If you have ever worked on a motorcycle on a regular basis with a limited workshop, you’ll know the challenge of taking off one or other of the wheels. You’ll probably have plenty of tales of bikes balanced precariously on blocks or suspended from the ceiling on a web of cargo straps, and if you are really unlucky you’ll have the Dented Tank Of Shame from the whole edifice tumbling down.
The modern motorcycle represents the pinnacle of over a century of refinement in design and manufacture of its every component. A modest outlay will secure you a machine capable of three figure speeds with impeccable handling, breathtaking acceleration and stopping power, that somehow seems also to possess bulletproof reliability that will take it to a hundred thousand miles of faithful transport.
At the dawn of the internal combustion engine age it was a different matter. Machines were little more than bicycles with rudimentary engines attached, brakes and tyres were barely capable of doing the job demanded of them, and the early motorcyclists were a hardy and daring breed.
You might think that this article would now head into retrotechtacular territory with a nostalgic look at an early motorcycle, but instead its subject has a much more recent origin. We happened upon [Buddfab]’s contemporary build of a 1905-era motorcycle, and we think it’s a bike you’d all like to see.
The bike itself is a faithful reproduction of a typical Edwardian machine. It has a modified bicycle frame with a belt drive and springer front forks. That’s all very impressive, but the engine is a masterpiece, crafting a more modern parts bin into something resembling a 1905 original. He’s taken the cylinder, piston, and half a cylinder head from an aircooled VW flat four and mated it with the crankshaft of a 125cc Honda, welding the two connecting rods together to join German and Japanese parts. With a custom-made crankcase, Lucas points, and the carburetor from a British Seagull outboard motor it both looks and sounds like an original, though we’d expect it to be significantly more reliable.
You can see videos of both bike and engine below the break, as he takes it for a spin through American suburbia. Sadly we’ll never see it passed to the definitive writer on early motorcycles for an expert view, but it would fool us completely.
There’s a saying among writers that goes something like “Everyone has a novel in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay”. Its source is the subject of some dispute, but it remains sage advice that wannabe authors should remember on dark and stormy nights.
It is possible that a similar saying could be constructed among hackers and makers: that every one of us has at least one motor vehicle within, held back only by the lack of available time, budget, and workshop space. And like the writers, within is probably where most of them should stay.
[TheFrostyman] might have had cause to heed such advice. For blessed with a workshop, a hundred dollars, and the free time of a 15-year-old, he’s built his first motorcycle. It’s a machine of which he seems inordinately proud, a hardtail with a stance somewhere closer to a café racer and powered by what looks like a clone of the ubiquitous Honda 50 engine.
Unfortunately for him, though the machine looks about as cool a ride as any 15-year-old could hope to own it could also serve as a textbook example of how not to build a safe motorcycle. In fact, we’d go further than that, it’s a deathtrap that we hope he takes a second look at and never ever rides. It’s worth running through some of its deficiencies not for a laugh at his expense but to gain some understanding of motorcycle design.
[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.”
Since 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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
[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.