Friends ride at my house

Peri and Kage stopped by and got to see me put the Bike With 2 Brains together. We tried it out and Peri described it as "riding a Spirograph." Courtney and Disa stopped by a little later and they rode it around as well.


Contact local musicians

I wrote a letter to some local musicians asking if they'd like to contribute some recordings to play on the vehicle. The letter (in general) is as follows:

I've probably mentioned it before, but here's some more detail: I'm building an art project for Burning Man ( this year that's called The Bike With 2 Brains ( Basically, it's a two-person vehicle where each of two riders pedals a unicycle wheel in front of them. Steering is accomplished differentially: to go straight, both riders need to pedal at the same rate; to go right, the left rider needs to pedal faster, etc. The back wheels caster-swivel, so that's the way to control it. I'm designing a lighting system and a sound system for it as well, and I'm looking for musicians who want to submit a piece to be included as part of what the sound system plays.

I apologize for the long e-mail … most of this is the same as what I'm sending to everyone else. I want to personalize each letter, so this paragraph is especially for you, [Recipient]! (har har.)

Also, if you're available, I'll hopefully have the frame built by June 11 and have it set up as part of the ARTWalk "Muse-A-Thon" that day from 10 a.m. to noon (I think.)

Anyway, to fill in a little more background about Burning Man, the setting is Black Rock Desert, Nevada for one week at the end of August. Essentially, Black Rock Desert is one big, flat, dry, windy, ancient lake-bed. Temperatures typically range from about 40 degrees at night to around 110 in the day. One of the two closest towns is Empire which is the home of U.S. Gypsum who make drywall: the wind blows a fine alkaline dust just like drywall dust. There is no vegetation at all and, relatedly, no indigenous animal life either.

Much of the activity as at night. As I mentioned, this year is a new moon, so at night, it will be pitch black, revealing more stars and galaxies in the sky than you can hope to count in ten lifetimes. There are very few formal rules, so it's a true test of anarchy. Despite there being around 35,000 people this year, it's easy to find yourself alone: the encouraged standard is laissez faire, so while you're free to do whatever you please, the flip-side of that apathy is that there's nothing you can do to "be interesting" — you are simply yourself. Also, there is no commerce allowed: the prevalent philosophy is a gift economy wherein you are allowed to give things to other people — however, there is no obligation to give anything away as in communism, so you've got to play nice with others.

My project will be one that anyone can ride, so I need to get people interested enough to ride it on their own. This is where you come in.

I'm looking for musicians to compose music for the vehicle. Thematically, I'm simply looking for sound to attract people and entice them to stay. The nature of the vehicle and the interaction of the riders will involve synchronized motion (FYI, bicycle pedaling is typically comfortable between about 40 and 90 rotations-per-minute) as well as agreement, teaching, learning, dialog, conflict, and argument. Feel free to interpret at will.

I plan on including a track of my own that I'm tentatively titling "New England Dusk." It'll be some combination of simulation and edited outdoor recording of the sounds of dusk around here … rather, the version of dusk _I_ remember … spring peepers, crickets, blackbirds, crows, and probably some cicadas. I figure it'll seem familiar yet wildly out-of-place at the event.

The only formal limitation I'm placing on content is that it include no lyrics: that is, instrumentals, or non-intelligible vocalizations are okay, but I don't want the songs to tell a story in words. I'm asking about 7 people to submit a piece and I've got 60 minutes total, so while any length piece is appreciated, a 50-minute masterpiece might not be included. I'm going to be using an MP3 player and I'll do my best to maintain pristine fidelity, but the format is limited. Also, the final output will be _monophonic_ so differences between stereo channels will be completely lost. Finally, keep in mind that the sound system will have limited capability to reproduce low frequencies and it won't go very loud (typically around 1 watt [which is louder than you'd think.]) I'm using car-stereo speakers, so as a reference, fidelity will be similar to a good quality boombox.

I had originally wanted to synchronize each song to a particular light pattern, but I decided to drop the idea because it would be too hard to do with the parts I'm working with and because it's a nightmare of organization: setting deadlines and making sure I have time to compose a light show — yuck. Thus, my absolute deadline for getting music in place on the vehicle is sometime in late August. However, I'd appreciate it if you can get back to me with something by early July through August 1 (at the latest) … adjust as necessary to fit your own procrastination scheduling.

Please let me know if you'd like to help out or if you've got any questions.


More frame welding stuff

I built the bent frame parts (the overarching parts) and welded them in place. I also added a cross-piece between the front unicycle forks. I welded the rear shelf in place and welded on the backs of the eyes. I used the sheet metal from a junked washing machine. I welded pipe angles behind the eye holes to house the LED's to light up the eyes. I created the pupils by welding a large washer onto a bolt head. I also installed mounting points for the seats.

