Tag Archives: Cycling

My BumbleBike!

One sunny summer day when I was a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I was sitting on the front lawn of my childhood home on 41st Ave in Vancouver, waving goodbye to my uncle as he drove away in his blue car. As he often did, he had come to visit and bring us some hot cross buns, always quickly devoured by us four energetic kids. As I was sitting on the lawn, barefoot, a bumblebee landed on my big toe (my daddy toe, as I used to call it, and still do). My parents had told me that bumblebees don’t sting, but as I waved goodbye to my uncle and my toe wiggled a little bit, the little buzzing ball of fuzz stung my daddy toe. I was not impressed, and duly made this known by profuse crying, as was my reaction at that age to most things unpleasant.

Fast forward a couple decades, and shift the scene one city block southwest: I wanted to build up a bunch of bicycles while I was in Vancouver this past spring, but I had less spare time on my hands than I had planned, so in the end I was only able to complete two projects. The first was a custom red and white single speed freewheel built with my brother as a gift for my sister, which turned out really nicely.

For my second project, I decided to build a single speed freewheel bike for myself. After thinking about different colour schemes for a while, I decided on black and yellow. When I mentioned the idea to Ben at Our Community Bikes, he immediately replied “Oh cool, you’re building a bumblebike!” A great name if ever I heard one, the bike had been baptised before even being born!

I began by searching for used black rims to build the wheels. At Our Community Bikes I found one fully built 32 hole black rear wheel with black spokes and black hub, and a 24 hole front rim. Down at the Pedal Depot I found a black 24 hole front hub, and I bought the black front spokes and spoke nipples from Jett Grrl down on Union Street. It was really tough building the front wheel – working in my bedroom, I had to re-lace it about 5 times before I got it right!

Bumblebike 24 spoke front wheel in progress

Next, I took a secondhand frame and got out my angle grinder to remove the labels and most of the paint. Before:

Bumblebike frame before paint removal

After:

Bumblebike frame after paint removal

I did the same to the front fork:

Bumblebike front fork

As with my sister’s bike, I spent a long time spraying thin coats of paint onto the frame and fork and waiting for it to dry:

Bumblebike frame with black paint

I also made a BumbleBike decal and bumblebee logo for the bike, and got a sign-making place to print them as decals. Unfortunately, despite several coats of ink, the yellow still came out relatively translucent, so the colour of the decals doesn’t quite match the yellow on the rest of the bike:

Custom bumblebike decal

Rather than think about packing, half of my last day in Canada was spent putting the BumbleBike together. It still needs brakes, different cranks, and I have to fix the rear wheel alignment, but it’s neeearly rideable now:

Almost complete bumblebike
Almost complete bumblebike

Snakes on a Helmet

Toward the end of March I decided to make a “unique” bicycle helmet, because I’m not a big fan of wearing bicycle helmets, but also not a big fan of paying fines to the police for not wearing one. If I have to wear a helmet, it might as well catch people’s attention, right?

To this end, I bought a helmet with lots of ventilation holes, and got a toy rubber snake from my sister. I used my leatherman to cut the snake into pieces which could be inserted part way into the ventilation holes. I also used the leatherman to cut some of my blowdarts into various lengths, to hold the rubber snake sections in place in the helmet.

Materials for making a snake helmet
Making a snake bicycle helmet

The finished product got LOTS of comments as I cycled around Vancouver, including a few screams from small children clinging to their parents, and a “Whoa dude, sick helmet!” from a group of teenage skateboarders. Mission accomplished.

Making a snake bicycle helmet
Finished product: snake bicycle helmet

Building a Custom Single Speed Bicycle

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Vancouver in early March was to buy an old 52cm bicycle frame with fork and handlebars off craigslist. The frame and fork had been partly sanded to get most of the old paint off, and I spent hours making the surfaces as smooth as I could with sandpaper at my parents’ home. I then went out and started buying new and used parts to turn the frame into a real bike, including several cans of spray paint. It took a few weeks of tinkering but, on the day we had a family party for my sister’s birthday, my brother and I were able to put the bike together and surprise her with it. This post is a bit text-heavy, but there are photos at the end if you want to skip the explanation part.

Building a single speed bicycle from parts isn’t too difficult; it just takes time and a willingness to learn. I built a touring bike for myself in 2009 so I figured I’d try building my sister a bike for her birthday. Her old mountain bike was completely the wrong size for her and was in bad shape, so I wanted to build a lightweight machine that would be fun to ride.

To start, I sanded the frame and fork down until they felt smooth enough to paint, not worrying that in some places the surface was down to bare metal while in others the paint was either green or yellow (the frame had clearly been painted more than once in the past). The first layer of spray paint was the grey primer, the base coat.

