07 December 2012

When Stuff Breaks: Fix it

I popped my cargobike off the kickstand on Wednesday morning and quickly realized that the rear tire was flat. So instead of giving the kids a lift, they rode their own bikes to school. We made up a song about Alderaan on the way and I forgot all about the flat tire. No worries; life is good.

The next day I woke early to change the flat tire before school. The tube had been punctured on the inner side, which was how I noticed this:

The rim is severely cracked along one of the welds. A burr of metal caused the slow puncture, and I'm guessing that this happened suddenly on Tuesday during a routine ride. These are 36 hole Velocity Cliffhanger rims, one of the "bombproof" varieties that folks talk about. I was surprised and deflated that they had failed, but more importantly, I had lost my primary mode of transportation.

As I've mentioned, I'm hopefully upgrading my Xtracycle to and EdgeRunner in January when they become available, so I didn't want to throw much money at this bike right now, if any. That (now broken) 26" wheel is actually going to be a left-over part of the build since the EdgeRunner uses a 20" rear wheel.

So I borrowed a small kid trailer from a friend so I'd have a way to transport my 4y.o. and told my 7y.o. that she may have to ride on her own more often. She's getting comfortable riding in the street and is starting to enjoy the independence of being on her own bike. With temporary solutions in place, my next project was to figure out what to do with the Xtracycle until January.

My plan is to build up the donor frame on the Xtracycle as a full fledged 29er mountain bike (sans FreeRadical.) Some of the parts for that project had already been acquired...including the wheels...you see where I'm going with this.

I installed some lightly used 700x38c road tires on the 29er wheels and made sure that they would fit in the FreeRadical frame. Installation was tricky: tires deflated and skewers removed, but I got it in there. It barely fits. 

Brake rotors and the cassette from the 26" wheels were moved over to the 700c (29er) wheels and I was ready for a test ride! Except that when I took the bike off the Kickback kickstand, I found that the non-deployed Kickback rubbed on the larger wheel. I installed a spare F.A.P. onto the FreeRadical kickstand plate to keep the Kickstand from retracting all the way back up. This bought me just enough clearance. Check out the whodathunkit look on my face: the F.A.P. has been in my parts bin for over 5 years.

Test ride time. The larger wheels effect the trail (tendency for wheel flop) and also raise the center of gravity, so cornering is much different.  Less nimble at low speed, but more stable at high speed. The skinny tires don't have much cushion to speak of and I actually had an egg in the front basket crack on the way home from the grocery store last night. Also, the clearance under the Snapdeck was so tight that it began to rub once it got a little wet and dirty under there. 

Most 700c Xtracycles are going to need the Riser Plugs that they sell. Since I knew my LBS wasn't going to have them, I made my own from a piece of 7/8" O.D. PVC cut in 1/2" lengths. (The PVC was a remnant that I had saved from making my DRT flag!)

The shims fit perfectly into the FreeRadical frame and raised the V-Racks and Snapdeck enough to give me the clearance I needed for passengering. "Whoa, this is weird!" said my 4y.o. as we headed out on the school run this afternoon. Those few inches of height make a noticeable difference. 


I'm still looking forward to the new EdgeRunner, but I'm really happy to have my Xtracycle back on the road.

09 November 2012

More DIY Rain Covers: Recumbent Tandem Edition!

Back in September we spotted this cool three-person bike parked outside our school. It's a tandem with a front recumbent stoker seat as well as a trail-a-bike. Pretty sweet.

This morning I had a chance to talk with Todd about his super cool bike. Not only has his trail-a-bike rider moved on to her own geared 2-wheeler, but the tandem stoker now has a DIY weather cover made from coroplast campaign signs and a repurposed stroller cover. 

Todd said it's worked great in more than a few heavy rains. On this 35°F morning I'm going to guess his stoker was much warmer than her sister, too!

26 October 2012

DIY Madsen Bucket Cover Frames

Folks have been asking, so here's more details.

Our Madsen rain cover frames are made from electrical conduit, specifically 1/2" EMT. It's light, cheap, durable, and very easy to work with. You'll want to use a pipe bender like this. You may be able to rent one from a home store or borrow one from a neighbor. It's a basic lever hand tool that is very easy to use. Measure twice, bend once. And make sure you are bending the conduit in the corrected direction!

The frame has only four pieces: two 10' lengths of 1/2" EMT (conduit) and two 1/2" couplers. Total cost is maybe $5. Ideally, the left and right sides of the frame are mirrors of one another and the couplers line up in the middle of the bucket. The structure sits on the edges of the bench seats; both benches must be used for the cover to stand on its own.

