Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The story of the Classy Taxi II - A side by side tandem recumbent tricycle

This may be one of my favorite things I have ever done. It was born of a desire to share an experience and I learned more about building stuff than with any other project.

Let us start with the background. In 2008 I went to Burning Man for my first time. I was living at the Janet Smith Cooperative for Graduate students in Eugene, OR. The Student Cooperative Association had this crazy recumbent 2-person tricycle.

Nobody knew how it arrived at the co-ops. We just knew it was bad ass. But unfortunately, as will happen at student run and owned co-ops, this bike was nearly always broken. I decided to fix it and take it to the Burn. Best decision ever.

So that both sides can pedal AND use the coaster brakes, the right side  drivetrain uses a fixed hub with gears on both sides to transfer the chain to the correct side of the coaster brake wheel. Kinda genius.
 The long story as short as I can make it is that one day on the way home from the Portas, a guy with the exact same freaking bike (except his had a roof installed to block the sun) showed up. I was amazed. He said his parents had owned his bike since at least the 70's. He gave me a ride back to my camp.

I was not liking Burning Man. I hate(ish) EDM and I was in a bad personal emotional space as well. So, I was kinda hating the Burn and I was actually kind of bored and dissapointed. But this ride spawned an idea. I would go out solo on my bike and look for people that needed rides. I rolled up from behind someone as they were walking along the Esplanade and just asked where they were going. Then I asked if they wanted to get there faster. They would hop on and we would cruise to the destination. This was my new thing and I LOVED IT! So much fun, so gratifying too. It saved my burn. It inspired me and heped me learn how I could truly participate in the amazing experiment of gifting and participation that is Burning Man. I was hooked and ready for year two.

Over the next year, to no one's surprise, the side by side fell into disrepair once again. For 2009 I repaired the trike and took it a step further by giving it a paint job and replacing the tires.




Look at that sexy golden beast!

The 2009 burn went great. I took the taxi out for several nights. The dozens of rides I gave helped me meet new people, if only for a few minutes. I also learned that I was truly providing a service. Some people were extra grateful for their rides as they either didn't have a bike, lost their bike, or were too drunk/altered to safely arrive at their destination. It was also fun to be a sort of Playa Concierge, as I was quickly zooming all over the city and knew what parties were happening where. So when some people asked where Aphex Twin was playing for instance, I could say "Oh yeah, they are at the Roots Society tonight, lets roll!"

After the 2009 burn, my camp mates at RevoFuckinLution asked me to be the camp coordinator. In two years I had gone from hating the Burn to leading a 70 person theme camp. The 2010 prep season was long and hard. But we got it done and I updated the Tricycle again. New chains, and I learned to rebuild coaster brake hubs so I could give the back wheels some TLC. By now, I had decided that my favorite thing to do was ride around in the taxi in a white tuxedo and my bright blue shirt. So I painted the trike to match my colors and called it my "Classy Taxi"
Classy as fuck!

After the 2010 burn, the Taxi not only fell into disrepair, some of the more "anarchist" (aka dirty, drunk, drifter people who hang around the co-ops but don't really pay to live there) broke the Taxi. Someone stood on the front end, which somehow caused the frame head tube to rip out of the front end. I no longer was living at the co-ops, but I went to the Lorax to try and see if there was a way to fix it. I inspired one of the drifters who knew how to weld to try and fix it. However, he got really drunk on some bright green malt liquor drink in a plastic bottle (I am not kidding) and took some liberties with a new design. I arrived the next day I went to see the progress, but instead I saw that he had cut the entire front end off the trike, and welded in extenders. He also changed the angle of the head tube such that the bike would be leaning way back. It was completely fucked up.

There was only one solution. I had to build my own classy taxi. I had been wanting to for some time, especially after I lent out the taxi to my fellow camp mates so they could run their own classy taxi missions and returned with the joyous pride of helping people get around the playa. Shit, I need a whole FLEET of these things. A Classsy Taxi theme camp even!

I spent a lot of time doing research and taking measurements and figuring out how I could manufacture a new bike. Shit, I didn't even know how to weld! Todd Gardner helped me with the basics of welding and I actually did a practice welding project that I will post some other time. In short, it was welding a bike trailer from EMT conduit.

I am fortunate to have some awesome friends. One such friend is Todd Gardner (shown here holding a bowl full of Turkey necks from our Wild Turkey Wednesday Triple Turkey Slaughter!). Todd is a professional bike manufacturer. He taught me the basics of arc welding. I took it from there.
The main headache was the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to recreate the smooth curves present in the original classy taxi. I even tried bending steel tubing, but there is just no way without super powerful industrial machinery and high grade tubing.

The second headache was that there was no way I could afford to use quality steel. Really, I should use aluminum, but that requires special welding skills. Chromoly would be way too expensive and risky considering my amateur skills. I had to settle with mild steel for this round. It would be heavy, but it would keep costs down. I hate to think about how much money I spent building this bike. I bought an arc welder, a drill press, and a metal chop saw. I had to buy a bunch of steel tubing. I also had to buy all the bike components. Wow. I do some stupid shit for my hobbies and for Burning Man.
This is me in my welding shit. 


What follows are some of the build pics.
Luckily, I had a huge detached garage and a sweet project table that I got for free on the streets of the Whit. As You can see, I also lacked any sort of framing system to help me secure pieces before I tacked parts together. So I used scrapwood. DIY!
I did a LOT of grinding, because my welds were pretty crappy.


In order to allign the drop outs, I used a method derived from an instructable on how to build a bike trailer from EMT conduit. http://www.instructables.com/id/Bicycle-cargo-trailer--200-lb-capacity,-$30-for-pa/
With the welding complete, it didn't look half bad.



Bright! Now time for parts.

I ordered a front fork in the mail, but it got really delayed and I was afraid it wouldn't make it. So I made my own forks from some Mtn Bike forks I altered. DIY!
Oh my god the seats were a pain in the ass. I made them from EMT to cut costs. I am completely unsatisfied with the result and the design needs a major overhaul.

I tried 2 seat designs, then added padding and upholstered with stretchy polyester fabric stuff. Still not as nice as the original bucket seats. Oh well, version 3 will be better.

Thus ends the build of Classy Taxi 2. I learned a lot, but I am probably still not ready for a more expensive tubing scheme. I'll stick to mild for now. For next time I have found out that the slope of my seat stays are too sharp, so it feels like I am sliding out of the seat. I tried to fix it in the seat design to no avail. I can also imagine using flat stock for the seats somehow. Anyway, I'll get to it when I get to it. This one works for now :) It went to the 2011 and 2012 Burns. I skipped 2013 and for 2014 it remained in Oregon, awaiting our triumphant return to the beautiful state. Maybe I will have a few taxis ready for the 2016 Burn. We shall see.

2 comments:

Jet Lin said...

Hey - Just bought this identical vintage model tricycle off Craigslist and am taking it to the burn this year. I'm making a canopy for it. Any idea who the original manufacturers are? It's actually really awesome because it fits in my SUV without having to rent a trailer. Now on to the fun part of thinking up a design/theme. Good work on your own tricycle!

Slim Shaky said...

Just found a frame at the flea market, thanks for posting the pictures, I was having a hard time figuring out how to make the chain lign up on the right side.