Self-Balancing One-Wheel Motorcycle Tears Up the Beach

[XenonJohn] wrote in to let us know about updates and a recent test drive of an Electric Self-Balancing One-wheeled Motorcycle, fresh from the beach where he says it proved to be great fun to ride. The design and build have been updated since we last saw it as a semifinalist entry in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. The original, he says, “looked cool but was slow, cumbersome and really dangerous to ride.”

electric self-balancing unicycle - thumbnailSince then it has been completely redesigned and now has a super fat kite-surfer wheel, a front crash skid with damper, and a variable geometry which allows it to steer properly despite just having one wheel. It does this by allowing the rider to shift their position relative to the wheel, instead of the seat always being rigidly locked directly above the axle.

That steering is a pretty clever upgrade, but we do wonder if the new crash skid will have an atlatl effect and really launch the rider in a crash. Our gut feeling aside, it is designed not to plant itself in the pavement, but to slide along (without ejecting the rider) until the vehicle loses all momentum.

There is something about self-balancing unicycles that attracts experimenters, each of whom takes a different approach. We see everything from this device constructed mainly from a Razor Scooter to this more polished-looking unit based on an earlier Segway clone design. [XenonJohn] reminds us that “there is still much to learn in this area and you can genuinely innovate even as a hobbyist. Also, you can only do so much on a computer, you then have to actually build something and see how well it works. [This recent test] shows what you can do if you just keep on experimenting.” Video of the test drive is below.

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1921 Ner-A-Car Motorcycle Reborn With Epic Parts Remanufacture

Most of the rusty parts you need to make a motorcycle.
Most of the rusty parts you need to make a motorcycle.

Nobody ever dismantles a working motorcycle.

About ten years ago [Andy Pugh] took possession of a large box of rusty parts that formed most of what had once been a 1921 Ner-a-Car motorcycle. They languished for several years, until in 2014 he was spurred into action and returned to the bike. What followed was a two-year odyssey of rebuilding, restoration, and parts remanufacture, and since [Andy] is an engineer par excellence and an active member of the LinuxCNC community his blog posts on the subject should be a fascinating read for any hardware hacker with an interest in metalwork.

The Ner-a-Car. By Museumsfotografierer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Ner-a-Car. By Museumsfotografierer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Ner-a-Car represents one of those eccentric dead-ends in automotive history. Designed in 1918 by an American, [Carl Neracher], its name is a play on both its designer and its construction and it is unique in that its design is closer to the cars of the era than that of a motorcycle. It has a car-style chassis, an in-line engine, and it was the first motorcycle to be produced with hub-centre steering. The rider sits on it rather than astride it, feet-forward, and the car-style chassis gives it a very low centre of gravity. They were manufactured in slightly different versions in both the USA and the UK, and [Andy]’s machine is an early example from the British production line. Not many Ner-a-Cars have survived and parts availability is non-existent, so his work has also had the unusual effect of satisfying a significant portion of world demand for the parts-bin of an entire marque.

Spinning up a headlight shell
Spinning up a headlight shell

It’s usual for the first link in a Hackaday article to be to a page that encompasses the whole project. In this case when there is so much to see and the build is spread across twelve blog posts and nearly two years the link is to [Andy]’s first post in which he describes the project, sets to work on the chassis, and discovers the bent steering arm that probably caused the bike’s dismantling. He’s listed the posts in the column on the right-hand side of the blog, so you can follow his progress through the entire build. The work involved in remanufacturing the parts is to an extremely high standard, from machining press tools to reproduce 1920s footboard pressings through manufacturing authentic 1920s headlight switchgear and metal-spinning new aluminium headlight shells.

[Andy]’s most recent Ner-a-Car post details his trip to France on the completed bike, and tales of roadside repairs of a suddenly-not-working machine that should be familiar to any owner of a vintage internal combustion engine. But considering that the bike spent many decades as a pile of not much more than scrap metal the fact that it is now capable of a trip to France is nothing short of amazing.

This is the first rebuild of a vintage bike from a box of rusty parts we’ve featured here – indeed it could almost be a retrotechtacular piece in its detailed look at 1920s bike design. These pages have however seen many motorcycle related  hacks over the years. We particularly like this from-scratch engine build and this gas-turbine bike, but it is the emergency motorcycle build in the desert from a Citroën 2CV car that has us most impressed. Please, ride safe, and keep them coming!

Motorcycle Headlight Modulator is a Bright Idea

Motorcyclists are paranoid about being hit by cars, and with reason. You’re a lot safer when you’re encased in a metal shell, with airbags and seatbelts. The mass difference between a car and a motorcycle doesn’t work out well for the biker, either. Unfortunately for bikers, motorcycles are also slimmer and generally less visible than cars.

A few decades ago, motorcycle manufacturers switched over to daytime running headlights to make bikes more visible. In the meantime, however, cars have done the same, leading many bikers to fear that their visibility advantage is losing it’s impact. The solution? Blink the headlights gently during the daytime, and run them normally at night.

[William Dudley] was unsatisfied with commercial versions, so he built a custom headlight modulator for his motorcycle.

head_mod_cds_7_schem And believe it or not, he did it with a 555 timer IC and a light-dependent resistor (plus some transistors and a whole slew of miscellaneous parts). But [William]’s design is a good one, and he walks you through all of the choices he made in building the light-sensing circuit that disables the 555.

Whether you need a motorcycle headlight modulator or are interested to learn how this problem would be solved in the pre-Arduino days, go check out [William]’s post. And while you’re on the nostalgic electronics trip, check out this nixie tube speedometer.

