Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carrying My Own Weight....The Woodie

Greetings and welcome to Flashblog! In this installment I reveal my long mulled over and at long last constructed trailer build up. Here's a micro video of my (first successful run to the mall and) return to home base.

The maiden voyage captured by Sweeps McNulty

So. I've thought about a bike trailer for a few years now, thinking how environmentally sound it would be to have the means to self propel groceries home from the local mall. Normally, I get into my Taurus or Civic, fire up the motor and drive the half mile. I feel guilty about that. The cars don't even warm up in that short drive so they are spewing the maximum pollutants, getting the worst gas mileage possible, and then I have to suffer through the parking lot wars, weekends have been especially bad and it sometimes takes me longer to find a space than it would have to pedal my bike down there. Just a bad feeling of lock stepping into our dysfunctional car culture. Rather than just buy a trailer, and there are many good ones out there for very reasonable cost, I decided it would be much more interesting to build my own from With as much material used from what I had in storage as possible rather than to purchase new. That is where the creativity really comes into play.

I started my bike hauling experiment a few months ago when I managed to carry $50 and 40lbs worth of groceries on my local errand bike (early '70's AMF Roadmaster) I call "entropy". The main idea with this bike is that I park it outside to promote interesting tones of rust. This is what it looked like without groceries, I seem to have lost that archival image captured after the Safeway run. I had plastic bags strapped and hanging on the front rack, which is loosy-goosy anyway, so the handling was kind of like a greased snake. You know what? I really like this old bike, it squeaks, rattles and clanks its way down the street. It tells me its glad to be alive and not dead beneath that old Victorian where I found it two years ago.

Entropy happens

Top heavy?...oh, just a tad. The next small run to the market, I put rear panniers on my Dutch bike, and rode it back from the mall with $40 worth of groceries....I just barely stuffed everything into the bags and the rear box. That was too hard packing everything in just so, and some items like bread and soft fruits got smashed. I really wanted some elbow room to pack things easily. But the center of gravity was better weight-wise with panniers. I think that really stoked the coals on this project's birth.
One afternoon recently I sketched out the trailer details at cafe 504 in oakland, one large cup of Blue Bottle French roast and two hours was all it took. I guess the time had come as it all flowed out of the pencil onto paper that day. Yes! I had my concept and design, all I had to do was build it...the fun part!

cafe 504

click to enlarge pics

So I present to you the concept brought to reality, my built-from-found-parts Army bike with my built-from-what-I-had in the garage 12 cubic foot trailer... I give you The Woodie. There is room and potential to carry a Taurusload of stuff now.

Will get a light and reflectors and maybe future fenders.

Here's a sample Trader Joe grocery sack for scale comparison. It can carry 12 of these.

The hitch took the most thought and labor. I re-purposed the fork from a Motobeccane Mirage frame I had taking up garage space. I cut the steering tube off, used the fork touring eyelets as mounts to the matching frame eyelets on the Army bike. An aluminum rack also mounts at this point as well. I had to cut, bend, and hammer the fork to get enough tire clearance for the 2.3" balloon tire. The eye bolt on the fork mounts in the front brake stud hole... using what was already there. Note the heavy steel wire diagonal brace through the fork to the top of the rack to support the fork hitch from falling down under the weight of the trailer.

The hitch itself was inspired by a talk I had with the esteemed Prof. Nideker of Team Alameda. He was suggesting some kind of military hitch, he described it, and I came up with this simple hitch that uses a smaller and larger eye bolt, the larger slips over the smaller, and a padlock holds them together and prevents opportunistic theft of the trailer. Two birds with one stone if I have to say so myself. The big advantage of this design is that the bike can lean over in kickstand mode and the trailer stays level. Also, the turning radius is quite good, almost 90 degrees between bike and trailer can be obtained.

The flatbed of the trailer is one sheet of 4'x 3' oak 3/4" inch plywood left over from a kitchen project. The trailer hitch arm is a section of broken lawn chair I re-purposed, it is tubular steel and quite sturdy. Four bolts hold it in place.
The germination of this project was the wheels, which came off my son Max's big scooter from 10 years ago. Nice plastic rims, ball bearings, pneumatic tires. I've wanted to put them to use. The seminal idea was mounting them using drilled pieces of oak to simply hold the ends of the axles. 8 wood screws per wheel secure them to the flatbed, and they are removable for servicing. Once I had this problem solved the rest of the plan just happened...I cut out slots in the plywood for the wheels to protrude, shaped the trailer overall, mounted the wheels, then constructed the removable stakebox.

