Friday, November 9, 2007

Tallbike race in Rwanda

*Note: It appears that I am leading the pack but in reality I am being lapped. Thanks for watching.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tallbike to Rwanda - Concept to Completion!

It all came together quite nicely from beginning to end. This concept has been in progress for over a year and now it has reached completion. My goal was to have a completely collapsible tallbike that was able to convert from a regular road bike into a tallbike. The day before we left I decided it was time to break it down and try to fit it into the travelling case. I had some doubts of it actually fitting but after an hour or so of monkeying with it the lid finally shut. It was time to go. At this point I hadn't given the tallbike a test ride so I figured I had plenty of time and would give it a shot once I got to Rwanda.

Lisa and I got to the airport with our luggage, my bike, and a few suitcases full of bike tools for the Coffee Bike Project and low and behold our ticket agent hassled me about the bike. She said it was cost me $150 bucks to bring it and I was shocked. I couldn't believe that after all the planning and working on this I had to pay a fee. I had tried to keep everything straight from the dimensions all the way to the weight to avoid any charges. So I asked to speak to her manager hoping that I could work something out to get it through. Airline personal and regulations tend to be quite arbitrary so I thought I would take it to the next level. The manager came over and had a stock speech prepared and it went like this. "We're sorry but regulation requires us to charge for any extra baggage over the two allowed per passenger blah blah blah." I hesitated for a second and thought about it and realized that there was a misunderstanding. I said my bike is my second piece of check on luggage that is within the weight and dimensions. The manager turned to the agent and said i thought this was his third check-on. I piped in and said, "no way, i packed some of my clothes in my carry-on so i could count my bike as a check-on."
Immediately the manager said that it was no problem and kind of shrugged towards the agent again communicating to her that she screwed up. For the next five minutes the agent was back pedalling and couldn't bring herself to apologize for the hassle. We felt pretty good about the whole thing that we had kept our cool and politely got the bike through without a charge. I knew things were going our way now.

The bike arrived without any damage besides the stickers getting torn all to pieces. Not to mention my Surly sticker that went missing after it's stop in London. Side note: The London airport is a nightmare and should be avoided at all cost. I haven't heard a good thing about that place and will try to not go there ever again.

My hope was to put the tallbike portion together and do some quality assurance tests on it/ride the heck out of it so that if something were to fail on it I would take the hit and not someone else. My good intentions were sidelined and i found myself the day before the race scrambling to put it together. I called up Douglas the day before because the tallbike frame was still in the box in his office. He said that he had misplaced his keys and would have to take a motorcycle a half hour away in the rain to look for them. I felt really bad about this but i needed to get this thing going. He called me and said he couldn't find them and that he was headed back to Butare and we would have to find a way into his office. At this point we were preparing for a banquet later that night so we had to put it aside for a while. We met up at the banquet and decided that we would need to break into the office later that night. Man this was pushing it. The race was tomorrow and i hadn't even ridden the tallbike yet!!!! Joe and Douglas left the banquet with a few tools to break in while Lisa and I wrapped things up at the dinner. We headed over there and found them chisseling the door jam out trying to break free the dead bolt. Both of them were sweating and I felt bad again. I really wish I would of planned this better but I was kind of out of my hands. After a while they got in and it was getting to be 11pm already so we called it a night.