Bicycle frame, sprayed with grey sandable primer, hanging in garage
Primer on lugs of steel bicycle frame

After a bunch of layers of grey, I used painter’s masking tape to cover most of the frame, leaving only the lugs exposed. I then painted the lugs white, but I have to admit I didn’t do a great job. The paint went on pretty heavy, with drips running down in places and sticky paint easily chipping off in others at the lightest touch even hours later. I did my best to fix the mistakes and then sprayed clear coat over that, and left it to dry for a few days.

Unfortunately, when I removed the tape I found that white paint had made its way under the tape in a bunch of places! With too few days available to sand down and fix the mistakes, I chose to leave a bit of grey primer showing around each lug and focus on painting the rest of the bike red. That turned out to be much easier, either because I was more careful or because the red metallic paint was much more forgiving than the white paint had been.

Bicycle frame with lugs taped off
First thin coat of metallic red paint on bicycle frame
Bicycle fork taped off to paint crown lugs

I also decided to try painting the chainwheel white to add to the aesthetics of the bike, even though the paint will most likely chip off quite quickly once my sister starts riding the bike.

Bicycle chainwheel sprayed with grey sandable primer
Bicycle chainwheel sprayed with white lacquer

While the frame, fork, and chainwheel were drying, I went to a paint store to buy some sign-writing enamel paint which is supposed to be great for painting on metal with a paintbrush. I planned to buy some ivory-coloured paint to cover the remaining grey areas, turning the bike into a three-toned bike instead of my original two-tone red-and-white scheme. Much to my dismay, it turned out the type of paint I wanted is no longer readily available in stores as it’s a bit of a specialty item; people buy it online from the manufacturers these days. With no time to waste waiting for that, I headed home and asked my dad for advice.

My dad gave me a good tip: spray paint can be sprayed into a small container, then applied with a brush! I had no idea, but I tried this with the grey primer and it worked! It’s a bit finicky, as the liquid paint that results from spraying into a little container is not very thick at all. It runs quite easily, but I got used to it and managed to cover all the white paint that had found its way under the painter’s tape. With this done, I decided I liked look of the grey primer as the third tone. I sprayed a bunch of layers of clear coat over the whole frame and fork, then left them to dry overnight – the next day would be our family party for my sister.

Bicycle frame painted and clear coated

While the frame slowly got its colour, I was also working on building the two wheels. After all, a bicycle without wheels isn’t very practical. To build a bicycle wheel, you need four components: a rim, a hub, a bunch of spokes, and a bunch of spoke nipples.

Halo Aerorage 700c 32h rim on my Swiss ball

I bought two white Halo Aerorage rims, along with two white Origin8 Elimin8er tires, from Tracy at Jett Grrl Bike Studio, then headed up to Our Community Bikes on Main & 17th to sift through their bin of secondhand hubs. I found a Campagnolo Mirage front hub and a Shimano Tiagra rear hub, and with guidance from the amazing staff at OCB, I learned which measurements I had to make in order to calculate the appropriate spoke length for the two wheels I wanted to build. That done, I bought some spokes and spoke nipples from a store I won’t name (because in the end I wasn’t too happy with the quality), and plunked myself at home in front of the computer to search for YouTube videos of how to build a bicycle wheel. I found one, followed the instructions, found it not very easy, but got one wheel laced in the middle of the night.

The first 8 spokes connecting the Campagnolo Mirage front hub to the Halo Aerorage rim

When I took my laced wheel to Our Community Bikes to finish tightening all the spokes and truing it (removing the wobbles), it quickly became apparent that I had made some mistake and would have to start all over. This ended up happening with both wheels, and I had to buy two new sets of spoke nipples because I had broken a bunch of them in my failed attempts at wheelbuilding. Instead of returning to the same unnamed store, I went back to see Tracy at Jett Grrl and asked for advice; she builds excellent wheels, so I was confident taking her advice and buying some higher quality spoke nipples for my second attempt with each wheel. This turned out far better, and I finally succeeded in completing my first two bicycle wheelbuilds (they’re not quite perfect, but at least they’re pretty!).

Complete front wheel with Origin8 Elimin8er white 700 x 23c tire

In order to find a suitable white saddle and white pedals to fit with the colour scheme, my brother started calling around to different bike shops in Vancouver. He lucked out on the second call, and together we went to Dunbar Cycles to have a chat with the very friendly guys there. They just happened to have a returned white Fi’zi:k saddle, as well as some white Giant pedals that had been on a display model. The handlebar I got is a black riser bar, so we used white handlebar grips from MEC, plus white handlebar tape from MEC, to make it fit right in. Our Community Bikes had sold me a red KMC single speed chain to match the frame colour, and Jett Grrl had sold me white brake cable housing. I bought Tektro brakes and brake levers, plus a single speed cog and spacer kit from The Bike Doctor.

