Another Year Older, Another Year Wise, er… Yeah, Another Year Older.
It’s been another trip around the sun for me, and this year I want to actually complete the bike project I’ve been mulling over for the past 18 months.
This is the required “welcome” post, so it’ll be long, filling in some background information.
It Started Out So Easy
My original inspiration came when I was researching different ways to make a useful camp gadget. Our BSA Troop does “car camping,” which means parking the car and hauling your stuff over to the campsite. On a recent trip, I brought my wife’s Wal-Mart bike (26″ wheelbase) along and attempted to carry my stuff while pushing the bike. Of course it was awkward generally, but I was able to support some things on the handlebars, which made things easier. Other scout parents have those cheesy wagons you can buy at sporting goods stores:
These do the job, sort of. There are problems – the largest one being that the wheels aren’t made for rumbling over rocks and dirt. I recall one parent’s cart failing after being overloaded on a slightly rocky path. The axle completely folded over. Now he had two problems – carrying his containers and carrying the broken trailer.
Other options are available with better wheels:
I have a few concerns with these upgraded wagons. First, the axle and wheelbase assembly is still very low, meaning they may get caught up on rocky trails. Second, the wheels are heavy and proprietary. The tires are tubeless, which means if you have a flat, you must replace the entire wheel. Wheels cost less than $10, so it’s not a money issue, but carrying around spare wheels definitely increases your load weight.
To my mind, building a trailer or wagon using bicycle hardware seemed like a winning choice. I’ve spent plenty of time rumbling around on bicycle wheels – rocky trails are not a problem. Bicycle wheels are also much larger (26″ versus 6″ – 13″ in this case) meaning the trailer axle assembly can be higher off the ground. One of the best parts involves the tires. If you get a flat tire, repairing it means replacing an inexpensive tube. Bicycle tubes are light and fit into the pocket of a backpack. Best of all, they’re available just about anywhere, since in the United States you’re never too far from a Wal-Mart, Target, or hardware store.
Design Twist #1 – The Camper
To add another twist to the project, I came up with another idea. The troop usually rolls into camp late at night. The next couple hours are spent laying ground cover, setting up your tent / cot / sleeping bag. But imagine rolling your wagon into camp, setting up some vertical support beams, rolling out your sleeping bag, and yelling “DONE!”
The extended trailer could be 8 feet long, depending on how you design the folding or extending of the sleeping platform. I got really excited about the idea of using the same camp gadget to both haul your gear and provide a place to sleep. The bike wheels are more than adequate for supporting a grown man’s weight, and the raised height means no more sleeping on the hard ground.
I searched all over the Internet for bike trailers. I was looking for things you pull behind a bike or trailers that you pedal around. I wasn’t picky. But the basic idea was something you pedal around and provides shelter. Turns out there was very little to be found on the DIY front and essentially nothing commercially available. The best you can do is a trailer made to haul a dog around.
While searching for pictures to use for this post, I encountered one company who says they’re offering a new product for 2017.
It looks promising, design-wise. It sure beats other projects I’ve seen so far. I’m guessing that it’s fairly heavy, and it’s larger and likely more expensive than what I’m imagining.
Design Twist #2 – The Trike
To understand the next wrinkle to the project, you have to understand that I’d recently taken a trip down 360 loop in Austin, also known as Capitol of Texas Highway. It’s one of the long, steep hills in the city. At times my speed approached 40MPH which is very scary on a traditional diamond frame bike. At a certain speed, you’re basically just hanging on for dear life, hoping the tiniest bump in the road doesn’t send you flying over then handlebars to meet the pavement in your skimpy spandex. I started to wonder what it would be like to take a hill like that on a 3-wheeled bike, where balance was no longer an issue. This is because of the obvious fact that it makes more sense to invest a bunch of money into a new bike rather than simply slow down. 🙂 .
Over lunch one day, I took a trip to Easy Street Recumbents where the staff let me ride around on a Catrike Expedition. While not the lean, mean racing machine that is the Catrike 700, the Expedition is a great bike to sit in and imagine whether or not you’d actually want to ride a recumbent.
I was hooked instantly. It was fantastic. My only reservation was the $2500+ price point. Just a little too rich for my blood.
Design Twist #3 – Learning a New Word
One day I was excitedly discussing this with my coworker, drawing the trailer, the camper, talking about the tricycle on our whiteboard, and bemoaning the fact that I didn’t know which one to build first.
He just looked at me and calmly said, “Why don’t you make it do all three?” It caught be completely off-guard. A bike that is also a camper and can haul your stuff? Is such a thing possible?
More googling was getting me nowhere, until something magical happened. I discovered a new word: Velomobile. A velomobile is a fully-faired or encapsulated tricycle. Designs vary, but they look like (depending on who you ask) a spaceship or bike-sized penis. 😉 Including that term in my Googling turned my dead-ends in to tons of useful results.
But the question remained – could this be used as a camper? You’re all the way to the end of this post, and I don’t currently have an answer. There are more design twists ahead! Stay tuned.