Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some History is Worth Repeating.

I find myself sitting here thinking on events from my misspent youth...

Oddly enough most of the memorable ones somehow involve bicycles, funny how that works out.

Back in the day, I was a practitioner of the art of frankenbiking, taking disparate pieces of cast-off bikes and bodging them together in forms they were never meant to take.

Foremost among them was my attempt at making a chopper bike with the aid of my father, a man of infinite skill at metal working and an almost equal amount of patience with yours truly... a soul sorely missed by any who knew him.

I got it into my head one summer morning that I wanted a chopper bike, the old BMX just wasn't cutting it for me and I need something totally other.

This called for an extended design meeting with my father since I was hoping to draft him into doing the welding this project would require.

Now before I go any further I should point out that, along with his own welding operation, my father also ran heavy equipment for a local contractor and did the occasional demolition or property clearing job.

This would net us discarded bike parts by the pick-up truck load and we made sure nothing usable ever went to waste.

Ok, back to the frankenbike

After fortification, he with his coffee and I with my Cap’n Crunch, we sat down and commenced plotting and planning.

We planned an epic build around one of the frames he’d brought home the week before, an interesting piece that may have been worth something if it hadn’t been coated in a thin film of rust and buried in the mud.

First order of business was to clean up the frame before going any further… after all; you can’t build a bike if the frame is shot, right?

So I set to work with an old wire brush, a bottle of Naval Jelly, an old pair of gloves, a rattlecan of black Rustoleum, and the type of determination only a ten year-old can muster, and, by late afternoon, I had that frame looking years newer than it had in ages while I looked a couple years older, but it was worth it.

Back to planning…

The rest of the build involved ten feet of 1¼” galvanized water pipe, the seat from an old mini-bike, a pair of small coil-over motorcycle shocks, the sissybar and apehanger bars donated by an old Schwinn, a couple eye-bolts, and a wheelbarrow wheel with a piece of one inch steel rod for an axle.

We set to cutting the pipe, but not shortening it any (this was my own dubious idea), then heating and hammering the ends into shape so they’d fit over the original forks on the bike and welding them into place.

After that came the mounting of the shocks, sissybar, and seat on a bike that was never meant to have any of these items anywhere near it… after some more heating, hammering, and welding we had these items mounted… so what if the seat was at a 45° angle and the shocks weighed a ton and had no hope of ever being useful… to me it looked like the coolest thing ever put on two wheels and that was enough.

After drilling holes in the now five foot lone forks for the eyebolts, dad held the wheel in place so I could perform the honor of driving the front axle home and tightening down the bolts to clamp it fast.

Now I was the proud owner of the most ridiculous looking machine ever to grace the planet and it showed.

According to my father I was practically glowing as I tried to mount up and ride off into my own private sunset.

Unfortunately this demonstrated the first of many flaws in my design…

Such as the unaltered fork angle, when coupled with the seat angle, the handlebar height, and pedal position, made this thing virtually impossible to pedal in anything even approaching a straight line.

Push down on the right pedal and it dove to the right, hit the left pedal and you were across the road before you knew what happened.

To me this only meant one thing… I needed a good rolling start and I’d be golden, so I took it to the top of the nearest hill that just happened to be part of the driveway for a local trucking concern.

Smooth blacktop in a very straight line with about forty feet of vertical drop over a distance of about 150 feet…

I drag my creation to the top of this hill, climb into the saddle and make ready for my descent… which I’m told was quite impressive but I didn’t have as good a view as most.

I started coasting and made it about two-thirds of the way down before I tried to pedal, so I raise a hoof and mash down… next thing I know I’m flat on my back wondering why the sky is in front of me and why does the back of my head hurt.

Seems that when I hit the pedal the bike made a radical 90° right turn and I kept going straight, my head made a sound not entirely unlike that made by hitting a coconut with a baseball bat, but I never lost consciousness, this after doing my superman impression and rolling about thirty feet on the pavement.

After taking inventory and finding no body parts missing, the frankenbike was taken back to the lab and the forks were cut down to a slightly more sedate three feet and over the next couple years it saw regular service as the vehicle of a budding mad scientist.

I have no pictures of it but I figure that as long as I remember it, it’s never truly gone… It sits in the garage of my memories with a ten year-old baron and his father, still young and alive, happily tinkering away while coming up with new ways to drive his mother nuts.

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