When I heard news reports about an explosion with fatalities at Burt Rutan'sScaled Composites facility in Mojave, CA July 27, I had a creepy sense of foreboding that one of the victims was a friend of BR&K. No names of the victims were given in the early reports, but I was very afraid that one of them was Glen May, whom I'd interviewed several years ago, as part of our series on jet and rocket bikers. Next morning I couldn't avoid it any longer, so I ran a Google News Search on the topic, and found a news story. My worst fears were realized when I saw that, yes, one of the victims was our friend.
Charles Glen May was a genuinely nice guy and, to use the term he used to describe other such people, "lion-hearted", a necessary attribute in someone who chooses to ride a bicycle with a rocket motor strapped to it. We stayed in touch after the interview was finished, and had been talking about collaborating on a new rocket bike project.
The project had gotten to the point that Gary Silva and Seth Grossman of Phat Cycles had already donated one of their Chopper frames for use in our rocket bike project.
At that point, Glen told me that he was joining his mentor, Tim Pickens, in California for a project to develop the rocket engine designed to power Rutan's SpaceShipOneX-Prize contender, so we put our rocket bike project on hold for the duration of that project.
Had SpaceShipOne failed in its goal, we would probably have picked up the project again. But, since it won the prize, Rutan and Richard Branson went on to the next stage- construction of SpaceShipTwo, a commercial venture designed to take wealthy tourists into space.
It was during a nitrous oxide system flow test for this vehicle's propulsion system that the explosion occurred. While not explosive in its own right, nitrous oxide is a ferocious oxidizer, and will cause intense, rapid combustion of anything in its presence which is hot enough to ignite, which is why it's used in hybrid rocket motors such as the one Glen used on his bike, and the ones Rutan's SpaceShips use. As of this writing, the exact cause of the explosion isn't known; but my theory is that there was a nitrous system leak in the vicinity of an electrical switch, relay or solenoid valve. What would normally be a typical electrical contact spark, in the presence of nitrous oxide would become as intense as a welder's arc, and if it was in the vicinity of anything flammable, a combustion chain reaction could easily occur.
While my enthusiasm for amateur rocketry, especially as applied to bicycles, remains un-abated, the tragic loss of Glen May and his co-rocketeers Eric Blackwell and Todd Ivens, and the serious injuries of three others, illustrates that working with intense oxidizers must be approached with extreme care, in order to avoid accidents such as this. I've recently been busy designing a cheap rocket motor using a hydrogen/oxygen explosion to propel a mass of water from the motor, and you may rest assured that I won't be casual about safety procedures. The tragic fire which destroyed the Apollo One spacecraft in 1967, killing astronauts "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, was caused by an electrical spark in the pure pressurized oxygen atmosphere of the command module.
Those lion-hearted souls in our audience who envision themselves riding a rocket-propelled bicycle should take heed from this example, and approach the process with extreme care. Glen May, as intelligent as he was lion-hearted, would certainly agree. A Support Fund has been set up to accept donations for the families of the Scaled Composite Tragedy. Jim Wilson
You've probably noticed that this issue has more events coverage than ever before. This is very good news, as it means that this thing we do is spreading nicely. Live events are the very best thing for growing a movement like ours since, unlike TV shows on any subject, people won't get tired of hearing about it in a hurry. I wonder how many of those chopper motorcycle-themed "reality" shows are still on the air? I could count on my fingers (and no thumbs) the number of times I was able to sit through watching any of those shows, but I've been sick of the things for ages, especially that irritating Teutel family's soap opera.
Whether there's any connection with the "death of choppers" I don't know, but we seem to have an especially mixed bag of new bikes joining the Gallery this time. Sure, we've got the usual nice choppers and cruisers, but we also have more than the usual number of home-brewed, slickly-finished recumbents this time. I think Keith Moss can claim most of the credit for that, as his name was mentioned by at least two submitters as having been turned on to us by him. And, as usual, we've got quite a few creations which don't readily fall into any particular category, except for the fact that they're all physical manifestations of their builders' imagination and skills, and have pedals. But, they're all good, eh?
