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!

1 comment:

Pierre said...

London airport a nightmare? More than that. Twice I had bikes and luggage lost for days. Wich is pretty ennoying when your plans are to travel by bike. Grrrrrr! As you said, London airport MUST be avoided as much as possible.