The fork hitch and rack mount to through the bike's rack eyelets using a single machine bolt on either side with lock washers and nuts. I had to trim the freewheel side very close as it is 5th gear is unavailable as the chain hits the nut. I may reverse the bolt to clear the chain but really, I won't be using high gear on this rig as the operating speed loaded is something like 5 or 6 mph.

Detail of the bracing wire which runs through and around the top post of the bike rack, the wire is swaged with a soft aluminum collar at both ends. I was going to buy some cable, but I had this wire so used it.
A sample load showing how two airport sized suitcases, a Ryobi tool box, a small cooler, and the TJ grocery bag can all co-exist inside the trailer. I mentioned the removable stakebox. I made this from one piece of 12' wide pine board. I made many lengthwise rip cuts of the board to produce 5' long three quarters square posts which were then cut to shape, glued and nailed to form the box. I need to glue 45 degree gussets in the important corners as the box is a little creaky as is and these will stiffen it up. So if I need flatbed hauling capability I can remove the 6 screws securing the box and it lifts off.

So how does it handle? Very nicely unloaded, it is almost not noticed despite its 20 lbs or so. It follows along without wandering. Put groceries in it, and it becomes quite heavy, the ride slows to 5 mph as the trailer tires bulge, but so what. Speed is not even an issue here. Self sufficiency is. Getting back at Big Oil is another issue here. Showing frustrated motorists at the mall fighting for parking spaces that there is another way is also the issue.
It may be a small gesture, but I feel like I have some power not to pay the Oil Cartels their blood money for the gallon of gas a month I will save. I am not polluting the air for my own convenience.

I'm saying I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

I'm happy to have scratched this item off my to-do list. It's been a long time coming. For me, living a cycling lifestyle is not just about having the lightest, fastest bike, achieving personal bests, group rides or endless training for its own sake. I want to imbed cycling in as many aspects of my life as possible. I hope I can inspire others to take a first step in this direction.

Ride On My Friends

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Bike Weekend- Surfing Big Wave Bike Culture

I am dedicating this post to Valerie Aldrich who passed away this weekend. When a friend passes we are reminded of how precious life is, what a gift each day is, and not to take our health for granted. Live each day fully and show your love.

When I commenced my activities for this blog Friday evening I set out to immerse myself in The Bike Life outside of my usual box. I think the whole thing exceeded my expectations...
Friday, April 8th: East Bay BIKE PARTY!!!

The Miyata equipped for night riding---safety wise---not party-wise. 10:30 pm

The story begins when Jonathon, a younger guy I work with and an avid bike commuter, told me about Bike Party and how cool it is. I did some search engining and found out these events run once a month in various locations in the east bay. I've never ridden Critical Mass, I've not yet made it to Burning Man. But damn it, I think I could make it to this, which might contain elements of the two. How cool would that be? Pretty damned cool as it turns out.

I was scrambling to get my sh*t together in time to get home from work, gobble some leftovers, race to BART and get to the start on time. Turns out, and I should have figured this...the leave time was very leisurely, and the ride didn't get rolling until about 8:30. (8:00 published start) If I had had more time I would have prepared a water bottle of White Russian, as the theme for this ride was The Big Lebowski. It was heartening to see more and more riders show up as the sun was setting.

Click to enlarge pics

Scene across from the BART entrance about 7:55 pm

Lebowski--The Dude himself--- showed up, ready to "Q" on the roll. "Don't burn your ass!" was everyone's first reaction. His coals wouldn't stay hot for some reason and he was seen at the first rest stop stoking the coals. His meat would never cook at this rate.

Josiah pedaled over from Oaktown with this Rightous sound system...ROCKANDROLL!!!

Last minute departure instructions and a girl in a devil costume

A picture of the roll out which does not do justice to the 500 or so riders assembled

The ride itself was orderly and sedate, there were volunteers at corners to steer people the right way and to manage car traffic. Sure, there were teenage yahoos riding stupidly, as expected, but overall everyone else was very cool. One great thing about going through small neighborhoods was the effect on the surprised residents. Most of them were laughing and waving, some were rattling cow bells or blowing trumpets. Some just stood there, stunned by what they were experiencing. Our section of riders were yelling "BIKE PAR-TAY!!!" to anyone and everyone walking down the street, ringing bells, yelling and making noise. Most motorists were cool, taking in this strange, unexpected parade, but some people just roared their engines as they passed us. Get a life people, I mean, really. This was a celebration of people power, of optimism for humanity, a bunch of strangers getting together to celebrate. Like a Flash mob....?