Speaking of the Gallery, in case no one noticed, the BRKGallery Index Page hasn't been updated in quite a while. That's because it's been based on a different Wilson family site, dating from when we had an earlier space problem. Unfortunately, Brother Dave mistakenly clicked on an "upgrade" in the host's page-making software, not realizing that every existing page on the site would only work with that software version thereafter, which sucked, in my humble opinion.
Downloading that software to my computer, so I could work on the Gallery Index page, also revealed that no other of the host's page-making softwares would work anymore on any other site, which means that it took over BRK's entire content. By screaming loudly, I got them to revert BRK's pages back to the regular software I prefer. But then, I couldn't work on the index page. So, that's why there've been no Gallery Index updates lately.
Recently, I decided to bite the bullet, and completely recreate the Gallery Index on this site, which still uses the software I prefer, and bring it up to date. Since, as of last issue, the page total was almost up to 400, it's been a hell of a slog. There are still a few other glitches in there, but the current changeover is mostly complete. At the moment, all the Gallery Index link icons at the bottom of the pages go to the old Gallery Index, but when we switch hosts in the near future, it will all have to be re-linked, so the old Index links will stay for now. I'm not looking forward to the transition process, I assure you. Once the new Index was out of the way, I got back into making tons of new pages for this issue.
As usual, making the new Gallery pages has been the worst part of the issue's production process- For exactly the same reasons I've been bitching about for years. The most common is that people don't rename their images with their own names before sending them to us. Or they name their images with the name of the bike, and don't mention the bike's name in their message. Sometimes they don't even mention their own names in the message. Gimme a friggin' break here! As a result, as usual, doing the Gallery pages is like working a jigsaw puzzle without having a picture of the puzzle on the box lid. I usually have to just do the easiest ones first, then deal with what's left over the best I can, by process of elimination. Anything which proves impossible to figure out, as the count reaches two dozen or so, doesn't make it in, simple as that. In this issue, the new Gallery bikes number about 27. There could have easily been a half dozen more, but those were impossible to solve. It never fails to amaze me that some people are perfectly content to spend weeks or months building a bike, then think it's perfectly logical to begrudge spending more than 5 minutes on presenting it to everybody in the world who's capable of fully appreciating it. Sloth is its own reward, eh?
The new Gallery Index page, as seen to the immediate left, has pretty much reached what I consider its limit of size practicality. Before shifting everything to a new host, I'll be going in and clearing out some of the deadwood. While I love everything in the Gallery for one reason or another, the number of pages, and icons representing them is getting out of hand. As of this issue, we're up to number 407.
One thing I'm doing, just to reduce the sheer number of thumbnails, is to start a new type of page: what I'm calling Portfolio Pages. Over the years, some prolific builders' work is scattered out over numerous individual pages, devoted to individual bikes. A Portfolio Page collects all the individual bikes of a single builder onto one page. This is very good, actually, as it's always more interesting to see all of a particular creator's work in one place.
Unfortunately, this doesn't really save any server space or bandwidth, as the photos, which take up most of the space, aren't any smaller, and the overall number stays the same. But, at least the Gallery Index Page won't take quite as much time to load. The individual pages of bikes which are in portfolio form are still in place, but in the next round of updating, they'll be removed.
I've already made a number of Portfolio Pages, and will be revealing them in this and subsequent issues.
In case you haven't noticed yet, we have a new page in place devoted to photo specs for printed publications. It's too early to reveal much at this time, but there's a strong possibility that there may be a paper version of BRK in the not-too-distant future. Even if it doesn't happen with BRK, though, it's bound to happen anyway, due to the increasing popularity of kustombike-oriented clubs and events,so, it's good to be prepared.
For this reason, I'm recommending that people documenting their projects and events, and shooting bikes for our Gallery, begin doing so at a much higher resolution than in the past. I have to take every photo into Photoshop for tweaking anyway, and it's just as easy to downsize them for web use while I'm at it, while keeping the hi-rez version for possible printed usage.
Photos to be printed need to be much larger and in higher resolution than our Gallery requires, so just about any photo currently in BRK is much too small and coarse to ever be printed in a paper magazine. When we did our CafePress Calendar, we had to get photo contributors to send very large image files specifically for the project. While it was barely possible for contributors to E-mail single photos, it was actually more practical for people to just mail us a CD with images on it.