The frame can be covered with anything. I recently discovered that a burlap coffee sack from my local roaster is the perfect size and shape when you rip the side seams open. I added a piece of coroplast to the roof of this one to help dome the roof and take out the slack in the fabric.

To keep the whole thing from tipping out of the bucket, you need some sort of tensioner under the outer lip of the bucket to attach to the cover fabric. For our sewn covers, we used Sunbrella fabric and hemmed in a slot at the front and back to loop through a 1" web belt with some buckles.

In a pinch, the burlap coffee cover was attached with a length of rope and some zip-ties. Total cost of the burlap cover and frame: less than $10 and 2 hours of playing in the garage. This makes for a decent sun shade or windbreak, but wouldn't last long in heavy rain.

Related posts:

DIY Flag Pole Holder

A reader just commented in our Show Your Colors post:

"I have been contemplating whether a big American flag on the back of our bicycles would help with one of the hazards of biking my children to work in downtown Seattle: folks in big trucks, who are not used to bicycles. One fellow yelled at my husband and 2 yr old for 4 blocks once as they all rolled slowly along 5th Ave. How did you attach yours?" - Molly

I have only had positive feedback from drivers when flying Old Glory on the back of the bike. Instead of honking in frustration, they honk and wave as they pass with plenty of room and give a thumbs-up.  I met a local couple that toured the entire United States by tandem with a small American flag on their rear rack; they testified that it may have saved them from being run off the road on more than one occasion.  Bottom line: It can't hurt.

Here's a behind-the-freeloader look at our DIY flag pole holder on an Xtracycle.

Drilled a row of holes to make a slot for the U-clamp. 

Zip-tied top of PVC to V-rack

Insert flagpole of smaller diameter and ride.

16 October 2012

Reaper Ride 2012

The upcoming MOB Ride is starting at Broken Spoke in Hilltop. Bring some take-out from your favorite restaurant and join a bunch of costumed bike riders for a bicycle booze cruz around Tacoma. Should be a blast. Get directions here.

12 October 2012

DIY Kid Bike Fenders

After an 81-day stretch of dry weather, it finally rained this morning. For people who enjoy walking and biking, it has been a long and blissful summer. With the inevitable dampness of fall on the horizon, I took some time last night to fender my second-grader's bike.

The fenders are made from coroplast, a corrugated plastic used for making campaign signs. I picked up the idea from Kent's Blog and a local elected official was happy to give me a stash of signs after his election. 

[Note: Around here campaigns are required to collect their signs from public spaces post-election. It is very illegal for private individuals to take them during election season. However, if you find a forgotten sign in a ditch post-election, it's your civic duty to pick up litter, right?] 

At her request, I had already customized the bike by covering the entire frame with fancy duct tape. We continued the look on the fenders; she digs the skulls. You can buy fenders for 16" and 20" wheels, but most shops will have to special order them. Inexpensive kid bikes like this one also don't have the usual eyelets for mounting manufactured fenders with screws, so zip ties and coroplast are an excellent alternative.

The best part: she thinks it looks cool and wants to ride, even on the rainy days.


Here are some more detailed photos of the 20" kid fenders.

Pre-assembly: Using a razor knife on a concrete floor, cut two strips from a 2' long campaign sign. Make your cuts in parallel with the channels in the coroplast. The wider piece to cover the tire is 2 3/8" wide and the strut piece is 1 1/2" wide. (If you need a front and rear fender, repeat this step.)

Most campaign signs don't look that cool when chopped up, so wipe them clean and cover them with duct tape. It looks cool and helps keep the coroplast from buckling. 

Center the strut at one end of the fender and punch small holes for the cable ties. Join the two pieces so the sharp fastener of the cable tie is on the outside. 
This way there are no sharp edges near the tire. Pre-fold the struts around the edge of the fender piece, creasing the coroplast. This will help with mounting.
Rear fender: Notch the fender as needed to mount the front end near the kickstand plate. This bike had a screw hole, so I rummaged an old screw that fit. Otherwise, use cable ties.
One cable tie was all I needed to attach the struts near the axle.
You may need to make your fenders wider. This bike required the struts go around the outside of the huge fork blades.

And get creative with the cable ties! It may take more than one!

01 October 2012

Thirty Days Of Biking

From time to time I've seen folks using the #30daysofbiking hash tag. And since "thirty days hath September," I figured I'd try to keep track of what I did with my bicycle for the whole month. I don't ride every day, but maybe it would work out?*

It's important to recognize that on most days bicycles are used as transportation in our household to avoid at least some trips in the car. But on those car days, we often still do something with bikes recreationally.  Here's the recap.

Day 1. Snapdeck surfing lessons at the park.

Day 2. Biked the kids to a friend's backyard BBQ. 

Day 3. My first cyclocross race. Our kids raced, too, of course.