At the first rest stop, trying to capture the cool bike lighting. Lots of partying goin on. I was sorely missing that White Russian.

A handbuilt custom chopper with neon lighting. The owner had just finished the bike that day.

More colorful bike lights, the photo does not convey the psychedelic effects going on all around

Rest stop #2 somewhere off Ashby in Berkeley at a park. It was already 10pm and the ride was not even half over. I bugged out at this point, as doing the time math in my head would have gotten me home around 1am if I had done the whole thing.

Your reporter fumbling with the camera, which had nearly dead batteries. I got to BART Ashby and had to wait 20 minutes for a train. Waiting for that train was the exact opposite of the elation I had felt riding along in the dark with a herd of my fellow bike lovers. I am eagerly looking forward to the next Bike Party, the location changes and maybe it will be a little closer to home and I'll do the whole Lebowski. About 15 miles I'm guessing including to and from BART. Awesome!

Saturday, April 9th Solo Ride to Old Tunnel Road

An image of Old Tunnel Road I took last year. It hasn't changed.

I didn't get to bed until late Friday night, after midnight by the time I ate something, had a beer, Skyped my relative, checked in on the household, etc. So Sat. morning I was not inclined to get up for a team ride. I got out of the house around 10am and started riding towards Lake Merritt. Just enjoying the scenery, thinking about the Bike Party a few hours earlier and what that all meant. I rode over to Broadway up to Lake Temescal and then up Tunnel. At Sibley a whole flock of Grrrrl cyclists rode in for a stop. Impressive woman power on tap there. I was going to do a Pinehurst loop but then got the idea that Old Tunnel road might be the new PH loop. I was yearning to do this a few weeks ago but the weather was still very wet. Not so on Saturday, so I set out along Grizzly Peak Blvd, and turned down Fishranch, a very fast downhill, I hit 40 without trying, but braked so as to not exceed that towards the bottom. At the Caldecott building I turned right up Old Tunnel.

Soon I came to a park gate. There was an altercation going on in the parking lot... a dude had lost control of his skateboard and it had rolled at high speed downhill and impacted with a Volvo Wagon which was pulling out of the lot. The Volvo driver looked very annoyed, the skateboarder, around college age, came off as pretty doofy. I kept riding. Old Tunnel pitches up very steeply from here on in, I was in my lowest gear believe it or not, and my gears are low (see recently added Low Gear Manifesto page) I was taking it very easy, enjoying the beautiful scenery. I took a few pics with my phone camera but they didn't turn out, thus the image above will have to fill in the blank parts of your imagination.

So I am nearing the top of the paved section, and I see a woman sitting on the edge of the road with a small dog. She is talking to someone on the other side of the road, but I don't see anybody. As I climb closer, a man is scrambling down the slope, camera on tripod in hand, and he nearly runs with momentum right into my path. I look at him and am amazed... its Steven, the IT guy at work! F*ckin' A...small world man! I mean, really, what are the chances of that?

So I dismounted and walked up the dirt trail with them for a ways, then remounted and rode the firetrail across the ridge. Very nice, not muddy at all, hard packed. I felt very pleased until I got to the lava rock section, which is not rideable on a road bike, but I knew it was there. I met a woman and her daughter along this section and walked with them. The mom was amazed that I had ridden up there from Alameda. I told her anyone could do it with a few months of build up. I hope I inspired her to get back on her bike.

Back at Sibley I marveled at how easy it was, but what a truly different kind of riding. Awesome-est Flashcut of all, if I do say so myself. I turned south and Rode Skyline to a place above Montclair and dove down in one of my old favorite Flashcuts to Shepherds Canyon, then Park home. 30 miles and 3K of hills. My neck was hurting, but other than that I was feelin fine. Great day to ride!

April 10, Sunday Streets, San Francisco

Once a month SF closes part of town to motorists and opens it up to everyone else. Today it was Golden Gate Park out to the Great Highway, down to Sloat, both ways. Ocean front riding. This was my first Sunday Streets, and wow.... it is something inspiring to experience. Thousands of people out and about under their own power. Thousands of happy, joyous people. It renews my faith in humanity.