That Calendar is still available, by the way. CafePress just changes the calendar pages to be current, so it's not like you'd get an out-of-date calendar if you bought one now. ($15.99)
I was thinking about this recently, when CafePress informed me that they now have a very large calendar format available. The photos are 17" X 11"! That would be a fabulous-looking calendar, but image file size would be correspondingly bigger than the current one's. For a digital camera to produce images for our first calendar would have required an 8-megapixel image sensor. For the big one, it would probably require at least 10-megapixels. Of course, any 35 MM camera is capable of producing a suitable image for that calendar format, and if you need to snail-mail an image anyway, it's no more trouble to send a color slide or negative, and the image quality would be considerably better than a digital file, even from a very expensive digicam. I was curious about film vs digital quality recently. You know me, when I'm curious about something my first instinct is to interview somebody who knows about it, so that's what I did. I interviewed photographer Robert Caldarone, who does my more serious bike photography. The interview is here.
Robert did the photography of my Heat bike, using a medium-format camera, so the image could easily be printed out in 36" X 24" poster scale, but modern films are so good that even a 35 MM camera's smaller-sized frame images could be printed out at 17" X 11", and look great. Lots of people already have 35 MM cameras, of course, but just haven't used them since they got a digicam. But, there is still a need for them, unless you only need photos for use on the web. If you don't already have a film camera, might I suggest that this is an excellent time to buy one, while prices are incredibly low?
I'm partial to Nikons, but almost any used quality single-lens reflex 35 MM camera can be had for chump change nowadays, and not just on eBay. Even brick-and-mortar camera stores are selling used Nikons or whatever for very low prices. And you don't really need a big kit of lenses to photograph bikes, you can usually manage with a 50 MM "normal" lens.
What I've been doing lately is taking my film to a neighborhood photo lab or drugstore for color negative processing with the film scanned to disc, without prints. The drugstore deal is $5.99 for doing a 24-exposure roll. The photo lab gets $10 for doing a 36-exposure roll. The images on the disc aren't big enough to cover a 17" X 11" size- for that you'd need a higher-rez scan from the original negative or slide, but that only costs about $5 at the lab I use. But the disc is good for getting prints up to 7" X 5", and for picking out the best frames for higher-rez scanning.
Considering the cost of a new digicam good enough to capture big images, you can spend $50 for a good used film camera, and buy a whole lot of film and processing before you've spent the same amount of money the digicam would have cost. And, unlike a typical digicam, with a lifespan equivelent to a gerbil's, the film camera will pretty much last forever.
We couldn't make it to Abita Springs this year, but we heard that Wayne Spring of "Double Deuce" fame was there with a new Jet Bike. Naturally, we got in touch with him to see photos of it, and get more information about it.
He got the 45# thrust AMT jet engine on eBay, for $3,050.00 plus shipping, and spent another $1,200 on an overhaul. He says that he should have just spent the $5,500 a new one would have cost. The engine spins at 112,000 RPM max, and pushes the test mule Mongoose electric bike up to 50 MPH, at which point the front end starts wobbling. He's already planning a new kustom-built bike around the powerplant, with more fork rake for improved high-speed performance. He thinks it'll be finished by the end of the year, so we should have an article on it in the next issue of BRK.
The fire extinguisher you can see in these photos isn't safety equipment; it's serving as a reservoir for aviation smoke oil. It uses a windshield washer pump for transporting the oil to an oil spray nozzle located just behind the exhaust. At 20% throttle it will shoot a 12-foot flame out the rear. Above 20% throttle the thrust will extinguish the flame and leave a massive trail of smoke. Wayne well deserves a big BRK "A" for attitude, and we can hardly wait to see the cooler- looking machine he has in the works.
Faster, Louder, and Much More Dangerous, Part Four.
As you may have noticed before, we love things which make bikes more interesting and entertaining for spectators. We recently ran into a concept which takes that concept to new heights. Below is an item we found at the web presence of Resonance FM (UK)'s Bike Show website. Bike Show is a radio show exclusively to do with bicycling.