Day 4. To the park for one last playdate before school starts.
Then to the elementary school to drop off supplies and meet the teacher.
Spotted this supercool three passenger setup.

Day 5. Biked with our oldest to the first day of school, 
then found this awesome sidewalk philosophy art while biking to the shops.

Day 6. Borrowed a neighbor's bucket bike (and their preschooler) for a day at the zoo.

Day 7. Our typical Friday ride downtown to Frost Park for some chalk drawing.

Day 8. After a long day of home improvement, I needed a ride 
to a local brewery for refreshments.

Day 9. Up early for a 15 mile ride around Point Defiance Park.

Day 10. First day of pre-K. The whole family biked to school! 

Day 11. Biked to school. Evening cyclocross practice for me and the girls at a local park. 
It was just far enough that riding there and back would have been too much for the kids 
(or too much for me to haul on the Xtracycle,) so we loaded up the bikes and drove.
It happens.

Day 12. We need more coffee! And new tools from the lumber yard. 
This marks the first fall day where a passenger blanket was needed. Brrrr!

Day 13. This may have been the day I rode to Veggies and Pint Defiance. Or maybe it was the day I biked the kids to a playdate. I know I rode everyday, but it's all sort of a blur when you're just trying to get from A to B.

Day 14. Decided to return my cross bike to dropbar mode. This required a trip to 2nd Cycle to borrow tools and get supplies. I love this place.

Day 15. Ran errands on my revised cross bike to test it out. 
Caught up with a bicycle tour of community gardens on my way home.

Day 16. More cyclocross racing and shenanigans with 
Tacoma Cyclocross at Fort Steilacoom Park.

Day 17. After biking the kids to school, Mrs. TBR and I biked to lunch at Peterson Brothers, where we ran into our pal Ben Davis. He's opening a new hangout at 11th and MLK called Broken Spoke (canned beers, wine, espresso, custom bikes and racks, made in Tacoma everything). Potentially the most RAD spot in town. Stay tuned.

Day 18. Biked to school. Then an enjoyable evening ride along Ruston on my SS with a friend before cross practice. Highlight: tackling a few of Tacoma's steepest cobbled hills.

 Day 19. Biked to school. In the evening, we adjusted the kid bikes for growth and had to upgrade Super T to her big sister's 16er. They grow up fast!

Day 20. More biking to school. More practicing afterwards on big-kid bikes. Though it may appear repetitive, this simply does not get boring.

Day 21. Toured the Park(ing) Day spots downtown with Super T.

Day 22. Errands. 4 bags of ice and bbq supplies? Xtracycled.

Day 23. Carpooled north for the race at Lake Sammammish. There was nearly as much running with the bike as there was riding on the bike. Phew.

Day 24. Coming down with a cold. Did the school run and a few short errands.

Day 25. Sick. Rode with the kids to school and was glad I didn't have to 
carry them on the Xtracycle. Exhausted. 

Day 26. Feeling better. Biked Kid #1 and her bike to a playdate in the morning.
Then biked both kids to a playdate after school. 

Day 27. Just the school run.

Day 28. Picked up the girls from school and biked to a birthday party playdate.

Day 29. Cargo Trike deliveries by day, 
Harvest Moon ride on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge by night.

Day 30. Just a quick ride to the grocery store before the dinner guests arrive.

*Hey, it happened! #30DaysOfBiking

27 September 2012

Broken Spoke: Coming Soon to Tacoma's Hilltop

[UPDATE: EJ's article in the Tacoma Weekly says that Broken Spoke will open for business this Friday, October 5. I've also heard some top notch baristas will be slinging the espresso this weekend, so go check it out! My preview post is below. - Matt]

While having lunch in Tacoma's Hilltop last week, I crossed paths with Ben Davis. I met Ben several years ago on the first ever Mob Ride and competed against him in the Bone Collector Alley Cat Race. Ben, a 20 year Tacoma resident, has worked at many of our city's bike shops over the years. He has also run his own shop in town and builds some sick custom frames. (Many of the trick cruiser and bmx bikes hanging in Metro Coffee are his creations.)

Ben has a new spot opening up at 11th and MLK in Tacoma called Broken Spoke. The space will function as both a bike themed hang-out and studio space. The hand-crafted bar will serve canned beer and wine by the glass, as well as espresso and snacks. An open work shop in the back will give you a first hand look at Ben in his element: filing lugs or setting jigs for a custom bike frame, constructing custom racks, or possibly even repairing or modifying that frame you've cherished since college.

This isn't a bike shop so much as it is a workshop...with plenty of beer and coffee to fuel the creative process.  You can bring in food from any local eatery (Le Le, Peterson Brothers, Pho King, Quickie Too just to name a few) and enjoy a cold barley pop while you watch Ben build the bike of your dreams.

