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


  1. I enjoyed the video. You built one impressive and massive trailer. The luggage picture is my favorite.

  2. That is very awesome, JimGo! I am agog with admiration.