Count Chopula 10th Anniversary "Rat Patrol" Edition
It was 10 years ago this Halloween when, on a dark and stormy night, my creation first came to life from the parts of dead bikes from which it was stitched. It bit my hand that very eve and my blood has been upon it repeatedly since then. Count Chopula is a vampire chopper, he chops other bikes in the night, and I am his Renfield. I have traveled thousands of miles on this bike, from New York to the deserts of Nevada, and it has been my primary transportation for a decade.
I have always loved sidecars, they are the peg-legged pirate of the bike world, with their wonky steering and drastically different handling when loaded versus unloaded. Ride one and you're stuck in traffic with the rest of the shmoes, yet, I once moved in 6" of snow using a sidecar bike and trailer whose five tires had all been slashed by an angry landlord and it didn't seem to matter. The upper weight limit of a standard two-wheeled bike is somewhere around 300 lbs in cargo, but a sidecar bike with good wheels can carry astonishing loads- I brought home a pulpit once, and saw a tandem sidecar in Minneapolis that had been loaded down with so much weight that the teeth were snapping off the chain rings when the riders bore down.
I coveted the WWII era Harley and BMW edition sidecar motorcycles and their burly cousin the Ural. But I could never afford one. So I adapted the design, taking what I liked from each bike, imagining the sort of sidecar bike that would be cobbled together from Axis and Allied parts after a daring escape from a Nazi prison camp in North Africa during WWII. My inspiration was the Long Range Desert Group, a rag-tag bunch of desert commandoes who antagonized Rommel with their fast, light vehicles and "nip and scurry" attack style. They were the inspiration for the TV show Rat Patrol, which was not actually the inspiration for my bike club The Rat Patrol (instead it was our patrolling of the alleys for rats), and so this is the "Rat Patrol" edition of the bike.
I am trying to breach the limits of human power by developing a "human capacitor" along three paths: Mechanical (spring powered), compressed air, and flywheel. You can watch my Quick 'n' Dirty Pedal Powered Air Compressor video to see how I used a small compressor to develop regenerative braking for the bike. Eventually I hope to have a compressed-air motor for motivation, but for now the air system can be used to pump up flats, run air tools, and operate the semi horn. There's a small tank that can sit where the gas tank usually goes, but the trailer allows you to carry more compressed air.
The sidecar is suspended on a trunion and two motorcycle shocks. This is for the comfort of the passenger but also takes a lot of strain off the frame. The body of the car can be removed for flatbed hauling. The LRDG would kit out for the mission, carrying more fuel, ammo, or water depending on their needs. The ammo can tool box is a classic look and lockable but I'd prefer to have a water can there.
To make a sidecar body, the secret is to make the skin and then fit the frame inside it to the skin. Otherwise you'll never make it fit. Build one out of cardboard so you can sit in it and get the size right. Then use the four pieces of cardboard as a template for your sheet metal.
Why do I need a pump if I have an onboard air tank? To pump up the tank stupid!
The springer fork was neccessary because I feared that ten years of banging into things would lead to failure if the bike was ever motorized. You can see how I made it in my Quick 'n' Dirty Springer Fork video. After a few months the bridge started to bend so I had to add some gussets. If you look at the old pictures the scabbard for the "turkey duster" was a little more upright, but I'm going to have to add an armature or something to mount it that way.
The sidecar is removeable using a technique I learned from the C.H.V.N.K.s. I did this mainly in case I ever had to load it into a van or get it through a doorway. It attaches at four places: The chain stay, the seat post, the head tube, and another bar that goes from the head tube across to the outer side of the car- this is to keep it stiff. The couplers are just little pieces of angle iron with bolts and some rubber plumbing washers between the two frames to dampen vibration.
The dash currently has the power light and ammeter for the battery... I'd like to move the air pressure gauge from the trailer to the dash, there's plenty of room for future upgrades. Need a cigarette lighter, too, for accessories.
The Old Colony Beverages crate (one-time bottler of Orange Crush, Ballantine's, and Miller High Life, from their bottling plant in Chicago's West Town neighborhood) is handy for hauling soda pop when I read bible passages to AIDS orphans, or for hauling the soda pop bottles to the recycler! Just call ROCKWELL-5010!
