bike powered ice cream

we interrupt the money hacking series to bring you the following shenanigans…

I had this great old ice cream maker—eight quarts, hand-cranked, cedar bucket, 192o’s-era ‘stainless’ steel canister—gathering dust in my place. I got it off ebay with ambitions to make it bike powered. It sat for over a year, until I came to terms with the fact that it would not fulfill its destiny in my hands. So I donated it to Pumping Station: One.

Soon after, Mitch Altman came to us with his Take On the Machine competition, and $3000. And it was on. Boy was it ever on. Because I’m running on, they won’t let me embed video (grr),  but you can see what we did here.

We actually ended up very close to my original vision, which was somewhat coincidental. There were a lot of creative people and strong personalities involved, so I didn’t want to try to control the process too much. A lot of good ideas made it in, as well as some engineering I would not have thought of (A u-joint for the drive coupling? Good thinking! Next time let’s not use one made of cast zinc.) The unit we have was almost a general purpose portable bike-powered unit. There’s a lot you could do with that, more than make ice cream.

The process was not a little frustrating. But damn, at the end that glow in the dark mint ice cream was tasty. It took a minuscule amount of fluorescein to make the whole batch glow bright under blacklight. I think we have enough left over to turn the entire city of Chicago’s pee bright yellow for a day.

Hmm… (more…)


The Bike of Steel gets new wheels

The Bike of Steel
…and a new drive train, and new dérailleur, and a new shifter cable, and some new stickers…

What a great way to mark Earth Day, huh? I’ve been working on this for a few weeks. I built new wheels, and replaced the whole drive train (chainring, cranks, chain, and the cassette of gears in the back). Took it for a spin, just now, and yes, it rides like a new bike. The wheels are a lot lighter–I switched to lighter tires, too.

P1000372.JPGAll of this was under the able supervision of Sam Van Dellen: neighbor, Build-a-Bike course leader at West Town Bikes, professional bike mechanic, and personal friend. Sarah Kaplan, who shares all those same qualifications with Sam, was also a big big help. I owe you guys. (Sarah will kill me if I don’t mention that she’s been teaching that class longer than Sam, and is–I think–listed as the main instructor. They teach together. And are SO’s. And live together at the coop. She was just less involved in my bike project.)

Sam found parts. Actually had a lot of them in his bike mechanic cache, which is not small. He knew about a sweet pair of rims available cheap at Working Bikes. He pointed me at references–more on that later–and patiently guided me through the process of building wheels. I checked in with him at critical moments , and he would advise well. I didn’t actually screw up all that much–after finishing the first wheel, anyway. But there were a lot of moments of ‘here’s an easier way to do that.’ And he did step in to help on a few tricky things. We worked together on the last steps–readjusting brakes, changing dérailleur cable, and adjusting the new rear dérailleur.

P1000367.JPGMy old tires were great, but so heavy. The front tire had lasted something like seven years without a single flat. I didn’t realize how much of a burden they were until I got my second bike, Percival, which has much lighter wheels. So I decided to make that tradeoff in a different way, with Schwalbe Marathons.

I also have to mention the immortal Sheldon Brown–his build-a-wheel page makes building your first wheels about as easy as you could. Which is to say, not very easy. But he’s very very helpful. Read it at least three times, carefully, before you start. I didn’t, and I ended up restringing the spokes maybe twice over. It’s tricky–lots of symmetry, lots of times when this looks just like that but isn’t, quite. Your eye will be trained.

So the Bike of Steel is made almost new again. I bought it new nine-and-a-half years ago. I was thinking this would be fitting for a ten-year anniversary, but the freewheel (an older kind of rear gearset) and chain needed replacing, and to convert to a cassette meant a new wheel, and I wanted to build a new set of wheels anyway, and my cranks were bent too, so that precipitated big changes. Not much on the bike is still original: the frame, fork, headset and handlebars, and the bottom bracket. The rest of the bike has been replaced along the way.

I enjoy working in software, don’t get me wrong, but there is something about building stuff in atoms instead of bits. I don’t know if it’s more satisfying, or just a hunger I haven’t satisfied in a long time. I will experiment more.

Bikin' to Menard's for some lighting fixtures

A couple nights ago I borrowed Sarah Kaplan’s trailer for a run to Menard’s for some lighting fixtures. It was quite a tight fit, but between good trailer design and a little cleverness with the inner-tube bungees, I got it all home in one piece–well, two, there were two fixtures.
bike w/lighting fixtures on trailer
This is the loaded trailer with the Bike of Steel. Note the twisted up inner tubes–they were a little loose, so I twisted them and split them around the corners for added stabilty.
how the lighting fixtures are tied down in the back of the trailer
This it how I tied them down in back.

front of trailer w/lighting fixtires
This is the front view.

I gave up spitting on cars for Lent

Well, not exactly. After all, I’m not Catholic. I guess Lent came along, and I realized my traffic expectoration habit had gotten out of hand. So I gave in up in the Lenten spirit. I’ve given it up permanently, too.

I bike in the city, gave up my car years ago, and there are inconsiderate drivers out there. Mostly people parking in bike lanes. (especially on Ogden, just north of Roosevelt. Don’t get me started.) I would yell, I would do various things. At one point I started spitting. Not even on cars, but in front of them, as a gesture of disgust for their disregard for my safety. Like anyone would notice.

And as a response to honking. I rationalized, “Honking, spitting, same gesture as far as I’m concerned.” As though most folks behind the wheel would make the same equation.

But at some point I graduated to spitting directly on cars. I didn’t do it enough to lead to the inevitable confrontation. But I did have that combination of aggresive angry rush and rationalization that does set off alarm bells in my mind–maybe this isn’t the best way to handle things.