The next morning I popped out of bed at around 6am trying to figure out how to get this bike assembled before the race at 9am. I knew I had time but I was still nervous about everything falling into place. I worked at it for a while and everything came together but not the chain alignment. The chain was rubbing the chainstay and this was unacceptable. By this time it was getting to be 8am and I decided to call Joe up to lend a hand. I wanted to spin off the single speed cluster and realign the spacers giving me some room but the dang thing was pretty well tightened down and wouldn't budge. We tried all sorts of things until we decided to shorten the chain and do without the singulator. I knew without it I would be running the risk of dropping the chain but I had to go without it. We were well past 9am when we heard the first race begin and that's when I was test riding it for the first time. I mounted up and it felt structurally sound in every way. I popped a wheelie and bunny hopped it a few times to see if anything was going to shift on me. I gave Lisa and Joe the thumbs up and headed for the center of town as the crowds started taking notice to the bike. This is probably the most exciting time for me to see people's reactions that aren't expecting it. I rode down to the start/finish and people started pulling out cameras and cell phones to take pictures of it. Some people started to clap while others were shocked and couldn't say anything. I rode right through the crowd and headed off the main road to give it some more abuse. I was shaking with excitement and nervousness all at the same time. I rolled back through and Tom was waiting to take a test ride on it and I had no choice but to give him quick mounting directions and before I knew it he was riding away. I so crossed my fingers and prayed that everything would go smooth and it did. He said that he liked the way the bike had been put together and it was well executed. My work was done and it was right about the time the single-speed race was getting ready to begin. I didn't even think about it and went ahead and found my place at the start. I figured that this bike is a single-speed so I'm in. I raced with everybody but got whooped pretty good but at least I tried. Maybe next time there can be a tallbike sanctioned race.
I have so many people to thank for helping me with this project: Tom Ritchey, Joel, Joe Goemaat, Douglas, Lisa, the Scallywags Bike Shop Mechanics, and many more that inspired me to contiue with this. Thanks to you all for bending over backwards to make this a reality. Much appreciated!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bottom Frame Complete

This is the bottom frame completed and it rides like a dream. I haven't added the top frame yet but plan to do that soon. Lisa and i took our new bikes up to Duluth over the weekend and broke them in. She got set up with a nice Surly Cross-Check and loves it to death. Neither one of us have ever owned a "brand new" bike before so this is a new experience.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Boom! It's done...well almost.

Joel has been working tirelessly to finish the tallbike and i again give him a round of applause for figuring out the steering column. It has always stumped me with my prior projects but he seemed to skate right through it. Well done! If you haven't checked out Clockwork Bikes yet, well you should. I am very pleased with how this bike has turned out and now i have many hours of filing ahead of me in the days to come.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thursday, June 28, 2007


(Above: Sketches of the new and improved design)

Right now as you are reading this post my new tallbike is being built. I searched for a local framebuilder in Minneapolis and after a couple of days and a few phone calls I met Joel Greenblatt that runs Clockwork Bikes. I explained to him my past projects and my vision for a much lighter tallbike. We met over at the Scallywags Shop and sketched some designs out and set a date in August for completion. I talked with Tom Ritchey and explained the project and he tossed me some of his Break-Away couplers. I am very excited about this bike and can't wait to finally ride it in August. The plan with this one is to carry on with the fully collapsible theme but this time around the bottom frame will be able to be ridden as a normal road/cross bike and then i can choose to add the top frame without much assembly. Joel does a good job of documentation so I am anticipating a lot of production photos in the coming weeks so stay tuned it'll be here before you know it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Zealand

(Above: Bradley and his rival who got a face full of fire)
(Verse courtesy of Johnny Payphone)

This trip was again a very memorable time of building and riding tallbikes. The kiwis actually took to the whole thing and we easily convinced them to fire joust each other. This took place at a festival and as i look back now I realize just how dumb and idiotic that really was. We spent the whole day in preparation for this legendary joust and we had nothing else to pad the jousting poles but couch custioning that proved to be highly flammable and toxic. It came time and we had a large crowd watching the event that was about to take place and to my knowledge no one else had fire jousted yet. Leave it up the Scallywags Christian Bike Club to create new ways of causing destruction. I was at one end with one of the jousters and i had a bottle of kerosene and began dousing the cushioning, letting it soak to the core, while a friend of mine was at the other end of the field doing the same.

Once we had emptied the kerosene we came up with a signal prior to the joust to send them towards each other. This was our chance to back out before the impending doom but we ignored reason and gave into the crowd's chants. We lit them up and immediately started pushing them towards one another, while the jousting poles' flames grew hotter and bigger with each rotation of the wheels. I ran ahead to the halfway point so I could have a good view of the collision that was about to take place and that's when i realized once again how stupid of an idea this really was. Fear came over me as i saw two young kiwis pedalling as hard as they could towards one another with these huge balls of fire and black smoke. All in an instant they collided and a huge ball of flames lifted up into the quiet New Zealand sky. They both hit the ground pretty hard and there was a lot of confusion, smoke, and some of the grass was catching on fire. Luckily we'd thought ahead and brought a fire extinguisher to put both of the riders out. After the smoke and dust cleared we checked on the riders to see what the injuries were. Not if there were injuries, but how bad were they. One of the guys had a pretty good burn that started on his forearm and trailed all the way up to his bicep but he took it like a real soldier would. He was actually proud of his wound and we encouraged him to go get that looked at.