This link takes you to a page which fully explains the principles of the design, with complete specs, but in brief, that little tire-driven electrical generator's output is fed into that loudspeaker taped to the front of that PVC tube. The number of "instruments" is 12 or 24 of these gizmos mounted on individual bikes, ridden in single file, with the rearmost one overtaking the whole column, and taking its place in the front. Presumably, the new rearmost one does the same, and so on. The tubes are of different lengths, which gives them different pitches, as in pipe organs or trombones. The lengths vary from 60cm (23.62") to 180cm ( 70.87") which will require a tandem. The Bike Show site has samples of the sound, which is actually pretty pleasant, if slightly eerie. By cycling on different road surfaces, timbre-variation and frequency modulation is obtained. Cobble-stones provoke tremoloes, narrow streets reverb and echo the sounds.
The musicians' bikes are fitted with the various-lengthed tubes, and every cyclist wears a white jump-suit labeled with large numbers- with the resonant frequency and the interval ratio (between 1/1 and 1/2) of her/his individual instrument. It would be extremely cool if the musical gizmos were integrated into the bikes in a more aesthetic way, of course, but the concept is fabulous. Resonance FM is billed as an "Arts-Driven" radio station, and its programming may be heard through their website. I've had it running on my computer's audio system for several days now, and it's refreshing.
Also on a "Musical Note" is this instrument, the bikelophone.
The frame is a Motobecane, on long-term loan to the instrument's creator, Stephen Schweitzer, who says of it: "Originally constructed in June 1995 as a side instrument for The Lyle and Sparkleface Band, the bikelophone has evolved into a palette of sonic exploration.With magnetic pickups attached to amplify the sound, anything connected to the bike becomes amplified. The current configuration includes - bass strings, scrap wood and metal, metal bowls, telephone bells, a mechanical foot pedal and a touch sensitive tone generator. The bikelophone produces sounds ranging from tranquil bliss to cacophonic terror." Mr. Schweitzer's site has examples which you may experience.
From The In-Box: Brad Graham
Date: Sunday, June 17, 2007 5:28 PM
You know, I was thinking about you and your radical rides when I made these rims....
Started life as 2 rusty truck rims and a few washers....
Michael didn't know anything about the origin of these photos or where they were shot. But, by running a google search for "Harley Palangchao" I found that it was the name of a very talented photographer in the Phillipines. Here is his Flickr Site.I actually E-mailed a request to show these photos a couple of weeks ago, but have never heard back from him.
And in a similar vein:
A bit earlier, Mo Moorman of Schwinn sent me a press release to do with Schwinn's sponsorship of Team Rwanda.
"Team Rwanda, the first-ever national Rwandan cycling team, is the result of Project Rwanda, a philanthropic initiative that Pacific Cycle and Schwinn also support. Project Rwanda is committed to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope. Team Rwanda's inaugural U.S. race is the upcoming Tour of the Gila in New Mexico."
Following another link from that site, I learned that these machines are built by Rwandan coffee farmers, for transporting their crops to market. Another aspect of Project Rwanda gives the farmers actual metal bicycles for more efficient cargo hauling. They don't look nearly as cool as these Flintstone-style ones, though.
Choppercabras 7th Annual Halloween Ride!
Where: Atomic Cycles 17322 Saticoy St.Van Nuys, CA
91406 (818) 609-0113
When: Sunday, October 28th, Noon Sharp!
Choppercabras 7th annual Halloween ride is a bicycle
event unparalleled in all of Los Angeles, perhaps all
the globe! Bicycles bashed, blood spilled, hot dogs
Above is an idea I've been toying with lately. While rocket bikes are cool, they're fairly expensive to build and run. In the case of a Glen May-style hybrid rocket the fuel (tar) is cheap, the oxidizer (nitrous oxide) is fairly pricey, and high-pressure plumbing bits can get expensive if you have to buy them. Being a cheapskate, I want something even cheaper than that.
So, I decided to explore water rockets, which are great because it gives you a chance to recycle plastic beverage containers, and most people who have bikes also have tire pumps, and the "fuel" comes out of a faucet in your kitchen or bathroom.
I swiped two ideas from him: One is that he also makes water rockets fueled by oxygen and hydrogen. The explosion, ignited by a spark, provides the pressure which blows the reaction mass (water) out the nozzle. This is good, because compressed air requires a pretty solid mechanical locking device, activated by pulling a string, usually. It's not very efficient for use in bike propulsion. But, if you have electric ignition, you can use an array of motors, and fire them sequentially.
