Sunday, November 3, 2013

DIYBIKING.COM Salutes the Cargo Bike: Part II


Okay: so I was supposed to build my own cargo bike to salute superior manufacturers of cargo bikes - Yuba, Bakfiets and Xtracycle, to name a few in non-alphabetical order - but my rollout was plagued with glitches. The goal was still a worthy one: to present cargo bikes as yet another way to get someone to choose the bike: If you are reading this and buy a lot of goods from the grocery store like toilet paper that comes 30 rolls to a pack, a cargo bike might be right for you.  And I was determined to be the guy to prove it. 

But first, back to the build. 

Two things were in short supply: time and steel, and there was little I could do to get more of either one. Normally, I'd pick up bikes at recycling center or pick them up at tag sales, but I hit a drought. Also: since this was the most complicated thing I've ever welded with my newly configured welding room it was hard to keep everything in order.


That's my workbench. Possibly. 

Another problem was settling on a design of the rear deck, and when I had that sorted out I was slapped with steel that just wouldn't stay when I welded it. I almost wished Walter White (from parts of season one) or an equivalent was around to explain what made some steel higher grade than others. 

But thanks to the front fork that I believe hailed from the Fuji Espree and a top tube and seat tube from the ugliest Huffy 10-speed I had ever seen I got the rear deck built. 


Next, I finally came to terms with the fact I did not have enough bike tubes to make the footrests/cargo holds. So I found some thick steel rods that were from a sofa I had thrown away and played around with them until I found a configuration that I thought would work.


It goes without saying that if you're at a tag sale and you find some telescoping speaker stands for $5, you should buy them. They are quite useful to hold things where I needed them to be. 

Unfortunately, once I had everything where I needed them to be I had to take it all away again so I could grind the paint from the frames and do other cutting and scraping. If you ever try something like this, you can keep track of where everything needs to go using a Sagaris Gold Fountain Pen and a Moleskine Pocket Notebook available at Levenger. Or if these things aren't available, there's always paper towels and a Sharpie. 


Once I put everything back, magnets came to the rescue to make sure the first thing I welded (the top tube I had cut off the Diamondback some time ago to make the Diamondschwinn) would go on right. 


I did have two issues welding the old sofa frame bits to the top tube: at first I upped the voltage setting too much and burned a hole right in the tube. To fix it, I welded in my traditional thick and non-pretty style, but I was able to grind off the excess with an angle grinder. 


I lost a weekend recently due to a fun trip to D.C. and parts of Virginia. So when I had a weekday evening to myself in the welding room, I'd just go at it. I lost track of how many different bikes ended up going into this; I think the Bikeducken has six or seven bikes in it: it took two Peugeot's alone just to make the rear triangle. Still, it was nice to build something out of discarded frames (keep giving me old, steel frames, readers!)


One unfortunate mistake - and this makes the bike look even uglier - was that I must have slightly pushed the frame when I walked around it to weld the cargo hold on the other side, because they sure didn't line up when the time came to join them together. 


It was a disappointment, but it was definitely a lesson learn for the next build. A lesson I had learned from a previous build, the Budget Supertrike, was being followed: don't build anything that won't fit out the door. 


When I set the five gallon can of paint on the cargo deck, I heard a creak, and sure enough I found one weld that had broken. I rolled the bike back into the room and welded it back, more slowly and more carefully this time. I then went over just about every weld I had made. I knew the cargo platforms wouldn't have the biggest capacity; I just needed them to hold a lot of toilet paper (eventually, I reasoned, I'd work my way up to charcoal briquets or even a passenger once I was sure the welds would hold). 


That's me sitting on a plank of wood on the rear deck with my feet resting on the top tube/footrest. I found I could put my feet forward and push the pedals, and I thought I could test the rear deck Mr. Bean style by pedaling the bike while sitting on it and steering with a rope fastened to the handlebars. 

Then I came to my senses. 

But after hitting the different welds with a hammer this morning, I decided the bike was ready to make its motion debut…and what better place to do that than at Bike Stamford II, which was this afternoon in the delightful Mill River Park


And to my complete surprise, the Bikeducken worked perfectly. Well, almost. Because I didn't have time to test it after finishing the welds and putting the chain back on, the shifter decided to be extra dodgy. I had to push it with quite a lot of force and even then several seconds would pass before the gears would change. However, that was a technical problem that I could fix later - and it had nothing to do with my welding. 


Like the previous Bike Stamford ride, this was to be laid back spin through the city and we were all reminded to share the road, ride single file whenever possible, and use hand signals (good advice for any city ride) 


I talked with some of the people who were riding in front of or behind me a little, but I admit I spent a lot of time listening to the bike hoping I wouldn't hear a creak of a weld failing. But just as it was when I rode the work-in-progress to work and back, the bike was silent and I was able to enjoy riding through Stamford in autumn.  


When we got back to the meeting point, we spent some time talking and laughing. One of the riders even allowed some of the others to take a test ride on his Brompton - the legendary folding bike which I actually got to see built during my visit to the U.K. factory

I did not try the Brompton as I already knew from this year's Scotland trip how great these little bikes are. I did, however, get to take the Brompton on a ride by attaching it via bungee cords to the Bikeducken and taking a short spin in the park. The welds held but since I was riding very carefully so as not to damage the bike I do not have a picture of this. 


Before long, I needed to return home - but first I had to stop at Target to pick up something. I told the cashier I didn't need a bag and drew a couple of stares as I was holding my helmet in my other hand. 


I pedaled home in triumph. Being able to safely ride a bike I had built on my own is a pretty big step for me. Even though the Bikeducken is far from perfect and isn't even close to what the well-reviewed Xtracycle Edgerunner is in terms of coolness, I was inspired by the greats and had built something that satisfied me and still made me wonder what else I could build.


I made it home and carried in the Cottonelle like a hunter who had just caught a ten-point buck. When I called my parents as I usually do on Sunday, I nearly led with that. 

So the moral of the story is: if you want to bike more but you need something that allows you to bring things from one place to another, whether it is a Brompton, large quantities of groceries, 30 rolls of toilet paper and so on, you should check out a cargo bike. They truly are the SUV for the cycling age. Also, if you are in Stamford, please remember to vote for mayor on Tuesday and, whoever wins, write and call every elected official and remind them that Stamford needs more bike lanes and sharrows if the city has any hope of dealing with congestion problems and making people happier at the same time. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

(Click here to see the Bikeducken carry something a lot heavier than toilet paper)



1 comment:

  1. This is a no pressure place. If Erik feels that you wouldn't be comfortable with a folding bike, he won't sell you one. And he gives great explanations of why certain bikes cost more than others, and he will be honest, and he has no problems selling the lower end folding bikes because they do have their place and they might be the best options for some individuals. electric bikes nz

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