Moral of the story: Never, ever, ever do this.

Brazil and Chile 2005

My next trip was the Scallywags Brazil Servant Team. Our focus was to work on the streets with Project Touch. They work with Drug addicted Street children, prostitutes, and transvestites. I thought this would be a good place to bring the bike especially when we spent time with the homeless kids on the street. Their lives are filled with drugs, violence, and abuse from the Police and I found it very hard to take in. In the midst of this modern city of Sao Paulo there are kids that forgotten and have to exist alone on the streets. We met a lot of kids over the course of our few weeks there and we spent a lot of time playing board games, coloring pictures, playing soccer among other activities to remind them of what it's like to be a kid having good clean fun. One day I brought the bike out and a group of about ten kids gathered around with the plastic bags that are filled with shoe repair glue that they huff all day to stay high. We found a park nearby with some space to ride. All the kids took turns riding and there were a few times that I wondered if I would see the bike again but every time they returned with huge smiles on their face. All was well until the a couple police officers showed up with their guns drawn on us telling to put our hands up. Immediately the kids split out of fear and we were left there to sort this all out. Long story short is that they thought we were selling drugs to the kids and that's why they approached us with such seriousness so after we explained what we were doing they settled down. After all that commotion we left cause all the kids were gone anyway. Too bad.

Next stop was Santiago, Chile for ten days of concerts with NLM. One interesting moment I had with the bike here was one day when I was taking some time off for the afternoon. I decided to ride around the city and get to know it a little. I always enjoy seeing a city from the tallbike perspective. There are a lot of things you can't see or smell when you’re in a car. At one point in the ride I decided to get off the bike and walk since I was in an area where there were lots of crowded people and didn't want to crash into people in a foreign land. As I walked along with the bike a lady came and got my attention. Her English was better than my Spanish and she wanted me to come meet her brother. I walked over to him to say hi. He was a blind man selling sunglasses and I thought that was kind of ironic. Anyway, she explained to him what the bike was like and he asked if he could feel the bike. I thought that would be ok and I watched him discover the tallbike without sight but by touch. It was very fascinating to watch him grasp the height of the bike and he just shook his head with amazement and then a few others came over to look it over and ask questions. This was very special to me. This was one of the reasons I put this bike together.

Poland, Germany, Amsterdam 2005

This bike was built in the early winter and spring months of 2005. I knew that I would be doing some overseas travel that summer so I wanted to take this bike with me and see if it would stand the test. In the past I have taken tallbikes to Poland, Brazil, and New Zealand but never this compact. I feel like I paid my dues and was ready for a more compact tallbike to travel with. Once the bike was planned out and built the first official outing was to ride it to the annual St. Chino Ride that covers about 35-40 miles one way and the only part of the ride I was concerned about was the last hill coming into Stillwater. I had a fear of the bike just coming completely apart on me causing others to crash around me but in the end the welds held strong and it completed its first test and gave me more confidence to bring it overseas three days after Chino.