The other idea I swiped was something Professor Wheeler came up with as a solution for a different problem. The problem I was looking to solve was that of containing the water load without a cumbersome rear valve/release being involved. He used a balloon to contain the water to prevent sloshing in a rocket meant to fly horizontally, as I recall. So, a hydrogen combustion pressure source bursts a balloon containing a liter of water, and blasts the load out the rear. The gas mixture is held inside the bottle by a cheap one-way plastic check valve, and by the balloon sealing the rear nozzle opening like a rubber stopper. The balloon is held in place by a segment of soda bottle cut to shape for the purpose. The shell of the motor is made of sections of 2-liter bottles, which are glued together so as to displace 3 liters. There is a neck section at each end of the motor shell, with a cap at the front end, which contains the check valve and a wire spark gap. At the rear, a shoulder section with the threaded part removed, from a 1.5 liter bottle is joined to the disc part of the larger neck with its threaded part removed.
Professor Wheeler was a bit skeptical of the feasibility of even six of these motors producing much propulsive force, when I laid this idea on him, but we'll see. Since six motors can be made for about $20, it's not like the R&D work would be very expensive, even for a cheapskate like me, if it didn't work out.
Since these motors flash when they fire off, it would be cool having them on a bike anyway. especially our kind; I would envision firing them off in pairs, at about 1-second intervals, after a two-second pedaling start. Even without extra propulsion, a strong cyclist can make a 100-meter run in 8 seconds and change. I'd be happy if a strong cyclist could drop that down to 6 seconds, especially if it was dusk, and those hydrogen motors were flashing in sequence. It would make a great photo with a long exposure time.
Of course, I haven't actually made this rig yet, so I would advise waiting to see how it actually works. And I
certainly don't recommend trying this at home yet. Professor Wheeler has also made a hydrogen water rocket based on a water cooler jug, which would deliver a lot more horsepower than 3-liter bottles.
For bike festival usage, I think it would be super cool to have a pedal-powered generator electrolyzing the hydrogen and oxygen to fuel the bike's motors. Kids could pedal for 15 minutes and get a little souvenir certificate that they were on the rocketbike team. JW
Those familiar with BR&K Associate Editor John Brain are probably aware that he's had an incredible bike ("One Step Beyond") in the works for several years, only waiting for the wheels of his own design to complete it. Time after time, he's thought that the wheels were about to happen, only for them not to materialize. A lesser man would have given up by this time, and gone with something stock- not to mention considerably cheaper.
But no, John is patient, not to mention perfectionist about some things. Today, October 11, 2007, I got word from John that his quest is nearly over. Thanks to the brilliant Eric Hannan, John's wheels are, at long last, virtually finished. Here is John's dispatch about his wheel design (Voltexx):
Hannan sent along these photos. He has done one helluva great job of it. Fresh from the CNC mill, pre-polished and pre-chromed. The 24x65mm Billet 'Voltexx' wheels are almost here.
After a long series of false starts, the newly-redesigned wheels are finally nearing their completion, thanks to the help of Sam McKay and Eric Hannan. Sam, of "Firebikes" in Saskatchewan Canada, supplied the Centerline aluminum blanks and Nexus hub adapter; the raw parts were sent to "Hannan Customs" in Montreal Canada where the original Brain 'Voltexx' design was worked out by Eric Hannan for CNC cutting. The 5-spoke lightning-bolt design is a change from my original 3-spoke pattern, giving it a more "electric" feel. The wheels will be used on my long-overdue show bike project: 'One Step Beyond'. The rear wheel will have a Shimano Nexus 7 hub with disc brake. The Disc-brake adapter will be supplied by Nick of 'Sic Kustoms' of Long Beach, NY, in the U.S. The project's wheels were originally meant to be fabricated by a company called 'Wild Wheel Werks' (deceased?), but WWW turned out to be unable or unwilling to get the job done; so the project was put into jeopardy. Today (luckily) we now have other talented fabricators and willing suppliers of the parts we need. These wheels show that, with perseverance, anyone can have truly custom wheels made using available parts and services.