6 year motorcycle project at TCMaker – completion report

October 15th, 2017 by Sebastian Wiers

Some projects take longer than others.  And some seem like they will never end.  But if you stick with them and do a step at a time, you eventually get there.  This is the story of a project that literally grew up along with the Hack Factory, utilizing almost every tool in the shop at some point, and growing in complexity and ambition as the shop added (or I learned to use) new tools.  Welding jigs and test-fit parts were made in the wood shop, the welding shop was like my second home, and eventually I got comfortable with making some functional and even decorative items in the machine shop.  I even found use for the laser cutter in quickly cutting thin flat parts from wood to see how they would fit and act as a template for cutting the part from steel plate.

If you like motorcycles and you like ‘making’, building your own custom motorcycle is a strong temptation.  I succumbed to that temptation in 2011 after traveling a long winding road that touched on welding (as a sculptor), mechanics (as a bicycle repair tech), and long term interest in the tech behind some unusual motorcycles from the ’70s and ’80s.  Shortly before I joined TCMaker, I picked up this rough specimen for $100 (and with a free drill press thrown into the deal).

motorcycle in pickup bed after purchase

My initial plan was just to re-shape the rear end so that a new seat and tail unit could be mounted.  I wanted something that flowed better with the new tank, and was higher (I’m tall, with long legs, so most street bikes feel to short to me).  The Hack Factory was a much better option for doing this than my dilapidated, unpowered, unheated garage, but the shop manager understandably didn’t want a whole motorcycle taking up (at the time even more limited) storage space, or acting as a fuel & oil filled safety hazard.  To that end, I stripped the bike to just its frame, which was much easier to transport, store, and move.  This also opened up the potential for new modifications, as I could easily position the frame on a welding table and access any part for cutting or welding.  With every part of the bike removed, there was no reason not to change where they would be located when the bike was re-assembled, and in most cases I did!

All the body work was replaced and the battery relocated to under the gas tank.  The rear suspension was converted to a mono-shock, which also required removing the stock air box (replaced with a custom unit made of fiberglass and aluminum).  However, the largest change is that the entire front end is replaced with an adjustable, experimental design.  This setup is used on new BMW K series motorcycles, a few boutique models, and some race bikes.  I’d long dreamed of trying to build such a setup, but it never seemed realistic before (or even after) joining TCMaker.  With some research, patience, and the resources at the Hack Factory, it became a reality!  There were many mistakes along the way, but one of the things TCMaker is great at is letting you try things that might not work, and learn from your mistakes.

To cut a long story short, after about 200 days spread over 6 years in the shop of making parts, here is what I have.  As soon as it was running right, I took it right on the highway, complete with a video of the suspension in action!  There were a few bugs, but after dialing in the shock setting I find it rides amazingly well, as well as any motorcycle I have owned and better than some.  If it looks like something out of Mad Max, that’s fully intentional – I decided early on that my fabrication skills were not up to making something pretty, so I might as well not try and instead emphasize the experimental, improvised nature of the construction.  About half way through the project, I also found out about a Mad Max fan convention that takes place in the desert of California, and found a community of like minded vehicle builders, so ended up designing with that event in mind.  This cemented the name of the bike in my mind – a post-apocalyptic Yamaha SECA, the SECApocalypse.

By using many individual parts bolted together, I was able to avoid having to rebuild any large pieces when I made a design or fabrication mistake.  There are a few tricky parts I made three times before I got a design that worked correctly through the whole range of vertical and steering motion, and many that I made two versions of.  Eventually I got smart and would make the first version from wood to test the fit and movement.

A very important part of this project was safety testing.  After talking with some vehicle engineers on an email list dedicated to experimental & racing motorcycle construction, I figured out that each axle needed to be able to take a load of as much as 1000 lbs (vertically).  For a margin of safety (since I would not be testing fatigue cycles) I wanted to test with 2000 lbs of force.  Its not easy to apply such a large, controlled force, but by building a heavy metal frame and using a crane scale and turnbuckle, I found a way.  A similar test was performed to ensure that pushing backwards on the front axle (and also on the brake tabs) with any force the front brakes could conceivably apply would not result in a disaster.  It was nerve wracking performing these tests knowing that a failure might mean months of rebuilding, but the confidence it gave me to take this bike on the road was well worth it.

