Building (another) failure

Posted on April 9th, 2009 in Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

I think it was after I crashed for the third time that I started losing confidence in my new machine.

All were low-speed crashes, but still, they were hitting-the-ground crashes. Just as well they were from a pedal bike.

After the saga of the pictured first Chalky (front-wheel drive, delta, leaning, recumbent, suspension design) that reached the stage of being about two-thirds finished before I decided that the build was not going the in the direction I had hoped, I was very excited about the second Chalky.

This one was much more conventional – in terms of weird human-powered machines, anyway.

A long-wheel base, recumbent, rear-wheel drive, suspension bike. I had plans for rider-operated ‘trainer wheels’ to provide low speed stability, but I secretly hope that it would be stable enough to be easily ridden without them.

I used the same static front end geometry as the Greenspeed Anura and ran 130mm of suspension travel front and rear, using my favourite Firestone airbags. The rear had a chain path positioned for anti-squat suspension behaviour, and I investigated very thoroughly different types of anti-dive front suspension designs.

And, after many hours of work brazing the (very expensive) chrome moly tubing, I had a machine I could ride.

Ride – and fall off.

I don’t want to over-emphasise the falling off bit, but still, it wasn’t good.

Because a recumbent like this has more weight on the back than the front, and because it is steering of the front wheel that provides the balance (ie puts the centre of gravity over the line joining the front and rear tyre contact patches), on this sort of bike a fair bit of steering is needed to stay upright. I experimented with different steering ratios until I had quick – but not nervous – steering. I also dialed-out all bump-steer.

I experimented with different positions of the front suspension’s upper leading link, and while I could reduce brake dive, it also increased (to an unacceptable level) suspension harshness. 

Talking about the suspension, I also think the spring motion ratios were not right: the machine bottomed-out excessively. To prevent simultaneous nose-dive and bumps bottoming the front end, I added a long bump rubber – but the main spring rate was clearly still too low.

The high centre of gravity and soft front spring rate meant that, with vigorous pedalling, full front extension occurred – the rear anti-squat worked fine but the front suspension extended each time.

In short, it was simply nowhere near as good as my existing recumbent trike – nowhere near as good.

Yes, the design of Chalky #2 potentially allows for folding into a small package, but if the stability, ride, and pedalling suspension behaviour are way inferior, it’s hard to justify this approach as the way to go….

In short, I think it’s another failure.

So I’ve started designing Chalky #3…

The Best DIY Tools and Techniques

Posted on March 31st, 2009 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Mufflers,Opinion,pedal power,testing by Julian Edgar

This week in AutoSpeed we start a new series that I’ve immodestly called the ‘Ultimate DIY Automotive Modification Kit’.

It’s not the sort of material that you’d find anywhere else but at AutoSpeed – and, perhaps for that reason, longstanding readers will have seen much of the content before.

What the series does is integrate the testing and modification techniques that over the years I’ve discovered  to work for all cars.

Yes, all cars.

Buying for parts alone?

Posted on March 12th, 2009 in Driving Emotion,pedal power,Suspension by Julian Edgar

Back here I covered how, when I first started to design my Air 150 recumbent trike , I spent a lot of time looking for the lightest possible springs.

I tried rubber springs (in torsion, shear and compression), carbon fibre, elastomers and others.

My initial desire was to use torsion bars, preferably made from spring steel. However, I gave up on doing this for a number of reasons – weight, stress level in the steel (best addressed by using multiple leaves, Volkswagen Beetle style), and the difficulty in fastening the ends of the bar without introducing even higher stresses.

And the Firestone air-springs I chose to use in the final design are still my pick for springs in ultra light-weight vehicles.

But the other day I came across a product that might have changed the situation. It’s a type of skateboard that uses two wheels, mounted in line. The two halves of the board can pivot relative to one another around a longitudinal axis, and the two wheels can rotate, castor style.

Big bolts…

Posted on March 3rd, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Materials,Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

In my hand right now I am holding a bolt.

More specifically, it’s an Allen-key bolt (sometimes called a ‘cap screw’) that’s 30mm long and 10mm in diameter. It uses a metric thread.

It’s a high tensile bolt, which means – in plain terms – that it’s bloody strong.

I’ve just stepped over to the digital scales – it weighs 28 grams.

Now the reason that the bolt was sitting on my desk is that a moment or two ago I took it out of my pocket. And the reason it was in my pocket is that I’ve just stepped in from my home workshop, after finishing for the evening.

I’ve been building ‘Chalky’, my recumbent, full suspension touring bike that I hope to be one of the best human-powered touring machines in the world. Best for me, anyway.

