Maker Faire RI

September 25th, 2009

Rhode Island had its very first Maker Faire this past weekend right in downtown Providence. A Maker Faire is a “gathering of inventors, tinkerers, and creative types that is intended to celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset” (as said by Make magazine). It was well organized by Kipp Bradford and Brian Jepson who synchronized it with Providence’s Waterfire festival which draws a large crowd downtown. We were there showing off a couple of new frames and some bikes. Mostly just proving that all bikes are not made overseas and that manufacturing in the states still exists. There were a bunch of cyclist types in the crowd who were surprised to see that steel bikes were still being made and were excited that it was in their own city. We’ll definitely take part again if it becomes an annual event.


The Makers Market at Socrates Sculpture Park

June 29th, 2009

Circle A was in NYC this past weekend displaying our latest bikes at a Makers Market. A Makers Market is a place where people gather and show off their hand crafted goods. After a couple of torrential downpours and a beautiful sunset shining on the resulting mammatus clouds, it turned out to be a beautiful weekend. Long Island City was at the park in full effect checking out the wares of many local artisans but also some from out of town like us. One of those artisans was Walt Siegl of New Hampshire who impressed us with his handmade motorcycles. Check out the pics to see what we mean. Thanks to everyone who came up and said hi and talked about bikes, brazing, painting, polishing, and everything else. And thanks to all the staff at Socrates Sculpture Park, we had a great time!

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Trailer Building Class

May 4th, 2009

Chris writes:

For the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching a bicycle trailer building class at the Steel Yard, in conjunction with Recycle-A-Bike.. This reunites me with Adam, who helped me do a couple of Monster Bike classes with high school students. The photos have de-linked (it’s on the to do list!) but you can read about that here.

Meanwhile, for the trailer class we have five projects, each a specific trailer for the builders’s particular needs. Warren is making a tool carrying trailer with integrated bike stand for Recycle-A-Bike; Hoshaiah and Lindsay are making a different style tool-tote for RISD Biketown; and Phil, David and Jonathan are each making trailers to help them spend less time in cars and more on bikes. Meanwhile Adam and I are putting together a chair car to help us test the pros and cons of different methods of attaching the trailers to our bikes.

We’re about to begin week 5, and the trailers are taking shape. Here are some shots of the plans folks are working off, from high-tech to low. Thanks to Jackson for all the photos!

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And here are various action shots of the players at work:

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And here are the finished trailers in action:

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David K wins the prize for his Dave Sharp-rated trailer!

Recycle-A-Bike roller races

February 17th, 2009

On Friday the 13th, Providence’s Recycle-A-Bike program held a fundraiser in the form of roller races. There was an amazing turnout to test out the new setup that was created especially for this occasion. The rollers were setup on a small stage and had fork mounts bolted down to it. There was a wireless setup attached to the rollers that sent a signal to the laptop which projected the race progress graph onto the wall behind the riders. The software and wireless hookup for the rollers was created by Providence’s one and only Kipp Bradford. The whole Recycle-A-Bike staff came together to make this a fun night. Special thanks to Maggie for keeping everyone focused. And a very special thanks to all of the sponsors. Can’t wait to do it again!

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Retro-direct experiment complete

January 16th, 2009

My retro-direct obsession started in 2001 when I came across an auction for a Hirondelle bicycle on eBay. I had never seen a two-speed bike that pedaled backwards before and was intrigued. I didn’t win the auction but I was inspired to make one of my own. How hard could it be, right? With modern derailleur chains that can work with almost any chain line it really wasn’t a problem. The problem was that I needed to braze on a pulley to take the chain around a second independent spinning freewheel. At the time I wasn’t building bikes and I had little to no torch experience so I needed an alternate solution. The solution was a clamp-on Tektro chain tensioner for downhill bikes; My retro-direct dream came to fruition.

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At the time, all I had was my old Harry Quinn so I converted that. The two speeds were virtually the same: 46-18 forward pedaling and 46-16 backward pedaling. I rode it for a while but the gearing made it more of a novelty than anything else. Fast forward 8 years and I’m still contemplating building another one. I start by making a 3/32″ compatible freewheel with 24 teeth. Then I needed a test machine, so I found an old Biemmezeta on Craig’s List. It was a horrific neon yellow so there was no hesitation in stripping the paint right off. I dimpled the drive-side chainstay for chain clearance (wasn’t necessary on the HQ because the gears weren’t that different), then I cut a small slot, and I brazed in part of an old steel derailleur (third location was a charm). I contemplated putting a couple water bottle bosses on the inside of the stay to have a removable pulley but realized that since the stay was already looking like a pea-pod from the dimpling, I should just keep it as a dedicated two-speeder. I cut off the derailleur hanger, removed any unnecessary braze-ons, recreated the decals in Illustrator, and painted them on using a vinyl mask. The final product is a sharp-looking, obscure, Italian frame with an even more obscure drivetrain.

I should point out that the retro-direct concept is nothing new. The book The Dancing Chain by Frank Berto has extensive documentation on early versions and variations of two-speed, three-speed, forward, and reverse drive bikes. The idea of the “double-speed velocipede” was patented way back in 1869. It really didn’t become “popular” until 1899 when several companies began manufacturing them. Most notable were the efforts of Magnat & Debon, Hirondelle, and Terrot. With the dawning of the derailleur and internally geared hubs, the retro-direct and its two-speed simplicty had fallen to the wayside. It seems like nowadays only eccentric Sheldon Brown-esque types would be seen pedaling backwards on one of these archaic bikes. I guess I kind of fit that bill.