European Tour
The first leg of the journey took us to some podunk town in Poland. And as I checked in the bike box it was looked at with much suspicion so I had to explain what it was. For simplicity sake I just said it was bike instead of having to describe a tallbike for the people at the check in counter. Cuts down on time when you're trying to get somewhere. When they weighed it on the scales I was so surprised to see it come to 74.5 pounds. I tried really hard at home to guess what should go in the box and what should be carried on the plane so I wouldn't get charged for oversized and overweight luggage. I knew I was fine as far as the dimensions went but the weight was my only concern. So after it passed the weight test I exhaled and had a sigh of relief. We checked it in with absolutely no charge whatsoever.
Right off the bat I knew the wheels that I had chosen for the box were going to be a problem. I threw them on there at the last minute knowing full well I would have problems with them. The bike was finished for a while before the trip but I had to wait for the box to be completed and I just ran out of time. We flew through Canada in route to Krakow, Poland on a series of planes that varied in size and it happened that our last leg from Vienna to Krakow was a very very small plane and I had a thought of my bike being the cause of the plane to crash because of its weight and all. I dismissed the thought.
Sure ‘nough when we arrived at baggage claim I checked the bike box over and the wheels on one side were completely smashed. The box itself was clearly beat up but intact. I waited to open the box later to see how things had held up inside to see if I would need to repair anything. We stayed with some friends in Krakow that helped me get to a Home Depot type place to buy some new wheels for the box and I had a full day to get it fixed before we needed to catch a train the next day. I definitely wanted it to be able to roll smoothly cause carrying it was pretty much out of the question. Carrying it up steps and stuff is one thing. Got the new wheels on but I still didn't like the setup but I couldn't realistically rework it till I got home a month later. It would have to do for the time being.
We set off the next day to where we were meeting up with the No Longer Music crew and we would be joining the tour and my hope was to use the bike to go out and invite people to the shows. That was the whole purpose of dragging it around the tour and so we took a train and then hopped on a bus and it was a challenge to get the bike situated in the storage compartments. Just enough hassle to get you sweating a bit and I realized that I couldn't move quickly with this thing at all. Every time I would try to race either to catch a train or bus my heels would be constantly hitting the box making me walk all goofy. I made mental notes of the things that needed to be changed or adjusted to make it more compatible with moving quickly. When we arrived at the first show a couple of hours before the concert I decided to put it together for the first time and put it work. I lugged it that far, a few thousand miles, so I was excited to get it put together. Nikolas helped me assemble it and when it was all put together I got a sense of accomplishment as I mounted it for the first time in Poland. I took it around the amphitheater where NLM would be playing and went to work with a handful of flyers. I took the bike out into the streets and sidewalks to promote the shows but I found out quickly that chances were the Polish people had never seen a tallbike so there was a lot of shock and starring. I managed to hand out a few hundred flyers and it was time to get back to setup for the show. Success on its maiden voyage in Poland.

The next significant experience with the collapsible was in Poland doing something similar to before. I was out flyering for the upcoming show later that night and I found myself in this sort of hip district with upscale bars and shops. I must of taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up running into a group of Polish guys sitting at this table having beers. I think they all must of been bouncers or body guards based on their stature. I was riding up to them and was quite intimidated by them as they all turned around to look at me and the bike and when I was about ten feet from them one of them shouted to me, "Hey, Go back to Dublin!" I took that as a sign that they didn't want to have much to do with me. It was said in a way that communicated that they wanted me to leave their square. I quickly split. Sometimes I get misunderstood for being for Irish because of my red beard. I rode away and said under my breath I'm from Sweet Home. The NLM crew sure got a kick out of the Go back to Dublin comment and it followed me throughout the tour somehow.

Another memorable moment was in Zamosch, Poland. This is when the bike was officially blessed and rode by a local Priest. His nickname is "Dziki" which translates to "Wild" in Polish. If there were a cool Priest he would definitely meet the criteria. He asked to ride the bike and I didn't see any reason not to let him and then I realized this was a very good thing. The last thing I wanted was to injure clergy but in the end he did fine and enjoyed it. This was another success in my book and I hadn't really thought up to that point about blessing the bike. After that I realized that many people would ride this bike and so therefore it made sense that it be blessed so as to keep the experience safe and fun instead of pain and destruction.
A not so memorable moment happened in the same town when I was riding around passing out flyers to the show. I turned a corner and was headed down a small cobble stone street when I noticed two young little girls watching me come down the street. As I got closer I thought I would just greet them as they probably too young to be interested in a flyer for the show. So I said hi as I slowed down to be careful not to run over them and right as I got a couple feet from them the smallest girl who looked to be all of five years old slung a rock and hit my right in the forehead as she let out a sinister laugh. That really put me in my place I tell you what. I rode away incredibly humbled and embarrassed. Does this kind of stuff happen to other people or just me? Kids these days.

I took the bike to SLOT fest which is an art festival in a small town in Poland. It draws upwards to five thousand people and this was to be our last stop of the tour. I had been to this festival before and actually had brought tallbikes there before and I ended up giving them away so I wouldn't have to lug them back to the States. This time was different because I actually wanted to take the bike home with me and be able to take it to South America. As usual tons of kids wanted to try this thing out so I set up Gilbert to show people how to ride it. I just couldn't watch this cause I knew there would be damage done so that's why I asked Gil to do the dirty work. After several hours of watching people ride around the bike was brought to me with a tacoed front wheel. I was actually surprised that was the only damage done after some 50-75 people rode it. I knew then that my welds were very safe and were going to hold for a lifetime.