Fi'zi:k saddle, stock seatpost, KMC chain, Tektro caliper brakes, Giant pedals, Jagwire cable housing and brake cables, Shimano RSX cranks and chainwheel, Spok lights

Dan and I began assembling the bike a little after noon, when I suddenly realised that the nice secondhand bottom bracket (pedals connect to cranks, cranks connect to the bottom bracket so they can spin) I had found was the wrong type and wouldn’t screw in to the frame! I zoomed off yet again to Our Community Bikes where the staff helped me find one that would fit, while Dan continued putting things together.

It took us about four hours in total to put all the pieces together, but it worked!

Check out this video of us surprising my sister with her new bike:


We told my sister that we had a surprise for her, so she had to cover her eyes and walk out the kitchen door, down the steps behind the house, to where a bicycle was parked. We got her to put her hand on the bike seat then open her eyes: ta-da! Her old bike had sloppy red stripes of spray paint on it! We told her it was all tuned up for her, since she’d been wanting a new bike which would be too costly, and asked her to grab a rag from the basement bathroom for us to wipe the rain off. When she walked into the bathroom, her brand new single speed bike was staring back at her.

Happy sister with a new single speed bike
Detail: bicycle drivetrain
Completed custom three-tone single speed bicycle

Bicycle building win. Big thanks to the many staff at Our Community Bikes and Tracy from Jett Grrl Bike Studio for all the help and advice!

Mud vs Sheep vs Bike 2009

Last year, when I was an intern in Oxford with the Fritz Institute, I was invited by my boss, Fraser Stephens, to go on his annual mountainbiking trip: Mud v Sheep v Bike. This year, I got him to invite me again. He chose Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales for this year’s trip, and it was amazing!

Leaving London Paddington train station to Wales on September 18th:

I got to Cardiff in the early afternoon and spent a few hours walking around and reading my book, then caught my bus from Cardiff up to Brecon. Fraser drove down to Brecon to pick me up, and after a nice evening chatting with him and some of his friends, I went to bed. In the morning, we all got our bikes ready to head out into the hills. I was very lucky that Fishy, one of Fraser’s friends, brought an extra bike just in case. I had planned to use Fraser’s rigid bike, but Fishy brought one with front suspension, which just happened to be the exact same one he lent me last year!

The first obstacle we encountered was bovine. Well, actually we were just waiting for the stragglers to catch up on the road leading to the trails, and this is where we chose to wait:

To get to the mountainbiking trails, we had to cycle for a while on the tow path alongside the canal near Tallybont. I’m decent at taking photos while cycling now…

…and working on improving my behind-the-back shots too:

Some nice views:

Me and my ride:

Mike took a tumble end-over-end coming down the steepest part of the trail – I’m very surprised he’s the only one who did! It was really tough! Luckily his bike didn’t land on him as it came down, which is a common way to get injured – it hopped right over him. But his glasses did cut his eyebrow:

Nurse Dawn had her first aid kit, including medical superglue (used in place of sutures to close wounds). I noticed one of the tires had partly come off the rim so Fraser deflated the tire, put it back in place, and re-inflated it:

A few minutes later we were at the pub for our midday lunch break. Outside the pub was a tiny pony:

Soonafter, we were back on the trails. We passed through the gap / over the saddle between Pen Y Fan (the highest point in South Wales) and Corn Du, and then it was back down, down, down.

It didn’t take long before two bikes got flat tires at the same time on a section I chose to walk because it was quite tough.

One of the two flats was Dawn’s bike, so Mike wasted no time in fixing it for her, which was a nice way to repay her earlier help with his eyebrow:

By the time we got back to Cantref Farm, where we were staying, my GPS unit showed the following figures for the day’s trip. I took the photo because it was strange that all of them were multiples of 5:

This plaque is on the building, but it doesn’t actually say why it’s there. It just says when it was unveiled. It’s basically a plaque that just describes itself, and says nothing about why it was put there (obviously it’s somehow linked to the Foot and Mouth crisis, but what about it?)

That night we had a massive feast. Fraser made his traditional banoffee pie that he does every year:

Fraser’s girlfriend Kate led the cooking effort, and it turned out very well – a bunch of super tasty Indian dishes.

The next day, September 20th, six of us went out for a second day of cycling. Although Fraser always says that the second day will be much easier than the first, I think most people have figured out that it’s never really that easy, so they all stay back and relax. Paul, Kate, Fishy, Adam, Fraser, and I had a great time on our second day, so I’m glad I forced myself to go.

Adam and Paul on one of the easier sections of the day:

Fishy:

Cycling back along the canal to Cantref Farm:

On the ride back, we had ice cream, then relaxed at the farm for a little while before everyone took off for their respective homes. Adam kindly drove me to Newport, and I walked around town for a bit before catching my train back to London. Here’s the only
photo I took in Newport, near the train station:

All in all, it was a great weekend. The mountainbiking was tough but fun, Fraser’s friends were very friendly and interesting, and somehow the weather was perfect too! Hopefully I somehow manage to attend a few more editions of Mud v Sheep v Bike in the future!