Colouring your street directory green…

Posted on February 25th, 2009 in books,Economy,Global Warming,Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

The boom in GPS-based navigation systems must have seen a diminution in sales of book-based street directories. I haven’t seen the figures to support that, but it’s certainly what you’d assume to be taking place.

But the companies that produce street directories (and of course in many cases also supply the software for the nav systems) are fighting back.

A stunningly useful design tool

Posted on February 17th, 2009 in Electric vehicles,Materials,pedal power,testing,tools by Julian Edgar

Over the years I have built plenty of simple structures that I’ve wanted to be both light and strong.

Those structures vary from little brackets that might be holding something in the engine bay, to complete human-powered vehicles that I trust my life to.

In all cases, the starting point for the design is to consider the forces involved. How does the force of gravity act on the structure? What direction do braking loads act in, or short-term transient loads like suspension forces? Will this tube be placed in bending (not so good) or is it being subjected to compression (good) or extension (better)?

Heading down a blind alley

Posted on February 12th, 2009 in Opinion,pedal power,Suspension by Julian Edgar

Right now my confidence is at an utterly low ebb.

I have been working on my new recumbent, touring bike design and now, after almost two months of thinking, designing and constructing, have abandoned the project in its current form.

The machine has several strict criteria it must fulfil: it needs to be able to be folded into a package (say) 1 metre x 50 cm x 40 cm; it needs to be able to carry a lot of camping gear; it needs to be stable; and it needs to weigh less than 20kg. Oh yes, and as I have previously indicated, it needs to use a recumbent seat and have a lot of gears.

My first on-screen design looked a bit like this. A delta trike, it used (two and then) three air springs, allowing interconnection of the front and rear suspensions. The machine used chain-twisting front-wheel drive and rear wheels that could lean, parallelogram-style. The leaning ability could also be locked out for low speed travel.

Time for a Paradigm Shift in Pedal Power

Posted on February 3rd, 2009 in Global Warming,Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

As I write this, I am on holidays – something that also won’t be the case by the time you actually read this!

In addition to doing four AutoSpeed stories, I’ve been spending the time cudgelling my brains over my upcoming Human Powered Vehicle project – a front-wheel drive, delta (two rear wheels, one front), recumbent, leaning trike.

I’ve looked through the articles I’ve previously done in AutoSpeed on recumbent pedal trikes (including the tadpole trike pictured above), and have been furiously scanning the web.

Recumbent bikes (where the rider sits back in a reclined seat, the pedals in front of him or her) make up only a tiny minority of bikes worldwide.

Recumbent trikes make up a small minority of that tiny minority – and recumbent, delta, leaning trike designs can be counted on the fingers. Of two hands.

Thus web searches have tended to return to the same sources, taking any one of a number of routes to get there.

As a result of the small number of web pages dealing with this topic, I have had a chance to re-read my posts to an online recumbent bikes/trikes forum, one that has a specific area for homebuilders. Before I was banned, I was almost pleading with those who had developed recumbent trikes to do some testing and measurement of their machines’ performance, so that the tiny community of scattered builders around the world could actually compare designs and see which approaches were best.

Seems an obvious request, but it was met with refusal.

AutoSpeed in 2009

Posted on January 9th, 2009 in AutoSpeed,Opinion,pedal power,Reviews by Julian Edgar

It’s a new year – so what do we have coming up in AutoSpeed?

In short, it looks to be a great year.

First-up, we’ll be continuing our ‘How to Electronically Modify Your Car’ series. At this stage the series has about 15 parts – it may grow a little. By reading those stories, you can be taken from knowing literally nothing about electronically modifying a car to the stage where you can confidently make changes to analog and digital signals, and understand how car systems can be altered.

In the second half of the year we expect to cover an innovative development in DIY electronics that will put the power of making major, custom electronic modification of cars into the hands of everyone. It’s a development that has been more than 12 months of work in the making, and one that I think is enormously exciting. More on this as we get closer to launch.

A New Pedal Machine?

Posted on December 1st, 2008 in Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

I’ve just returned from a week on the road.

The vehicle of choice was my recumbent pedal trike, a design that you can read more about here and here. (In the pic above I’ve just finished my ride, so explaining the wrong shoes.)

I left Gold Coast and went to Tallebudgera, Pottsville, Byron Bay, Lennox Head, Yamba and then Grafton – mostly in northern NSW. Carrying full camping gear, I stayed each night in local caravan parks, spending one night in each except at Yamba where, because of steady rain, I spent two nights.

My last stop was at Grafton, where I got picked up by car and trailer.

Including diversions, I rode about 350 kilometres.