Casting Turbines For A World Speed Record Motorcycle

[Anders] is going to beat the land speed record for a turbine-powered motorcycle. It’s a project he’s been working on for years now, and just this week, he put the finishing touches on the latest part of the build. He successfully cast the compressor for a gas turbine engine that’s twice as powerful as the one he has now.

This compressor piece was first 3D printed, and this print was used as a positive for a sand – or more specifically petrobond – mold. The material used in the casting is aluminum, fluxed and degassed, and with a relatively simple process, [Anders] came away with a very nice looking cast that only needs a little bit of milling, lathing, and welding to complete the part.

In the interests of accuracy, and just to make sure there’s no confusion, this ‘jet’ engine is actually a gas turbine, of which there are many configurations and uses. The proper nomenclature for this engine is a ‘turboshaft’ because the power is directed to a shaft which drives something else. This is not a new build; we’ve been covering [Anders]’ build for the better part of two years now, and although [Anders] intends to break the world record at the Bonneville salt flats eventually, he won’t be beating the ultimate land speed record – that title goes to a car – and he won’t be beating the speed record for all motorcycles. Instead, [Anders] plans to break the record for experimental propulsion motorcycles, or motorcycles powered by electric motors, steam, jet engines, or in this case, ‘turboshafts’.

It should also be noted that [Anders] frequently does not wear hearing or eye protection when testing his gas turbine engine. That is an exceedingly bad idea, and something that should not be attempted by anyone.

As an additional note for safety, in the video below of [Anders] pouring aluminum into his mold, the ground looks wet. This is terrifically dangerous, and steam explosions can kill and maim even innocent bystanders. This is not something that should be attempted by anyone, but we do thank [Anders] for sharing his project with us.

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Nixie Tube Speedometer In Motorcycle Handlebars

The handlebars of this Honda CL175 ended up being perfect for holding two Nixie tubes which serve as the speedometer. There are two circular cavities on the front fork tree which are the same size as the Nixies. Wrapping the tubes in a bit of rubber before the installation has them looking like they are factory installed!

This isn’t a retrofit, he’s added the entire system himself. It starts with a hall effect sensor and magnets on the rear wheel and swing arm. Right now the result is 4 MPH resolution but he plans to add more magnets to improve upon that. For now, the driver and speedometer circuitry are hosted on protoboard but we found a reddit thread where [Johnathan] talks about creating a more compact PCB. If your own bike lacks the fork tree openings for this (or you need help with the drivers) check out this other Nixie build for a slick-looking enclosure idea.

The link at the top is a garage demo, but last night he also uploaded a rolling test to show the speedometer in action. Check out both videos after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Light Electric Utility Vehicle

[Chris] lives in South Sudan, where there are a lot of poor areas with terrible infrastructure. One of the bigger challenges for this area is getting people and materials over roads that are either bad or don’t exist. Normal vehicles aren’t built for the task, and a Hilux or Land Cruiser is much to expensive. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Chris] is building a rugged low-cost utility vehicle platform for the developing world.

This battery-powered, four-wheel cart is made out of what [Chris] could find. The frame is made out of 50x50mm angle iron that’s welded together, with the body panels fabricated out of 1200x2400x1.2mm sheet that’s sourced locally. While [Chris] would like better wheels, the cheap Chinese motorcycle wheels are everywhere and cheap – $65, which includes the bearings, breaks, and sprockets. It even has higher ground clearance than the Land Cruiser.

[Chris] already has a prototype of his project built and it’s rolling around. You can check out a video of that below.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Earth Day: Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are the wave of the future, whether it’s from sucking too much oil out of the ground, or because of improved battery technology. Most internal combustion engines are unsustainable, and if you’re thinking about the environment – or working on an entry for The Hackaday Prize – an electric vehicle is the way to go.
Here are a few electric vehicle projects that are competing in The Hackaday Prize that show off the possibilities for the electric vehicles of the future.

An Electric Ninja

Motorcycles are extremely efficient already, but if you want a torquey ride with a lot of acceleration, electric is the way to go. [ErikL] is hard at work transforming a 2005 Ninja 250R into an electric vehicle, both to get away from gas-sipping engines and as a really, really cool ride. Interestingly, the battery technology in this bike isn’t that advanced – it’s a lead acid battery, basically, that reduces the complexity of the build.

And They Have Molds To Make Another

Motorcycles aren’t for everybody, but neither are normal, everyday, electronic conversion cars. [MW Motors] is building a car from scratch. The body, the chassis, and the power train are all hand built.

The amazing part of this build is how they created the body. It’s a fiberglass mold that was pulled off of a model carved out of a huge block of foam. There’s a lot of composite work in here, and a lot of work had to happen before digging into the foam; you actually need to choose your accessories, lights, and other bits and bobs before designing the body panels.

While the suspension and a lot of the mechanical parts were taken from a Mazda Miata, the power and drive system are completely custom. Most of the chassis is filled with LiFeMnPO4 batteries, powering four hub motors in each wheel. It’s going to be an amazing car.

Custom, 3D Printed Electric Motors

If you’re designing an electric car, the biggest decision you’re going to make is what motor you’re going to use. This is a simple process: open up a few catalogs and see what manufacturers are offering. There’s another option: building your own motor. [Solenoid] is working on a piece of software that will calculate the specifications of a motor given specific dimensions. It will also generate files for a 3D printed motor given the desired specs. Yes, you’ll still need to wind a few miles of copper onto these parts, but it’s the beginning of completely custom electronic motors.