Anyway, along came Lent, and I thought, “What a great idea. And I know just what to give up.”

So it’s been interesting. I haven’t lapsed. I still salivate when I pass a car parked in the bike lane. I have thought about more constructive responses–perhaps a flyer for cars at that spot on Ogden. There are safer places for them to park–still illegal, but not life-endangering for bicyclists.

Maybe that “giving stuff up” approach opens up constructive creative energy. I suppose you still have to approach it with an open mind, and give it up in a playful sort of spirit. I mean, spitting in traffic is disgusting, but I didn’t get all bent out of shape with myself about it, like I have with other bad habits.

I'm just ever so proud of myself, part 2

Here’s the second cut at the t-shirt design:

This is a much better design. than the last one. Punchier, more fun, more appropriate for the back of a t-shirt.

Another thing I recently realized I did here was to apply that nationalist-possessive language to the world. It’s not “the world” here, it’s “your world.” And mine, of course. Not conflicting with nationalism, either, at least not here.

This has already gone out on a bunch of t-shirts. I actually did it a little while ago.

Mick Jagger turns 60, I turn 36

My birthday was this last Saturday. I was born on Mick Jagger’s birthday. He had a concert, I had a nice lunch with Mom. And a nap. Oh, I was also born on my mom’s birthday. At the restaurant we got a free sundae. You gotta work it, you know?

I had rather more excitement the night before. I rode with Critical Mass in Chicago–last Friday of every month, baby–and it was magnificent. It was humongous. We were shooting for a thousand riders, and we probably made it. I haven’t seen a count report yet, but the thing was enormous. You can see pictures. Such a great time. Harmonious, peaceful, friendly, fun. We went through the South Side.

And we passed out the new t-shirts! They were a hit, though it’s hard to miss with free t-shirts. People did like the design. I think it was a good first draft. It looked great on my screen, but it was so useful to see it on the back of a t-shirt. It needs more visual impact.

I love the story of how they got made. I posted a note about the design, with links, to the Chicago Critical Mass mailing list. James Council, who works at a t-shirt printing shop, took it upon himself to raise money for twenty-five shirts, and print them up. Tim (don’t know his last name), who owns Urban Bikes in Uptown, kicked in the dough. I went downtown to help, but they were done when I got there. So we just hung out, and I packed up a bunch to bring to the Mass the next day.

We had a great time passing them out. I tossed them to the crowd at Daley Plaza, along with some oranges I picked up on the way in. Not sure how James got his out, but there was much joy.

The joy lasted pretty late. The Mass ended up at 31st Street Beach, and I headed over to Chinatown for fantastic cheap Chinese food with some cool people. I sacked out on my friend Craig’s couch in Logan Square.

So you can see why I needed a nap on my birthday. Thanks to all who got the t-shirts out: Tim, James, even Maureen helped–she has a much louder voice than I, and we needed someone to get the crowd’s attention for the t-shirt toss. And always, thanks to Alex Wilson, Critical Mass t-shirt king, for inspiration, and for the CCM logo.

human powered vehicles in Northbrook

So this last Saturday, I went with my friend Todd and some folks from the Chicago Cycling Club up to the Northbrook velodorome to see the human powered vehicles race. It was a great trip, though it was challenging.

First we biked up to Northbrook, from the lakefront in Chicago. Which is 25 miles one way. I don’t think I’ve ridden that far since high school. Not to mention that these CCC types were very serious cyclists. The spandex, the fancy bikes, the 25-mile-a-day bike commute to work…on my city clunker backup bike I was having trouble keeping up. I’m not in bad shape, but I’m more strength-fit than endurance-fit. So it was a trial.

But it was worth it. The velodrome in Northbrook is kinda cool, but the HPVs were awesome. The Barracuda was a big banana-yellow full-fairing machine, that got up to 42 miles/hour. In a 100 lap race it lapped the next fastest competitor five times. You could only see a little bit of the rider’s head sticking up in the canopy, and he was riding hard. I think he averaged in the high thirties. I kept thinking of the old Heart song: “Dum-da-da-Dum-da-da-Dum-da-da-Dum-da-da-Dum-da-da-Da-Da…”

I got to check out some of the bikes up close. Some of the coolest ones were “stock,” or non-fairing bikes. There were a number of Velokraft bikes. Velokraft is a Polish company that makes these carbon-fiber frames that are ridiculously light and super low. The frames on the site are in the 5 1/2 pound range. Some were also front-wheel drive, which was interesting. Some also had solid carbon-fiber wheels. Feel the techo-lust.

It was also interesting to hear about the development of the technology. It’s very much an ad-hoc competitive field, with people of varying degrees of engineering professionalism. There was the guy in a crash last year: he had mounted a camera on top of his bike, and the wire between the cam and the screen got caught in one of his wheels. He was blinded, and he slammed into a post. I think they banned camera bikes after that.

Aso, it seems that trikes are out, too. Three wheeled low racers were big until they started losing races.

The world record stands right now at 81 miles/hour. It’s increased about 20 miles/hour in the last few years. They seem to think 100 is possible soon. imagine doing 100 miles an hour under your own power.

I wish we had gotten to stay for the stock race. It would have been cool to see those Velokraft bikes in action.

I'm just ever so proud of myself

I just put a new t-shirt design up on the Critical Mass flyer exchange site. Here’s a version that’s easier to look at:

Message for a broad political cross-section: righty-nationalist or lefty-greeny, we can all agree that biking is right. Energy-saving practices should have more appeal across the political spectrum: reducing dependence on foreign oil is a national security issue as much as it is an environmental one. But then, I’ve thought so for a long time.

Trying for a very yellow-meme message. Let me know what you think.