Here are some shots and specs of my project bike. It’s a 52-18 going forward and 52-24 in reverse. The freewheel is mounted to a 5-speed hub that was respaced and redished to 130mm with a solid axle. The rear hub has a 1mm spacer, 24 tooth freewheel, non-driveside cartridge bottom bracket cup threaded into the first freewheel, and then the second freewheel threaded onto that. Thanks to Jay Cloutier for inspiration, Frank Berto for the history, Chris Bull for the sweet sealed bearing pulley, and Nathan Trombly for the wheels. And for the record, yes, it does feel weird to pedal backwards.

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See the full slideshow

New blog! Grease car conversion!

July 30th, 2008

Welcome to the new Circle A Cycles project blog. I know what you’re thinking. Projects? Like, clean the kitchen? Arrange the receipts alphabetically? Finally return that hat to the mall?

We may fall back on such prosaic tasks, but our hope is to become involved in more community activities, to widen the definition of “frame shop,” and to ever-increase the number of people we are privileged to call neighbors, friends, and comrades. Because it’s never just been about bikes, or at least never just about selling bikes. It’s about getting folks riding, but also walking, talking, working together. Because the things that keep us on bikes – concerns about health and the environment, trying to live simply and consciously, efforts to limit our supersized consumption – they don’t stop when we go home. So in these pages you’ll get to see some of the other things we’re up to.

And we start with a fun one: GREASE CAR CONVERSION.

Probably most of you are familiar with grease cars. I had been peripherally for a while; I knew a few folks who had converted their diesel cars to run on used veggie oil, and a few who brewed biodiesel or sought out commercially available biodiesel at the pump.

Very briefly for the uninitiated: Any diesel car or truck can run unmodified on biodiesel, which is diesel fuel made from veggie oil, methanol, and lye; diesels can also be modified to run on straight veggie oil (svo), which basically involves installing a parallel, heated fuel system – the grease has to be hot to work properly. This is what we embarked upon last weekend.

Also, in terms of general coolness and potential for doing neat stuff: diesel is pretty much exactly the same as home heating oil, so most of the things you can do with cars can apply to heating houses too. More on that later.

Greasecars are not for everyone. It’s not the sole solution to our energy problems, and the last thing we need are more excuses to drive. However, driving a greasecar, or making your own biodiesel, handily provides it’s own disincentives for using a car for the kind of small jaunts that account for 90% of American’s car use – trips under 5 miles, that would often be perfectly served by a bike. It’s messy, it’s a hassle, and it only works when the car is well heated up – so for trips less than 1/2 an hour, there’s really no point. Of course if you’re like me and think that an over-abundance of convenience is the worst thing about modern cars (and computers, can openers, microwaves, phonographs, indoor plumbing, and belts) then this is another reason to recommend it.

So it all began when we fell in with the fellow ne’er-do-wells at the Green Grease Monkeys in Boston. These folks are pretty rad, and are all about sharing the skills, getting more people involved, and generally mixing it up. For example, they’re working on fleet conversions of school buses and delivery trucks – the very vehicles that spend all day idling in traffic and spewing fumes down the lungs of our nations’ children, whom I am told are the future. Burning SVO is about half as polluting as burning regular petroleum diesel, and the carbon it releases was very recently pulled out of the air by the corn or soy that the oil was made from – unlike burning petroleum, which is releasing long hidden carbon.

The Monkeys occasionally do these workshops where they take a donor car and convert it to run on grease, while showing folks how it’s done and generally demystifying the process and serving as sage counsel. On saturday Circle A hosted such a workshop; we hauled some benches out the way to make room for that most rare of beasts, Automovilius Horribilus. Or more specifically, a Jetta wagon, recently donated by my mom to be Circle A’s occasional workhorse.

Here’s Patrick giving his opening motivational speech:

I’m happy to say that most of the participants where Recycle A Bike luminaries, including Brendan, Warren, Tom, and Adam (also of Monster Bike fame), in addition to Patrick and Lindsey of the Grease Monkeys and Garrett who shares our space and keeps us in high-octane espresso.

Here Jamie of the Monkeys demonstrates a system to use veggie oil in a conventional oil burner to heat your home.

Here’s the auxiliary grease tank that lives in the spare tire compartment. You don’t have to worry about getting a flat cuz you’re running on such good karma.

This is the heated veggie oil filter that makes sure the grease is clean and hot enough for the engine:

These are all of our butts:

In terms of the nuts and bolts of conversions, here are some good links:

As for my experience so far – we did the conversion in about 8 hours, including a good lunch break. Using an off-the-shelf kit as we did certainly speeds it up, but there’s no reason not to do it full DIY style as long as you get or make the appropriate heated filter and solenoids. I’m also going to be putting in a vacuum gauge to keep tabs on my fuel pressure, and a thermostat to watch the heat of the grease. I’ll report on those experiences in future.

In general I would say, if you are only using a car for short trips, you’d do just as well brewing or buying biodiesel. The key to longevity with grease cars appears to be making sure it’s good and warm before you switch to grease, and giving it plenty of time to purge before you shut down.

However, for long trips (or multiple short trips that don’t really let the engine cool down), burning straight grease is by far the cheapest, least polluting way to go. Unless you compare it to the real champ of efficient transportation. You know what I’m talking about. Patrick was kind enough to nod in our direction during his intro – the only really sustainable transportation was hanging on the walls of Circle A. Now go for a ride and get yourself some fried food! But say bye to the crew first!

Circle A Cycles   |   523 Charles Street   |   Providence, RI   |   401.831.5221
background: the burkes with their circle a road bikes. (reveal)

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