My First Bike!

This is the first bike that I built from scratch and the start of what has become Ivy Cycles. When I took the position of Assembly Manager at Bike Friday in 1999, I was told I needed to build my own bike. This is just one of the requirements for passing the three-month review, and all employees on the line need to do this. Most folks build one of the basic models which are complicated and time-consuming enough. I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, and I also didn't own a recumbent, so I decided to make this my project. When I told Hanz and Alan (the company owners) they both gave a wary, "Ok, if you think you can do it."

As if the bike itself wasn't complicated enough, I decided to also make it an ultralight prototype, too. This meant that most of the major tube dimensions were either one size smaller or thinner-walled than the usual. I also omitted some of the braze-ons and modified some other parts, too. In retrospect, I'm not sure whether that was a good idea or not, because after cutting and mitering all the parts my problems began.

The main problem was that my downsized tubes didn't really fit in the welding jig-- oops. After much trial and error and shimming, things started to work out all right. Now that everything was fitted up, it was time to weld. I had been learning to tig weld and had become competent with .058" and .049" walled tubing, but most of my tubes were either .035" or .028" wall thickness. This led to a lot of holes and some of my joints are really just welding rod built up over huge holes. Eventually the bike was finished and my welding had gotten better, though it was still not great.

The subsequent brazing went fine, and the next big discussion was what color to paint the frame. On top of the paint booth I found a box of Chevy orange powder--a test batch--and decided to use it. I had been doing some powder coating before this frame, so this stage also went smoothly. After the paint baked and cooled, it was off to the alignment table where the next set of problems appeared.

The biggest problem was that the rear end was an inch out of alignment. Not a millimeter. An inch. You would think that this would have been noticeable earlier, but since the rear end is a bit asymmetrical to start with it was hard to tell before getting it on the table. I suspect that when I was shimming in the welding jig I shimmed in the wrong direction. Oh, well. These things happen, and I did build it as a prototype and never meant it to have a long life. I decided to just leave the rear end alone, and off I headed to the assembly area.

Here I ruled the roost, as they say, but since as a company we had only built about a dozen recumbents so far we were still working out the bugs in the system. Once the assembly was done, I took it for a test ride and then presented it for approval. I think everyone was quite surprised that I had actually completed the trial and presented a ridable bike. A couple of adventurous and brave Bike Friday souls ventured out on test rides of their own. It was--and still is to this day, I believe--the only recumbent built as a first bike at the company. This bike soon became my primary bike and commuter and over the next year and a half I racked up around 10,000 miles on the bike. I rode it off-road, up and down curbs, and did my damnedest the break the thing.

Not until I was leaving the company and decided to pass the bike on to my father was I able to break the frame. Before sending the bloodied but unbowed bike off to my father, I decided to overhaul the frame and give it a fresh paint job. After the paint I decided to see whether I could realign the frame. While trying to correct the massive deviation in rear end alignment I heard a pop, and my 135mm spaced rear end became 10mm spaced. At this time it was decided that I needed to resurrect the frame. The replacement rear end I built to standard spec, and it came together quickly and easily. Reassembled and boxed up, the bike was sent off to north Idaho as my wife and I moved to southern California.

After many years and once again living near my folks for a while as my wife transitions from graduate school to the job market, I'm enjoying riding the bike again. The days of hardcore abuse are over, and now I ride it for fun medium-length rides when the mood hits. Recumbent riding is different than upright riding and for me brings back a lot of those early feelings I had when first learning to ride a bike. When I take my recumbent out for a ride, I can't help but smile and wave at people gawking at this strange contraption that I built with my bare hands.