By the 26th I had the basics of the whole frame done.

Four days later I added the shelf on the back and the backs of the eyes.


Buy more miscellaneous parts

I bought some milky-clear polyethylene tubing with a 1/2" outside diameter and a 3/8" inside diameter. It's easily large enough for lights and wires, and I decided on terminating it with 3/8" steel pipe which has an inside diameter that snugly holds the polyethylene tubing. I went with fender washers, 3/8" bolts, and pipe clamps to make the pupils of the eyes.

To connect the light tubes to the electronics, I went with DB-25 connectors with hoods. I should be able to crimp the tubing into the hoods and make a reasonably weather-tight fit.


Buy paint

I went to Paint Masters (3327 Brighton-Henrietta Townline Rd.) and bought primer and sandpaper. According to them, I should apply the etching primer then either apply the fill-primer while it's wet or let it dry then very lightly sand it before applying the fill-primer. I should put on a couple coats of fill-primer and sand it with 320-grit paper. I'll need to sand off all the rust on the metal first, though, which could be a bit of a pain.


Trying the Joule Thief

I found a circuit at a website called the Joule Thief. It's a nifty LED driver circuit that can allow an LED to be driven from a nearly dead battery. I figured it would work to boost the voltage from the generators I had but I couldn't get it to work with my limited knowledge (and lack of caring to figure out how the circuit really worked.) I suspect it relies on the nature of LED's to oscillate properly.

I got a couple bigger 12-volt motors from the electric cars for kids to drive around in — all from the trash. The smaller one can source 8A at 0.5V or 4 watts, and the larger can source 9A at 0.6V or 5.4 watts … both at 3,100 RPM.


First riding test

I added the rear horizontal support and the one that goes across the middle of the bottom of the seat. I got it all assembled and put the pedals on and laid a couple 2×4's across to sit on. Freewheelers (1757 Mount Hope Ave) is at the end of my street so I took it there and the owner Roger and myself tried it out. We could only get it to run backward — it seems the trail on the rear casters isn't enough to allow them to swivel.

I modified the forks for longer rake by cutting notches, bending the forks, and welding it up. Roger and I tried it again. It sort-of works: it's very difficult to control. If you get going okay, you can stumble a little and it tends to spin around to do a 180. I kind of liked it for that.

I had to fix one of the forks so it wasn't bent so much because one of the tires was actually hitting the frame.


Generators #6: Now With Stronger Magnets

I drilled shallow holes and glued the rare earth magnets to a wood dowel to try them out as a generator rotor. They really are strong and tended to pop out of the glue to stick together. I managed to get it built with two poles but it didn't make an appreciable difference in the performance of the generator.


Finish more frame parts except horizontal bars

I modified the frame so the connection from the front to the sides was rigid and I made bars to connect the seat back together. It all went together rather sloppy and I wasn't very happy with it. I decided to test the welds on the front of the side-frames and they snapped, breaking the tubing. I took a crack at fixing it but had to put it away for the day.

I decided to replace the bottom seat sides with 3/4" pipe because it's stronger than the bike tubes. (As a footnote, I used the pipe from my friend's house on Burkhard Place — it was the original water pipe that was installed 110 years ago … so if it breaks sometime in the future, that might be why.)

I also made couplers for the eyes by using 1" pipe with a slot cut in the side and bolt holes through. I mounted them to the unicycle forks. I put it all together and took some pictures.

Here's the frame with the eyes installed.

I used bigger tubing with a split and holes in the sides to connect things like the eyes.

The bottom tubes on the seat are made from 110 year-old water pipe.

They connect to the front of the frame with a pipe union and elbow.

The pipe unions don't align perfectly right away ...

... but it's pretty easy to get them to snap into position (even if the photographer is falling over) ...

... and then tighten the nut.


Assemble front-end of bike; dry-run frame assembly

I spent a bit of time getting the front-end of the frame redesigned. In my original concept, the triangular framework on around the unicycle wheel would meet the bottom seat bar at a single point. The center pole always met with the seat bar in line with the top of the fork, but I changed it so the two bars off the forks run back to the seat bar rather than to a common point which would attach to the seat bar.

The kinked tube is part of the fourth bicycle frame sacrificed to the cause.

Oh yeah, and a few days ago I went to Austin-Spencer Collision (2433 Brighton-Henrietta Townline Rd.) who were much more amenable to painting things other than cars. The "short answer" is $60/hour for materials and labor to put paint on something. I figure I can easily pay $60 in spraypaint cans alone and do a crappy job, so I'm very tempted.

This is what the right-side of the front end looks like in case the worded description is too convoluted.

My magnolia tree is coming to the end of its first spring bloom. Oh ... yeah ... and this is what the frame looks like now.

When it's taken apart, it should all fit in the back of my car.