Collapsible Tallbike for $10

This bike was built in the early winter and spring months of 2005. I knew that I would be doing some overseas travel that summer so I wanted to take this bike with me and see if it would stand the test. In the past I have taken tallbikes to Poland, Brazil, and New Zealand but never this compact. I feel like I paid my dues and was ready for a more compact tallbike to travel with. Once the bike was planned out and built the first official outing was to ride it to the annual St. Chino Ride that covers about 35-40 miles one way and the only part of the ride I was concerned about was the last hill coming into Stillwater. I had a fear of the bike just coming completely apart on me causing others to crash around me but in the end the welds held strong and it completed its first test and gave me more confidence to bring it overseas three days after Chino.

Step1-3. I welded two couplings on the bottom frame so I could break it down smaller. There is a company out there that manufactures a professional grade coupler for a very steep price (about $500 for one frame) and won’t allow anyone that’s not approved by them to install them. Understandable. This inspired me to find a cheaper way to do this project. I actually found these couplings at Home Depot in the plumbing department for about 2 bucks a piece. Way cheaper than the other guys. I wasn’t sure how they would mesh with the bike frame since the couplings are made of cast iron. So anyway I welded them on and I put the bike through a series of stress tests to see if they would hold up and they did quite nicely. Only thing is that I have to keep the threads greased or else they start to rust. Not a big deal.

Step 4-5. I made a sleeve for the bottom frame so that the steering column would be able to collapse. I used a nut and bolt system but no matter how many of these things I make there always seems to be slight movement in the steering. I hope to develop a better way of doing this so there’s no play whatsoever and would lend itself to quicker assembly and disassembly.

Step 6-9. The deal with the top frame is that I wanted a good strong connection with the bottom frame so the best way I found is to weld a small tube on the bottom of the top frame bottom bracket and then put it into the bottom frame seat tube, then tighten the bolt to secure it while you align the steering column and get ready to bolt the top frame steering sleeve bolts.

Step 10. From here on out it's a pretty basic bike assembly. I start with the bottom bracket then move to the pedals, bars, seat and seat post, and then wheels, derailleur and chain. Whalah! A completely collapsible tallbike.

Here are a few notes:
Bottom Bracket: I used a sealed bottom bracket so I don't have to deal with overhauling it for some time. It will break down one day but it should be good for at least a few years. I picked it up here in Mpls and got a good deal on it for only six or seven bucks. I recommend this so when you get out on the road somewhere you don't have to worry about your bottom bracket seizing up -- good luck overhauling it out in the middle of nowhere.
Handlebars: Obviously, with the small bars the point is to make them as compact as possible so they don't take up a lot of room in the box. It's just that simple.
Wheels: I used 26 x 1 3/8 for the rear wheel and I used a 24 inch for the front but I made sure to use at least one quick release for packing purposes. It just doesn't work with two full length axles so I opted for the front wheel to be quick release cause I don't like the idea of my rear wheel with a small axle taking all the pressure. This is exclusive to the tall bike because of the fulcrum being slightly off balance putting more stress on the rear wheel, yada yada yada, you get the point.
I used a chain and a half and set the derailleur where it is for no particular reason but it just seems to work better this way for me. Others have different ideas.

Packing down:
A friend of mine put this bike box together for me and I went with 25 1/2 X 25 1/2 X 11 to be sure to meet the airline specs of a grand total of 62 inches L+W+H. It was a tough job trimming and grinding parts to fit but in the end it worked and I didn't get charged for any oversized luggage. Sometimes you can get charged up to $75 or more for oversized luggage. I think the packing down pictures speak for themselves. The only thing that comes to mind is that you can take either a small hand pump and pump for hours or you can take an upright shop pump which I ended up doing at the last minute. I was actually surprised it fit but it helped cut down on the assembly process. I just can't stand those little crappy pumps.

Tools you will need:

Chain tool
Channel Locks for tightening the couplings
Crank puller
Mallet for assembly and disassembly -- very handy
Socket Wrench
Crescent Wrench/Spanner
Gerber Tool for tightening steering column nuts & bolts
Always bring extra tubes.