I’d like to give special thanks to Steven Anderson (who has long served as our machine shop manager) for valuable input, education, and assistance as well as some mission critical tool repairs and upgrades, and for a lot of general interest info, safety tips, best practices, etc.  Clara Schiller (co-manager of the metal shop) helped with some challenging welds and keeping the welding machines and other metal shop tools consistently stocked.  Every time I went to cut a piece of metal or laid down a bead, the work these two did was making my work possible.  I’d also like to thank them both as well as the entire managing crew and board at TCMaker for constantly upgrading the metal working and over all work environment at the Hack Factory.  Without the classes and tools there, not to mention the space to work on and keep it in, this project would never even have started.  As I researched hacker spaces in general, I was surprised to learn that pace to store a project of this size (and several boxes of related tools) for 6 years is something most maker spaces either can not or will not do!  Apparently I was in the right city, at the right time.
Thanks also goes to Philip Williams, a member who loaned the shop some wicked machine tools just when I needed them, helped me to make a few of my more complicated, high precision pieces, and helped me figure out what I was doing wrong with some of my first cuts.

If you like to dig through a huge a random jumble of words and pictures, there is a compilation of all my forum posts related to this project in a thread on Customfighters.com. 

Twin Cities Maker 2017 Member Meeting

September 18th, 2017 by danbackslide

Twin Cities Maker will hold its annual Member Meeting on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 2:00PM, at our offices at 3119 E 26th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406.

The agenda of the meeting is as follows:

  • A report on the financial condition and activities of Twin Cities Maker.
  • Election of 2 Board Members to replace Board Members whose terms of office are expiring.
  • A Q&A period for members to ask questions or bring up any suggestions or motions they may have.
  • Act on any other matters that may properly come before the meeting.

The meeting will start at 2:00 PM. Afterwards we’ll pull out the grill and feed everyone!

Members in good standing of record on the books of the Corporation up to the close of the meeting on 9/23/2017 will be entitled vote at the meeting or any adjournment thereof. Member in good standing, for purposes of the annual meeting, means a Member who is current on payment of monthly membership dues.

You may vote for Governing Board candidates in person, or via email or physical mail. Information about the current candidates and an official ballot are contained in the Member Meeting information packet linked here. Instructions for submitting a ballot are included in the packet. Votes must be received by the start of the Member Meeting, 2PM on Saturday 9/23.

You may also assign proxy voting rights to another member in good standing who will be attending the meeting. Please complete the Proxy Voting Form contained in the info packet, and send it to Twin Cities Maker via email, postal mail, or in person. Members who attend the meeting may revoke their proxy and vote in person if they so desire.

The governing board would like to thank each and every one of you for being a member and supporting Twin Cities Maker. The making, sharing, and learning could not happen without you!

Scott Hill, Vice President
for the Twin Cities Maker Governing Board

Laser classes are GO!

September 1st, 2017 by danbackslide

I know there’s some pent-up demand for laser classes. Sorry about that, the last couple of months my schedule has been less than cooperative. So by way of apology I’ve put up not one, not two, but THREE laser cutter classes over the next two weeks. Here are the dates, and links to the Eventbrite page where you can sign up:

Tuesday 9/5 at 7PM

Thursday 9/14 at 7PM

Saturday 9/16 at 10AM

See y’all there, or there, or there!

Quarterly Clean-Up, Saturday August 5th 10am-6pm

August 1st, 2017 by MechaVile

The elder gods of cleanliness have chosen you, young hobbyist, as their avatar.

 

It’s that time again, makers, to clean and rearrange our spaces to make it better for everyone. If you have a bit of time and a bit of love for our little maker space, show up and help us clean our areas with other like-minded and like-hearted makers. Our focus this quarterly clean-up will be the front lobby area and installing vinyl flooring into the soon-to-be computer lab in addition to our normal seasonal space sprucing.

The shop will be closed to projects between 10am and 6pm so show up any time between then to help out. Shops will resume normal operation after 6pm.

The Rocketeer Has Left The Earth

July 18th, 2017 by MechaVile

A fond farewell from all of us to our friend and ally, Blair.

     As most of you know our long-standing member and prop-maker, Blair, has recently passed after a bout with one of the most formidable of foes– cancer. He’s been near and dear to us and his many projects have delighted more folks than I could ever enumerate. It’s with a heavy heart that I make this post today. But the Earth still spins and the living must keep living and striving ever forward, even in the wake of our communal loss. To commemorate Blair’s memory, we’ll be having a cookout Wednesday the 19th of July and, on a date yet to be determined, hold a screening of The Rocketeer as well as HG Wells: The Time Machine.

There will be other services and memorials exalting Blair’s life in the following month as well. I wish you all the best.

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