I would have preferred some sleeker, bobber-style handlebars, but these twisted apes are from my grandpa's junkyard, so they're heirloom apehangers.
Communications and searchlight kit.
The only other tips I have for sidecar makers are:
1) Center the passenger between the two rear wheels, which should be aligned as if there was an invisible axle between them. This will put the ass end of the car behind the bike, but that’s what you want, for better balance. Otherwise the bike will tip towards the invisible fourth wheel. The wheels handle best if they are arranged in a right triangle, however, any acute triangle will do, and any obtuse one will fail (for obvious reasons if you think about it).
2) Don’t do what I did and use a 26” wheel, a 24” wheel, and a 20” wheel. This leaves you needing three spare wheels, three spare tires, and three inner tube sizes. If you’re building for cargo I would recommend going with 20s all around- they’re stronger than larger wheels, and have better acceleration, but a lower top end, which you don’t need anyway on a cargo bike.
3) The wheels must be aligned along the X, Y, and Z axis. You don’t want the bike to be pigeon-toed, or splay-footed, or it will chatter… the wheels should all touch the ground at the same place or the bike will lean to one side, AND you don’t want them to lean in or out like a racing wheelchair, although this is the least crucial dimension.
Check back in a month for another update as I finish the bike!
|Editor's Note: When Blogger stopped supporting FTP it pretty much threw a big monkey wrench into all of my online publishing. The service seems to be plagued with bugs and I suspect we are seeing the death of another once-relevant web icon. The same thing happened to me when Yahoo bought e-groups, and again when geocities ceased to be. JohnnyPayphone.net has become my online resume and is updated rarely and by hand. Chicagofreakbike, ten years old in August 2012, was updating only a few times a year even when I was in Chicago and is being updated by hand. It still remains, as many people tell me, a great place to poke around for ideas and so it shall survive. My blog, which is ten years old this year, has ground to a halt and I'm just finding the whole blog thing to be less relevant these days as I use the internet less and less. Pennyfakething.com has been giving me a "migration pending" beachball on the blogger dashboard for several months years now. I intend to keep the site and update it by hand as I develop my pennyfakething designs. My great-grandfather's diary, The Diary of Fletcher Ames Hatch, is the only one that really works for me on blogspot because I still have the source material in hand and can trust my site's content on the servers of a company that may go the way of geocities. I really only put it there, and at twitter in order to trickle it into the internet cache. Meanwhile for aggregating content that is not my own I find tumblr to be quite easy to use and you may enjoy johnnypayphone.tumblr.com and Steampunk Vehicles. As I find myself busier and more active in real life I update less and less, and for this I apologize to anybody who may be out there enjoying any of these fine online Johnny Payphone products these last ten years. The world is a drastically different place than it was then, and so is the internet, and so is my life. I always like answer emails about wacky bike design and can still be reached at payphone at primate dot net.|
The $1600 Tallbike: A Product Review
The Dutch company Fietsfabriek has begun to sell a commercially manufactured, $1600 aluminum tallbike. Now, the freakbike scene has always assumed that the liabilities involved in obtaining product insurance on such a thing would make it impossible. However, Amsterdam has a different economic and cycling climate, and it makes sense that if anybody was making them it would be the Dutch. I love the Fietsfabriek company and its products. I think they've done a ton for the utility bicycle world. This product does not signal the end of tallbiking any more than the Schwinn Stingray rerelease had any influence on chopper making. I'm more amused than anything. It just seems like a weird business decision.
The 80s were full of gimmicky bikes that were for fun and not for transportation. The LeRun, the rowbike, the Good Times bike with its awful rim brake and plastic expanding chainring, the Cycle Chariot with the front of a bike and the back of a skateboard, the Super Trick Cycle, and hundreds more. None of them were very successful. The reason is obvious: If you're going to spend anything on a bike at all, you want a bike you can ride. Having a second $1000 to spend on a bike that is less useful is rare.
