubes, and also the manufacture of chunky metal slabs to turn into holed tabs for the steering system.

Warning! This first video is very LOUD!
Here we grind off the fork legs to harvest the headtubes. Grinding is very loud and smelly. Apologies for the volume. I could have muted the sound or lowered the volume but it's important for would- be builders to know just how loud grinding is.

In this next moving picture we see the drilling of the metal tabs used as part of the steering system.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More About Our First Project

Our first project as mentioned in the introduction is a tadpole trike with a Steampunk theme. For the uninitiated, a "tadpole" trike has two wheels in front and one trailing tail of a third wheel. A "delta" trike is the opposite- one sexy wheel out front. Supposedly a tadpole with two wheels in front is more stable in turns and such. I must say though there's a certain fly by the seat of your pants charm to a delta.

Our budding interest in all things bicycle started fairly recently, just this past October, 2007. Since then we've looked at and read so much bike related info our collective eyes have ceased to function for short periods. This includes a great deal of DIY stuff, because it sounded like a fun project to do together. A couple of good resources are The Human- Powered Vehicle Association and Atomic Zombie.

The HPVA's labyrinthine website contains a wealth of builder's info including plans, photos, and theory such as steering geometry. is home to Brad Graham, a longtime DIY bike guy who sells plans and has a few books under his belt. The support forum there is friendly and responsive. Our tadpole trike is based on Brad's Streetfox plans.

But enough chitter- chatter! Here's some photos of the beginning of our trike build.

In the photo at the top of this post head tubes are extracted from old bikes with the help of a grinder. Sorry for the lack of focus- the flash failed to go off.

Below, the head tubes are ground clean.

Tabs of metal plate are welded together as part of the steering system.
In the photo the tabs have only been tack welded. They were completely welded after the photo.

That's all for now, tune in tomorrow for the next exciting chapter!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ahoy Hoy

Welcome to our humble blog, dear reader. We are Misters Eric and Alan respectively, and herein we will be documenting our bicycle building efforts as a rule, but other interests and adventures as well.

I say bicycles but by no means will they be limited to two wheels. In fact, as a rule they will have more than two. Our first project is a tadpole trike, which we intend to have a Steampunk theme.  Steampunk is something we've always enjoyed and the trike as planned has more ground clearance than the typical tadpole trike. Something about that tall off-the-ground profile reminded me of the first bicycles, trikes and automobiles such as the 1886 Benz.

We both have early memories of old fashioned tech. I (Eric) remember my father sending me down to Murphy's General Store in Fountain Square in Indianapolis, vacuum tube or three in my hand. The store had a vacuum tube testing machine, rather like the blood pressure machine you might find in a drug store today. My father was an amateur inventor and had all sorts of fans, radios and other gadgetry and old tools lying around. He never possessed a single power tool. Alan remembers a neighbor with lots of old audio equipment and a big brass organ in his garage. His grandmother would give him radios to fix. He also fondly remembers 
going to the state fair from the earliest age and seeing the variety of 
old steam powered tractors and mills. While some of this old tech is not of the Steam Age the early exposure gave us an appreciation of old fashioned tech.

Steampunk is only one expression of a wider appreciation of all things mechanical, handcrafted, fine and fun. Much of what we blog about will not be particularly Steampunk, but hopefully can be appreciated by the same audience.

We live in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and when attempting to come up with a name for ourselves and our blog we wanted something old timey feeling. We settled on naming ourselves after a prominent figure in Valley Forge history. Wilhelm Von Steuben trained the Continental Army at Valley Forge in the art of drill and warfare as the Prussians saw it. 
Hence Steuben's Wheelmen!