Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why wood?

As I've mentioned previously this project is about creating a wooden framed cargo bicycle. As we are enamored and familiar with 'bakfeits' style, two-wheeled, cargo-in-the-front cargo bicycle that is the pattern we have chosen to follow. While 'longtails' and tricycles all have their merits it is the front loading, two wheeled (in line) type that we feel has the most potential in terms of function and aesthetics. I list aesthetics because our goal is not to create a 'better' cargo bike but a more beautiful product that resonates on an emotional level. That is not to say that function is not our concern. On the contrary it has to 'function' in a way that would merit the term 'cargo bike' (i.e haul loads safely & efficiently). We just feel that function has a subjective component that can never be fully met and that the aesthetic of utility bikes, bar a few exceptions, has been given a back seat in the development of this form and type of transportation.

So why wood? Well, first of, let us be clear that we don't come at this from some half baked notion of creating a 'sustainable' or 'green' product. Every time we drive out to the shop we burn hydrocarbons and the tools we use to rip, saw, shape & weld material to our will are powered by the coal burning Boardman Plant and the salmon killing monolith that is the Bonneville Dam. The meager wind powered portion of this metric is merely a salve to our guilty consciences and another derivative of hydrocarbons. Construction of this project will involve volatile organic compounds, exotic glues, paints and epoxies not to mention waste material that might or might not be recyclable. Wood products contribute to deforestation, habitat loss, mono culture and global warming. They require the burning of more oil to log, process and transport them to where they can be sold at maximum profit. So, no, our wooden cargo bike will not be saving the world anytime soon.

So we chose wood out of happenstance and a genuine fascination with how this material can be applied to a human powered vehicle. We foresee no business model here so it is unlikely that this will offer any 'real world' solutions. In other words this is a selfish project that sustains deeper needs and desires that have nothing to do with notions of utility or sustainability. This project is, at its root, about process. It is about the minutiae of the journey from concept to manifest object. It is about the day to day discovery and how we adapt and deal with the limitations imposed by both our aspirations and the tools & materials we hold in our hands.

From a straight forward technical standpoint wood is an excellent material for a bicycle. It is, as Ken Wheeler of Renovo stated, natural carbon fiber comprised of cellulose (the fiber) and lignin (the binder). High performance aircraft and boats are still fabricated from wood as are bridges, buildings and furniture many of which have stood for decades if not centuries. In many cases properly engineered wood can out perform steel, aluminum and even carbon fiber. The question is not whether wood is a viable frame material but rather why aren't more people building wooden bicycles?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

David Lindup Orchestra......The Zodiac

Olli Erkkila's cool bicycle & a visit from 'Dirty Curty' one of the ideas I have been pushing is the forkless steering system as demonstrated on Olli Erkila's Forkless Cruiser. Looking at the images on his website (worth a visit) the thing is crying out for a cargo bed. Why forkless steering? No reason whatsoever other than it looks great.......

I happen to have a stub axle wheel from a sidecar kiddie carrier that would work. After figuring out the steering mechanics we decided it might be prudent to create a rough proof-of-concept by welding together some defunct bicycle frames. Neither of us are great shakes at welding and that's when we were saved by Curtis who happened to be in town (he hails from Rhode Island). If anybody can fabricate in steel it's Curtis. He graciously came by the shop on his last day in town and gave us a welding 101 for idiots. He also looked over our plans for the proof-of-concept and suggested some changes that would save time & frustration. Way to go Curtis. While he was doing this he was also showing another fellow (Jeff's friend John) how to build a pedal powered Jacobs Ladder (go figure).

On a tangential subject it appears that being associated with Portland has improved Curtis' chances of hooking up with the opposite sex back home......who knew that's all it took?


This tune is the theme for The Craig Charles* Funk & Soul Show on BBC 6 Music (one of the BBC's internet radio stations)........well worth checking out. Every week I look forward to hearing what Craig has dug up out of his 'Trunk of Funk'. Jeff doesn't have it on his computer and I can't stream it being that the shop is way out in the inky black woods perched at the runt end of the West Hills. But if I could I would.

*and of Red Dwarf will be delighted to hear that Craig Charles has found a new career as a DJ.

in the shop.......

After a day spent at the computer sending out resumes and chasing down contacts it cannot be overstated the satisfaction of making something manifest with your own hands. Words are few and deeply focused, actions are predicated on results and lead to more insightful actions...............deep joy

......and we always have the music playing

Monday, December 27, 2010

in the begining.........

.....there was me riding my cargo bike past Jeff's house in Brooklyn. The house had almost been lost to fire and there was Jeff, day after day, resurrecting it from the ashes. Framing, plumbing, wiring, sheet rocking and the whole nine yards. We got onto nodding terms and then cheery greetings as I wheezed up the hill carrying Nathan & the groceries. As the summer progressed it became a good spot to pause and shoot the breeze often lubricated with a cold beer. He was impressed with my commitment to living car-free; "you help offset my massive carbon footprint" he said indicating his two decrepit trucks. Jeff and I became fast friends. He was the first American I had ever met who would call round my house unannounced (a common practice back in my country) plus he uttered the word 'Malthusian' without a touch of irony.

Later he got a cargo bike of his own and just like me he traded it for his skills (cabinet making for him, conceptualization & CAD models for me). I think his plan was to ride it to work with Essie (his dog) which I thought was a long shot as work was way up on the Columbia River and that's a long haul on a cargo bike even for a car-free nutter like me.

Then Jeff went to the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend and returned with news of Renovo. The Portland based fabricators of high end wooden bicycles had a stall at the festival and Jeff was much taken by the originality & craftsmanship. I had also been following Renovo and had even spent an afternoon with the founder, Ken Wheeler, talking wood & bicycles.

Finally came the Oregon Manifest and the Constructors Challenge.........and slowly the wheels started turning in my head..........master shipwright.........industrial designer and bicycle nut........what would happen if all this came together to create a wooden cargo bike? I wasn't sure so I proposed it to Jeff one day in early October and he said, "sounds like fun, let's do it". Just like that. So after the usual round of procrastination and thumb twiddling we finally got going.......