Not that I think they're banking on this thing being a breakaway product. I've seen the ones they've made for fun, and no doubt this is just something they did because they're bike geeks and nobody has done it. However, they don't seem to realize what bike clubs have already figured out the hard way: Giving someone a tallbike when they don't have the motivation or ability to make it themselves is just a bad idea. It's a bad idea mainly because those people hurt themselves, bad. The building of the bike is a nice filter to screen out the bozos, do-nothings, wannabes, and dumbshits. It doesn't require a ton of competence but it does require you to be able to fog a mirror, and that's just about the skill level it takes to ride a tallbike without killing yourself.
This phenomenon can be observed in the automotive world, where any chotchmo with enough money can buy himself a racing-quality sportscar. What do those guys do? Usually they wreck the thing, quick. Not that I have a deep philisophical objection to letting idiots kill themselves.
I can't help but notice that, while the componentry is all fancy, it's not a very good tallbike. It seems to have been designed by someone who has not made very many tallbikes, for these reasons:
-Foremost, the seat is over the rear axle. This is how tallbikes end up when they are made from two bikes, because the seat tube is not vertical. However, there's no reason a tallbike should be this way, and in fact, if you're making it from scratch you can easily make a bike that is well balanced with a longer wheelbase. You get a nice big cargo area down at the bottom when you do it that way.
-The frame design is the shape you get when you stack two frames, and then run a pipe from the seat to the rear dropouts. This is the way many tallbikes end up. However, there's no reason to make them this way from scratch. If you look at early tallbikes from the 1900s they had more of a traditional diamond frame, just taller.
-Aluminum is not an acceptable metal for making bicycles. Is this a racing tallbike? Is the intention for the rider to retain the muffin-tops they would otherwise sweat off with a metal frame? The reason aluminum forks are illegal is that unlike steel, which tempers under stress, aluminum cracks. Those cracks can only grow, and when the wear reaches a certain point- SNAP- your frame snaps. Steel, when it fails, tends to bend. Once I had a pennyfakething's spine break, and I kept pedaling as the bike slowly got closer and closer to the ground. I wouldn't ride a bike made of aluminum, any more than I'd ride one made of carbon fiber, which splinters into a thousand daggers in a wreck. Add to this the fact that on this bike you're going to be up in the air when that catastrophic failure occurs.
I could make some crack about the bike having a brake, but at least they didn't put a rear one on it.
I wonder if they'll sell you a tallbike fork to use in a frame of your own construction. Not many people have the ability to thread their own steer tubes.
If Fietsfabriek ships me a demo model I'll give the bike a more thorough review. ;)
UPDATE: The bikes were made in a single run, and so they will not sell you a fork because there aren't any to sell, they're in the bikes.
#1 Contributor & CFB archival researcher Ray found this picture in the February 1940 issue of Popular Science. Page 119.
This is interesting to me because there's a half-century gap in my collection of vintage tallbike pictures between 1915 and the 1964 article, which Ray has recently filled with these photos from '40 and '52. Surely there were tallbikes about in those times. There were two world wars and a depression to keep people busy. I have, however, seen a few freaky bikes that may have come from that era
You can read the issue here.
I came across the website of some freakers in Brittany, France who I wanted to profile. These guys seem to have taken a serious study of the freakbike and come up with designs that I had not considered or seen. When chopping it's important to ask yourself what aspects of the bike are taken for granted and can be altered.
This is a tallbike that you pedal with your hands and steer with your feet. Paintacular!
Check out these plans for an "inverse sidecar", that is, a sidecar where the car is the bike and the rider is the outrigger. I want one!
They also have a pennyfakething.
I built this pennyfakething in two weeks as soon as I heard about the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition. I envisioned the bike I would build to ride west to Californy during the gold rush. Scavenging an old wagon wheel and an iron caster from a shop cart, I built a fork from railing and used saw handles for grips. Californy here I come!
For the rear tyre, I used the old pennyfarthing technique. I drilled two holes in the rim, then ran a few lengths of baling wire through some old worn gas hose. I ran it around the wheel a few times and then twisted it tight through the holes.