I Google mapped SF to find the best way from BART to the Panhandle. Page street looks great on the map. I rode up Market about 12 blocks and turned right on Page. Here's what it looks like from the bottom. Not so flat after all. Maybe 12% for 6 blocks I estimated. I needed a cup of joe all of a sudden, and there it was...

Notice the Mercury cafe on the right hand corner, I did. A very cool cafe, nice interior, very mellow vibe. 6 out of 8 laptop users there prefer Macbook Pros. The church of Mac convenes here very Sunday methinks...and why not? Isn't the internet our new all knowing God? The coffee was delicious, the barrista asked my preference in beans, sitting in jars along the wall, then ground some French roast and poured me a fresh drip cup. Ahhh. A well spent 15 minutes there. Then began a long climb up Page, which has a dipping saddle, then some more climbing. Every intersection is a 4 way stop. Hardly any cars use it for that reason, it would seem. I give Page a hearty Flashamendation. Once in the park on closed streets, I came upon my first area of interest. People were giving out bike blended smoothies. I stopped for one while this lad pedaled up a batch of berry yogurt. Mmmmmm! At this point I should add that climbing Page St. I caught up with this young man below, a tourist from Argentina, here on his own for a week in the City. We rode along together to this smoothy stop, but then I was distracted by ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN, and lost track of Pablo. I hope he had a splendid day on his Blazing Saddles bike. Pablo, if you read this, please update me on how your day went.
Pablo from Argentina


Oh my God... a tandem with OVER AND UNDER arrangement, retractable outriggers, awesome in-trunk sound system, rechargeable batteries via pedaling, and many more features. I followed this bike, entranced, half way down the Great Highway, where Paul, the designer -builder-mad genius, threw down a beach party style rappin' music fest for about 100 people.

Ported tree trunk for Xtra Bass, note retracted outriggers. The deployed outriggers allow the bike to fully stop and remain upright, a very necessary component of this design.

THE best place to ride alongside for rightous tunes!! I could not get over this bike, it is so AWESOME.

Our group of "tree huggers" riding along like pilot fish on a shark

At the end of the highway I found the Highwatters Surf rock band, these guys ROCK! It was so cool to be at the edge of the ocean listening to a live surf band, I sat in for a full set. Brilliant!
I rode a ways alongside Wheelie Dude, he can keep it up for ages

This woman was having fun, despite her downsized machine. She said she rode what she got. Simple as that. I applaud you madam! A classic Flash hangout cafe if there ever was one, the Java Beach. The Mercury caffeine was still coming on strong so I vowed to visit it another day. At the other end of the highway towards the Cliff House, a minivan was shadowing me as I slowly pedaled along, the driver shouting at someone. Then I hear"HEY FLASH!", so I turn and see Stan "The Man" Layson in the driver's seat, kids in the back. He took them out today as well. He said he recognized "my kit", which was part Team Alameda kit. Again, small F*ckin world man, I mean really. Back in the park, I found a sunny piece of grass shielded from the wind and ate my brown bag lunch, carried all day in a mussette bag along with a can of cold Sapporo. Life is good my friends. I observed all the people, an endless stream going both ways. After lunch I did a few more loops of the park and then turned towards Market St, suddenly I was running out of steam, the heady pedaling had finally caught up with me. This day, with to and from BART riding was another 30 mile day, but easy.

Some people hate riding in the city. I LOVE it. I find it thrilling, like going to Europe in 2o minutes, even better, I can speak the language. Sunday Streets is a HUGE success in its own right, and the trend of giving back the streets to people power is hugely exciting as well. So there it is, my weekend. Writing this I'm tired, sore, sunburned, but energized. The bike culture is gaining strength, our numbers are growing. Creativity is blossoming. And when you get people out of their cars, their humanity returns and blossoms like a thousand beautiful flowers. The secret is, the beautiful thing is, that any bike will do. Just ask that lady on the tyke bike. Just ride what you got, just ride, just... do it. Ride to save the planet. Ride to save ourselves.
Ride on My Friends,


Monday, April 4, 2011

Manifesto Destiny

My steed resting during the Wheels For Meals charity ride, 10/2009

I just put up a new page over on the right beneath the Flashblog archives, which I call Low Gear Manifesto. Wonder what that could be about? Give it a spin, because its geared real low for easy reading.