It sounds cool because it is. I've read about places like Minneapolis's On One Bicycle Studio and wondered why we don't have anything like this out west. And now we will. And it will be in the middle of Tacoma.

Ben says his initial focus will be on custom racks and a few frame projects. I like the idea that I can have a rack or a part or a frame fabricated or modified by a local craftsman, instead of driving to Seattle or Portland. This shop could easily be located in a big city, but Ben wants Broken Spoke to be an integral part of Tacoma's bicycle community and in the community itself. To be a place for him to hone his craft and where people can congregate and hang-out.

Look for Broken Spoke to open in the next few weeks.

Excited for EdgeRunner

As someone who happily rides an Xtracycle everyday AND who also happily owned a Madsen bucket bike for a few years, you better believe that I was floored when I saw the new Xtracycle bike, the EdgeRunner.

It's a one-piece longtail frame with a 26" front wheel and a 20" rear wheel that is compatible with all of the cool Xtracycle racks and doodads. You can even run it with an electric-assist hub motor.  It's as if my baby blue Madsen and my Xtracycle Monkey Bus went off behind the shade tree and, several design revisions later, popped out the most perfect cargobike for me ever. I am officially on the waiting list for a frameset and plan on being one of the first to tell you all about it in "6-8 weeks."

Until then, watch these happy Bay Area urbanites blissfully enjoying their EdgeRunners and pretend they're really riding around beautiful Tacoma, Washington.

19 September 2012

Where are we going?

As I was riding home the other day, I saw a bunch of folks on bikes up ahead. I sped up to see where they were going.

"Excuse me, but, where are we going?" I asked the lady in the flowered helmet.

"To the garden," she replied. "It's a community garden bicycle tour."

So I followed them there. And we talked about the garden, and the neighborhood, and history, and Tacoma. And it made me glad that I'd asked.

"Where are we going?"

09 August 2012

Care Packages: Mailing a Folding Bike to a Military APO with USPS!

My mom is a member of the Air Force Nurse Corps. She was recently deployed on short notice to an undisclosed location, where she will be stationed for six to nine months. It's the Military, so who really knows, right?

Once she had arrived and settled at her undisclosed location, Mom quickly realized that she wanted a bike for getting around the base.  While she could purchase a larger men's frame bike from her small base exchange, she doesn't feel comfortable mounting and dismounting with a high horizontal top tube. The base exchange could not order her the step-through women's model of the same bike due to some import restrictions. These same restrictions also prevented her from purchasing a bike online and having it shipped directly to her APO address. Plus there are other restrictions specific to certain APO zip codes, so most retailers won't (can't?) do it.

But I can mail her care packages! And what better treat to receive than a bike? Mom thought a folding bike would be well sized to her stature and small living quarters, so I found the best deal I could on a single speed folder, which at the time was this Dahon Boardwalk from Performance. It was on sale and I saved roughly the cost of having it delivered to my house. The local Performance store may have had one in stock, but I also wanted the box and the packing materials. These folding bikes are shipped with some plastic covers for the hinges that were nice to have considering the distance this box would ultimately be traveling.

The bike arrived at my house in a matter of days. I removed the bike from the box, taking pictures of how it was packed so that I could repack it easily later. I adjusted the front brake and took it for a test ride to assess the bike mechanically. A bike shop should do this for you if you want to keep the warranty valid.

I then went to my local bike shop and assembled a basic tool and accessory kit for Mom's new bike: spare tube, patch kit, hand pump, lock, head light, multitool, tire levers and chain lube. I threw in a handful of cable ties and some clean rags, too. I reinforced the box and repacked the bike with the accessories. I biked it to the Post Office on my Xtracycle. Bike, bike, bike.

This is where the folding part becomes important. The box is oversized by USPS standards, but still much smaller than a standard bike box. USPS limits the length+girth measurement of a parcel to no more than 108 inches. This box measured 106 inches.  The postal employee said, "Phew! Sir, this is your lucky day!!"  He added that there is a HUGE surcharge for boxes over 108 inches, but the USPS website indicates that they just won't ship parcels that size.

Sending a folding bike with 20" wheels (or even 16" wheels) becomes critical if you are trying to do this on a budget, or at all. The total cost for the bike, accessories, and Priority APO shipping was about $500. Mom was more than willing to pay this price for the convenience of having her own reliable transportation.

Mom is now happily bike commuting to work at the hospital and running errands around the base, which apparently is far better than walking or taking the shuttle bus.

Have you needed to ship a bike to your deployed service member? How did it go? I'm hoping that this will help someone in a similar situation. Mom says one of her co-workers rode her folder and already plans on getting one, too!